Perhaps it’s my surprise at finding a lift inside a 230-year-old spire in the first place. Perhaps it’s the fact that, when I set foot inside, the floor bobs like a bottle in the ocean. The octagonal vessel is like Willy Wonka’s great glass elevator, gathering pace as it rises skywards, populated by passengers with a penchant for bad jokes and the pong of currywurst on their breath.
There are 10 of us in the small space. A digital display shows our rate of our progress, two floors at a time. When we come to a halt at 132 metres, the doors open, disgorging us into a blinding light. My eyes adjust to the panorama, and it’s like being in a crow’s nest.
To the north is the python-like River Elbe, its constant traffic of container ships picked at by cranes and shepherded by tugboats. Out south is the city proper, braided with waterways — Hamburg is said to have more canals than both Venice and Amsterdam — spotted with smaller spires, commercial towers, shopping arcades and redbrick warehouses.
Against one set of railings, a couple kisses. Against another, a woman angles her camera between the bars for a photograph. A group of students resists the urge to spit from a height. Come at 10am or 9pm, and you may even find a watchman playing a tune on his trumpet. Me, I can’t stop my legs from wobbling. I wonder when the hell I got so rotten with heights.
The baroque spire, for years the emblem of Hamburg and a landmark for ships approaching along the Elbe, is completely covered in copper. Before I left home, it occurs to me, I had a conversation with a guy who works in telecoms. His industry is increasingly concerned with copper wire theft. Now I’m picturing thieves making off with the entire thing in a helicopter.
Operation Archangel, we’ll call it.
Done with the lift, I head down to earth via the zig-zagging stairwell. After my uneasy ascent, there’s an earthy, reassuring clunk to the steel steps. They wind their way down, past musty wooden beams, the intricate workings of a clock, the pale green lift shaft. I pass several tourists travelling in the opposite direction, pausing to catch their breath.
Finally, I’m back at ground level. The church dates from 1649, I learn, and has survived despite being struck by lightning in the 1750s, and bombed in WW2. It’s dedicated to the archangel Michael, whom you’ll find conquering the devil in a large sculpture outside.
I know how he feels.