Ballet Workout Number Two

Today’s workout is kicking my butt… Actually, no, my butt is fine, but other parts of my body, like what I thought were my non-existent abs (surprise!) or my arms are feeling the burn. Welcome to ballet workout number two. I’m doing this thing!

Once again, I’m not doing actual ballet, I’m doing a ballet workout, which incorporates elements of ballet training (on a very minor scale for us beginners with possibly no previous physical ballet experience). But it’s fun to see family and friends’ eyes light up when I mention this type of exercise, and whenever I raise my arms above my head, “I feel pretty, oh so pretty”. Bring it on!

The trainer is different this time and there is no classical music. The routine also varies a little, but that’s fine, because all the magazines tell you it’s good to “switch it up” and “go for variety” as far as your workout is concerned. We start with standing warm-ups and exercises. That childhood question, “How long can you stand on your tippy-toes?” is quickly answered as we’re instructed to do so. Can I? Yes. Can I raise one leg while doing so? Hell no.

But I’m not to be deterred. In my blissful headspace, I look like this:

In reality the trainer notices me discreetly lower my outstretched arms to my hips when we do various combinations of tendu and plie (quick French lessons included in workout!). “Yes, yes, do that to control yourselves, to see where your back is!” she calls out encouragingly. I hope my back is where it’s supposed to be, though I need a few seconds to decipher what “Bellybutton towards your spine!” means. Additional interesting statements include “You have an apple between your chin and your chest!” and “There is a glass of water standing on your back that you need to keep upright!” Well, then, I would be soaked, because my butt is sticking up in the air like someone is pulling it up by a wire. I think I’m just too tall for anything nearing push-up status.

We lie on our backs and are asked to stretch one leg upwards, then grab the back of our calves with our hands and stretch. I just manage to get past my knee and know that there is no way I will make the rest of the distance. I turn my head to look at the floor-length mirrors covering the opposite wall, and spot one bent leg, like a grasshopper, sticking out among a sea of straight ones. Yep, me again, blazing my own trail. What do these women do? Is it because most of them are shorter than me? Do they have decades of yoga behind them?

And another thing. Trainers might look just like you when they enter the gym, but then they start doing exercises, all while talking and explaining them, and you realize they are either aliens or unicorns.

The stretching takes care of the kinks I brought along from a week at my day job and I order some ballet slippers (not shoes) for the next class. Because that’s what I do now, this workout thing and this workout gear stuff.

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Ballet Workout: First-Timer Report

It’s Saturday, the sun is shining and I’m making my way to my first ever ballet workout, workout gear pulled on and workout bag in hand… Wait, how did this even happen?!

I’ll tell you how! 2018 arrived and I wanted to do things I’d been thinking of for a while, or at least try. It helped that a dear friend had similar thoughts. Workout clothes, workout bag, work out buddy – that’s just how I do things now!

I signed up at Sportspass and now I’m actually a member of Hamburg’s largest sports club. Wait, how did this happen? I’ll tell you how! Roomy corridor, pleasant receptionist, easy system and cheap monthly rates are all important points, as well as being able to  try out as many courses as you like and (physically) can.

We sat outside the gym, waiting for the previous class to finish, in our workout gear and not worn anywhere else sneakers… and a few girls passed us dressed in seriously ballet-inspired clothes and slippers. Once in the gym, the instructor isn’t there yet, so I covertly sneak glances at what the other participants are doing instead of asking directly if it’s OK to drape my towel over the bar. The cues are easy to identify and the sneakers simply get taken off. My socks don’t slip on the wooden floor and I’m hoping I won’t tear my leggings during a stretch I can’t yet imagine. RRRRip! Please no, these are new.

The instructor arrives, the music starts and with quick relief I discover that we are all following our individual levels of fitness, with no prolonged scrutinizing or comments. The classical music playing is soothing and my mind easily wanders elsewhere during the warm-up. It is my belief that those of us with Russian roots might be predisposed to like ballet. Regardless of whether we’ve actually done it ourselves (as you do) or only seen performances, there is something about ballet that makes the Russian heart flutter and eyes mist up, while images of The Nutcracker or Swan Lake take over our minds. We are genetically and historically primed to respond to these movements and knowingly say, “Ah yes!” when ballet enters conversation with other people.

All of the above might be part of my slight romanticzing of the ballet workout, though I’m practical enough to be careful about the workout part. But I’m not proceeding badly or stiffly at all, and I’m enjoying the stretching parts of the session. However, as soon as we get to exercises involving lying on your back and lifting your legs in various positions, well, oh dear. But this is my very first ballet workout, after all.

We sit back up and stretch forward, trying to touch the tips of our straight legs. This is a predictable challenge. The last time I did this, I was six years old and I could do so with both hands at the same time. It was during a dance class, and my teacher was wonderful – perceptive, patient and competent. I remember her in an emerald-green blouse, grey trousers, with a tiny waist and beautifully applied bright make-up. Maybe these memories are part of the reason I was looking forward to today.

My leg bends before I can reach my toes, like that time my eye would shut before I could put in a contact lens. The voice in my head is alternating between repeating Oh, God and quietly swearing in my best imitation of what everyone else thinks a British accent is. I catch my friend’s eye and have to resist making a face, because we are actually concentrating and no one besides the instructor is saying anything. In fact, I do giggle when I catch another redhead’s eye, because she’s taking a tiny break, like me, but she doesn’t react back. Noted!

