Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October 10, 2009 (Hamburg)

I am on another train from Hamburg to Cologne at the moment. Trains seem to be the only place that I can find time to type.

I’ve found that touring so quickly is a very stressful life. There is a lot of waiting and a lot of unknowns. But, of course, this was the part I knew would exist. It is also very difficult to learn about a place in a few days. There is a lot of time that needs to go into meeting and greeting with people and getting to know them. There is also a lot of time that is spent lost, or as I like to think of it, misguided sightseeing. All of this makes it hard to get to the core of study and research, as you might imagine, but I think for right now, the memories that I am amassing as I hop all over Europe are not to be regretted or even curtailed in favor of some deep study. Books are always available and I am quite certain that seeing each place and experiencing the food, sight, sounds, and smells is much more important at the moment. On a very excited note, I would like to report that I am the proud new owner of an Amazon Kindle, which was a birthday/Christmas present from my family. I can now carry limitless books with me without the fear of a sore lower back or steep bill at airport weigh-ins. Ok, it’s not limitless, but I can store 1500 books on it at only 10 ounces. I can also get my subscription to the Economist and newspapers so I can keep up with new Nobel Prize winners, among other things.

From the 6th of October until now, I have been in the house of Peter and Nicoline Krup, who were unbelievable hosts. Not only did they give me a very large space to occupy, but they also looked up all the information for every train I needed to take, and fed me breakfast, lunch, and dinner in only the most German of ways (except for the last night; we ate South American food…but hey, it’s meat right?). The first day they toured me around the city of Hamburg, showing us St. Peter’s Cathedral, which is actually just a monument now after having been destroyed in a bombing, St. Michael’s church, the Hamburg warehouses, the harbor, the opulent-looking town hall lined with Holy Roman Emperors, and all the little streets and bridges that make Hamburg…well, Hamburg. Hamburg has been and continues to be one of the largest shipping ports in the world and boasts the largest network of harbor warehouses anywhere. It also has more bridges than Venice. The city is very charming with its stone streets, its chic clothing stores, its shoe boutiques, its post-war reconstructions, its miniature train museums, and its large squares lined with white arcades. I found it to be more charming than Berlin, which may or may not be fair considering that Berlin is a sprawling city and I did not get to see it all. The other part that really appealed to me is that it is a bustling, growing city. If you take a ride over to Hafencity on the waterfront, you will see a modern architects playground. Glass and cement abound and uneven lines are the norm in this architectural microcosm. Seeing all the fresh building with the busy harbor as a backdrop gave me the feeling of being in an industrial age American city…a concept I’ve always learned about, but seldom seen. Of course, it is a German town, so perhaps we’ll call it my ideal of an industrial age German city, although I did not learn much about that in school.

I had four nights available to me in Hamburg, which left ample time for tasting some of the Hamburg specialties. We’ll start with the side dishes. It may not come as a surprise to some of you, but Germans love potatoes and cabbage. They eat their potatoes boiled, mashed, baked, fried (in all different shapes), au gratin, twice baked, with curry, with mayo, in a salad…the list goes on. They also eat lots of different cabbages with as much diversity of cooking techniques as with potatoes. My particular favorites are Rotkohl, which is a red cabbage cooked in a vinegar base, and just plain old sauerkraut, which can’t be beat on a bratwurst. They also like their fish up north. I tried some different fried fishes with potatoes and cabbage, a dish of pureed potatoes, fish, cabbage, beets, corned beef, and some tasty almond-trout.

In Germany, meat is king, and that holds for the city of Hamburg. One night I visited a restaurant that had the feel of a raucous German hunting lodge, without the raucousness. I sat with Peter and Nicoline in a raised booth with a stuffed marten directly above me, a wild boar to my front, a stuffed falcon following, and then other various wild things adorning the walls opposite. Unbeknownst to me, everyone else had ordered the smaller platters (I thought for sure that Peter had ordered the large one). I, however, ordered the large Hunter’s platter. After about 5 minutes or so, I was delivered a large pewter-looking tray about the size of my left-leg, with potato croquettes (x8), a large helping of red cabbage, a healthy serving of sautéed mushrooms, two types of venison, wild baby boar and a saucer of gravy--my heart stopped in anticipation. Seeing all this, I did only what I know best. I took a long swig of my Hefeweizen (beer) and then inhaled the carnivorous man platter. It turns out that I have taken my shrunken Turkish belly and turned it into a voracious German endless pit. I’m proud to say that I have gained back about 7 lbs. since Turkey. My clothes fit a little better now.

