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Kayak, Canoe, Stand Up Paddle Boarding: A Day on Hamburg’s Waterways

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Hamburg is a city that lives and thrives on water. Every day, thousands of containers leave Europe’s third largest freight harbour via the Elbe River. Furthermore, the Alster River winds its way through the whole city. So on warm summer days, there is nothing better than exploring the Hanseatic city by canoe or kayak. Those who are into the latest trends can try stand up paddle boarding. Here is a glimpse of a day near and on Hamburg’s waterways.

by Christina Höhnen
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Did you know that Hamburg has more bridges than Venice? That’s because of the many canals that run through the city. The whole city lives and thrives on water. Hamburg's port ships goods to 170 countries via the Elbe River and is one of Germany’s key economic hubs.
Residents also benefit from the water, relaxing on the beaches of the Elbe River or taking all sorts of boats out on the Alster River and its many canals. Those who don’t own a boat can rent a pedal boat, kayak, or canoe at one of the city’s many rental stations. For students who want to take up boating as a hobby, Hamburg University offers kayak courses. You can also rent canoes and take rowing classes there. If you’d rather not go canoeing or kayaking by yourself, you can sign up for a weekend tour offered by the university sports centre. And if you always wanted to learn how to sail, Hamburg is just the place to do that as well. Many Hamburg residents obtain a sailing license and spend their evenings and weekends taking sail boats on the Outer Alster. The university sports centre offers free sailing activities from April to September.

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Those who have less time and money to spend and still want to get in on the trend might try stand up paddle boarding. It is the water sport trend of the year. Paddle boarders balance on a kind of surf board and use a paddle to move about. Stand up paddle boarding originated in Tahiti, where fishermen used a similar technique to move about on the ocean in their canoes. From there, the sport spread to Hawaii and other countries and became more and more popular. A few years ago, stand up paddle boarding reached European inland waters, and of course the Alster. But if this is too wobbly for you, you might consider buying your own inflatable canoe. They are flexible to use and save on rental fees.
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Conor Stinson already owns a boat as well: With his own inflatable boat, the Canadian and his girlfriend regularly travel Hamburg’s canals. They took me along on a boat ride. We start out at the Lattenkamp pier. During the ride, Conor talks about how he has been settling in here in Hamburg. The 24-year-old moved to Germany from the USA early this year. Initially, it was his love for his German girlfriend that brought him to the Hanseatic city. With his bachelor's degree in Business IT, he had no trouble finding a job in the IT sector. In October 2018, he will start a master's degree programme in International Business at Hamburg University.

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After just a few meters, we encounter the first stand up paddle boarders. Conor and Vanessa want to try it soon, too. As we float by majestic city villas, we have to quickly manoeuvre the boat toward shore. A group of professional rowers is coming toward us at a brisk pace. Made it – we got out of the way in time. Other than that, things are rather quiet on the Alster and the canals. We just have to watch out for sail boats or tourist ships now and then. But being forced toward the edge of a canal can have its good points, too: With a little luck, you can collect some fresh berries along the slopes, but look out for thorns!
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Conor particularly appreciates the many options Hamburg offers for spending one’s leisure time in nature: “It’s incredible how many quiet corners you can find in Hamburg. It is hard to believe that this is a city of over a million inhabitants.” Although for Conor, Hamburg often feels like a recreational area, it has all the benefits of a big city: For example, the many bars and cafés right on the water. If you are exhausted from paddling in the sun or need to seek shelter from a rain shower, you’ll always find a nice spot to take some refreshment. “It feels like being on vacation,” says Conor, while a waitress from the café north of the Outer Alster serves us cake and juice spritzers right in our boat.

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Afterwards, Conor tells me about his start in Hamburg. Before he moved here, he spent a few weeks in Berlin with his girlfriend Vanessa. From there, he applied to Hamburg University and took care of the formalities, like getting a working Visa. Then he applied for a job in the IT sector in Hamburg. He didn’t have to wait long to get accepted. He hoped it would help him gain some important knowledge for his master's degree programme. He chose Germany not only to be near his girlfriend, but because he sees it as an ideal opportunity for his further training: “I heard from many former students that they met their future employers even before they graduated. This often happens because of the close cooperation between companies and the universities. I think that’s really great,” says Conor.

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Our boat ride today ends in Hamburg’s City Park. It is one of Conor’s favourite spots: “I really like it here. Relaxing in a park is one of the great things about German culture. I love the idea of sitting together outdoors in a small group to enjoy nature. In the US, I lived in North Carolina for eleven years, everybody there just retreats to air-conditioned rooms in their own homes,” Conor remembers.

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We set out for the nearby planetarium, to watch this evening’s lunar eclipse from its forecourt along with many other onlookers. Unfortunately, it is a bit cloudy tonight – not a great view of the so-called blood moon. Still it has been a wonderful day on Hamburg’s waterways. Conor and his girlfriend Vanessa will hopefully have many more just like it – and maybe next time they’ll be on stand up boards.
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