I knew the A&O Hostel Hamburg City Süd wouldn’t be a quirky, homely place. It has eight floors with several dozen rooms on each: over 2,000 beds in total… The biggest hostel in the world. It’s also one of the cheapest accommodation options in Hamburg, where the A&O group have three other hostels.
When I first walked into the lobby, past a füssball table or two, I was surprised that there was only one receptionist on duty, with a queue of four people in front of him, and several others sitting at the attached bar… I’m not sure whether they had their drinks or were also waiting. Things were better during the afternoons, but we found we always waited to see reception.
The building really is large: two wings around a central courtyard with a maze of corridors on each floor that makes it feel like a large hotel. A few boards of historical information in the lobby outlined the building’s history: offices and warehouses, then a tobacco factory before WWII; a horrific concentration camp outpost during the later years of the war (800 of 2,000 prisoners dead); then rebuilt into its modern form with A&O buying it quite recently.
Our room was a clean and tidy double with a small desk, chairs, and a fair-sized private bathroom with shower — all quite new. A clever wall-storage unit allowed bags to be put inside and shirts or jackets to be hung above. When we later moved to another room, we found the same configuration there. Rooms were well-lit with main lighting, bedside lights, and another light in the entranceway.
On the second floor our room looked out onto a skate park, the Berliner Tor S-bahn station, and a jumble of industrial buildings behind that. At night, a street-light shone straight through the thin curtains while noise from traffic on the street and railway kept us up and woke us early. On the second day we moved to the eighth floor where light wasn’t a problem and the only noise was muted beats from the rooftop bar.
The breakfast buffet (€6) has quantity rather than quality in mind, but there is freshly-warmed bread rolls, spreads, a couple of types of ham and salami, boiled eggs, two types of cheese, canned and fresh fruit and four cereals alongside giant coffee and hot-water urns.
There were two bars in the hostel: one in the lobby, and one on the ninth floor, which also had a rooftop-terrace for warmer days than our visit. The lobby bar often seemed busy, and there were plenty of seats and coffee tables which any guest could use: purchase not needed. I made use of a large pile of Economist magazines (nice, but a strange choice for a budget hostel?), while a small kids’ playground and several pay-to-play arcade-style table games were available too. While the ninth floor bar was dead quiet one night, it was quite busy another. Views from the bar and terrace allow you to see quite a lot of the City Süd: the industrial area around the hostel.
The A&O Hamburg City Süd is a 20 minute walk from the main station (Haputbahnhof) or less than five minutes from the Berliner Tor U-bahn and S-bahn stations. It’s near an autobahn offramp, and parking is available. There’s no question that it’s conveniently located for transport options… But it’s not overly convenient for anything else.
For blocks in any direction, there are no restaurants or markets, with the exception of the area around the station with its fast-food joints and a large Real supermarket. For restaurants, nightlife or even a nice spot for a coffee, you’re looking at a long walk into St Georg or further to the area around the Rathaus on the far side of the train station. We found we were a 20-45 minute walk from any attraction we wanted to visit, but the S-bahn was very convenient and often shortened that distance.
Wifi was free to use in the hostel lobby, and a scaled payment system was in place for in-room access (starting at €1/hour). With so many people at such low prices, this seemed a fair balance. We had no problems with the proxy system when it came to work, but upload speeds were too slow to upload podcast files (so no travel podcasts published that week!).
Staying in the world’s largest hostel was certainly a novel experience, the staff were helpful, and the rooms clean and tidy but it did lack a certain je ne sais quoi when it came to memorableness.