Halfway through last week I thought about doing a blog post, but I didn’t feel like I had quite enough stories or pictures to share. Now I feel like I have so much, I don’t know if I’ll be able to fit it all in one post! Not that it makes a difference to ME how long my posts are, I just throw them up on the web and if anyone is willing to read through the whole thing, or read them at all (besides my mom. Love you Mom!), I think that’s pretty amazing. 🙂
So, you’d like to know the weekly adventures of the globetrotter, eh? I mean, everything I do right now is cool, because I’m in Europe. With the ‘everything is awesome’ song from The Lego Movie playing in the background, I could take selfies all day long and because the caption ends with “in Denmark”/”in Germany,” it would be cool.
“Walking around – in Germany!”
“Eating an ice cream cone in Germany.”
“Having a picnic in Germany.”
“Brushing my teeth – in Germany!”
“Clipping my fingernails in Germany, ooh yeah man.”
Etc, etc, and appropriate hashtags. “Everything is awesome… when you travel in Europe!” I hope you know that song & it’s well stuck in your head now. 😉
I have been in Hamburg for 10 days now, living with a family that is co-planting the first Calvary Church in this city. On weekdays I spent almost 5 afternoon hours in a classroom, learning Deutsch (Wie heißt du?). Before and after class I explore the city. In 10 days, it feels like I’ve seen a lot. I’m debating just how much to share with you, readers, because I could blab on for a while and you’d fall asleep on your keyboard and wake up with a weird imprint right before you had to go to work or a formal event, and we don’t want that, eh?

Let’s start out with some facts about Hamburg you should know:
■ It is huge, the 2nd largest city in Germany. At least 1.7 million people live in the city. It can take two hours, in good traffic, to travel from the north edge to the south edge. We are in a northern area, and it takes me about 30 minutes on the metro to get to the city center.
■ The main reason for its wealth and popularity is the River Elbe, which allows even the current largest cargo ship to sail to the city’s ports. It was also the city a lot of immigrants to America sailed from, the pre-Ellis Island.
■ The city has gone through a lot of rough times, including being burned down several times by Vikings while still young, the Great Fire of 1842, and Ally air raids during World War II. Consequentially, it had old and new buildings side by side, and buildings with pieces from different centuries.
During a free tour I took, the guide pointed out the building where the 1842 fire started. There are theories it was not accidental, because the man that owned that building was not well-liked. Can you imagine? The fire ended up jumping to the next building, barely touching the first one, and went on to destroy a fourth of the city in 82 hours. 10% of the city was homeless. If it was intentionally started, by a worker that felt slighted on wages or whatever their complaint was… then the fire would certainly be an example of how our vengeful actions affect far more than just us and our intended victim(s).
■ Because of the canals through the city, there are more bridges in Hamburg than Amsterdam and Venice combined. That’s pretty crazy to me.

Here are some of the things I have seen and done:

▪ The Rathaus, or city hall: a huge and beautiful building that took fourty-four years to plan and eleven to build. It has 647 rooms – that we know of so far. They found a door to a hidden room recently.

▪ Planten un Blomen, the largest park in the city. A beautiful place for strolling, ice cream, sleeping… it has greenhouses, ponds, a rose garden, a Japanese garden, etc.

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▪ The Hamburg Historical Museum

▪ Walked through the Alter Elbtunnel, that travels under the Elbe River – how the dock workers would get to work. It has car lifts at both ends built in 1911 that still work.

▪ Enjoyed a “fischbrotchen” by the River Elbe. No picture, I ate it too fast!

▪ Walked up St Michael’s church tower. It’s a small fee and a lot of stairs, but a great view of Hamburg.




▪ Visited Ballinstadt, an “immigration city” where many of the immigrants from Germany, Eastern Europe, etc. lived for a short while before departing to America (a handful of other destinations as well, but mainly America). It was especially interesting because my great-great grandfather left Germany for America at the turn of the 19th century. I have also been to Ellis Island, so I’ve seen both ends of their trans-Atlantic journey. There is also something moving about learning more about the stories of millions of people and families that were either fleeing something (especially Jewish families, when Hitler came to power but before the War started), or were stepping out on a hope that life in America would be better than what they had.


I salute their bravery. They had to completely let go of what they had built up, pour what wealth they could accumulate into tickets, undergo uncertainty and fear and confusion and 4 weeks of misery… and after the momentary wave of excitement swept through the ship upon the sighting of the Statue of Liberty, they had to step off the boat, and build completely new lives. It makes me proud, to be from “The Great Melting Pot” that is so young yet has been such a world-changer (mainly for good), but on the other hand I have a bittersweet feeling for the immigrants, because I know no country is perfect, and America certainly disappointed them to different degrees.

▪ A public viewing of the Germany-France game at the HeigelGeisten field: supposedly there were about 100,000 people there. I’m a bigger fan for American football (go Seahawks!), but it was neat to be in the middle of Germany’s excitement. And yes, there was lots of beer.


Public viewing of the Deutsch-Frankreich Fußball game

▪ St. Nikolai, a church which follows the pattern of destruction in Hamburg… burned in 1842, rebuilt, and then destroyed during World War II. The city decided not to rebuild the church, instead turning it into a memorial. It makes quite a striking image now, with only the blackened steeple standing, and various memorials placed in the empty space where the sanctuary once stood.
At this site the tour guide talked about Operation Gomorrha, an air raid or “firestorm” by the Allies on Hamburg during WWII. As this church burned, apparently the flames and smoke were twice as high as the steeple and could be seen for kilometers. The fire grew so hot (800 Celsius) that people trying to flee were actually pulled back towards the fire by the winds (up to 150 mph) the fire created. In the end, 50% of the city was destroyed and over 42,000 people died.
It seems fitting, that this church should remain as it has become, in the middle of the city so drastically changed by that firestorm.

▪  The Miniatur Wunderland, a huge model train exhibit started about 12 years ago with sets of America, Germany, Scandinavia, Austria, etc. Though “model trains” may sound mild to you, this is a very popular attraction – usually there is a wait because they only let in a certain amount of people at a time. Fortunately I did not have to wait to enter, but there were almost too many people inside, so I had to wait sometimes to squeeze into a space where I could see. This attraction has: 930 trains, 274 cars, 215,000 figurines, and took almost 580,000 hours of work to make- so far, that is, they are still adding new countries. Though my eyes got tired from the rotating day and night, I could have spent many more hours there, finding the details and ‘stories’ the craftsmen hid everywhere. Scuba diving cows, fairies and unicorns, monks spying on a girl in a miniskirt, the moon above the Kennedy Space Center.. you find more the more you look.


The current visitor count to the Miniatur Wunderland

▪ What else? Counting Houses built a hundred years ago by merchants, canals, the sound of streetside cafes and musicians through our class window, weekly markets, towering cargo ships… this city has been through so much – through the flames, literally – but each time it has rebuilt and recovered. On the Rathaus, below the clock, there is a Phoenix with wings spread, a symbol that completely fits the city of Hamburg.

More on language class later.