Hamburg: the Town Hall and War Memorial
ROBINSON’S GERMAN JOURNEY - ON THE HOOF 3
Day 7 - Berlin to Munster
As usual, I got to the Hauptbahnhof far too early for my train so I sat outside in the sunshine drinking coffee and watching a large flock of German sparrows hopping around people’s hurrying feet, hoping for scraps. They were uncommonly bold. A lass near me fed them crumbs of croissant from her hand and invited me to do the same.
Needless to say, the sparrows gave me an embarrassingly wide margin. Perhaps, she said, they don’t speak English. A likely story.
She had another explanation, though. I was bearded and she’d noticed that the sparrows didn’t like men with beards. And I suddenly noticed how prevalent beards were there. At least half the men were sporting one. And quite a few blokes - even younger ones - had sculpted moustaches, too.
I told her that I agreed with her. If I was a sparrow, I wouldn’t touch me with someone else’s bargepole, either.
Two changes of train to get to Munster, both going without a hitch. The journey was through the former East Germany, but after over 20 years of liberation, it didn’t look noticeably different from the rest of Germany now.
The station at Uelzen is so grotesque that you can buy postcards of it. They call it ‘Hundred Waters Station’ - though God alone knows why, and he is unlikely to tell us any time soon. It’s been done out as a cheap, cut-and-paste Gaudi style building - all curves, cavernous alcoves, incongruous towerlets and coloured tiles.
It looks truly dreadful; bad, but not so bad that it’s good. And everyone using it, myself included, looked utterly lost and bewildered.
Lüneburg Heath is a vast, open heathland in central northern Germany famous firstly for being a nature reserve of international importance, and secondly for being the place where General Montgomery signed the armistice that ended WW2 in Europe.
At its heart lies the quiet little town of Munster. Well, it’s not THAT quiet. It’s virtually surrounded by German Army barracks and weapons testing installations - which makes it very noisy indeed.
Nevertheless, this - and the personal, family reasons for my visit - did not blind me to its many charms. It has a lovely High Street - known as The City - which is bordered on one side by a fine park, complete with large boating lake. There is much public sculpture of an agreeably un-abstract kind, including the smashing Goose Fountain (above), a group of prancing water-horses and a flock of Heath sheep, frozen in metal with their shepherd and his dog (below).
It was sunny and warm and I spent my day in Munster slowly. When I left it the following day, it seemed to share my sense of ease and peace, which is all I had wanted it to do.
Days 8 and 9 - Hamburg
When thousands of people from northern Germany in general, and Hamburg in particular, emigrated to the USA in the 19th century, they naturally took their working-class, peasant food with them. Which is why America imported the hamburger.
Locally, it’s still perceived as a cheap and rather unwholesome snack - a meatball in bread. The English language, though, has had great fun with ‘hamburger’.
Because it sounds as if it’s made with ham, the word ‘beefburger‘ was invented. This in turn has led to cheeseburgers, baconburgers, chickenburgers.... And ultimately, of course, to the wholly illogical ‘burger’.
And all because the poor, huddled masses of Hamburg left for the USA 150 years ago.
I made it my business - naturally - to find a real Hamburg hamburger as soon as I got here. But I was distracted by the city itself.
Its enormous, and extraordinarily busy, central station deposits you in what is obviously a thriving and prosperous place. Like Berlin and Munster, Hamburg was strafed and bombarded to fragments at the end of WW2 and, like them, has had to rebuild and re-invent itself. As in Berlin, this process is ongoing.
Not all of its post-war development is pleasing to the senses (as it were) - but Coventry this aint.
To be honest, you’d have to be a philistine of T Dan Smith proportions to make any noticeable dent on Hamburg’s situation; its centre is graced by two large lakes, a Town Hall of Mancunian magnificence and a long, busy and lively stretch of riverside which is now home to media centres, museums, art galleries and theatres.
Also along this stretch of revitalised quayside is the old warehouse which now contains the world’s largest model railway....
As I write, it’s a sunny, though cold, late afternoon in Hamburg. Vernal birdsong is gracing the small hotel garden outside my room and the oncoming twilight is casting tree-shadows that dance and dapple the light through my window.
Not that I care. It could be raining rottweilers as far as I am concerned. And this is because I have just had one of those life-enhancingly unforgettable experiences about which, I have no doubt, I will dream for many nights to come.
Miniaturland - the above-mentioned, world-record breaking model railway.
It’s unbelievable. It seriously redefines its own name: model railway. Oh no - this is truly a whole world in miniature.
It’s not just trains. It’s cars and buses and trams and lorries. It’s whole towns and cities, farms and villages. There’s an open-air rock concert (above), an agricultural show, a village wedding. There are motorways with moving traffic. There are roadworks and traffic jams. There are factories and quarries and mines. Castles, ski-resorts and funfairs. There are mountains and rivers and fields.
And, as of this year, there’s an airport too. Aircraft take off, land and taxi.
The entire display teems with movement, action and detail that takes your breath away. Drivers arguing after a collision, a couple making love in the long grass, a football crowd yelling and flashing their cameras when a goal is scored. Fire engines rushing to a burning building.
There’s night and day, dawn and dusk - these two pictures are of the same scene.
I was there almost all day and took 105 photographs and videos. It is truly a work of art.
But a more detailed description will have to wait. I’m exhausted, to be honest. And I’m hungry. This is my last night in this surprising city which, in just two short days, has made an impression on me I am extremely unlikely to forget.
I’m going out for a hamburger....
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