As usual I drew the short straw. A glamorous fairy and a dashing pirate were up for grabs.
But somehow, I ended up as a rather rotund and balding monk! Yes, it was only virtual reality, but it would have been good to have had the star role for a change.
At least the surroundings were grand, in fact very grand, as we were in the UNESCO protected warehouse district of Hamburg, the largest of its kind in the world.
Known as the Speicherstadt and built from 1883 to 1927 on oak log foundations, the district by the port was a free zone to allow goods to be moved without paying customs.
Today it is a trendy hub of hotels, restaurants and museums, all based in the renovated buildings. And it was here in the Yullbe Wunderland, joined by “grim reaper” Ruaridh (15) and “prisoner” Flossie (12) where we were plunged into a virtual reality Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s biggest model railway exhibition.
Kitted out in special glasses and back packs, we had 30 minutes in this weird and wonderful world as we hopped on board a sight-seeing train, only to find ourselves thrown on a journey full of mishaps as we battled to find our way out.
It was remarkable how life like technology makes these situations which trick the brain into thinking you really are on a dangerous path and there was much fun as we delicately made our way around and back to the real world.
The attraction was just a stone’s throw away from our accommodation for the 72 hour trip to Germany’s second largest city.
Pierdrei Hotel Hafen City is sleek and trendy, and its 212 rooms are tastefully decorated and airy, with comfy beds, rainforest showers and up to date technology. There is a cinema, parent free zone and a beautiful roof top garden with spectacular city views. A stylish restaurant not only serves a scrumptious breakfast, but top notch lunches and dinners too. And for families there is camper city, where the accommodation is in retro caravans, what could be cooler.
Close by are shops, bars and restaurants and the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, built to resemble a hoisted sail on top of an old brick warehouse. The majestic glass building is a feat of modern architecture and close by to the historic Elbe Tunnel which connects the Landungsbrücken piers with the port. Built in 1911, its old style tile decoration and quirky lifts have established the tunnel as a tourist attraction.
Hamburg is a walking city and so we embarked on a Tours by Locals look around. Our guide Adriana had a wealth of knowledge of her adopted home city and gave a brilliant insight into what to see and do, with a history lesson thrown in too. Despite its name, the first actual hamburger was made in Texas in 1880, although the main ingredient, a ground beef patty, was invented in the German city.
The advantage of the independent tour is that it is tailored to your needs, time and party numbers. Adriana met us at the hotel and gave us a potted history of Europe’s third largest port and a devastating fire in 1842 which killed 51 people and destroyed many homes, the North Sea flood in 1962 where 60,000 people lost their homes and the effects of bombing raids during World War II.
Despite the disasters, the city has shown resilience and today is a real tourist magnet. Visitors are drawn to the port area, where there are lots of boat tours around the port, which give a great view of the beautiful buildings on offer. The Hamburg card provides free transport and discounts on 150 attractions.
In the 1960s, The Beatles cut their musical teeth in Hamburg playing for many months at the Indra Club and today there is a memorial to the fab four in the area which is still a big attraction for music fans.
Fans of history turned spooky will enjoy the Hamburg Dungeons, which through interaction and scary rides relive the past 600 years and for those who prefer the more sedate activities, the Barkassen Meyer boat round the port is a great way to see how the city has grown.
As it should be these days, ancient complements modern and Hamburg is a shining example of a city proud of its past and determined to build on its future.
For more information on what to see and do in Hamburg, please visit: www.hamburg-tourism.de.
Rebecca Hay is an experienced travel writer and member of The British Guild of Travel Writers. Follow her adventures with her family on Twitter and Instagram @emojiadventurer and on Facebook via EmojiAdventurers2.
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