Experiencing Germany With Three of My Nieces. Part 2 – Leipzig

I was impressed.  In the interest of maximizing our time in Leipzig, I had reserved seats on the ICE train which departed Hamburg at 6:30 AM.  Given the amount of walking and fairly late night we had had before, I assumed that trying to get my nieces moving in a cohesive manner would be a challenge.  But it wasn’t.  At the planned time they appeared in the hotel lobby where I was already in the process of checking out, and we found ourselves with enough time to enjoy an early-morning stroll to Dammtor station as dawn illuminated the city around us… at least as far as a group of people hauling luggage and backpacks can enjoy such a stroll.  We arrived at Dammtor with plenty of time to have another cafe breakfast from the bakery under the platform, then headed up and finished watching the dawn over the main building of the university as we waited.

 

After boarding the train and finding our seats, we sat back and enjoyed being whisked out of Hamburg (ironically past my old housing).  As we traveled toward Berlin the beauty of the early morning countryside failed to overcome the early start and my nieces drifted off into travel naps that lasted most of the way to Berlin.  Luckily the train we were on was a direct connection to Leipzig so there was no need to transfer in Berlin, though as Berlin is one of my favorite cities it had taken me quite a bit of effort to not include it as one of our destinations. As we traveled on toward Leipzig my nieces gradually came out of their travel slumber, and as we pulled out of the Lutherstadt-Wittenberg station one of them grabbed her phone and started taking pictures of a tower in the city.  Once it was out of view she explained that she had recognized it from the cover of a CD of Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony, and gradually the correlation dawned on her.

Arrival in Leipzig was impressive as always.  Whereas I love the simplicity of Dammtor’s mainline double platform intimately wrapped in a single barrel vault, Leipzig’s massive, multi-vaulted terminal station pushes me on the other end with just the right combination of impressively solid structure and airy sky-lighted vaults.  We stowed our luggage in a couple of lockers and set out for a roughly 4 hour stopover.

My knowledge of Leipzig was imperfect at best, but a quick glance at a tourist information map sparked the interest of my niece who had requested the stop.  For someone with a strongly developed appreciation for instrumental music, Leipzig was indeed an inspiring place with no shortage of interesting attractions.

We opted for the Mendelssohnhaus, which consisted of an interpretative area on the ground floor as well as the furnished family apartments on the first floor.  One of the interpretative installations was a virtual orchestra where visitors could stand in front of an orchestra made up of posts representing each element in their proper orientation, pick one of Mendelssohn’s works, pick up the conductors baton, and with a surprising level of accuracy direct the tempo of the piece as well as the contributions of each section.  My niece with conducting experience gave it a first shot, then another one did, and while she was “conducting” a visiting school group came in and sat in rapt attention while their teacher whispered to them about what my niece was doing.   It was quite a humorous situation to observe.

After enjoying the Mendelssohnhaus we still had a couple of hours before catching our train to Coburg, so we had a very enjoyable meander around the city center enjoying the architecture and the atmosphere and bustle of a perfect Saturday afternoon.  I found several East German paperbacks in a used book store, one of my nieces found a book she was looking for in another bookstore, and we stumbled across a farmer’s market full of produce which created such an appetite that we had to go find a bakery for a snack.  As we headed back to the station we came across an automotive rarity – A Fiat Multipla and a Trabant parked on opposite sides of a street.  Two very unusual vehicles representing two very different design philosophies in a city which accommodated and exemplifies both.

Back at the station we retrieved our luggage and found our platform.  Boarding was a bit awkward as the train came in opposite of how the diagram depicted it, so all of us who had queued up where our reserved seats were supposed to be had to swap around amidst those passengers who were getting off of the train.  In all my time riding trains in Germany, that was the first time I can recall having ever experienced that irregularity.  Once boarded, however, everything was back to normal. The last time I had traveled by rail between Leipzig and Coburg, which was many years ago, it wrapped up with a long, slow, picturesque journey involving multiple local trains as I made my way up to and across the Thuerengerwald (mainly via phenomenally scenic river valleys).  In the intervening years, a high speed rail corridor had been built, so this time it was barely over an hour on a direct ICE.  While I somewhat missed the scenery, my nieces quickly settled into a travel nap that would have made booking the slower route for the scenery superfluous.

