Sweets upon my pillow
Tired and grumpy after a long drive across Holland and Germany, Iceland still seemed an awful long way off. We drove into Hamburg by night in search of an historic water tower in Sternschanzenpark. Not because we were thirsty but because we’d heard it was a quite unique and family friendly city centre hotel; which in contrast to our grumpiness turned out to be something of an understatement…
Ok, I’ll admit it, we were seduced by Center Parcs and stayed far longer than we should have. After a hard morning on the zip wire we have one last go in the Jungle Dome. I can never resist a flamingo, not on a Friday morning. And then we just have another go in the aqua dome. And then it’s time to stop for lunch.
Wrong turns and bad tempers
We are hardly out of Center Parcs before we take a wrong turning. But because I am navigating I don’t notice the mistake; not until we’re almost on the Rhine in Duisburg. So the first two hours of our journey are spent either going the wrong way or sitting in traffic doing two sides of a triangle while the kids squabble in the back and Stuart loses his temper. By the time we arrive in Hamburg we are lucky to be speaking to each other and ready to either hit each other or preferably the pillow.
But this is a party city and everyone else is just waking up; heading out to St Pauli’s for some adult entertainment, down to the waterfront restaurants for dinner or out for some fun at the huge summer fairground, the Hamburg Dom. We take in some of the neon sights as we search for an elusive but important water tower. “Why are we staying in a water tower?” asks Hannah. “Won’t it be wet?”
A warm welcome and a rubber duck
It may be a pretty obvious landmark, but tucked away in a leafy park, the water tower is tricky to find. After another half hour in circles we finally spill out of the car outside the entrance of the Movenpick Hotel Hamburg and into the arms of a friendly porter with a very tall trolley. He is keen to take our bags; in fact he doesn’t stop until every last luggage item is loaded onto his trolley. Cameron, ever the opportunist, whips off his socks and pops them on top of the pile. Well if someone is willing to transport them, why would he want to bother carrying the smell on his feet?
The porter shows us onto a long travelator. Waves of light wash over us as we make our way to reception and we visibly start to relax, apart from Hannah who keeps going on about the drips. I reassure her the building hasn’t housed water since the 1960’s but she’s sure she can still hear it.
“You must be Kirstie. We’ve been waiting for you!” says the receptionist. In her hands she has a free printed t-shirt for each of the kids with a message on it in German. “If people read this T shirt, they must give you an ice cream,” she says, handing out her gifts, which the kids immediately put on in case a German speaker wanders through reception with three ice cream sundaes.
We hook up with the luggage again in our rooms. But the kids aren’t interested in our bags as they tear in to find what surprises and delights await them. It’s a routine they have. But as we spend a lot of our time in faceless budget hotels, they are often disappointed. This time though, they have hit jackpot.
“Slippers. We’ve got slippers.”
“And a dressing gown, my size. And a duck.”
“And another duck. And another! And I’ve got an adventure pack for the bath. With a tiger facecloth.”
“And there’s muffins and cherries and strawberry puddings and juice.”
“Mum’s got two bars of chocolate. It says for connoisseurs. What’s a connoisseur? And why does Mum get two bars? Can I have one of your chocolate bars Mum?”
“No, Mum needs chocolate or she’s horrible. We’ve got our own little chocolate on our pillow, look… And three doughnuts.”
“Someone’s written us a note with our names on. And I’ve got a colouring kit. This is epic.”
Within seconds they have run a bath, and taken four rubber ducks and a doughnut each into the bathroom. The sounds of splashing replace Hannah’s imaginary drips.
From beast to beauty
In the morning there’s a fresh welcome down at breakfast. “We are waiting for you. You had a very late night last night.”
Breakfast is as impressive as the midnight feast. We are led to a table scattered with little blue pebbles, with tall lilies reaching out for sunlight. “It’s good for your heart, yes?” the waitress says as I admire the centrepiece. I’m not sure the amount of breakfast I eat is very good for my heart, but it feels good in my stomach.
We take a quick tour of this unique and iconic octagonal tower before we hit Hamburg for the day. It begins in reception; the former water cistern. The exposed brickwork, original stone and huge backlit photographs help us imagine how big and dirty a job it was to convert a tower that had lain rotting and empty for over fifty years into a luxury hotel.
The photographs are part of an art project by German artist Ulrike Bohme that weaves in and out of the public areas, reminding people of the building’s long history. Sales and Marketing Coordinator Ines Junker points out the waves of light and sound in the tunnel leading to reception, the lights that mirror the shape of the original water tanks, the harbour noises by the lifts, and the steady drip drip of water in many of the public places. “I told you!” squeals Hannah. Ines is amused by Hannah’s reaction, and pleased that she liked the ducks in her bathroom, “The ducks are a theme in all our hotels. But each hotel also tries to find things we can do for the children, to pay them attention.”
In the ten years we’ve been travelling with our family, we’ve stayed in hundreds of hotels with babies, toddlers, and almost teenagers. Most of them claim to be child friendly, but few really do anything to make the children feel welcome or engaged. Here they feel positively celebrated, and of course, if the kids are happy, so are the parents.
The princess in the tower
Before we leave we ride the lift to the 16th floor, to a viewing area next to the Penthouse Suites. It’s a clear day and the Dom funfair and St Michel’s Cathedral dominate the skyline, inviting us in to the city. But I can see Hannah settling into a new role as princess in the tower, and when we’re shown one of the twin 16th floor suites, with the bathtub that looks out over the city and its very own resident duck, both mother and daughter are tempted to stay. Drips and all.
The four star Mövenpick Hotel Hamburg was converted from a water tower built in 1863. The protected landmark, which supplied water to part of the city until 1961, is located in the Schanzenpark in central Hamburg. Aside from the cool escalator in a tunnel which the kids will want to ride on more than once, part of the fun is deciding which way to go when you leave the lifts as all floors are octagonal. In July and August the hotel has a special offer running with free beds for children.
The hotel is only a few minutes walk from an underground station, and it’s also walking distance of the vibrant nightspots of St Pauli.
This post is part of our 2012 Adventure Islands Season. We spent summer 2012 exploring Iceland and The Faroes, researching what’s on offer for adventure seeking families. We’re grateful to Smyril Line for help with transport, to Berghaus and Thule who helped equip us for the journey. And to Mövenpick Hotel Hamburg who looked after us so attentively on our overnight stop in Hamburg. All experiences, views and opinions are however, as ever, our own.
You can see a map of our journey on The Family Adventure Project Punkt! and view some exclusive behind the scenes photos and video of what we got up to.