Hamburg My Harbour

A stiff breeze, soaring seagulls and cranes in the background on the harbour. No matter which district of Hamburg you are in, Hanseatic flair is guaranteed. At the same time, the city’s sights vary considerably depending on the district you’re in. Amidst Altona’s narrow streets, you can spend the day in little cafés; visit the heritage-listed Speicherstadt (the warehouse district) and stroll between brick buildings steeped in history; in the St. Pauli district, famed for its entertainment offerings, you can either get carried away by it all—or perhaps be a little put off—depending on how much Astra beer you have consumed. On the other hand, on a shopping trip down Neuer Wall you will quickly notice that Hamburg can also be highly polished. Although the city, with its 1.8 million residents, is not a particularly large metropolis, it nevertheless radiates an international atmosphere. The Port of Hamburg is one of the world’s largest transhipment ports and its airport is often the stopover for journeys all over the world. Simply put, Hamburg offers something for everyone.
For the artist Onejiru, the Hanseatic city has always been the place to be for music. ‘At first, I spent a year commuting here to make music and then seven years ago I moved here permanently. All of the musical projects I’ve been involved in throughout my life have always taken place in Hamburg. This is simply where the best beats and the coolest people are,’ she says with a big laugh. It’s hard to be in a bad mood in Onejiru’s company. Her cheerful disposition is contagious; her laugh comes from the bottom of her heart and she recounts anecdotes with fantastic ease. Her new album, Higher Than High, reaffirms these qualities. The Nairobi-born musician deals with hard-hitting themes—loss, racism, the empowerment of her own voice. She wraps all of this up in soulful pop, which, adorned with Afrobeats and catchy harmonies, immediately inspires you to dance—and incites contemplation by the second time you hear it, too. For Onejiru, who graduated in ethnography, music is also about engagement. This is clear from the projects in which she is involved. With her Afro-German female artist collective Sisters, she deals musically with issues such as gender inequality and environmental policy. She is also the spokesperson for the musical mentoring programme, musicHHwomen. As if that didn’t keep her busy enough, Onejiru is also on the advisory board of the Viva con Agua foundation and, along with two other women, has recently established eeden—a feminist co-creation space and social business. It’s therefore hardly surprising that on her District Tour Onejiru takes us to places where engagement, sustainability, culture and art are as deeply embedded in their DNA as they are in hers.


‘I get a bit of that port feeling every day,’ says Onejiru. She regularly makes the crossing from Neuenfelde to St. Pauli.
On the piers, the salty sea air blows briskly—given that Hamburg gets an average of 195 days of rainfall per year, visitors to the city typically receive a raw welcome in this spot. Yet there is a constant hustle and bustle on the piers. Groups of tourists jostle each other as they board boats, dockers gather at the small harbour kiosks over a beer or one of Hamburg’s famous fish rolls. On the horizon, Hamburg’s cranes stretch up high; at the harbour itself the ships’ masts rock in sync with the water. Since the completion of the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, which has been an imposing backdrop to the pier since 2017, this place has finally become Hamburg’s showpiece. The St. Pauli Piers should be on every visitor’s must-see list—but locals enjoy a stroll here too. For Onejiru, the piers signify the beginning and end of her working day.

Werte Freunde

Our next destination is the concept store Werte Freunde (Dear Friends). It combines beauty and fashion with fair trade and sustainability—plus it’s incredibly chic. The shop occupies the sleek facade of the new development area in the Nikolaiviertel district; here, expertly-curated products await visitors in a modern, laid-back interior. Upon entering, you are greeted with the fragrance of herbs and essence of flowers. Onejiru has chosen this shop because of the expansive selection of fair trade cosmetics on offer. Soaps, creams, perfumes and make-up can be found in more or less every price range. ‘I’m also looking for a present for a friend I’m meeting later,’ admits Onejiru with a wink, and sighs blissfully as she smells a body mousse. Founder and natural cosmetic expert Janine Werth was seeking to create an oasis with Werte Freunde—and has more than succeeded in this aim. If the hectic pace of the city gets too much, you can also pamper yourself with spa treatments here—which exclusively use the fair trade products on offer in the store. Naturally.
Two Keys Couture