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Experiencing Germany With Three of My Nieces. Part 1 – Hamburg

This spring I had the pleasure of being a tour host for 3 of my nieces on a trip to Germany.  All three were approximately the age I was when I first lived in Germany, and I would be traveling over to meet them at the end of their Study Abroad programs through which they were already in Europe.   Their programs finished within a day of each other in late April and one of them would be in Hamburg, so we decided to use that as our starting criteria.  The ending criteria was more open; I had a window of opportunity to be away from work but had to get back eventually, one of my nieces had very flexible plans with multiple options depending on how things worked out both with our trip and those she would be meeting up with later, and the other two would be heading off together at some point to pursue their own itinerary.  It was a classic planning challenge – one point known, everything else wide open.

The solution to this challenge: start filling in the blanks.  A few rounds of questions revealed that all of them were more interested in getting to see a fair part of the country rather than settling in to one area and exploring it in more depth.  Areas of interest ranged from “whatever you’d like to show us” to “we’ve bought tickets to a concert in Munich” with a few intermediaries along the lines of “where you lived” “where our family emigrated from” “the black forest” “castles” and finally the somewhat enigmatic “a few hours in Leipzig.”  On the transportation side, 2 of them had extended Eurail passes so they were all for using the trains and covering long distances, the other had a more limited pass and needed to maximize it’s value, and I was starting with a blank sheet having not purchased anything in advance. It wasn’t simply their trip either; I had some things that I wanted to do from my perspective such as visiting some friends and eating some of my favorite foods.

After several weeks of juggling interests and schedules, along with some very generous (and appreciated) invitations from friends to stay with them, the itinerary for the trip more or less fell out by itself.  We would start in Hamburg, then take the train to a friend outside of Coburg with a stop along the way in Leipzig.  Then we would head across the country to Wachenheim an der Weinstrasse before reversing course to stay with friends outside Augsburg and ending up in Munich.  I booked my flight as an open jaw into Hamburg and out of Munich, made hotel and rental car reservations, and bought a short duration rail pass.  My nieces in England made train reservations from London to Hamburg, and my other niece would be arriving in Hamburg on the ship she was on.  All was in place… or so we thought.

First the French railway workers went on strike, which led to a disruption of the Eurostar from London to Brussels.  My nieces were able to get a refund for that portion of their journey and shifted over to a Ryanair flight direct to Hamburg.  My niece who was supposed to dock in Hamburg at the end of her Semester at Sea voyage ended up docking in Lisbon after an Atlantic storm blocked the safe passage of the ship on to Hamburg, and along with several others who had made plans to meet people in Hamburg she had to scramble to find a flight; ironically both changes resulted in my nieces spending the same night in airports (Stanstead and Brussels) before arriving within minutes of each other in Hamburg.

I had given myself a full day to adjust in Hamburg before their scheduled arrivals, and I used that in large part to revisit the city I had spent a year studying in over 20 years before.  On the morning of my nieces’ arrival I checked out of the airport Courtyard hotel where I had spent the previous two nights, shouldered my backpack (I knew they would all be traveling with suitcases and decided it would be much easier to travel as a group if at least one of us always had free hands and highly squishable luggage), and headed back to the airport terminal.  I picked up a group day pass for the public transportation system, then went to arrivals and waited on them to appear.  The two from England were surprisingly fast to get from landing to meeting me; the one coming in from Brussels took quite a bit longer and appeared with some of her former shipmates who had also been on that flight.  After some farewells to them we gathered up and stopped by a café for a snack, then jumped on the train to head into the city and check in to our hotel for the next couple of nights.IMG_2263

I had expected luggage difficulties, but I hadn’t quite expected it to occur right off the bat.  My niece who had been on the ship had a wheeled duffel bag as her primary suitcase.  Given that it had everything she had had with her for the 4 months of her voyage plus the souvenirs she had picked up in various ports and excursions, it was significantly heavier than the shoulder strap had been designed for. When I swung it on my shoulder to go down the escalator, the plastic fitting popped out and it was clear that it would need some help before any more extensive travel. Luckily we had space and time for our journey into the city, so knowing the weakness of the strap we were able to get from the airport to the city center with no further occurrences.

