Things German (Part 1)

Okay, here are some of the photos from Hamburg. First, because I don’t have enough of these in most of my postings, I’ve included some photos of Abby and me. These are taken in the plaza near the Rathaus, the town hall.

The Rathaus dates from 1860. Swantje’s mother had noted that much of the old town had not survived “the catastrophes”, which Abby and I had assumed was an embarrassed reference to the bombing during World War II, but we subsequently learned that large parts of Hamburg had been destroyed by fire throughout the city’s history, the last time in 1842, which resulted in the clearance of the plaza and the construction of the Rathaus. You’ll note the canals behind us: Hamburg is called “the Venice of Germany”, and the canals lead to the Elba River and on to the North Sea. The waterways transformed Hamburg into a major trading city, but they also enabled floods which destroyed parts of the old town that the fires didn’t consume. The most recent one was in 1962. (My description of Hamburg’s history is painfully inadequate, so please check out Wikipedia, Yahoo!’s travel guide, or really, just about anything else if you’re curious. For instance, did you know that the world’s first organized club for social and family nudism was formed in Hamburg, in 1903? I didn’t.) Here are some photos of the Rathaus.

Hamburg also has cathedrals. The cathedral tower to your right is the tower of St. Nikolai, which served as a beacon for British bombers during WWII. The British preserved the spire itself, however, because it had been designed by an Englishman. The site now serves as a peace memorial. We also have the view from the top of St. Michael’s, Hamburg’s now most-prominent church. In particular, you can see the spire of St. Nikolai and also some of the shipyards. Finally, we have the poster from the Kaiserkellar, where the Beatles got their start. Not a cathedral, but a pilgrimage site for some.

Interesting thing about the neighborhood around the Kaiserkellar – it’s in the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s (as many guide books say) “notorious” red-light district. Whatever it was in its early days, today it’s flashy and tawdry, with neon-lined sex shops blazing their wares (videos, fantasy wear, and impossibly complicated rubber goods) onto the street. Frommer’s has a good write-up on the area. The most intriguing stretch of the Reeperbahn is the Herbertstrasse, a one-block road that is sealed at both ends with solid red metal gates that are set up so you can’t see into the street from outside. Signs posted on the gates forbid men younger than 18 or women from entering the area. The Herbertstrasse, you see, is where the prostitutes work. Men under 18 aren’t allowed in because it’s illegal for them to use prostitutes, and women aren’t allowed in presumably because they’d inhibit the men, or the prostitutes don’t want the competition.

One enters the gates, and to the right and left are lines of windows with chairs behind them – probably about 60 stretching down both sides of the street, although only about 10 of them were filled at 6:30 PM when I walked in to do my research. The women sit in the chairs, dressed in negligees, and they open the tops of the windows to lean out to talk to potential customers. It takes only about four sentences to get from “Hello” in German to “Do you want to come inside for a good time?” in whatever language you happen to speak. I visited the Herbertstrasse on Abby’s recommendation, since she wanted me to have the full Hamburg experience. She was waiting for me at the end of the block, however; apparently, there’s the full Hamburg experience and then there’s the full Hamburg experience. Sadly, I have no photos of this tourist attraction.

Next: the Kunsthalle and the Albanian premiere of Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio”