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Hamburg

Whatever you are after when you travel to Germany, Hamburg is certain to have it all.

The moral majority may not like it, but many of the World Cup visitors descending on the northern German port will spend a large part of their time investigating the 'attractions' on offer in the city's infamous Reeperbahn, the red light district in the western quarter of St Pauli. (U Bahn line 3 takes you from the central railway station to St Pauli in 15 minutes).

However, the Reeperbahn is not simply about sex clubs, strip joints and brothels. This part of town is also a place of pilgrimage for fans of The Beatles, who cut their rock-and-roll teeth here during the early 1960s. The Fab Four's old haunt, the Star Club (which once stood at Grosse Freiheit 39), has long since closed though the building remains, while another former Beatles venue, the Kaiserkeller on Grosse Freiheit 36, still exists.

Equally, the red-light district -- or Kiez as it is known locally -- is Hamburg's undisputed party central, crammed to the gills with lively bars, restaurants, nightclubs and live music venues. Look out for the stylish China Lounge on Nobistor, the living room-like Toast Bar (Wohlwillstraye) and Herzblut on the Reeperbahn, a bar-restaurant which has developed into a St Pauli institution. Try the house specialty pan-fried fish. Another good place to eat is the American-themed Dollhouse Diner on Grosse Freiheit. Popular nightclubs include Grunspan on Grosse Freiheit.

A little to the south-west, the St Pauli Fischmarkt is not to be missed. It hosts some excellent bars (e.g., The Havanna and Orkan Bar) and wonderful fish restaurants such as the Fischerhaus, but it is in the early hours of Sunday morning (5-10 a.m.) that it really comes alive as still-standing revellers and locals throng the banks of the River Elbe to check out the wares of the vocal market traders selling fish, fruit, vegetables, plants and clothes.

It's an authentic slice of Hamburg life, with a pop group playing in the Fish Auction Hall, stallholders loudly whipping up trade and masses of people drinking beer or eating breakfast. The docks area (U Bahn 3 to Baumwall) also houses some great Portuguese restaurants, one of the best being Sagres on Vorsetzen.

Other inexpensive dining and night-life quarters are the north-western University and Schanzenviertel districts. In the former, make for Grindelhofstrasse, Rentzelstrasse or Grindelalle and in the latter head for Schanzenstrasse or Schulterblatt.

Inevitably, Hamburg cuisine features fish heavily. Its two most famous dishes are eel soup and a rather strange concoction called 'Labskaus', an old sailors' dish made up of mashed potatoes, marinated beef, herring and pickles. If you're not a lover of aquatic food, the city is simply awash with eateries whose menus are dominated by the good old German staples schnitzel, roast pork and sausages. And of course, there are plenty of Turkish kebab joints, Greek tavernas and pizza and pasta places.

Not without reason, Hamburg city officials have decided to pitch their World Cup Fan Village in buzzing St Pauli on the Heiligengeistfeld just north of the Reeperbahn. Open from midday to midnight, its centre-piece is a big-screen stadium with room for up to 60,000 and there will also be regular pop concerts, five-a-side and table football tournaments and a 'Beach Club', offering a wide range of international cuisine and Hamburg fish specialities.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that Hamburg is all about the alternative scene of St Pauli. First and foremost, it's a city of great wealth, with a high proportion of millionaires who have made their pile from shipping, advertising and media interests. The city is also very scenic, sited on a series of lakes and waterways and full of parks. You can hire sailing, rowing and pedal boats on the lakes, while a number of operators offer cruises.

Other must-sees in the centre of town are the Baroque St Michael's Church on Krayenkamp, the City Hall (Rathaus) dating from 1897 and in the Merchants District, the Chile Haus, built in the shape of a ship. The city's department stores are found to the east of the main railway station Monckebergstrasse and Spitalerstrasse.

Opened in 2000, the Hamburg World Cup Stadium -- or AOL Arena as it is usually known these days -- is a 45,000-seat jewel situated in the north-western suburb of Altona. From the city centre it is best reached by S Bahn line 3 or 21 to Stellingen. Then take a shuttle bus to the stadium. Both inside and outside the ground, snack stalls dole industrial quantities of Bratwurst and Currywurst.

Ferries from Harwich in Essex (UK) arrive at Cuxhaven in Lower Saxony, from where it is a two-hour trip by train or bus to Hamburg. The airport is to the north of town at Fuhlsbuttel, while buses run between there and the Hauptbahnhof (central railway station) every 15 minutes, costing £3.30 for single fare.

Note that Hamburg has four train stations: the Hauptbahnhof on Glockengiesserwall on the centre's north-eastern edge, Altona (north-west suburb), Dammtor (north-west of the centre) and Harburg to the south. At £5 for a one-day Hamburg card, unlimited public transport is yours.

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