The weather was a perfect Hamburg spring day; clear, comfortable temperature, and a light breeze.  Accordingly, everyone who could be outside was and we came out of the subway station into a comfortably crowded downtown and headed off in search of our hotel.

I had decided that after several months in tight quarters and youth hostels my nieces might appreciate starting off the trip on a slightly higher end of the accommodation spectrum and had cashed in some loyalty points to book rooms at the Renaissance a short walk away from the city center.  To my surprise I had received an e-mail from the hotel shortly after booking asking if there was anything they could do to make my stay more pleasurable, so I took them up on the idea and sent back a response with a bit of detail about our trip and planned activities in Hamburg, and that early check-in would be appreciated.  I had not gotten confirmation, so I halfway expected to just drop our bags off and then head back out to the city, but not only had they accommodated our early check-in request they also upgraded me to a suite.  My nieces choose to stay together in one room, so while they freshened up a bit after their extended travel I set up tea in the sitting area of my suite and we had a fairly relaxing visit for a couple of hours until everyone was ready to head back out.IMG_2272.jpg

Armed with a subway pass and re-invigorated after our break, we launched off on a general exploration of the city.   We spent the early afternoon enjoying the area around the Rathaus and Alster and, perhaps not surprisingly, ran into some other Semester at Sea participants and their parents.  What was perhaps more unexpected was when one of my nieces from England stopped in her tracks, pointed across the Alster, and exclaimed “Mr. and Mrs. Andrews!”  I had assumed that she was talking about someone that she knew in England, but then realized she was pointing to the large advertisement on the side of the Kunsthalle advertising an exhibition of English landscape paintings.  It turned out that she had taken an art class in England and as part of it had an excursion to the National Gallery in London where they had been surprised to find that particular painting was not available for viewing.

After getting acquainted with the city center area we headed down to the harbor and explored the Speicherstadt and the new “HafenCity” area, including the outside of the Elbephilharmonie.  My nieces who had been in England are both classical musicians, and while there were no concerts or tours available to be able to see and experience the inside of the building they thoroughly enjoyed simply being in the area around the building.  We then made our way over to Landungsbrucke and I enjoyed introducing them to the stereotypical German cuisine of bratwurst and beer on a lovely rooftop terrace overlooking the harbor… though I opted instead for fish and chips. As we were just days away from the 21’st birthday of the oldest one, and I had celebrated my 21’st birthday in Hamburg, I made a point of ceremoniously being the first family member to buy her a drink.

After dinner we continued our introduction to the city with a leisurely stroll back toward the hotel, and quite fortuitously as the evening came to a close we encountered a gelato shop that was still open.  If buying them beer was not a corrupting influence upon them, then I am certain that introducing them to gelato was.  We passed multiple drinking establishments on our subsequent travels without stopping in, but off the top of my head I can’t recall passing a gelato shop without at least strong consideration given to stopping…

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The next day we had a bit of a lie-in and then headed a bit further afield in our explorations.  We started off with a cafe breakfast at the bakery near the hotel on Gansemarkt – the same bakery I used to duck into and pick up a pastry on my way to class if I was running late and had come out of the U-Bahn just in time to see my bus leaving…  We then went to the Dammtor train station to get rail passes validated and seat reservations made, then walked over to the University area. Classes were not in session and so it was really fun to explore a quiet campus and it’s environs and relate some of my experiences there to my nieces, who having just completed their own study abroad periods were very much attuned to what I was saying.

