It seems Hamburg is one of Germany’s best-kept secrets. I’d never heard of this place till moving to Deutschland, but when I do hear of it, it’s accompanied with “Go when it’s warm.” The water. The Elbe. The city-crawling canals. The outdoor eateries. The “beach.” The harbor. The Alster lake. The restaurants on the harbor.
When I saw the forecast for our time there, well, let’s just say it rained on my solo-exploring parade. All 4.5 days of it. I was bummed, but still excited to experience a new city. While my other half worked, my plan was to plop down in cafes and write, write, write and start the book that’s been inside me.
Turns out I STARTED it on the train!
Immediately after I finished reading Paris Letters, I busted out my laptop and just started typing.
What sparked it? First off, this book is about “one woman’s journey from the fast lane to a slow stroll in Paris.” (Diana. Where would I be if you hadn’t brought this sweet book to my attention?)
Janice MacLeod completely simplifies her life, saves up loads of cash, quits her ad agency job in the States, travels to Europe, falls in love with a Polish butcher and taps into her untapped passion for art. She builds a business out of mailing personalized, painted letters to thousands of subscribers around the world. She marries the butcher, stays in Paris and revels in her new, slow life. True story, folks.
I resonated with so much of what Janice discovers in her European life, and I’d be crazy to say living abroad hasn’t been a catalyst for huge lifestyle shifts. But here’s my theory: You don’t have to escape your life or physically leave what you know to find your truest self…to discover what truly matters most. You simply have to leave the way of thinking that you know.
TONS more on where THAT comes from…in the book.
So, what made writing a book finally feel so practical?
I know what you’re thinking: “FINALLY. She’s found the proper outlet for her ridiculously prolific emails, texts, blogs and FB statuses.”
Believe it or not, it was the prolific end product that was holding me back. Oh, and a little thing called perfectionism.
Immediately after I finished Janice’s book, I flipped back to the list of chapters. Five pages here, eight pages there…
That’s when it clicked.
As soon as I saw writing a book as writing editable, out-of-order chapters one free-flow sentence at a time and NOT a monstrous stack of pre-planned, I-know-exactly-which-direction-I’m-taking-this perfection, I was ready to begin.
When I DID crack that door open? Wow. Things started clicking. The chapter outline started coming. The why-would-anyone-read-and-benefit-from-my-story thoughts began to fizzle.
>>> I’ve finally realized that sharing your own story is not a selfish thing. I’ve finally realized that through reading others’ experiences, we do two things: 1) We take what resonates with us, or better yet, 2) We open our eyes to new perspectives.
In short (Gahahaha…really?), I’m proud to report that this longtime dream is now a work in progress! I just had to START!
Back to Hamburg.
I was expecting a buttoned up, quaint German city with measly tourists, but this place felt like Amsterdam and London had a brilliant little love child…a well-behaved German one, of course.
We were in the thick of the city, and we weren’t there nearly long enough to get to know it all too well, but first impressions were strong to quite strong. It’s a perfect mix of nature + city, media + maritime, traditions + trends and young + old. It is over 800 years old. It’s had time to roll with the changes + WWII punches while keeping its historic charm alive.
I’m obsessed with the NYT’s 36-hour routine in many a city. Here’s their take on Hamburg.
We plan to return when David’s not working and especially when we’re both not sick!
That brings me to Monday. I’m pretty sure traipsing around in the rain the entire day was the catalyst for the cold I caught. But, hey! It was worth every single soggy second…every last drop. Why? Here goes…
After free-hotel-breakfasting with D, he was off to conduct another Deloitte training for managers and partners (Ugh. I’m SO proud of that guy.), and I was off to explore with me, myself and I. But first…as any annoying, proud wife would do and any modest husband would cringe over, I must share a visual of Deloitte Hamburg:
And a visual of the sweet architecture across the street:
And a visual of the sweet street nearby:
The last time I tagged along on D’s work trip was actually this time a year ago. We were in Stuttgart, we’d just gotten our first taste of what life in Dusseldorf would be like (I was in love, thank gawd!), and lo and behold, it was raining, raining, raining. I spent lots of time in and around the hotel that week.
This time around, nothing would stop me! I was SO inspired by this city (Yes, the trek from the train to the hotel was reeeally good foreplay.), and gosh, what a difference a big ‘ol sturdy umbrella makes…even if it has huge MARRIOTT letters on it.
