Fitting in at Steindamm 10

So I’ve finally found my spot in Hamburg. I don’t know why it took me so long, the center of town is usually my scene. Anyway so the airbnb advertisement was a bit misleading; this isn’t actually a flat but more of an apart/hotel. Which means there’s german cable and free wifi but no kitchen and no laundry facilities. But not to worry, the days of the bucket wash have been suspended; there is a Laundromat around the corner. 

Now Steindamm is a street with a lot of Turkish produce, casinos and sex shops. My direct neighbour is an entire sex complex, with a men’s only sauna and a porno theater on the top floor, and the store underneath. The ‘bouncer’ has nicknamed me “Scherbatsky” after the How I met your Mother character and he’s been quite helpful in getting me situated in my new hood.  Most of the ladies on my floor work the street at night. They have different reactions to my student status. One thinks I’m super sweet the other seems to harbor a bit of resentment but she’s okay. The building manager played a little game with me where he didn’t speak English for the first two weeks but now he does, and lets me use his percolator to make morning coffee. It’s not very good though. So usually I go out. The thing about Steindamm is that it’s right next to the stylish gay neighbourhood and I sometimes head over there and spoil myself with croissants and coffee. Today there was a street festival. It was pretty lame in the morning but turned into an almost outdoor club at night, complete with dance mix ’95. There were lots of interesting things for sale, my favourite being handmade double decker high tea trays or whatever they’re called. There is also a great park around here and square with an impressive fountain surrounded by outdoor cafe chairs. Although it’s not for everyone, for me this place is the bomb. Thank you sexy Steindamm for welcoming me in!


The pond gets bigger.

So, sometimes the misfits are in charge. How did I come up with that? Well, recently I’ve had an experience with bullying.  It’s been the kind of bullying where a group of people get together and collectively throw someone (in this case me) under the bus; electing him or her the “fall guy” for every responsibility (and no the irony of where this is taking place is not lost on me) they seem to dodge. The way I’ve been getting through it is by taking a step back and telling myself “the pond gets bigger.” I put my anthropology hat back on and realized (and even accepted) that I’m in the minority on this one. It helps that I have a friend here who completely gets it, she’s my link to the outer pond.  Anyway so here in the misfit microcosm of bullies I am the odd woman out. And well, it obviously sucks. Actually it’s the worst. But I’m lucky to have been a few places by now and, of course seen a few things, and I’m pretty sure these guys are actually a minority in the greater world scheme of things and the fact that they’ve assembled here in a spontaneous majority is the outlier effect in action.  You know, that tiny dot on the stats graph that falls outside the standard deviation?  The inexplicable fragment that all scientific theories make an “except in this case” for?  I’m pretty sure that’s here. So I say to myself, (usually out loud in front of a bus full of uncomforted people) “the pond get’s bigger.”  And it does.


Searching for authenticity in Hamburg’s most trendy neighbourhood.

So as I mentioned in my last post, recently I moved to the Hamburg neighbourhood of Sternschanze. Schanze, as it’s called, is uber trendy at first glance. The streets are lined with “organic stores” and “concept shops.” There are stickers and graffiti everywhere that carefully play on 90s nostalgic themes; “coolmanji” and “captain planet [insert German word here]” are some of them. There are nice bars and cafes and vibrant people everywhere yet something remains…a bit off. A friend of mine hypothesizes that the whole neighbourhood is just a giant canvas run by Jung von Matt, Germany’s most infamous ad agency. JVM is famous for their “let’s use everything as a media” approach and have been known to place ads on everything from hitchhikers to flying bugs. Today I saw a baby in a crate, on a bike, being pushed by it’s father, presumably. “Get a stroller!” was my initial thought but then I noticed the logo on the bike as it passed; “maybe that Alex is onto something?” It does kind of seem like everything around here was hand selected by someone trying to sell something, and if conspiracy holds true, whoever’s behind it has effectively commercialized cool.

There are however a few hideaways that remain authentic. One is the Turkish fish shop. Almost as good as a balik-ekmek on the bosphorus, these guys fry fish with the best of them and the results are delicious. Second is the park around the corner where you can actually hear birds calling, and babies are pushed in strollers, not advertisements. There’s also a bar I like but it’s only authentic ‘til 10:30pm. Nonetheless living in Schanze has its pros. So far, it’s the first place in Hamburg I’ve found that serves a decent cup of coffee, and second I do love the organic stores, since (if you follow my blog you’ll know) I’m allergic to about everything. It certainly is a trip every time I exit my door but hey that’s kind of Hamburg in general.

Homeless vs. Hipster

Yesterday was a day of contrast. Basically I moved from the working-class neighbourhood of Wandsbek to the super trendy Schanze.  It was the first sunny day of Spring in Hamburg so a friend and I went to relax at a park in Wandsbek. A more accurate description of this park might be grass mixed with gravestones outside a small chapel next to a major intersection. But I digress. So we were sitting there on the grass when a homeless man who I’d seen regularly around the neighbourhood brought over some wooden wine crates and laid them down in front of the chapel steps. He began to build quite an infrastructure, methodically stacking the crates into what appeared to be a bed-board, on top of which he placed cardboard boxes into a kind of mattress, which he toped off with a styrofoam headboard. His motions were very calculated and deliberate, and apart from a quick glance up he didn’t seem to notice us or care that we were around.