After lathering ourselves up with creams, we emerge smelling wonderful, and make our way to the north of the city. In Winterhude, we visit Lena Kasten and Yasemin Kalayci in their small boutique. The shop exudes extravagance—think pearl-embellished clothing, handbags in the shape of red puckered lips, sparkling earrings in every conceivable colour. The two designers behind Two Keys Couture specialise in made-to-measure fashion. Those who come here receive a head-to-toe consultation can draw inspiration from the designs displayed on golden hangers and end up with their dream tailor-made outfit. Naturally, Prosecco is also served during the consultation. Two Keys Couture has a special significance for Onejiru. ‘This is where I had my wedding outfit designed,’ she smiles.

Shopping gives you an appetite—and where better to seek fortification than in one of Hamburg’s heartiest restaurants? The Oberhafenkantine appears to be a relic of a long-gone era. The small, dark, red-brick building has a heavy ‘list’—nautical speak for being lopsided—and the walls could presumably fill entire books with tales of sailors. Onejiru enthuses: ‘You can feel history here!’ Since 1925, this ‘cafeteria’ has been known for its down-to-earth cooking style and cosy atmosphere. Today, not much has changed. On the menu there is traditional Labskaus (a dish made from beef or fish, potatoes and onions), Buletten (meatballs) and the typical Hamburg dessert Rote Grütze mit Vanillesauce (red fruit jelly with vanilla sauce). The dishes vary according to the season and the ingredients are regionally sourced. As such, the restaurant continues to be run in the style implemented by Anita Haendel. She ran the ‘canteen’ for over 70 years and today oversees the room from a framed portrait on the crooked wall. If you ask for an espresso after your meal, the answer is just what you’d expect: ‘No, we only have filter coffee!’

After a visit to the Oberhafenkantine, Onejiru recommends a post-dinner wander to walk off your meal. It’s accordingly ideal that our next destination is a leisurely 20-minute stroll away through Hafencity. Onejiru wants to visit the spice museum Spicy’s. ‘I have never been there, but I imagine it’s fascinating,’ she says, explaining her decision. Apparently even after living in Hamburg for almost 10 years, you can still discover new places! At Spicy’s, you get the feeling that you could sniff out hidden secrets in the 350m² museum. The air is heavy with pepper, curry, saffron and marjoram, the old wooden floor creaks with every step and there are heavy antique machines once used to process the spices are scattered around in apparent disarray. Flavours from all over the world often arrived first in the major port city of Hamburg—and were sold on from here. As an ethnologist, it’s little wonder that Onejiru is keen to go on a journey of discovery here.

Slightly woozy from the abundance of aromas, we make our way towards Altona. Here, Onejiru introduces us to four exceptional women: Kübra Gümü┼čay, Jessica Louis, Nürsen Kaya and Carmen Gloger. They come from a diverse range of sectors—art, politics, design, marketing or event planning—and are pooling their strengths for a project that is particularly close to their hearts: eeden, a feminist co-creation space. The idea is to create a space where women can work together, have conversations, engage their creativity and put things in motion. The premises are currently still under construction. The entire interior will bring to life the combined vision of the five women. Bold colours, grand ceiling lights and modern spiral staircases are in the works; the designs for the custom-made bathroom show pink tiles and futuristic shower-heads. eeden is expected to finally open its doors at the beginning of next year. It will then also be possible to rent a room here, for events or for working groups. All profits will be donated to charity.

The District Tour of Hamburg ends with another great woman. Designer Bisrat Negassi is known for her collections which feature classic cuts in lavish designs. Alongside fashion, she has also founded the public salon M.Bassy, together with a few fellow campaigners. Similarly to eeden, the project aims to provide a kind of open space for opportunity creation. At the premises in Harvestehude, artwork is exhibited, music is produced and events are organised. The focus is on contemporary African culture and everything it inspires. Onejiru will exhibit her artwork here on 26 September 2019 as part of M.Bassy’s Decolision series—which blends the formats of concert, performance and discourse—alongside the director and producer Teddy Goitom,  whose documentary series Afripedia offers new perspectives on the African diaspora. It surely won’t be the last creative project we see from this multi-talented Hamburg denizen in 2019.

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