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Hamburg, With Extra Cheese

Hamburg, Germany

At Hamburg City Beach Club, things are mellower still. German '90s hip-hop bumps through the speakers and a father and son play foosball near the thatched bar. A smoothie stand is doing brisk business, and massages are offered at tables overlooking the river.

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Final stop: the granddaddy of Hamburg's beach club scene, the legendary Strandperle. Take the same ferry (Line 62) one stop west (four minutes) to the upscale maritime hamlet of Oevelgoenne.

The Strandperle's origins date to the 19th century, when a milk bar offering bathers healthy refreshments operated in the same spot. People still swim in this stretch of the Elbe, while the cafe itself sits right on the beach.

From the ferry dock, walk west along the sidewalk dividing the beach and river and look for a knot of chairs in the sand. A sunny day means a perpetual line outside the Strandperle's wooden shack, where patrons flock for the salted herring tucked into a bun and beer. Fortunately, there's nobody to rifle through your bag if you choose to BYOB.

"Everyone has a story about the Strandperle; it's an institution," said Joern Loeding, who leads guided tours of Hamburg. "Even back in 1975, the Strandperle was in the tourist brochures."

"It's the kind of place you go for one beer on a sunny afternoon and end up having a few more because the weather and atmosphere are so nice," said Loeding, "so you stay longer than you planned to, miss the last ferry home and end up barbecuing with some friends on the beach. Then the sun is coming up, and her name was Katharina and she was blond . . ." he trails off with a laugh.

Chances are, such a serendipitous encounter would have a lot to do with a treasured sunny day in Hamburg.

For general information on Hamburg, check the Web site of Hamburg Tourism (http://www.hamburg-tourism.de/ene). Some beach clubs -- including Strand Pauli (http://www.strandpauli.de), Hamburg del Mar (http://www.hamburg-del-mar.de), the Hamburg City Beach Club (http://www.hamburgcitybeachclub.de) and Lago Bay (http://www.lago.cc) -- have their own sites.

Terry Ward last wrote for Travel about Palm Beach, Fla.


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