After the university area we headed back over to the Alster and then found our way to the Kunsthalle where we had a chance to visit with Mr. And Mrs. Adams as well as see my favorite painting, Casper David Friedrich’s “Wanderer ueber das Nebelmeer.”  After that I took them over to the area I had lived in and walked past my old student housing before stopping in a small Turkish Imbiss to introduce them to Doener Kebabs. We were only a few feet away from the grocery / department store I used to use, so we stopped in there and found shoe inserts for a couple of my nieces and a better suitcase to replace the overloaded duffel bag for the rest of the trip.  That provided a good reason to head back to the hotel for a bit of a break (and more tea).

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Following our tea break we headed back out and followed the Alster to the harbor, taking in the remains of the Nikoli tower and the various canals on the way.  From the harbor we headed back through the city to the Bismarck monument, and from there down to the Fischmarkt and up to St. Pauli.  For the sake of the experience we headed over to the start of the Reeperbahn and had a quick look at it before heading back to the S-Bahn and over to the Hauptbahnhof for a late dinner of Currywurst and fries capped off by more gelato on the way back to the hotel.

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Book Review: The Birdwoman’s Palate

The Birdwoman’s Palate

Pamuntjak, Laksmi translated by Tsao, Tiffany

Amazon Crossing, 2018

Aruna is a consulting expert on Avian flu in Jakarta and, with an up-and-coming chef as a regular visitor and a food critic as a good friend, seriously enjoys food.  When an outbreak of Avian flu is reported at several outlying areas of the country, the agency she is working for decides that she is just the person to go investigate on the ground.

Sensing a chance to get away from the office politics as well as try some regional foods she has only heard about, she enthusiastically accepts the assignment and, to keep it interesting, entices her friends to join her for some of the more interesting parts.  In a road trip of sorts, punctuated by airports, hospitals, and hotels, a changing cast of hired drivers and local contacts, and the political ramifications of uncovering an artificial crisis, the group eats their way through small town Indonesia.

Overall it’s an interesting storyline, and there are enough other elements that get thrown in to keep it interesting through to the end.  A highlight of this book is the care taken to describe the various settings; this is not a sterile environment but one of startingly realistic portrayals – several ties I found myself fully immersed in the roadside stands or infectious disease wards in which much of the story takes place, and I was always hungry when I stopped reading.

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Book Review: Winter Men

Winter Men

Kold, Jesper, translated by Semmel, K.E.

Amazon Crossing, 2016

Karl and Gerhard are two brothers in Hamburg trying to make use of their positions as sons of a wealthy factory owner to emerge from the shadows of World War One.  Karl inherited the factory, married well socially, and established a prosperous family who live in a villa on the city’s Alster lakefront.  Gerhard opted more toward academic pursuits and is a Mathematics professor at the university; following the loss of his wife and daughter to medical issues he moved into a small apartment across the city, but he is a well liked and regular guest at his brother’s house.

Although neither of them are supporters of the Nazi party and its platform, following its rise to power they both become party members primarily out of practical reasons – Karl is running a clothing factory and party membership is a defacto requirement to get contracts, while Gerhard finds that being in the party was the only path to reach his goal of being a professor. Despite their memberships, both are pragmatic and tolerant men who, within their private spaces, criticize the elements building around them.

Starting with the imagery of an elderly man dying alone in South America, the book uses a very well designed series of changing locations and perspectives to bring out the destruction of humanity which occurred during the Second World War. Gerhard, the more regime critical and liberal of the brothers, finds himself arrested by the Gestapo and, given the options of being sent to Dachau as a political prisoner or turning informant, must wrestle with the decision and aftermath it brings.  Karl, when he tries to step in and help Gerhard, ends up being compelled to enlist in the SS as a condition, and that brings it’s own challenges as he is transferred between the Eastern and Western fronts.  Add in the perspective of Karl’s son, who is drafted in as a young soldier, and a few more scenes from South America and vignettes of other minor characters, and the book presents a compelling story from the perspective of one family of the loss across several generations, regardless of the sides.