Later in the day, strolling through Schanze, we passed a shop with “vintage wine crates” on display out front. They were polished with a bit of varnish but essentially they were the same wine crates as the ones we’d seen that morning in Wandsbek. The comparison in purpose of these two sets of crates was jolting. It reminded me of an old Ali G episode:

Bruno: What is the philosophy of the show?

Tiffany, the Stylist: Um, it’s kind of, like, trailer trash, trailer park trash.

Bruno: What is this, “trailer trash”?

Tiffany, the Stylist: It’s kind of, like, I guess, like, backwoods, from like, um… just, like, middle of nowhere, kind of poor, dressing with what you have around.

Bruno: Oh, so they are very primitive, rubbish people.

Tiffany, the Stylist: Kind of, yeah.

Bruno: So, tell me, do you hope that these white trash, trashing people will buy the clothes?

Tiffany, the Stylist: I don’t think they can afford it.

Bruno: Oh, they are too poor!

[they both laugh]

Bruno: We take the clothes from the homeless people and we sell them in the shops…

Tiffany, the Stylist: Jack up the price!

Bruno: And then the homeless people cannot buy them!

Tiffany, the Stylist: Definitely, definitely.

Bruno: Yes. That is the beauty of fashion.

Tiffany, the Stylist: Yeah!

I doubt the decorative crates sold in Schanze were inspired directly by the crates of my homeless neighbour in Wandsbek, yet I couldn’t help remark on the contrast in use for the same object. Sometimes even travelling within the same city can lead to discoveries that reshape your way of thinking about how the world goes ’round.

Senile grandmothers/drunk pub goers, one in the same

My great grandmother was born in Germany, some years later she moved to Chile where my dad was born and my grandmother grew-up. Then again a few decades after, they moved to Canada, where I was born. Needless to say there were a lot of languages in my family. When my great grandmother was getting quite old, this mixed her up. She would discuss with me in English quite well but when it came to my dad it was a different story. She would start a conversation in Spanish then spontaneously switch to German and then back again.  At first my dad would try to understand but as time went on we both discovered the smile and nod approach worked best.

A similar situation unveiled itself to me at a pub tonight. I was having a beer after a rather long day when the man beside me struck up a conversation. He was Moroccan (it was discovered after several phrases of broken English) and we quickly switched to French. Yet after three or four drinks, French went out the window, at least for him. A conversation unfolded where he spoke in German and I  reminded him to speak French, followed by him speaking in German and me trying to understand him, followed by him speaking German and me answering with the smile and nod. Just like my great grandmother.

The mind is a capricious thing.  I reckon with all this moving around at faster and faster pace these scenarios will only become more common. At the end of the day, will any of us know what language we’re speaking?

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go…to the mall

So I’ve recently returned from Turkey where I had a nice holiday filled with sun and spices and only a temporary tinge of tear gas to cloud my vision.  There were many cafe breakfasts and chance encounters with french philosophers and all the English-language newspapers I could read! It was blissful.

School started again on Monday, I called in sick (which wasn’t a lie, I’m recovering from the flu) but in any case it was nice to put it off one more day. Yesterday I relished my last day of freedom by going for a coffee at a the cafe nearby…the slight difference being that it’s located in a mall. I picked the “window seat” and nestled up to the glass fence on the pedestrian overpass flanked by an escalator an both sides. As I grew accustomed to my new surroundings the gentle hum of the electronic staircase became almost soothing and the fake flower pots almost fragrant. I picked up my International New York Times from a big box book store where the line was only slightly longer than at the turkish kiosk and began to flip through the local pages, which is one of my favourite things about the International New York Times, it travels with me. A familiar head appeared, rising slowly in my peripheral vision. It was Alex! A kid from my school who also happens to live nearby. What a couple of mall rats hehe, we both started to laugh.  He sat down, didn’t stay long and I moved onto my sudoku. Which is a game I’ve also grow to love since numbers travel unencumbered by language. Might I be getting used to mall life? In any case, I began to surrender. I vow to continue doing the things  I love only in a different way, yes I will combat my stubbornness and adapt I say!  The cafe staff have budged too, they no longer protest when I order an americano.

All I Can Do is Watch Treme…

So my black box of belly bother has recommenced. It’s been teasing for weeks now but I think it has decidedly returned. Which is a problem since I’m back in classes. I don’t know what I’m gonna do if I have to quit again, and by quit I mean pause, or do I mean quit?

The thing about tummy trouble is it makes it impossible to concentrate. Luckily my team partner is uber understanding and so was able to postpone today’s brain-storming sesh till next week.  But being sick means there’ll be no going out this weekend either.  So all I can find motivation to do is watch Treme, it’s the only thing I can stomach (was that a pun?!).  Usually I refrain from watching the same TV series or movie more than once, I find it repetitive. But with Treme not so. I can watch it over and over. Maybe because it’s more like music. Or maybe because it’s just my speed. I dunno what’s wrong with my belly or how it’s going to play out but somehow the opportunity to watch Treme over and over again is reassuring.