They are like snapping sounds and you can hear them everywhere. Without any warning. Like an umbrella suddenly blowing out, a flapping awning sheltering you or the sail of a boat luffing as it nears the shore. At first it surprises you. But you soon work it out: it is part of Hamburg’s lexicon of sounds. A city made of water. Of a river, a lake, canal. Of material flapping as the wind blows.
Determined-looking people can be seen walking through its streets with a canoe in one hand and oars in the other; enormous container ships launch an assault on the river; recreational vessels of all kinds can be found stranded on the pavements. The water is fresh water but this is in fact a city of the sea, only inland.
There are scarcely any tourists in Hamburg and no one is in a hurry either. That is surprising because the city opens like a fan into its commercial port. Fifty-five merchant ships a day sail in and out of this important international logistics hub. However, you wouldn’t know it on the other side of the river. Hamburg is restful.
The City Historical Museum reflects this. The building is majestic. Inside there are no queues. Only a wide staircase leading to a succession of rooms full of anecdotes telling the many stories making up one history. Such as the history of the barrel, the container’s predecessor which was equal to 32 “large measures” or 64 ‘small measures’.
Large or small, fresh and salty, it is perhaps in the size of things where this city’s clear sightedness lies.