A Slow Reacquaintance

A confession: I have mixed feelings about the first week of the course. Some participants appear to be caricatures.

The Spaniard Jose M. (or rather Catalan – as he hails from Barcelona) in my class breathes alarmingly heavily, and looks like an emaciated, unkempt, unshaven, skinny and wavy-haired version of Cesc Fabregas. He speaks in a lackadaisical manner, but with amazing pronunciation, and developed a skin allergy on the third day.

The American Jakob S. speaks too fast with a Texan drawl.

The Spaniard Maria T. from Cadiz, in contrast, looks like a full-bodied flamenco dancer.

The retired Dutchman Willem U. appears to be always red-faced, and has brought his bicycle with him to Germany.

In an innocent introductory session on the second day of class, a partner-activity had us asking each other several probing questions, one of which was: “What fascinates you?”

The capacity for philosophical reflection appears great in Willem the Dutchman, a retired quasi-civil servant.

“As you get older, the arc of life…,” Willem waved his arm in an arc, “this is difficult to express even in Dutch.”

He tried again.

“As you get older, the cycle of life that you have experienced is in itself a source of fascination – in retrospect.”

“Is there a wish that you still hope to fulfil?” That was my next question, and I wondered privately if he still had dreams to fulfil, having lived a lot longer than I have, and having experienced much.

I felt humbled by his stupendously simple answer, in which the material (after which so many of us hanker after) did not seem to play any role.

“I have a 16-year old son, and we’ll be back in northern Germany in August for a 3-week bicycle tour. My dream is that we’ll both be sufficiently healthy, and able to enjoy the weather and the trip.”

The principle of enjoyment is key, he appears to imply, one that is at once a paradoxical examination of the ability to glean pleasure from the minutest things in the face of doubt, uncertainty and worry.

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Thus the compelling urge that sets me afoot early in the morning on my normal travels seems to have abated the moment I arrived in Hamburg and I question if it is the superficial familiarity I have developed with Hamburg since the last time I visited a couple of years ago. The accompanying frenzy that drives one to ‘do a jap-tourist’ is no longer there – and it is most probably attributed to the extended length of time that is spent here in which every day can be dedicated to exploring a small section in a fuller capacity that ordinarily disadvantages the nomadic backpacker.

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I have only done these so far, and am ignoring the nagging feeling that I should be doing a tad bit more (not forgetting that a pile of challenging homework lies in my bag as I walk around):

1. Altona
An attempt to walk to Altona, the fashionable district for yuppies led me instead to the St. Pauli district which opened up to the Reeperbahn, the sex shops/live peep shows signs muted and awkward under the glare of the sun. I did reach Altona in the end after taking the train and loved its feel immediately.

2. Othmarschen
The peaceful neighbourhood, as I have come to understand, is purportly one of the richest in Hamburg and the stretch that leads to the Elbe is one of the prettiest and most serene that I have seen in this country.

3. City Centre
The place that the tourists head for with a vengeance because of the numerous shopping opportunities. I reacquainted myself with the city centre and its circular Altstadt and some of its historical buildings – along with the impressive Jungfernstieg, Rathaus and its massive shopping streets that converge there.

4. Taking a bus tour around the city and around the Alster lakes.
There is a wistful thrill once you see the buildings and sprawling villa that line the most coveted spot in Hamburg – at the lakeside. The Alster panorama did not disappoint in the afternoon sun’s rays that turned the water a brilliant silver.

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I still have to:

– Visit Blankenese and see how rich people really live
– Visit Altona properly (and dine there) in that district that is known for its quaint shopping streets and the vibrant Turkish community
– See some musical or some opera
– Walk to Devil’s Bridge (and I’ll find out why it has such a name)
– Get to Lubeck in the cheapest possible manner and gawk at the finely preserved Hanseatic heritage
– Get to Kiel or Rugen somehow
– Walk around the Schanzenviertel and see the hype about it
– Get to the Dickensian Speicherstadt
– Wake up early one Sunday morning and catch the legendary Fish market (do I really want to put myself through the odour of fish at 5am in the morning?)
– Finish the homework for the day. I haven’t heard this word applied to me in ages.

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