Friday, October 10, 2008

Hamburg 14.6.1998: English Gardens, Cultural Diversity

In Hamburg now after a long tiring drive yesterday from the Oberpfalz. I found myself feeling sick—headachy with stomach upset, perhaps due to a heavy meal of Käsespätzle the evening before. The afternoon before that we gave to rest in the cool rainy weather, after a drive to Waldmünchen to see Herr Ederer, and then to Teunz to get postcards for Steve’s correspondent in Wisconsin, and to Tiefenbach to buy a rug from the Hutterer weaving shop.

In some ways, glad to leave the Bavarian countryside, which I had begun to find oppressive. Perhaps it was that everyone seemed to know our business. But it was even more the sense of being watched, and not always amicably.

The countryside itself is so pretty, though—mystical-seeming in the damp weather. The greens, the tranquility, the small, carefully groomed fields beneath scudding clouds, with villages everywhere the eye looks, are pleasant to see, if not to live in (one senses).

I slept much of the way north so can’t comment much on what we saw. The Bavarian border area, especially the city of Hof, seemed grimy and industrial. The former East German lands had a similar character, with substandard roads and huge fields—a carryover from the Communist period?

Hamburg begins to feel very homelike. After a very happy dinner at Erhard C.’s house last night, (with Wolfram and Karin, Erhard’s daughter and husband, a South African woman, Sandra), we slept long, and awoke to attend a Gottesdienst at the Akademie, followed by Mittagessen prepared by the Akademie students.

Writing now at a café overlooking the Elbe off the Elbchausee’s Wandernweg. Pretty weather, sunny with very brisk winds. Roses and lavender are in full bloom in the gardens of Blankenese, often planted together, with foxgloves, daisies, and poppies gone to see in the terraced gardens behind. The English style everywhere in evidence.

Erhard tells me the Jenischpark near Niendstedt, which he regards as the most beautiful part in Hamburg, once had a French formal garden—apparently when it was a landed gentleman’s estate in the 18th century. In the 19th century, a Scottish gardener was brought in to replant it in English style.

Erhard also tells me that when the Jews were expelled from Spain after 1492, many came here, and laid a foundation for Hamburg’s economic vitality and cultural diversity. As he put it, Grosse Freiheit in Altona is no accident: here, Protestant, Catholic, and Jew worshiped side by side in an atmosphere of freedom of conscience.

He also told me of a paper he’s written about a baron who had an estate northeast of Hamburg, who, in the 18th century, brought black slaves from St. Thomas to be educated in various trades for which it was difficult to find white laborers willing to go to the Caribbean. These slaves were Moravians, who worshiped in Altona, and were baptized on the baron’s estate.

Yesterday, driving into Hamburg, signs everywhere reading, “Wir sind auch Familie,” and demanding adoption rights for gays and lesbians. Wolfram tells us these were connected to a mass rally for gays and lesbians held yesterday.

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