A change of pace from mountains and castles

We have just returned from a trip to Northern Germany – the stretch along the North Sea coast between Hamburg and the Elbe river up to the Danish border. It is well worth your while to spend a few days in Hamburg before you travel on. There is lots to do and see, from the city core with its historic city hall, and many old office buildings, to the beautiful lake and canals formed by the river Alster on it’s way to the Elbe. Take an entertaining and informative harbour cruise or go shopping in those old office buildings, many of which have been transformed into elegant arcades and department stores.

Once you leave Hamburg, you’ll see mostly flat, fertile land that has been reclaimed from the sea and is home to many herds of cattle and the ever present sheep. You will also find sheep on the dykes as they keep the grass cropped and their hooves keep the earth firm. But watch out for their “land-mines” when you take a walk on top of those dykes. Unfortunately, in the name of progress, some of the newer dykes now sport the less romantic asphalt tops. The reclaimed land is also great for farming and the best cabbage comes from this area. During September and October you can see a along the rural roads the cabbages being harvested, still by hand to avoid any damage to them. Almost everyone of the large thatched farmhouses will sell huge cabbages and other vegetables at roadside stands. There are numerous “cabbage festivals” complete with queens and traditional dishes, and even breads and cocktails with cabbage ingredients.

During the summer the main attraction are of course the beaches, and small resorts along the coast, but in the fall you can take a bracing walk along the grassy land in front of the dykes or on top of them and then visit one of the many cosy and often very old pubs and restaurants and warm up with a hot rum grog or a “Pharisee” the traditional drink mad from hot coffee with a good shot of rum and topped with whipping cream. If you get hungry try any of the many hearty and plentiful dishes offered at a reasonable price. Of course there is plenty of fresh fish. The pan-fried cutter-flounder” is my favourite and nowhere else will you get better pan-fried potatoes. Or try the unique small North Sea shrimp which are being caught by those fleets of fishing boats that you can admire in some of the tiny harbours along the coast. Their taste is wonderfully briny and they are best heaped on a slice of black bread and topped with an fried egg. For landlubbers there are plenty of equally tasty dishes to try, like pork, lamb or wild game.

Getting there is easy, with scheduled flights to Frankfurt and then on to Hamburg. We rented a car in Canada for approximately $20.00 a day, but be prepared for the high cost of gasoline — it’s close to $2.00 a litre! However those efficient little cars don’t swallow as much as your car at home. There are numerous small hotels and inns or you can rent an apartment offered by many farms along the way.