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HOUSE DIARIES

Cirque in Hamburg


January 23-27
Written January 24-27

Dear Friends and Families,

Hamburg is one of our favorite cities and Cirque du Soleil is one of our favorite attractions, so we decided the combination was too inviting to pass up.  To make it even better, we convinced four of our Erlangen friends to join us.  While they each had reasons for visiting Hamburg, we hoped they would share our enthusiasm for Cirque. 

We traveled by train rather than drive, since winter-driving is not our favorite.  I also did the calculation and concluded that paying for gas for our guzzling all-wheel-drive Audi was about equal to two on-sale first class train tickets.

d130123_02_M_on_train.jpg When we left on Wednesday, I was having doubts about the choice of train travel.  First, our train out of Nuremberg had been replaced by an older version, one without seat reservations.  Equipment failures on trains are not as serious as airplane or auto failures, but unsettling, nonetheless.  Then, before our first stop, the replacement train broke down as well, at least that's what we think the announcer said.  In any event, we sat in a field for a half hour before limping into W├╝rzburg, where we transferred to an hour-later train.  Again, no seat reservations and now no first-class seats.  This really isn't such a big deal, since second class seats are just fine and we were lucky enough to get two together.  Other passengers were left standing!

d130123_04_arriving.jpgd130123_06_hotel.jpg We arrived in Hamburg, Altona station, the last stop for our particular train.  It is actually a nice place to get off, because it is much smaller and less hectic than the two earlier main Hamburg train stations.  And our Best Western Hotel was literally just next door.  Like the other Best Western hotels we have used in Europe, it was not much to look at from the outside, but inside the facilities, amenities, and staff were first class.  In the last two years, we have spent enough time in German Best Western hotels that it felt like home.

After our very tasty Turkish lunch at Koz Urfa, Marilyn and Dieter met us for "Kaffe und Kuchen", coffee and cake, an old world tradition that we strongly endorse.  By now we were completely stuffed and ready for the subway ride out to Corteo, our Cirque du Soleil choice for the evening.  The confusing subway ride reminded us that we were in a big city.

Corteo's circus tent is as grand as others in the series and there we met Dale, Peter, and his cousin and wife.  We had a mandatory glass of wine before settling into our seats.  I was chided about taking this seat-settling picture by a nice but insistent Cirque enforcer of the no-photos policy.
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To anyone who has not seen a Cirque performance, it is hard to explain the opulence, creativity, skill, and simple fun a Cirque du Soleil performance and Corteo lived up to the reputation.  The story is broadly about a circus clown imagining his death and funeral, but the story is little more than an excuse for a most imaginative and ethereal display of dance and acrobatics. 

And, all our friends were properly surprised by the circus.  Whew.

Thursday, we rejoined the group for some Hamburg shopping and walking around.  Despite the cold, we did a fair amount of walking.  My step-counter ended the day showing 11,465 steps! Much of the time my hands were too cold to get out the camera, but then again, how many pictures of shoppers might one need?  Nonetheless, the walk did remind us that Hamburg is one of the most interesting and beautiful cities we have been to.  We need to come back when it is not quite so cold.
Rathaus -- City Hall.
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d130124_10_dinner.jpgAfter lunch, all the friends went their separate ways, and Marianne and I subway-ed back toward our hotel.  At the Altona station, we turned left instead of right and were trapped by a wine bar at the Mercado indoor market.  The glass of red did warm up our cold feet.  After that, we wandered more in the Altona district, looking at folks and eventually looking for dinner.  We settled on "Golden Gans" (Golden Goose) for a bit more wine and a very fine dinner.  This may have been the best restaurant meal I have had in quite some time.

After that, it was early to bed, exhausted by our walking. 

Friday was a busy day, so much so, that I could not keep up.  By Sunday morning, I had sorted pictures and done a very rough outline.  Writing these diaries is really like a school writing assignment, with a photography class assignment thrown in. 

Now, on Sunday, I am catching up, courtesy of the Deutsche Bahn train ride.  We left on time at 11:47, but were delayed by something or other at 11:50.  There was a detailed announcement, but in train-speak German, a language we obviously can't handle.  Of well, back to Friday's diary.

d130125_02_Kunsthalle.jpgd130125_04_KunstView.jpgBack on Friday, we started our day with a trip to the art museum Hamburg Kunsthalle and the new show by Alberto Giacometti. He's the artist famous for skinny bronze figures with big feet.   The only photo I was allowed was from an upstairs window, but this also let me just look around.  Not bad.  I'll admit that I actually liked the show, both Giacometti's part and the rest of the contemporary art.

