Nineteen Days

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It is hard to believe it has already been nineteen days. It feels like ages ago that I was in Boston at the airport. The amount that I have experienced over these days is incomparable to any other experience. As a tourist, you still live in you own bubble. When you visit a relative or friend, they know the day to day tasks and take care of you. Here, I am doing it on my own; thankfully, Smith has such an amazing well-established program with wonderful teachers who care deeply about what they do. Last Saturday we took a day trip to the Hanseatic city of Lübeck. We had beautiful weather and it was great to be in a smaller city. It made me realize that because Hamburg is so large, it has made the transition for little country-bumpkin for me a bit bigger. On a guided tour of the city, we saw Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church). Built in 1250 this church has one of the largest organs in the world and contains over 8,000 pipes- the largest can fit a full grown person inside and the smallest is the size of a matchstick. It was the home church of Buxtehude and both Handel and Bach were guest students of his. (Click to Enlarge, See Full Album Here)Image

On Wednesday, we had Inseltag, directly translated meaning “Island Day.” It wasn’t a trip or a Hamburg holiday, like we thought, but rather just a day off. I did laundry, cleaned my room, caught up on miscellaneous things, and had an “interview” with two Germans who wanted to know what the pursuit of happiness means to Americans. The students are a bit older than we are and had to do this for a school project. Instead of a formal interview (conducted in English first, then German as backup and default,) we ended up going out for drinks, talking for four hours, and becoming good friends. Sebastian’s English was quite impressive and it was his go-to language, and it was easier to have a conversation with Katerina in German. Nora, Lucia, and I were the ones there and had a fabulous time talking world politics, Germany versus the US, and a bit of everything else. In class at the Smith Center, we have been working on an oral presentation, known in Germany as a Referat. Given in seminars, they normally are 20-45 minutes long, with Powerpoint, handout, and speaking from memory. Ours is like a practice run- 7 minutes, researched, Powerpoint, handout, and in German- to be presented next Friday at the end of the academic/ formal part of our orientation. All topics must relate to Hamburg. So I first chose to research ships shipbuilding within the Hanseatic League in Hamburg (13-17th centuries,) expecting to find massive amounts of information. Well, I had a hard time, got annoyed, and am now finding out why the pirate Störtebeker was decapitated by the Hansa, but now is regarded a hero and has a statue down at the port. It is much more interesting.

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Friday night was out night on the city. As part of our practical orientation. Meaning, Smith bought us drinks and our teacher showed us the Reeperbahn. To sum up the Reeperbahn here is a good quote from the book Hamburg: A Cultural History. The Reeperbahn is ”a four-lane road, 900 meters long with a total area of 800,000 cubic meters, containing over 400 bars, 40 bordellos, 22 casinos and gaming halls, 17 sex shops, 10 striptease and live sex shows, 5 meeting places for sadomasochists, 4 businesses selling sexy underwear and a ‘Condomerie’.” I just put that there for the shock factor. Really because I was expecting more of a shock. We went to the bars/clubs in the area that our teacher and the alums like, none of which were right on the Reeperbahn. I felt better and not so prayed upon in these German clubs than any place I have been to in the States; no one tried to grab me, stare at me, or look at me weirdly. All in all, it was a great night with great people discovering the city I’ll be living in for the next 46-or-so weeks.

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Today, Sunday, we went on a tour of the Elbe River and the surrounding areas. First we walked around HafenCity, which is the historical port section of Hamburg where the workers used to live and trading companies kept offices and now is a large, modern project to bring life back to the area. Walking along the river, we took a ferry (public transport) further up the river to the beach area, where we walked the coast and beach, looked across the river to the huge ships and containers and cranes. Stopping for a bite to eat at a beachside cafe-kiosk, we were in good company, yet another one of these German Sundays where families are out and about relaxing and enjoying time together in a way that is less frequent in the US. The weather held for us, although the clouds were intense and looming all afternoon. The weather is much like New England here, sunny one moment, then passing rain cloud another- not like the UK, just variable, sunny, chilly, windy, rainy. So far it reminds me of November in New England- Sweaters, gray, damp, rainy days that alternate with crisp, sunny and breezy days.

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All photos will be in the gallery here.

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