Germany // Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein //

The Fischmarkt, a party just for the halibut


Official records reveal the Fischmarkt as the city’s oldest market, but that rather misses the point. Hamburg’s Sunday market retains the same hours as when it began in 1703 – from 5 to 9.30am (from 7am Nov–March) – yet its focus shifted long ago. Just as it’s doubtful that modern traders pack up to go to church as their predecessors did, so fish now takes second place to a mind-boggling sprawl of wares, from genuine bargains to tat, from fruit and veg to livestock. The story goes that in the early 1960s The Beatles received a police warning for chasing a live pig they bought here among the stalls.

Even that is civilized stuff compared to the action in the iron Fischauktionshalle. Where Altona’s fishing fleet once sold its catch, late-night casualties from St Pauli cross paths with early birds, as everyone sinks a beer and bellows along to live rock bands while bemused tourists look on. Unless you’re in a sympathetically booze-fuelled frame of mind, such raw exuberance at such an early hour can be hard to stomach. Fortunately, cafés on the first floor are a safe haven from where to watch the chaos over a buffet breakfast.

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