Yes, there is the standard set of too-convenient-to-be-true circumstances which are required to make this type of book work, but rather than taking away from the book each segment is built up sufficiently so that it is a non-intrusive structure.

As fate would dictate, I completed reading this book on the 2018 observation of Memorial Day in the United States.  This provided an interesting mental mindset for the day, and I wish that more people across the United States could have the opportunity to experience this holiday from that perspective.  It is far too easy for those who have only experienced the conquests of empire from the winning side to hold up the relative handful of martyred militants as heros to be feted in nationalistic displays of triumphant symbology and honored as revered sacrifice; it takes far more strength to recall all those as individuals, regardless of which flag they happened to be under, who fell victim to the crimes of nationalism.

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Random Food of the Day

Festival food – Italian sausage with peppers and onions and fried dough with pizza sauce.

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You can sometimes go back – returning to Hamburg after 23 years

In the summer of 1995 I completed a study abroad year at the Universität Hamburg. I recall crossing the Elbe the last time and feeling a sense of relief at leaving the city behind me as I headed south in a rented station wagon with some other students and all of our belongings for a few days of traveling before flying back to the US from Frankfurt.  That’s not to say I hadn’t enjoyed my time there – I experienced things and made acquaintanceships which have had major impacts on the paths I have followed since, and it was an important and enjoyable period of my life….  but it had taken me almost my entire time there to gain any appreciation for the city itself, and that was only a grudging acceptance in the last months that I might just as well find something I liked about the city I was in.  Although I have been back to Germany many times since then, the only time I had been back in Hamburg was a brief layover when changing trains in 1998, and I hadn’t left the station. To put this vantage point in context, Hamburg was an unexpected shock to my system when I arrived in the summer of 1994.

A few years previously I had participated in a high school exchange program in southern Germany, and I carried memories of having lived on the outskirts of Coburg, a mid-sized city with an intact medieval castle and town wall, surrounded by hilly fields and forests which I explored on a borrowed bicycle on the afternoons when my host brother had sport or music practice.  On my way to Hamburg I had stopped off and spent a few days with my former host family, then traveled west to meet the families of my grandmother’s cousins and re-establish a connection which had been sacrificed to the cultural mess that was the situation for recently arrived German immigrants in World War One era America.  There I found myself immersed in the forests and vineyards of the Rhine valley which, between a wonderful natural and cultural landscape and the warm hospitality of those technically distant relatives who welcomed me with open hearts and arms and who, over the course of several subsequent visits, became a true second family for me, I came to feel as strong a tie to as any place I have ever lived.

Imagine then the shock upon arrival at what can arguably be considered Germany’s second city of a 20 year old accustomed to a suburban American existence who studied at a large university in a small city and whose entire prior exposure to Germany had been in the types of places that are featured on tourism posters.  Gone were the picturesque surroundings, replaced with the din of a major city.  The subway ride from the station to my student housing was my first ever subway ride, and I popped out of the station into a neighborhood which was clearly not the best-off in the city.  Having found the building I would be living in for most of a year, I opened the door and, as a lifelong non-smoker, recoiled at the clouds of cheap tobacco smoke which rolled out to greet me.   It was not an arrival conceived to induce appreciation. Couple that with being on a very tight budget for the time and living in a flat constantly serenaded by the screech of elevated rail cars coming around a turn into the station a block away, and the end result was a city I wasn’t overly fond of.  So I saw no reason to ever go back.

Subsequently I’ve lived or had extended stays in other large port cities – Tokyo, Shanghai, Seattle – all of which were in some ways reminiscent of Hamburg.  There was a subconscious re-evaluation of the city, and I began to feel an attachment and that I had not really given Hamburg a fair chance.  I was not in any way drawn back to the city, but the negative feelings I had toward it gradually faded.

