Port city, gateway to the world, treasure chest of memories. Hamburg is where I was born, grew up, got stuck . . . it’s an ambivalent love affair. Which, admittedly, is the same way I feel about this Porsche. A rare, Indian red dream from the year 1989 that brings tears to the photographer’s eyes – and drives me to despair. Because it has no power steering. Because it is too colorful for this city, where dark-blue is already considered exciting enough. The Speedster’s dual hump – which has, in some circles, earned it the derisive nickname “Quasimodo” – also takes some getting used to. And then there’s a certain meteorological concern. We were strictly prohibited from putting the top up on this museum car. But what did they write back then in the promotional material? “A Cabriolet is a closed car that you can drive with the top down. A Speedster is an open car that you can drive with the top up.” Well, okay: since there’s no such thing as bad weather in Hamburg, just wet air, there’s nothing to worry about. Not on this ride out, which is all about feeling the pulse of my city.
And that pulse is racing, no doubt about it. Hamburg is growing faster than you can say “urban renewal”, old buildings are being torn down left and right, dives and clubs razed to the ground. If there’s one thing that is a tradition in this city, then it’s the inclination for systematic self-destruction. Why? Because in Hamburg, historical monuments are only historical monuments if you can turn a profit on them. But urban biotopes, subcultures and political disobedience also grow and thrive in Hamburg. They are as much a part of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg as business and commerce. Maybe this car is a good fit for the city after all. Because everything must change so that things can stay the way they were. That’s true for the city – and it’s true for Porsche.
Porsche this year unveiled the new 911 Speedster Concept. With more than 500 horses lurking under the hood. This one has 231. I start the engine. A subtly dangerous roar resounds. If you love cars and you love Hamburg, then a drive over Köhlbrand Bridge is a must. Just how much longer this symbol of the city will be around is in the stars: the bridge is too old and too low for the new container ships. But driving over it is like being on a stairway to heaven: the sky is all around, this evening a pale blue, with only a thin veil draped over the weak sun. From up here, the city seems to be endless, cosmopolitan, boundless, open. The wind is blowing, the engine roars across the horizon, life makes sense. 3,618 meters, that’s how long the bridge is. Now that’s freedom!
First stop is the Central Wholesale Market. If you can grow it or eat it, you’ll find it here beneath the wave-shaped roof of the market halls: flowers, fish, meat, tea, spices, nuts. The building is even home to a theater, concerts are held here, musicals staged. The fact that Hamburg is the world’s third most important location for musicals, after London and New York, is something that locals don’t really like to talk about. The Elbphilharmonie concert hall, now that’s a given. But popular musical theater? Not sophisticated enough.
The view from the parking level is superb, but the photographer wants to get moving – the light is changing. So we get back in the Porsche and move on to Oberhafen, a relatively young neighborhood situated between the Wholesale Market and HafenCity: 67,000 square meters of land that until recently was still a warehouse and logistics center. Today the place is home to its own subculture – with support from the city. We drive over cobbled streets in between long red brick warehouses and decommissioned railway tracks. A thriving community of creative people lives here, artists, designers, photographers. A market for regional products (plus restaurant with steep prices) has taken over one of the old warehouses. I slowly negotiate the Porsche through crowds of people on their way to an event. The Speedster draws no irritated looks – the people here are used to the clash of cultures. Hamburg is home to 859 millionaires and eight billionaires, most of whom live down by the river, a few can probably be found in HafenCity.
The constantly growing new neighborhood is a breeding ground for the rich, for financial speculators – and for gray cross spiders. Since construction began, there have been repeated reports of enormous colonies of spiders crawling around the old warehouse districts of HafenCity and Speicherstadt. I never really believed it. Until now. No sooner have I parked the car beneath a pedestrian bridge in Speicherstadt than I look up and discover a spider. And it’s a far cry from itsy bitsy. In my mind, this arachnid easily tips the scales at a pound. The animal has spun its web directly under a streetlamp radiating the sort of yellowish/orange sodium-vapor light that is supposed to attract fewer insects. Presumably, the spider subsists on tourists.
The photographer starts rambling on about color temperatures when I spy an enormous corpse-gray fish diving into the muddy waters of the canal. That’s when I decide it’s time to go. I insist on heading to the Reeperbahn, despite the fact that most people tend to avoid the “sinful mile” these days. But I’m feeling nostalgic. Once, back in the 80s, I was thrown out of a peepshow here (we were young and curious). I remember the prostitutes down by the river, the live shows, the X-rated movie theaters. Then came the prohibitions and the closures and the red light district was history. The 90s were an era of new bars and clubs. The Mojo Club opened, there was the Tempelhof, Molotow. I danced my way through the night. Carefully I maneuver the Porsche over the squeaky clean Reeperbahn into a bumpy side street. We stop in front of the Silbersack. In front of the bar, there’s a young couple busy flirting, some teenagers are romping over the cobblestone streets. Here you get a feeling of the old St. Pauli, where unquenchable longing mixes with the stale stench of alcohol. Perhaps it’s a bit like that with this Porsche. It has also undergone a facelift, just like my city. But not here, at the corner of Silbersackstraße and Querstraße. Here the Speedster and the old dive make a perfect surface upon which to project our nostalgia: the authentic, the grimy, the eternal promise of going all out, feeling free, young, invincible.