Friday, June 27, 2008

Hamburg, 13.6.90: Innocents Abroad and Restroom Follies

Some impressions from yesterday: Abendbrot with Dorothee Sölle’s family reminded me of Steve’s family, in a way. They sit quietly at table, as if each is abstracted into his or her own world. And yet they talk and laugh—but the overall impression that of a wall around each head, each heart. Something in me resists and rages against such opacity in people. I could not be German, if this is part of what being German means.

At Dorothee Sölle’s lecture, things began on an almost raucous note. She started speaking even as people milled about here and there, but eventually everything was quiet—again, off in each head. Then in the question section, only three people from the large audience asked questions. The “clapping” what that each bet on his or her desk with knuckles.

Coffee: we ordered cappuccino for coffee yesterday afternoon, and received a cup of cappuccino qwith a good dollop of schlag. This in north Germany . . . . And that following a lunch dessert of strawberries in whipped cream . . . .

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In the morning, we went to the university subway stop to meet Wolfram W. When we located it, she demanded that we stand outside. Then she came running out: “There’s a man in there and he got up when I went in. Then, legs crossed scissors-style: “I have to go.” Back in, then out again: “He wants fifty francs!”

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9 P.M. A long and trying day, but peaceful now, as I listen to a blackbird sing in the shrubs outside my window. It rained and/or was overcast much of the day, but cleared up around 7:30 P.M., and is now gorgeous. Nice to have an evening to rest and recuperate. We’ve been pushing it, and I feel the effects.

After we met Wolfram W. this morning, we went at his recommendation to an Italian (Etruscan) restaurant for lunch. Had tomato soup, salad, and lasagna . . . .

After lunch, shopped along the arteries of streets around the central university campus. Bought things to eat for the evening, a dark bread called (we think) Munsterländer, a German brie, an English cheddar with herbs in it, a Swiss Emmentaler, and a Jahrlsberg. With this, four kinds of cherries, nectarines, cherry juice, and wine. A veritable feast.

Steve bought a pair of Birkenstock sandals, and I had my hair cut. Our attempts at speaking German painful, but we manage, and people are on the whole very gracious and encouraging. I find the people both attractive and off-putting. There is obviously a Northern reserve—I catch people looking as if they want to stare, but won’t let themselves. On the city transit trains, people sit quietly with dispassionate expressions on their faces. No one talks to anyone else . . . .

Taking the train into town gave me a different perspective on the class structure of the city. The neighborhood in which we’re staying is obviously swanky, whereas many we passed on the train consisted of old and ill-kempt high-rises. And the people who got on at these stops were often obviously of a different class from those on which I’ve been basing my impressions. A number of young men had long, scraggly hair and looked washed out as if on drugs.

Why am I writing all these silly things? The frustration, I think, of getting any reliable angle on a city when you’re just passing through and insulated by ignorance of the culture and (relatively) of the language. I don’t want to travel as the typical American tourist, but it’s hard not to. I fantasize that without Kathleen and Abner, it would be easier to melt and blend, to be at home in this setting.

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