On a different night, the Krups took Lauren and I to a restaurant that used to be a horse-changing pub (since the 1500s, I think). Men would bring their horses in through the large, dark-brown doors, and then seek refreshment in a fire-heated room. Here, I ordered a wild duck with cranberries, sliced pear, gravy, and red cabbage. Peter had an equally delicious looking duck in front of him that was a little bigger than mine as a result of it being farmed. Nicoline had some very delicious goose livers which she let me try. All delicious, fatty and very filling. Beer stands no chance at getting one drunk when heaps of food are included. This is the secret of impressive German drinking I think. Just eat half a cow or pig, and then you can drink as much as you want. It’s easy!

Each morning, I awoke to a find a wonderful display of foods on the table, which I gladly devoured over some interesting, insightful and educational conversations with my two (former teacher) hosts. Our settings were a dark brown cutting board, fork and knife, a coffee cup, a juice glass, and a cloth napkin. To the top left of the cutting board was a knitted chicken sitting on top of a soft-boiled egg in an egg cup. They served us strong, black coffee (just like I like it now) apple and pear juice, fruits, 6 types of cheeses, two types of liverwurst, speck (a German bacon that is cured, not cooked), salami, assorted rolls, pumpernickel bread, black bread and two types of muesli. My favorite was the heart-stopper sandwich. This consists of a roll slathered in butter on one side, egg yolk and chopped egg white on the other, then two types of cheese in the middle with either liverwurst or speck. This has become a common breakfast for me in Germany and probably contributes to my weight gain…well that and the whole animals that I continue to consume. If I continue to work out, I hope that my weight is going to my muscles and not my belly.

Another highlight for my visit to Hamburg was the Miniature Wonderland, a museum of model trains and cities that is extremely detailed and intricate. There are hundreds of thousands of people all over the landscapes, and trains run by track across the waters and snow of Scandinavia, the mountains of Switzerland, the farm dotted landscapes of Central Europe, the red stoned Arizona landscape. They also run through multiple city streets, including those of Hamburg and Las Vegas. Everything is moving and everything is lit up. Even the model cars that navigate the city streets have lit up headlights. There are model fires that take place, there are Ferris wheels, there are roller coasters, there are live concerts, there is a running chocolate factory that produces chocolate…there are elevators, there are ski lifts, there are cement factories…there are, monasteries, monuments, and churches…the list goes on. There is no possible way to see everything, which makes this place great. You can keep on visiting and it won’t get old. The other thing is that it’s not completely innocent. It’s very obvious that adults designed this thing and were often bored when doing so. Some of the miniature people are having sex in fields, filming pornography in the high rises, or nude bathing on the beaches, but these things are not caught by the children I think. It takes the intent eyes of an adult to find such things in the exhibit.

Anyways, the museum rekindled my childhood fantasies of building and engineering things and I have decided that when I grow up, my house will be full of living model train exhibits in addition to all the secret passages. You just watch…I’ll do it.

Hamburg could not have been complete without some spice exploration, so I did that too. It is actually a wonderful city to explore for spices, because so many of them came in through this bustling port. I visited the spice museum—supposedly the only spice museum in the world—located in one of the old storehouses. It had old milling equipment, spice sorters, spice grinders, and spice packaging machines. It also had exhibits with pictures of spices in their natural environments and the processing methods of the native people. I’ll actually get to see that later in my journey, though. They had a wide array of ground spices in bowls and oils to smell and feel, but I could tell that they’d been sitting there a long time, because they had lost all their volatile oils and hardly gave off any aroma…I was disappointed with that. One of the things that I found most interesting were the different items they found in the sacks of spices that came from the East. There were lighters, toy cars, tons of tools, batteries, small dolls, etc.. Everything was very interesting, but as usual, there was no English displayed and it was a bit hard to pick up information. Story of my life, it seems.