Germany

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Main(hatten) Transfer

The country of precision engineering, verbally-direct people, curry wurst and David Hasselhoff lovin’ came into view from the small oval of a plane window after an interminably long flight that lasted a good 18+ hours. Frankfurt am Main greeted the Travel Companion (TC) and I like a terribly familiar bedfellow (read: a sprawling city) – but the sight of terra firma is always a welcome feel despite its incredible urbanity for those who have been in limbo for too long. The International Airport is a surprisingly short 15 minute ride by S8 or S9 into the main train station and from there, a mere short walk to the Star Inn Frankfurt. Off we went...

Exhausting defiance

My travel planning process typically runs across 2 veins: juggling foreign, captivating landscapes from which the instinctive need to explore arises (the heady rush is really quite intoxicating) and the harsh reality of cost-cutting after realising that the reckless planning is potentially busting the humble budget. It’s a common sensibility that probably fits me squarely into the peg called “budget travel” but the penchant for seeking out strange itineraries such as this upcoming one that crosses that oh-so-fine line into “luxury travel”. I’m also quite certain that the travel companion (TC) – who had initially agreed rather enthusiastically to another jaunt in Europe after my sales pitch – is regretting...

The Road Out

A fond farewell in the form of sugared strawberries to the host signals that it is time for me to leave Hamburg. But not before I took a ride around the neighbourhood in that bicycle that’s been the most solid thing I’ve ever ridden. There is much I am going to miss in this place – the bewildering slower pace of life that I’ve been leading for the past month, the fretful weather (though gorgeous when the air is cold and the skies are blue), the beautiful scenery and its varied suburban areas. Learning a foreign tongue for so long and for so intensive a period here has momentarily left...

Down the Red-Brick Road

Brugge without the sandy footpaths, Brugge with the cold and volatile weather – that was Lübeck at first glance. Günter Grass, many turquoise church steeples, the Hanseatic League, extraordinary architecture, Thomas Mann, and…marzipan – if I could only sum up Lübeck with several key words. A Schleswig-Holstein Ticket took the 3 of us to Lübeck during the second weekend of the course – the once-mighty fortress and capital of the Hanseatic League of merchants that has been remarkably restored and is now a UNESCO heritage site. Lübeck lost its greatness when the politics of the 16th -17th centuries overran the Hanseatic League’s political and economic influence, but not its shape. Characterised...

Whizzing About

The architecture found in this place is enthralling, and the mood of the city changes according to the volatile weather. There are places in Hamburg pretty enough to visit multiple times – Blankenese, Altona, St. Georg and the Schanzenviertel being some of them – of which I have done a fair bit by harassing store-keepers with my grammar errors and abysmal pronunciation. The days slowly fall into a routine – until the discovery of a half-a-century-old bicycle that sits in the open garage opened a world of speed (next to the car of course) and exhilarating freedom that I have so intensely missed. There is a curious thrill present in...

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...

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. For the umpteenth...

Peace with a Price

A half-hour bus journey took us to Neckargemünd where P’s car was parked in order to escape Heidelberg’s exorbitant parking rates. A quick drive around the region brought us to the hilltop town of Dilsberg, where unfairly spectacular views of the hills could be found in one’s backyard. Originally a roman settlement, and now a village with regularly held medieval festivals and plays in the ruins of the citadel, we walked its undulating perimeter in a half-hour in the scorching heat. P took us through winding roads at a rather alarming speed mostly on 4th gear without gearing down on her 8-year old VW golf, whizzing past warning signs drawn...

The Exasperating City

An attempt to wash clothes and hang them out to dry on the balcony was interrupted by P’s neighbour, an aged couple whose constant quarrels mirror the melodramatic Korean dramas. The shifty-eyed man spoke in a choked manner, accused me of eating pizza the night before, lectured me about the necessity of owning beautiful plants to put along the balcony (as his wife had done), before finally ending the conversation with the phrase “I’d like to get to know you better”. P and I lowered the shades on the balcony not long after. I cannot seem to stop taking photos of Heidelberg much to my own annoyance, as such an...

The Fly-ing Welcome

The toilet-sized flies are annoying, particularly in summer. They flit in and out, announcing their arrival with loud, stereophonic buzzes. The smaller ones are green, with spindly legs, seem to have a penchant for landing in my drink. I go berserk the moment they land on my skin. A flying welcome to Heidelberg. I landed in a clinically silent Frankfurt Terminal 2, only to find out that the real action takes place (the trains and the buses to Strasbourg/Mannheim/Heidelberg) in Terminal 1. So I rushed to Terminal 1, expecting to catch the Lufthansa Shuttle to Heidelberg, only to find that it was not the big bus that I expected, but a...