Hamburg for Beginners

The 5-hour long journey to suburban Hamburg (Othmarschen) proved painful in the heat that seemed to follow me from Heidelberg, but was repaid in full by the hospitality of my host – HD, a divorced architect with an easy-going personality, 2 sons and a fat grey-brown cat (named Mollo), with a penchant for everything organic, even toothpaste. It seems thus, that my apprehensions about a repressed, curfew-loving and jail-oriented Gestapo-like person were for nothing. After a time spent orienting myself, I did find Othmarschen is indeed a pretty and peaceful place; a walk in the heavily tree-lined lanes along some impressive houses is nothing other than pleasant.

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For the umpteenth time in my life, I found myself housed in a cosy attic that is partially triangular, to which Mollo is a frequent visitor, and came down in a while to a dinner cooked by the host. Mollo watches many things and is probably unused to the vast amount of attention I pay to it, because of my fascination with cats, but have no ownership of any.

I think she likes the homey chaos in the house, for which the host is particularly apologetic.

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Another kind of chaos descended the next day in the Goethe-Institut Hamburg where it seemed that everyone wanted to register for a language course or other. The institute is situated in an impressive, red-bricked building opposite the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, across the Altmannbrücke, whose offices are shared among the Deutsche Post, the Spanish Institute Cervantes Instituto and a few other firms.

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To my bemusement, the class that I was placed in was pretty much an international group, and consisted of several other older participants from Spain, Holland, the USA and Canada, all of whom articulated themselves intimidatingly well, safe for the 2 Netherlanders whose strange Dutch-accented, R-rolling German made everything difficult to understand. The course was run by a tutor who wore the old-man´s singlet beneath his translucent white shirt and resembled a younger, flamboyant, brown-haired Elton John in his hippy days. He has a particular penchant for pronunciation and intonation, and has spent many an excruciating minute correcting the shape of our mouths.

A short Stadtrundgang brought us to some historic buildings, and having been immediately familiarised with the terms employed by the Hamburgers or the North Germans, we also learnt that the ‘Most Sinful’ stretch in the world was here – the (in)famous Reeperbahn, a street that is dedicated to all sort of carnal delights and promises a happy ending to the night, if you get my drift. I think I need to check this out for myself.

But as for now, I am stuck at home with a thunderstorm brewing outside, with a pile of homework to complete.

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