Germany and the Start of a Voyage
We are finally onboard and have successfully been sailing in international waters! These past nine days have gone by in a blur, yet so much has happened.
Hamburg: Not the home of the beef burger
Flying into Hamburg, I feel like I had a bit of an idea what to expect. I had been to Munich and Berlin before, and I imagined Hamburg to be similar in certain aspects. And in many ways, It was. Beer, festivals, sausages, currywursts (sausages with curry sauce on top), some medieval architecture, historic churches and cathedrals, Turkish food, etc. While Hamburg was hit hard during WWII, it has been rebuilt to be a thriving modern city along its numerous canals.
When you hear the name Hamburg, you might suspect the “hamburger”, as we know it, was created here. While it wasn’t invented in Hamburg, it does have to do with Hamburg Beef. With the large number of German immigrants to Chicago, the high-quality Hamburg beef was imported and sold to those who could afford it. Eventually, these cuts of beef were sold in Chicago street stands all around the city. Eating a cut of beef is hard to do when using just your hands, so one vendor decided to place the beef inside of bread. This was the first “hamburger” as we call it today.
We had about three days to explore Hamburg on our own before we were to meet up with the rest of the Semester at Sea staff at the hotel near the airport to be transferred by shuttle to Bremerhaven. Chika had just finished the busiest season of her job, lasting from Spring until September 1st and what seems like non-stop organized chaos (at least from my end). She literally finished her work at 2:00AM on September 1st, and we caught a bus from Madison to O’Hare airport at 1:00PM on September 1st. With this, we were happy to relax after arriving to Germany and casually explore by ourselves.
Overall, I really liked Hamburg. The city center area is built around the City Hall, a medieval-style building which was rebuilt in the 1900s. Much of the city life is around two bodies of water, the Alster Lake and the Elbe River, which flows into the sea on the north side of Germany. The city’s canals and its wharf area are what I really enjoyed with the city. The entire city is a contrast of historic manufacturing/shipping buildings and modern architecture, and no one where is this more true than the wharf. I loved walking around the wharf area and seeing shipping cranes and former storage buildings sitting next to a condo that Frank Gehry could’ve designed.
While searching around for things to do in Hamburg, I came upon a local organization called Dialog um Dunkeln, which translates from German to English as Dialogue in the Dark. This is an organization that organizes experiences in which participants are able to experience a very small part of what it may be like to be visually impaired. In other words, guides who are blind take you through a lightless building and guide you, along with your walking stick, through various environments like a market, a kitchen, a boat ride, crossing a street, and more. All of this took place within one building as we would hear the sounds of each environment and touch objects you would also find in that place.
Our guide was Bernie, a German who was born blind. He took us through each of these rooms, and he was awesome to be around. We were the only non-Germans, and he made sure we felt comfortable throughout the experience. At the very end, we went to the restaurant/bar where we had the chance to order something to eat and drink. This was my favorite part of the experience. We stood at a bar, and the bartender, whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch, took our order. Chika and I both ordered the “chocolate drink”, which was chocolate milk in a juicebox container. Because I knew we would buy something, I put a 10 euro bill in my pocket so it was easily accessible. Each euro bill denomination (5 euros, 10 euros, etc.) has a different size. I had never thought about this, but the American dollar denominations are all the same size. With this, I’m not sure how people who are blind are able to distinguish. Because we didn’t have our sense of sight, the chocolate milk taste had much more flavor. All the noises in the room – the fridge opening and closing behind the bar, the talking of the others in the room, the sound of change – they all seemed exaggerated. At this point at the bar, we had the chance to talk to Bernie and the bartender, to ask questions, etc. Bernie was blind from birth, so he has no way no imagination in the sense of seeing images. The bartender, however, became blind when he was around 10 years old, so he is able to picture various things. He said that he remembers watching the King of Queens when he was growing up, so he can still picture the actors in the show when it is on TV.
This 90-minute tour was a great experience and, even if just a little bit, gave us the chance to experience what it may be like to be blind. Going into this experience, I wanted to do it in order to better understand others and to hopefully be able to help them more in the future, even if it is something small.
When visiting a city, I tend to look for day trips outside the city that may be interesting. In talking with a friend from Germany, she recommended visiting Luneburg, a smaller city just 30 minutes by train from Hamburg.
Luneburg is a city that became wealthy in the 13thcentury because of the salt mines around the city. The salt would be mined and then shipped up the river to Lubeck and onto other countries. Because of this, the much of the city’s architecture today remains from those glory days in the 1200s and 1300s, about 800 years ago.
Luneburg was the perfect place for a day-trip from Hamburg. It’s one of those small towns that is stunningly beautiful and just large enough to keep one busy for a day. The city has a shipping crane from the 1300s, a church from the 1300s, a historic water tower (now offering good views), several open plazas surrounded by unique architecture, and lots of shopping. The center of the city is a series of blocks open only to pedestrians, which makes it an incredible place to stroll.
Hamburg to Bremerhaven
Our three free days were spent wandering around and relaxing. On September 5th, we moved our luggage to the Radisson at the Hamburg airport, where we were to meet the following day to be shuttled to Bremerhaven. As we arrived to the hotel, we began seeing others staff and faculty with Semester at Sea. This meant that it had unofficially begun. We met up with many other staff and faculty in the hotel restaurant that evening, a nice way to get to know others of whom we will be sailing with for the next four months.
The following morning, we packed up our stuff for the final time and were on our way to the ship.