Once they were old enough to have real conversations with, I have encouraged my nieces and nephews to take advantage of opportunities to spend meaningful time abroad and was accordingly pleased when one of my nieces announced that she would be participating in the Spring 2018 Semester at Sea program.  Two of my other nieces were also going to be spending the Spring 2018 semester studying abroad at Harlaxton College in England.  At some point in the past I had indicated to them that I would be willing to be a travel partner if they should end up in Germany, and the three of them got together and called me on that indication, even more so since the Semester at Sea program ended in Hamburg the day after the program in England concluded.  With 3 nieces planning on meeting me in Hamburg in the middle of April, I had no real choice but to return to the city where it had all started.

On the afternoon of 17. April 2018, at the end of a 3 leg journey with stops in Dallas and Madrid, I shouldered my backpack and stepped out of the Hamburg airport into a perfect spring day.  I walked the 10 minutes or so to the hotel I had booked past flowering shrubs and trees under a clear blue sky.  As a matter of principle, I persisted with using German during hotel check-in despite realizing I was rustier than I had expected to be, but was pleasantly surprised that after a couple of phrases I was able to fully understand not only the person I was talking to but the conversations around me; it had been years since I’d listened to full speed German conversations.  After a shower and a short nap, I set off in search of food and exercise.

To be brutally honest, I had never spent any amount of time in the area around the Hamburg airport before, but I noticed within a few steps that I was in a city that I loved.  It had been nearly 23 years since I had last been in the city, but I recognized the local shops and brands, and they all brought memories back with them.  I came across a neighborhood market that hadn’t yet closed down for the day, and lured in by the promise of a currywurst stand (one of the foods I deeply associate with Hamburg) I dove in and enjoyed being immersed in the daily activity.  I found a produce stand selling locally grown Elstar apples from last year’s harvest which had the distinctive texture and taste of an apple that had been properly stored (which is not, in contrast to the prevailing myth in the US, one that was picked early and held just above freezing in a carbon dioxide rich environment), and I chatted with the seller about apples and produce in general. I found my currywurst and enjoyed it at a standing table before heading on to a further exploration of the area.  After an hour or so of aimlessly meandering the area I popped into a supermarket to re-acquaint myself with the offerings, then headed back to the hotel for a beer and a light snack enjoyed outside before falling to sleep while watching the news.

The next morning I was fully back on a normal schedule and was up by 7:30, then had an expensive but excellent hotel breakfast before I headed out and retraced my steps back to the airport to catch a train into the city.  I bought a day pass and, since my old stop was on the same line, decided to start the day off by going back to my old neighborhood near the Berliner Tor station.  As I stepped off onto the platform I awakened memory cells that had been sleeping for years, and all manner of thoughts and memories from that station flooded into my head.  The short walk from the station to my old building was a very interesting experience; I was clearly the current me, but I felt incredibly close to the person I was then.  The power of location on memory and perception is impressive. Things I hadn’t thought about in years flooded back.

I had lived in Gustav Radbruch Haus, which is a student housing unit which, at the time I lived there, had suites consisting of 6 bedrooms, a couple of bathrooms, and a combined kitchen and living area.  My suitemates were from various backgrounds – Germany, Italy, England, and Mali were all represented in addition to myself.  Other suites had similar makeups; one of the other American students shared a bathroom with an Iranian at a time when the two countries were not officially talking. As we negotiated day to day occurrences each suite developed it’s own customs and communication protocols, each a mix of the things brought by it’s combination of residents.  That building is the physical point where a previously nationalistic (or, in American speak, patriotic) and conservative mindset was forced to recognize the concept of being part of general humanity, and the falsehoods of those elements of my personality were unable to stand up to the universal truth surrounding me.  Gustav Radbruch Haus is where I became a world citizen, but it was only the hindsight of the intervening years which clarified that for me, and only by standing back in front of it was I able to put myself in the mental space to recognize it. I could see through the door that the lobby area aligned with my memory, and I briefly considered going in and stopping by the office before I thought better of it; some things are best left to memory.