Here’s a visual sliver of what the city has to offer. I can’t get enough of the vintage brick + water, water, water!
A dear friend told me to check out Schones Leben (Thanks, Emi!), and I’m so happy she did.
Any restaurant called “Beautiful Life” is sure to steal your heart, right? Aaand there’s nothing like walking into an adorable restaurant and realizing you have it ALL to yourself. Not sure that’s ever happened before. Normally, I’d be concerned, but judging by the charm, the fancy menu and my early arrival (Pretty sure it was 11! Ha!), I knew I was in good hands.
The wait staff was so welcoming. They told me I could sit, well, anywhere, but I was immediately distracted by the little knick-knacks and adorbs décor items. They were so cleverly placed, it took me a while to realize most were for sale. (Genius concept, right? Restaurants, take note!)
Then, like a little fish lured to a bright light, I was pulled to a bowl of red hearts. I just had to call this one my own…
Stillness + LOVE. Pretty much two things I’ve learned to live by these past 10 months, and two things I never want to lose sight of.
I snatched up this tangible reminder along with a few gorgeous postcards and nestled into the perfect people-watching-from-the-window seat. My spi-dar (Ahem, spider radar!) alerted me to a few friends in the window. (Spiders. They’re all UP in the Hamburg windows. Ancient webs eeeverywhere. As long as they stay on the other side like the CAGED BEASTS THEY SHOULD BE, I have no problem with them. In fact, I enjoy spotting them clever mathematicians.)
Back to the romance. Candles were lit. The music was perfect. Beatles* songs were being sung by people like Karen Carpenter (Oh, how I channeled you, mama!), classic love songs were filling my cup and even NSYNC’s “I Drive Myself Crazy” was sprinkled in. Every. single. song. tugged on some fond memory or familiar feeling.
*Ready for three fun Beatles facts I bet you didn’t know? Here we go:
- Where did The Beatles perform their first concert? Hamburg.
- Where did they record their first song? Hamburg.
- Where did they hone their performance skills from 1960-1962? Hamburg.
Don’t believe me? Read on.
Back to lunch. My plan was to write, but I was too swept off my feet by this romantic lunch for one and only one. I just wanted to spend time with myself…and just be. And when my creamy mushroom potato puree arrived, it was too dreamy for distractions.
This moment was very telling of how far I’ve come. Joyfully noshing solo and intently desiring no device, journal, book, etc. on the side? That was not me a year ago. Eating slowly and mindfully taking in each bite with gratitude? Definitely not me a year ago.
My entire experience with food has changed. I mean, I actually enjoy grocery shopping (80 percent of the time) and cooking (90 percent of the time). It’s become a mindful, grateful experience and no longer a chore (80 percent of the time).
I’ve been asking myself how and why this all shifted. The answer to that question? It’s an already-started chapter in the book.
Anyway. I loved Schones Leben so much I shamelessly brought David back for dinner. This time, we didn’t have our pick of any seat in the house. There were PEOPLE! BUT…we were coincidentally (I think not!) seated at the same table I lunched at. It was delightful. My fish. His shrimp pasta. Ugh. SO good. I look forward to returning again.
Now for my next favorite memory from that Monday? The Fleetschlösschen!
As soon as I saw this “little castle on the canal,” I HAD to see what it was all about. Here’s what it looked like inside:
This “little castle” has seen a lot since 1885. First, it was a small church. Then, it was used as a registration point for imported goods. (All those brick buildings you see along the canals? They were used as stocking warehouses for the imported goods.) And now, since 2004, it’s the adorbs little bar/cafe you see today.
Meet the bartenders. (Are they old enough to be tending a bar, or am I just that old?)
I loved talking with these ladies. Well, the short-haired gal smiled the whole time because she didn’t speak English. The blonde gal chatted me up, though.
Naturally, I was the only patron again. I asked them, “Where IS everyone?”
“Ohh…it’s Monday. The weather is bad. People’s vacations are over. And it’s early.”
I mean, it was around 13:00. (Yeah, what’s up, military time? Acclimation, people. Acclimation.) So, I ordered a cappuccino and nestled into another window seat. (Not visible but totally there: more spider webs!)
I was window’d out. Why stare out of more glass when I actually had humans to chat with? So, I turned around and started asking the girls about the history of this place.
