The weather this Sunday is disconcertingly mild for October, it seems stolen from a summer past or future, wrenched anachronistically into autumn. I cower in a room saturated with light. Creamy, lumpy walls that have a vaguely pebble-dashed texture encase me in their nondescript magnolia embrace. Sun streams in from a hunched over window – through this single portal a slice of serendipity filters into this wee attic flat in Seevetal.
Quarters are comparatively spacious, that is with slumming it in Edinburgh’s Buccleuch Street. The snows of Hamburg are yet to affront this fortress, but so far, the insulation seems sufficient.
Alas I must delineate the cons, for although I’ve finally had something of a success in the city’s hectic rental market, things could, as always, improve.
For a start, there is no kitchen. Well. There is and there isn’t. A plug-in hob rests on a shelf and there is at least a microwave; we’ve also been given the luxury of the use of a fridge-freezer.
There is no washing machine, which means that I must trek to the Harburg laundrette when I start to run out of clothes. The busses are frequent enough but not great logistically for weekends, when I’m going to have to crash or leave absurdly early.
Luckily administratively things seem to be heading in the right direction. I have a bank account and plastic, a sim card and university library membership. Hamburg’s library annoys me though. While I managed to withdraw the resources I needed, the process saddened me. It seems that you can’t take out books older than 10 years (most) from the shelves; one must order them and then they appear on a ledge next to your surname at some point the next day. To me that destroys all the fun of libraries, by which I mean the searching in old shelves, the smell of yellowed leaves and the discovery of the quaint, unexpected and most importantly, not directly relevant.
I must turn to matters less peripheral, to the reason I am where I am. The cause of my being at liberty to write such a tract are the Herbstferien, or October holidays. With no tatties to pick I’m free to explore the locality and reflect on my progress thus far, this greatly enabled by stable accommodation after a hellish Wohnungssuche and a rather gorgeous-looking, if a little impractical, bicycle.
The terms’ concluding fortnight has been an interesting one containing varied experiences, from correcting primary kids’ grammar to instilling considerable excitement about the world’s shortest scheduled flight. I finally managed to pick up and devour Lessing’s Emelia Galotti in a single night in preparation for a German literature class I’m helping with, only to be told the following morning that the students were on ‘Praktikum’ (some kind of work experience placement I presume). This particular edition, found filed in an entire wall of cute yellow Reclams, was purchased in the midst of a storm, which toppled several trees and left train tracks blocked, hence I had time to browse the Hauptbahnhof bookshop, waiting out the delay.
However, where some opportunities fell through others arose and I got to participate in one of the upper grade’s lessons concerning the theme of dystopia/utopia. Although the teacher was less than enthused, I was in my element. We watched a Black Mirror clip, Thomas More was on a PowerPoint slide and 1984 was set as holiday reading.
At the Immanuel Kant Gymnasium, the final week of term was known as Projektwoche. This meant that all five days were given over to a particular topic be it anti-bullying, health and well-being or drugs education. I chose to accompany the main class I work with on their HVV project, which stands for Hamburger Vekehrsverbund – the public transport system of the city. This, as well as the standard busses and trains, also includes public ferries on the river Elbe. In addition to learning the ins and outs of this system there were also many team building games, poster making and quizzes, which culminated in a class trip. Although I was not required to go on the main trip, which took the form of some kind of city-wide treasure hunt I believe, I did manage to help out on Friday, when the pupils went on an excursion to the Wildpark Schwarze Berge.
This safari park, contrary to most found in the UK (I think, though it’s not as if I’m a frequenter), was home to European native species only. While narrowing the field of exotica somewhat, this still allowed for the spotting of wolves, lynx, beavers and boar amongst other species. Our guide was very patient and knowledgeable, despite the inevitable interruptions cause by the intrusion of a wasp into the company of children.
Yesterday I began my personal exploration of the surrounding region by taking a train to the wonderful medieval town of Lübeck, lying northeast of Hamburg. The train station is subtle and refined and flooded by natural light, unlike grimy tiled Harburg’s insipid jaundiced glow and the Hauptbahnhof’s tenebrous interior. Once you step outside you realise you were housed in a building whose mock-medieval turrets will match the town to come. From here it’s only a short walk to the old gate, flanked by two chunky red-bricked towers topped by copper domes. The first thing you notice is how squint they are, emanating a markedly different vibe versus Berlin’s classical grandeur. It’s a sign of things to come – Lübeck’s charmingly wonky.
The market square is surrounded by municipal buildings with heraldry indented in their sides. As far as emblems go, a double-headed eagle guarded by a red and white shield isn’t half bad. Passing under the arches I discover, having done minimal research pre-departure, that this town is renowned for marzipan manufacture.
After a delightful (and most importantly, excellent value) lunch at an inexplicably Peter Pan themed restaurant, which plays the audiobook through speakers in the toilets, we wander down the many winding alleyways of Lübeck. Pastel coloured facades and higgledy-piggledy rooftops lace the descent to the dock, which resembles a sleepy sort of Speicherstadt but with more greenery and much less commerce. A quick peak in the door of one of the oldest municipal hospitals in the world and we’re ready to go home stocked with Süßigkeiten and Hanseatic pride.