 

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I spent the remainder of the morning getting re-acquainted with my old neighborhood; there has been significant change in some areas, but enough remained the same that I felt at home. The grocery store I used to go to has rearraigned the shelves but was otherwise recognizable, and there was a bit of a pang of regret that I didn’t have a kitchen to go back; it would have been fun to have tried to re-create some of the meals that we put together as students.  Now such cuisine would be called “fusion”, then it was simply what came out of blending multiple cooking traditions with ingredients that were not quite what those traditions were based on.  I had to test if the baguettes and croissants from the pretend French bakery at the station still tasted as good as my memory; likewise the pretzels  from the kiosk across the walkway (and, in fact, all 3 tasted better!).  I found the small park, and possibly the same tree I was under, where I went to sit and stare blankly off into space while considering the frailty of life after learning that one of my favorite uncles had terminal lung cancer – and where I was found a couple of hours later by my Italian suitemate who noticed I was not myself when I had walked out of the suite without a jacket or hat; she went looking for me when I hadn’t shown back up an hour later and I recall her sitting down next to me and softly singing Italian lullabies until I was ready to talk about things.

After the old neighborhood I headed over to the University area.  It was another place of strong memories.  I opted to start at Dammtor station (which is probably my favorite train station anywhere in the world, and still amazes me) and meander through campus.  I found it somehow fitting that the cellar apartment that had been our program office and lounge area, and where the members of my program had sat through additional classes on German culture specifically for us (including, among others, an outstanding series of talks on Wagner’s “Ring”), has now been absorbed by the University sponsored daycare which was on the floor above and always complained about the noise we made when they were trying to have naptime…  I had lunch at the Kebab shop several of us always went to, and while I can’t guarantee it was the same couple running it, they did look familiar and the kebab was exactly like I remembered.  The bar I went to on my 21’st birthday was recognizable, but is now a pizza place and was closed for renovations.

With the two strongest memory locations visited, I opted to spend a few hours just wandering around the city.  When I had been there it was mainly a grey space with some hideous 1950’s and 60’s, “lets get a building up as quickly as possible” monstrosities, and several of the more historic buildings were wrapped in the green scaffolding of renovation.  Following some strategic demolitions, what seemed like new paint across the board, and some new construction, I struggled to find much evidence of the city picture I recalled.  Instead, I found a vibrant city full of people enjoying a pleasant day, and had I not been on a bit of a timeframe I could have easily joined those relaxing in the old botanical gardens.  The question which kept running through my head was “how could I have ever not liked this city?”

After a brief stop at the waterfront I decided that my feet needed a bit of a break, so I caught the train out to Wedel.  The ride was long enough to be a good rest, and once there I headed down to the Elbe and found a very pleasant beergarden overlooking the river.  Over a pretzel and an Alsterwasser I took stock of the feelings of the day and decided that in hindsight I had given Hamburg too hard of a challenge as a city; in my year of living there I had a period of immense personal and academic growth and development and hadn’t opted to put time or effort into appreciating the actual city I was in.  23 years later, that appreciation finally had a chance to be identified.

I ended my day of rediscovering Hamburg at a reception for friends and families of the Semester at Sea participants.  Originally the plan had been that this reception was to disseminate information about where and when to meet the students on the eve of their arrival, however a storm had blocked the ability of the ship to get to Hamburg so it had instead diverted to Lisbon, which threw just about everyone’s plans off.  Under that circumstance, the reception for those already in Hamburg essentially devolved into the families and friends swapping travel stories. Several people found it somehow fitting that I was back retracing my study abroad steps in the city it had all started in.

I returned to the hotel fairly late, and I was glad I had added a day to my trip to allow myself to go back to Hamburg in advance of my nieces arriving.  At 10 AM on the next morning I met them at the airport and we set off on their tour of one of my favorite cities – Hamburg.

 

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Random Food of the Day

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A slight modification on the traditional Black Forest cake at a cafe in Calw.

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