Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Heart of the City

We hadn't even seen downtown Hamburg yet, so yesterday Kerstin took us into the center of the city, where we wandered around little shops and galleries (many closed on Monday, alas), and had a lovely tea break in an old cafe. I should say tea and pastry break, because here the bakeries are unbelievably tempting and delicious. Today we each ordered a different kind of fruit strudel and then shared.

Later she dropped us at a very lovely shopping mall, where we spent some enjoyable time exploring what the Europeans are selling. It was quite a lot of fun.

Hamburg is a remarkably green city. There are so many trees and green parks and rivers that you cannot believe you are. In the center of a major city. It is very restful to walk in such an elegant place.

We were struck by the hundreds of brass markers in the sidewalks commemorating the Jewish families who were taken away during the Holocaust. In front of each house where people were taken (often whole streets of very elegant homes) these little markers name each person who lived there, their ages, and what became of them, for example "taken to Auschwitz, killed".

It is very moving to walk along these places and imagine those days when whole families were torn from their homes and taken away to the camps, never to return. It must feel strange to the people now occupying those houses to have that daily reminder just underfoot.

Last night we drove once again into the city, for dinner out in a very old and traditional northern German restaurant, again in the slaughterhouse district. This was the Schlachterboerse, a meat specialty place, where they warn that vegetarians should not even think about coming in. Heinz has a made sure that we experience the true cultural delicacies of food here. Last night was a highlight. He ordered crab soup for me and Daniella, and steak tartar (raw top-ground beef, flavored with spices and served on little brown bread squares). We drank dark German beer, and waited for the next courses. Finally they arrived (we are talking about 10 pm), and Madonna! They were not kidding about serious meat eating. At our table we had "gentleman's steak", pepper steak, calves liver with onions and apple slices, and a huge smoked pork loin with sauerkraut. On the side we had baked potato, mashed potato, roasted potato, and French fries, along with some sautéed mushrooms and a small bit of spinach. We all shared everything, and were so full at the end we could barely move. The restaurant was small and crowded and had the atmosphere of intimacy, gemütlichkeit, and long historic roots.

For a girl who leans heavily towards mostly vegetarian food, this trip has been quite a culture shock. Here it is traditional to have a huge plate of cold cuts on the table at nearly every meal. This includes liverwurst, many kinds of Italian and German ham slices, salamis, baloney-type things, and packets of raw steak tartar, sold here in tubes. There are also meat salads, marinated shrimps, and cheese platters. Heinz has also given us pigs knuckle, and a variety of meats from Bavaria, his native area. One evening he prepared an appetizer that was four kinds of fat (goose, duck, pork and?) each one served as a 1/2 inch thick spread on brown bread. There is not much poultry, but fish is also abundant here, and delicious. We have note yet had a single wurst, and last night was our first beer, but we have had an amazing quantity and quality of wine and champagne. I hate to imagine how hard it will be to get moving in the gym again once we return, which is coming up tomorrow.

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