Clutch of Dragons
The Hanseatic Free City of Hamburg has been a rat’s nest of smugglers, pirates, and other zwielichtiges Gesindel (shady characters like you, mesh-head) since the Hanseatic times of old, and it still hosts the largest scene of criminals and wannabes in Northern Europe. A chunk of the city was flooded in 2011 and stayed that way, leaving us as the “Venice of the North.”
If you need to lose a tail or drop the pursuing HanSec (the local constabulary), you can head to some of the lower-lying streets. There are plascrete jetties for long-term use and the occasional plank tossed between boats and pontoons to create a quick bridge. Make sure you don’t fall in, though; the black water will leave you sick and wishing you were dead. Get to know some of the smugglers in the area and they will keep you safe for a price
The uptown districts like the Nordstadt enclave (a whole district’s worth of corp-zombie offices and apartment towers), Eimsbüttel (media biz and bean counters), and Wandsbek (metroplex administration) are the home ground of wageslaves of all kinds, while the dilapidated buildings of the southern districts like Harburg and Bergedorf house all the lower echelons of society.
Hamburg’s central districts are where you will find the thickest shadows. Mingling up and downtown, the Neue Mitte (most of which is nerved by waterways) and Altona are the districts where the class divide blurs under shining holo-projections, colourful arrows, and flashing neon lights.
No surprise then that Neue Mitte is an AR spam zone. You can’t walk through the Reeperbahn in open mode without being swarmed by kinky RFID body tags that hookers and hustlers employ to advertise their goods. However, runners and fixers have been known to use the tag system as info drop boxes, hiding and encoding data under virtual graffiti.
Avoid these last two zones until you know what you are doing in the city and have a plan on getting in and out: The Z-zone Wildost (Wild East) contains a former Baltic-Polish refugee camp sprawling over a concrete reef of submerged building blocks. Illegal immigrants, the SINless, and anti-tech or green communes like the Klabauterbund eke out their miserable existence in this stinking silt morass, making do with floating container blocks, house-hovercrafts, and yurt barracks. The locals just call it die Sickergrube (the Seeping Pit) because any scum picked up uptown inevitably ends up in these waters.
Wilhelmsburg (known locally as Big Willi) is the strangest district. Built as an Alcatraz-like prison island/labour camp, it is surrounded by a drone perimeter and guarded only on the island’s rim by HanSec. The prison itself is autonomous (and extraterritorial), except for food parcels that are dropped into the area daily and distributed along the prevailing food chain. As part of their punishment, the prisoners work 24/7 in automated production lines for the benefit of the city—and if they don’t, food delivery is suspended.
If you need to get some gear, talk to one of the local Schmidts (you call them Johnsons). Black markets (some of them underwater) float around the Neue Mitte on a regular basis. My favourite is the old Fischmarkt, a pontoon market that opens early every day. You can pick up about almost anything there except fish, including illegal goods like weapons and restricted tech, all traded under the counter. The Lobatchevski Vory still ride high on the tide in Hamburg, subcontracting their illegal operations to Scand Vikings gangs, Dutch Penose thugs, and hover-gangs like the Wasserratten (Water Rats). They’ve kept some competition at bay by sharing the market with indy smugglers, kapers, pirates, and the Luden (Hamburg’s independent panders), but the constant influx of Baltic Red Vory enforcers into the underworld has led to serious flare-ups in the canals.
Hamburg is a breeding ground for political agitators of all sorts, as the senate has always used its ties to activist groups and rads as a front to restrain the corps from excessive meddling in the sprawl’s affairs. With the nationalist, left-wing, Green, anti-corporate, and anarchist politicos backing their senators in the ongoing conflict with the AGS’ government, Hamburg has become a thriving hive of subversive political elements in the last few years. Rad groups also schedule rallies, and more direct action, to push their agendas. Starting trouble at a rally will draw the attention of the crowd as much as HanSec—bad publicity can deal a blow to the rads so they police their own.