Sex Shops & Fried Food

I was back up north for the weekend, this time in the lovely city of Hamburg. Hamburg is somewhere I could live, indeed, somewhere I’d like to live if Germany is going to be home for the forseeable future. It’s big, there are plenty of little neighbourhoods and ethnic enclaves and there’s water. We’ll have to see what sort of a deal I can strike with fate. She seems to have me by the scruff of my neck at the moment.

The Deutsche Bahn, 20 minutes late, offered me a space by the toilets for the first half of the trip and then an actual seat for the second. We’re getting along well these days. I’ve learnt to live and let live with the only German product that doesn’t work exactly as it should.

I am rather enjoying my train trips these days, not least because they have been rather seamless, but also because the German countryside is absolutely lovely in Autumn. I have watched, since my return from the baked earth and blue waters of Santorini, the trees bustle with heavy green leaves then turn into plumes of golden and red, the star shaped leaves dripping onto the streets, only to be dutifully swept into neat piles by the industrious Germs. I have watched the neatly ploughed fields gradually change colour and begin to stoically shoulder their morning burden of frost. The sky has stayed, for the most part and save for the white mornings of fog, a crisp, eggshell blue – the precise colour a sky that blows such a crisp wind onto pink cheeks, should be.

I suppose, what I am trying to say, is that I am rather enamoured with this hemisphere’s definite seasons. Everything noticeably changes. The entire landscape goes about its natural process, minding its own business and splashing these wonderful colours about, and I sit back and think of all the English storybooks I read as a child, the settings of which I never fully comprehended. Watching Mother Nature prepare for the onslaught of a white winter, is, despite my pathological hatred of the season, a truly beautiful thing.  Almost as beautiful as the first darling daffodils of May.

Anyway, I have completely digressed.

A spooky, wholly detective-trench coat deserving mist ushered me into Hamburg and I felt momentarily disappointed I hadn’t gone with my detective trench after all. I would have felt completely at home, loitering on the polished cobbles by the harbour. As it was, we skipped the loitering part, and headed straight for a little tapas bar down by the fisherman’s hall. This happens to be a significant place for the SG and me, and also happens to serve rather delicious tapas and wine in Mediterranean-style caraffes.

Post-tapas, it was time for me to see Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, or at least enough of it to feel a sort of Amsterdam-esque depression seep into my weary soul. It’s difficult to explain, but the lack of soul in the sex industry is something I can never quite get past. It plays on something in people – an absence, a longing, a want – by offering something it cannot possibly fulfil and doesn’t really have an interest in fulfilling. It’s quick and cold and exploits its products and consumers, and I never walk away from its streets and shows and signs and shops feeling anything but vague sadness.

The mist and the sex industry depression cleared for Sunday and the afternoon lent itself  perfectly to strolling. We set a leisurely pace around the Alster, pausing at a lakeside stall for a take-out coffee, and made our way into the centre of the city. It being a Sunday, the place was quiet and empty, save for tourists checking out the city’s marvellously expensive shopping streets. I checked them out for a while too, until I felt another vague depression creep into my weary soul. 800 euro for a pair of boots. 1200 euro for a bag. I complained to long-suffering SG, who had already weathered my sex industry rant, that in my old age, such displays of wealth were starting to repulse me, and we moved on.

We ended up eating fish and chips at a little restaurant down by the water. There are cafes and take-outs and restaurants a-plenty, running along the sort of industrial setting of Hamburg’s busy harbour. Most offer some sort of seafood and blankets for the diners braving late November temperatures.  A blanket, battered fish and chips, a wine and the sun setting behind the ships is, frankly, the only way to wrap up a Hamburg weekend.

Actually, there is one final way to wrap up any weekend jaunt – a seat on the Deutsche Bahn on the way home. Boom.

More Hamburg pictures here.

A Weekend Seachange

I’ve taken myself to Hamburg for the weekend. Not to charge around like a mad thing, playing rabid against-the-clock tourist, but for a sea change. To be by the ocean. To write, drink coffee and wine. To be somewhere new. My feet are getting increasingly itchy these days.

We bullet out of a grey, gloomy Muenster, seemingly chasing the sun. It comes in bursts and I live in hope Hamburg’s harbour will be beneath a blue sky and winter sun. It isn’t, but there’s something strangely inviting about darker skies hanging over Hamburg’s eclectic cityscape. Its a pleasing confusion of quaint, stony lanes, industrial canals, Baroque and neo-Renaissance against nautical practicality, with colourful, graffiti-covered buildings lining the harbour.

I head straight for the water after checking in. I find it almost by smell (I have had to learn to compensate for my appalling map reading skills) and push up against the pier’s barriers, staring hard at the ocean’s activity, as if staring will make it jump into and under my skin. I have missed salt water, and even though Hamburg’s harbour is littered with gigantic cranes and ships and the water is as dark as the sky, it is enough for now.

In a café by the harbour, my wine arrives in a Greek style carafe, with a tumbler. My cheeks are still stinging, the wind has sharp teeth. I sit there for hours, well into the night, trying out my limited German on the spry café owner whose face is the permanent red of people who spend their lives by the sea. The walk home is the coldest I have ever been in my life and the wind chases me from the harbour side, up onto the warmer road.

Overnight it snows. I don’t want to get out of bed, so don’t. I don’t venture out into the city centre until lunch time on Sunday. Hamburg on a Sunday, like most of Germany, is quiet. There are a few cafes with their lights on, full of stylish hat-wearing locals and red cheeked tourists and the seagull filled expanse of the square that boasts the stunning Rathaus is speckled with people, but for the most part the city is resting. I join the red cheeked tourists in two cafes (and consequently completely overdo the caffeine) intermittent stops between strolling the clean, quiet, wide streets of the city’s centre.

The shopping looks, through darkened windows, brilliant. I have a list in my bag of bars and restaurants that I won’t make this weekend.

But that’s okay. Because I have no doubt I will be back.