Germany // Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein //

The Fischmarkt, a party just for the halibut

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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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