We also enjoyed "Golden Friday" at the Kunsthalle, a special senior citizens' ticket that included coffee and cake.  I think we were the youngest art fans (or cake fans?) in the crowd.

By the time we had finished coffee, the sun had started to show, so we took the subway back to th hotel and picked up the bigger camera.  No missing photo ops when the rare German sun starts to shine! We walked around the Altona district, past a wedding at city hall, and over to the waterfront vista. 
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From there, it was down a long, sloping walk to the harbor level, some of the 13,000 steps I would rack up on the day.  Unfortunately, Marianne's leg decided it did not like the cold, long, walk and she was suffering by the time we reached a lunch stop at the fish market area.

After we ate, while it remained a cold day, I just could not stop taking pictures along the icy river.  The water-level ferry dock gave a great vantage point. Too many pictures, I know, but the evening light kept getting better and better.  And Marianne could stay back at the lunch restaurant, chatting with the waiter and staying warm.
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Boats everywhere!  Working boats are my favorites.
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We took a ferry boat ride back to the subway, so I needed to include lots of ferry pictures.
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Night came, and the views improved, although it WAS cold out on deck.
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d130125_90_end.jpgd130125_57_museum.jpgAfter our ferry to the subway, we needed to climb a few steps and I needed to apologize to Marianne for all the extra wear and tear on her aching leg.  Part of the apology was a sweet from the subway station baker.  Germany does have some advantages, bakeries among them.

Saturday was more of the same.  We started with a subway ride down to the Hamburg Rathaus (City Hall), where there was a tour of the ornate old building.  The tour is only offered on Saturdays, because the building is still used by the local government.  The rich and detailed assembly rooms reflect the centuries when Hamburg was it's own independent state and the Rathaus served as a country capital, not just a city hall.
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Many of the details reflected Hamburg's role as a trade center, with connections throughout the entire world.
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Among the ornate details was this door of gold and aluminum.  The aluminum dated from before the age of electro refining and, reportedly, cost more than the gold. Much of the building had been destroyed in a fire, but a melted glob of bronze and precious stones still has a place of honor.
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Our second tourist destination was the International Maritime Museum.  I suppose this was a "John stop" to balance Friday's Kunsthalle, that would have been a "Marianne stop".  In fact, the Maritime Museum turned out to be nine floors of so much marine stories and artifacts, that even I wore out after about half the floors.  We started out on the top floor, which was filled with so many miniatures that I was immediately reminded of the other over-the-top Hamburg attraction, the Model Train Museum.
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Somewhere around the sixth or seventh floors were some exquisite model sailing boats, one of gold and platinum.  The wooden models were amazing themselves, but for real carver skills, the bone ships had to be the most difficult.
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There was also almost an entire floor of seascapes, showing everything from the "glories of war" through the perils of seafaring.  There was also a large display of the elegance of the Queen Mary and other famous cruise lines. 
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I think my favorite display was a movie made in 1938 showing all the facets of life around the Hamburg harbor.  In our ferry boat trips, we would see a harbor that handled far more traffic with far, far less heavy labor.
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I don't know what the rest of the museum held, but the museum  cafe seemed like a good place to end.  The tomato and carrot soups were excellent and fortified us for the trip out to the cold streets and canals of the "spice harbor" area.  The old buildings originally were the center of Europe's spice and coffee trade and even today hold many of the "oriental" carpets dealers responsible for covering the floors of elegant old-world homes.
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Back out on the street, the farthest we could walk was to the local ferry terminal.  We would spend the next two hours enjoying the rides.  This really is a deal, since the cost is covered by normal all-day subway tickets.
This tall building will be the Hamburg Philharmonic when it is finished next year.
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My favorite remains work boats from garish green ferries to giant container ships. I was impressed with how quickly this Hanjin giant came up the Elbe River and was swung into place in one of the connecting canals.  I imagine one or two of these ships carry as much freight as a week's worth of boats shown in the 1938 movie shown at the Maritime Museum.
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So, that was Saturday, another long but early-to-bed day. More than 11,000 cold steps had worn us out.

d130127_80_TrainBack.jpgSunday was very simple: long breakfast, long train ride, short drive home.  This is the type of travel we enjoy.  I wonder when we can do it again.

Regards,

John and Marianne

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