Blondie told me it’s stood since the 1700s, but the website said 1885. Hmm. Either way, it’s still ancient. and awesome. and probably full of unwritten stories.
“Do you have recommendations of things to explore and places to write?” I asked. “Every local café I’ve poked my head into shows no sign of people on laptops.”
For laptop writing, she recommended Starbucks or Balzac Coffee. (Fun fact: Balzac Coffee was started in Hamburg by a woman!) Also. Every single Starbucks I saw was tucked into an insanely cool building. It’s impossible to escape grand architecture in this city. If you land on ONE SB, I highly recommend THIS one:
Here’s what the inside looked like:
Yeah. I definitely didn’t take that picture. But Wolfang Meinhart did.
Go upstairs, melt into one of the many wide armchairs by one of the many windows and enjoy the view of the Alster lake.
If a sweet girl from Bulgaria by the name of Gena is sitting across from you reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, ask her how the book is. Tell her your newfound thoughts on living in the present and “leaving what you know.” She’ll put her book down and tell you her thoughts, too. Tell her Brit said hi.
Enough about what happened on Tuesday. This blog is about Monday! Back to the exploring.
On my way out of the Fleetschlösschen, blondie (I really wish I remembered her name!) pointed me to the harbor. She said even in the rain, it’s worth a look-see!
She. was. right. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the harbor keeps going…and going…and going. Get a load of these snaps:
Then, there she was. Just in time. The BLOCKBRAU. Mama needed a BEER. (I know. I like BEER, now.)
I’m really starting to fall in love with local German breweries. There’s a familiar feeling when you step into any brauhaus, but with each new city comes a new brew.
Just when it feels like you’re traipsing through a quiet scene of “The Walking Dead” (It started to get a bit eerie!), all you have to do is open the door to a brauhaus, and THAT’s where you’ll find all the LIFE. And a Monday afternoon, there’s loads of, well, retired life…
My goal was to find a safe, solo seat at a bar, but as I wandered around, I quickly realized there was no such thing. Only tables. Tables filled with at LEAST two or three peeps at each. No solo-goers. Just as I was about to dip out, I was caught. “Table for one?” a server asked?
“By the window?”
“Ummm….” The seat he was pointing to was right by three elder folks. Oh, what the hell. “Sure!”
I squeezed my way over to yet another window seat (No spiders this time!), hesitantly laid my umbrella by their soggy three and was quickly welcomed into their family. I was at another table, yes, but the nice old man to my left and the two lovely ladies across from him immediately made me feel at home.
My new little boyfriend promptly instructed me to order an Alster (half lemonade, half beer). It was delish. Next up, I tried a Block Brau Hefeweizen with Elderberry syrup. Mmmmm…who knew such a combo could be so yum?
They were visiting for the day to see a play (There’s a big theater scene!) and holy moly, were they getting their afternoon buzz on. It was 14:30. The play didn’t start till 18:00. Well done, old folks. Well done.
My friends didn’t speak English, but thanks to my slowly-but-surely-measly-German, we were getting the job done.
I loved when I asked them if they’d been to America. The man said he once spent a week seeing Vegas and the Grand Canyon but that was 20 years ago…in 1959. Gahahaha! Now that I know my numbers, I know exactly why he said it that way. (In German, instead of saying ninety-five, you say the second number first. You basically say “five and ninety.”)
These three, man. They made my heart smile. They were SO excited to tell me where to explore and kept TRYING to recommend places for me to go, but couldn’t quite get it out auf English. One of the women told me of a tourist info spot right across the nearby bridge where I could get English pamphlets.
But then, just as I thought my boyfriend had left to use the WC, he returned to the table…totally soaking wet…with a stack of English and German (for my learning) pamphlets. He went and snatched ‘em FOR me!!! This poor guy went out in the rain, over the bridge, into the tourist kiosk and picked up about eight pamphlets and three maps. So amazingly sweet of him.
Finally getting their hands on visuals and translated snippets to explain all they were trying to convey, these three went wild. They were circling places on the maps, marking pages, telling me about special landmarks, arguing over who was more accurate about this and that…oh man. Too cute. The one woman just kept recommending the zoo. Over and over. Next time. Next time.
When it came time to round up these soggy booklets and an even soggier umbrella, I thanked them for their incredible help and company and the man said in perfect English, “It was a great time.”