Monday, 4 June 2012


The rain, which we seem to have successfully dodged for the last few days, finally caught up with us this evening. It's now raining rather heavily, and my bones are damp and aching. There's a curious orange light coming from the West, so I'm hoping tomorrow will yield a bit more sunshine.

We went to Hamburg today. As we arrived in the outskirts of the city, I was suddenly aware that it felt like the first "real" place we'd visited on our little trip. The graffiti and bashed-up concrete tower blocks actually made me feel at home. Once an urbanite always an urbanite, I suppose... No, wait... I was born in the countryside...

Our visit to the city began with a trip to a ruined church, destroyed, rather uncomfortably, by the Brits, who carpet-bombed the city with devastating effect in the Second World War. I guess I've become rather used to talking about the Blitz in Coventry whilst conveniently forgetting that we destroyed Dresden and Hamburg in a sort of tit-for-tat retaliation.

That said, the reporting of the War over here is remarkably generous to the Brits. The line seems to be "yes, the Allies bombed us, but we must, at all times, remember that we created the problem by bringing Hitler to power." In the crypt of the former church, there was a display about Coventry with pictures that dissolved us all to tears. I imagined my Grandfather, who ran a soup kitchen in the city from the day after it was destroyed, stumbling through the rubble; my Grandmother at home wondering where he was. What I hadn't realised is that Goebbels had cynically coined the phrase "Coventrieren" meaning to obliterate.

We went down to the harbour and took a boat trip around the port. It started with little promise. The captain of the boat took us down a series of dark canals whilst droning on about carpets and trade routes. Then the sun came out, the boat went back into the grand harbour, we went out on deck, and suddenly it was a fascinating excursion, the highlight of which was going within spitting distance of an enormous cargo liner which was being loaded up for a trip, I think, to Greece.
On the boats

Sascha and I went from the harbour to the Reeperbahn, Hamburg's glorious red light and theatre district, which is definitely where I'd choose to live if I were a Hamburger. It's a fascinating place; a mish-mash of sex clubs, seedy shops, cinemas and tranny bars with art galleries, cafes, boutique museums, squats and crazy churches. On one street the words "Jesus Lebt" (Jesus Lives) had been painted onto a wall right next to a sign which screamed "Gay Cinema." We even took a trip down Herbert Strasse, the gated street, strictly for men only, which is filled with scores of women sitting behind windows selling their "wares." I’m told that, in the past, if a woman ventured down the street by mistake, the hookers would lob pots of piss at her. It’s almost worth taking a woman down there to see if the same thing would happen in this day and age.
The secretive Herbert Strasse... Behind every window...

We had proper German cakes in a wonderful cafe overlooking the Inner Alster; a body of water in the centre of the city, which my mother remembered regularly freezing over in the 1960s and being used as a massive skating rink. I think Fiona and I visited the very same cafe on my only other visit to the City during the winter of 2000.

350 years ago, Pepys went to Woolwich to see how much progress had been made on the timber frames that would form the extension on his house. They were being made in the navy timber yard – which was where, I suspect, the finest chippies in the land plied their trade. The extension to Pepys’ house – and Sir William Batten’s next door would give both properties an entire extra floor; 4 extra rooms, including a wainscoted dining room! Very fancy. And lots of flights of stairs!
Now if only this laundrette had been on the Reeperbahn!

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