Have you ever been shut in a metal box at 6am with over a hundred men who are three cans deep and giddy at the delights awaiting them on their respective stag dos? I have. It was my flight from Manchester to Hamburg. The alcoholic aroma was strong, the competitive conversation was loud and the testosterone was overbearing, so I forced my eyes closed and went to sleep until 20 minutes before landing to shut it all out. Once we’d disembarked from that particular nightmare and fought our way through the tide of Liam Gallagher haircuts in passport control, we hopped on the train to our hotel in the centre of the city and unpacked.
Of course, I took spots and stripes and checks and prints to wear and, as I always seem to in Germany, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Although Hamburg is less enamoured with an all-back aesthetic than Berlin, the collective palette still very much errs on the side of darks and neutrals. I also maintain that you’re not actually given German citizenship until you own an enormous black or grey blanket scarf. So while all around me wore said scarves, skinny jeans, trainers and those fitted puffer jackets you only ever see in mainland Europe, I was subject to a generous amount of side-eye for my distinctly less uniform ensembles. Luckily I’m used to it so I eyeballed them right back and got on with exploring our destination.
In a serendipitous turn of events, Freitag happened to have a store right around the corner from our hotel and it was the first thing we discovered on our first day, Friday. I initially came across the brand while searching for an ethical pannier bag for my bike but, as they didn’t have exactly what I was looking for, I didn’t do much further research on the brand. Turns out I should have as they’ve been doing great work since 1993.
The Freitag brothers are graphic designers from Zurich who were searching for a robust, water-repellent bag in which to hold their creative work. ‘Inspired by the multicoloured heavy traffic that rumbled through the Zurich intersection in front of their flat, they developed a messenger bag from used truck tarpaulins, discarded inner tubes and car seat belts’. That first bag spawned myriad further styles, from backpacks to holdalls, and once you have an eye for them, you start to notice them everywhere. Freitag is a brand with serious reach.
Much like their unconventional materials, the store isn’t your average either. Rows upon rows of cardboard drawers hold each one of each style, denoted with the style code and a product snap on the front of each one. A few display pieces are propped up on a handful of open drawers and their star styles grace the walls. And that’s it. A totally different shopping experience and I like it. They’ve now branched out into biodegradable textiles and apparel and currently have a Kickstarter on the go for their inflatable ‘Zippeln’ bag.
Our next discovery came only a few hours later as our wandering took us further into the city. A huge, polka dot coat called to me from a shop window and I walked through the door into a world of voluminous silhouettes, vibrant motifs, bold prints and rainbow hues.
Seeing my barely contained delight, the owner came over and told me the story behind the shop: Omen, and its menswear counterpart Thomas i Punkt, has been run by the same family for the last 30 years. Every single piece is handcrafted in Hamburg with only the most carefully sourced, high quality fabrics and all prints are their own creations. There are no huge offshore factories; just local workshops and skilled craftspeople. And, in a bold move in a digital age, there’s no online shop, so customers come from all over the world to invest in their limited line collections.
It’s no exaggeration to say that I wanted to buy every single thing in the shop, from the striped cotton suit to the split-seam jumpers and the bright pink, tent-like shirt dresses. Even the owner embodied exactly who I want to be in future; dressed in stripy leggings, gold shoes and a big, airy polka dot dress. Omen’s aesthetic is as refreshing as their attitude towards sales and manufacturing and I’m planning a trip back with a suitcase full of euros to throw in their general direction in exchange for everything in my size.
Meanwhile, at Ryanair…
As it became clear that his airline didn’t have the staff hours to cover their flight schedule, Michael O’Leary popped his head up above his piles and piles and piles of cash and offered the following suggestion: “Cancel a shit load of flights, and make sure Sam and Sophie’s return is on the list.” And so, as we tucked into some tasty vegan food a thousand or so miles away, we were #blessed with a text telling us to check our email for more information on our cancelled flight. We messaged Vashka’s cat sitter and wondered what to do with our extra day.
S-Bahn to St. Pauli
After a stop at the Deichtorhallen, where we drank in the striking visual work of Bill Viola and the raw, America-centric photography of Alec Soth, day two took us to the distinctly more hipster-friendly St. Pauli. The district is home to the left wing ‘Kult’ football team of the same name who were playing that afternoon, a smattering of indie shops and, on this day, Passagenfest; literally a festival in a passage. The locals had strung bunting between the buildings, set up stalls and barbecues and organised live music. It was completely charming. We also dipped into the cavernous Picknweight vintage kilo shop that was pleasingly zoned by colour but less pleasingly somewhat overpriced. Still, they were stocked to the hilt and I have no doubt the prices could be justified if you were to find the right pieces.
Using my wardrobe as a visual reference point, I don’t think it will be a surprise to anyone that I’m a fan of Keith Haring’s work. A collection of his posters were on display at the Museum of Art and Industry (Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe) and on day three I fell in love with his bold, simplistic yet highly communicative forms all over again. The exhibition explored not only his trajectory from street artist to international Pop Art icon but shone light on his activism and charity work for AIDS visibility, children’s literacy, animal welfare and anti-drugs campaigns among many others. It was a holistic look at his life, work and impact and if you happen to be popping to Hamburg before 5th November, put it on your list.
Under the same roof as Haring’s poster collection was, coincidentally, an upcycling exhibition and an innovative look at the future of food and its sustainable production. Special mention for designer Austin Stewart for his absurd, virtual reality ‘Second Livestock’ concept.
Aside from hunting down shops and visiting museums, we did a lot of walking. A lot. Especially on our final, extra day. We wandered along the lake front, ambled beside the canals, and trotted along the broad city centre streets. For it’s overall vibe, Hamburg sits somewhere between Manchester, Liverpool and London. Big but not huge; creative but not alternative; busy but not overwhelming; contemporary but not soulless. Of course, there are an abundance of H&Ms, Starbucks and other chain names but there are also cute coffee shops tucked down side streets, city-backed arts projects, street performers and pockets of creativity dotted about.
As long as you can swerve the stag dos and are prepared to venture past the main streets, Hamburg is a treasure trove of cultural delights, so brush up on your German and book a flight. Just cross your fingers that it doesn’t get cancelled.
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Great blog post. I really like your writing style analytical, but witty and intriguing. I was in one of those “buy by weight” vintage shops in Germany this summer. I took the item to the scale, chose the appropriate price per kilo, took one look at the resulting price and said I’m outta here. Plus, I normally like the smell of vintage, but the aroma was so overwhelming and I could barely breath. Two strikes against.
You definitely have to get the right place don’t you? Vintage can be really hit and miss depending on whose grading and pricing!