I’m still able to get up without a fuss as we get to the final exercises. I mess up the sequence of moves, but the music is lovely and I’m trying to remember whether it’s the opening of the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker (that’s as Russian as I get today). The ballet workout seems to be over before I know it and I am already sure while carefully (just in case) walking out that I will want to come again.

The rest of the day passes and I feel fine, mastering stairs is not a problem, but let’s see what my muscles say tomorrow.

 

Lüneburg Day 2

It does all start with breakfast. A breakfast makes or breaks a hotel stay for me, and as long as I made the effort to save for this trip, I’d like my favourite meal of the day to justify it. And did it ever!

I came downstairs to see a small, but well-stocked breakfast space – always a winning point for me, with sensible food placement and convenient containers. Various hams, cheese, fruit, bread, scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms, bowls filled with vegetable salads, smoked salmon and other fish, home-made jam and two types of peanut butter to choose from – I was in breakfast paradise. The walls of the restaurant are also decorated with older illustrations of Lüneburg, always a nice touch when you see something local. I was so full that I had to pass on sampling any local dishes at lunchtime. Waste not.

I started my sightseeing with a visit to the local Water Tower, which you can see from a lot of points in the town. It’s open every day and a non-discounted ticket is still very cheap, 4,50 euros. A great tip if you are undecided about visiting museums during a shorter trip. A lift takes you up to the 6th floor, where you climp a few more flights of stairs on your way to the observation platform with its stunning view of the well-preserved red-tiled roofs and old brick houses of Lüneburg. You might be asked not to visit the second floor, where weddings sometimes take place. Going back down, I’d recommend checking out the exhibitions on site, such as the many facts on water supply history, in Lüneburg and beyond (did you know that boiling water for hygienic reasons became common ONLY in the second half of the 19th century?), and also the Japanese artefacts on display, honoring the partnership between Lüneburg and Naruto.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Lüneburg’s pretty streets, stepping in to shops and enjoying the easy distances between everything. If this place is already so picturesque, seeing it in other seasons will definitely be exciting too.

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Exploring Lüneburg: Day 1

Lüneburg is a gem of a town in Northern Germany and perfect for a weekend getaway. It’s small, easily accessible, quaint, extremely historical and simply pretty.

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Day 1 was arrival and settling in day, so there are no detailed notes on sights and snacks as of yet, but there will be. I caught the quicker train among the regular ones leaving from Hamburg every hour, and before I knew it I was exiting Lüneburg station, small but busy, and almost automatically walking towards the town center. Memories from day trips in previous years come back and I’m excited to spend more time here. You can’t get lost in Lüneburg, which is comforting to remember even when I do my trademark loop while looking for my hotel.

Zum Roten Tore is comfortable and cosy. The immediate change of pace from big city to small town is made more obvious by the fact that I get a traditional room key with a heavy key ring and that when you people-watch you get an occasional relaxed hello.  I came prepared from Hamburg, which means I took an umbrella with me, but I’m touched to discover a large white one in my room.

It’s already early evening, so after a snack I walk around, familiarizing myself with the streets and landmarks I’d like to explore later. It’s January and not raining, one cool shop follows the other and I can’t get enough of the gingerbreadness Lüneburg first impressed me with all those years ago. Not a tall building in sight and people are actually walking slower. The weekend is upon us, shoppers take leisurely advantage of winter sale season and increasing numbers of laughing teenagers gather in groups on Am Sande, the main square. It looks like various pub crawls are about to start and I move away to walk along the surrounding streets made up of brick houses with sometimes slanted windows and walls.

One of Germany’s most famous soap operas, Rote Rosen, is filmed here, and the broshure I just read tells me I might run in to some of the actors if I’m lucky. I just checked out some clips on YouTube to polish up and find myself being drawn in…

 

Germany: Random Useful Facts

Maybe all of this is only true for the North, which I’ve had the most experience with, but it might serve you well elsewhere in the land of Goethe, Mercedes and the Oktoberfest (NOT representative of the whole country), so here goes with some random useful facts about Germany.

Plans of action are appreciated. If there isn’t one, it’s a handy skill to be able to come up with one on the spot. This is particularly true for a night out with a group you might not know too well or organizing events with friends that involve being out and about. Things you can do to polish this skill and feel prepared regardless of decisions to be made at a moment’s notice: check transportation routes in advance, save map search results in your phone, buddy up with another reliable person, make a LIST. I feel joy simply typing this. Not to give anything away about myself, but you get the idea.

Don’t be fooled when you’re getting together with someone, say on a weekend, and they suggest being “spontaneous” or “spontan” in German. Spontan also entails a plan. First of all, you’re agreeing to proceed this way, and you need to know the translation: someone will need to text or call the other person to ask what’s going on for today and therefore make a plan. It’s unavoidable.

It’s a sure bet that almost every packaged item you buy in Germany either has detailed instructions about opening said packaged item, or a (sometimes cunningly hidden) HIER ÖFFNEN (open here) icon printed on it. Keep looking for it and don’t give up. Opening per procedure is often less messy and more satisfying than trying to tear off a layer of covering on your own. Following HIER ÖFFNEN will change your life and earn approving glances from those you happened to invite to brunch and help avoid frowns from locals.

This is true for many countries, but politeness is greatly admired in Germany and saying someone is “unfreundlich” doesn’t just mean unfriendly or rude, it carries a ton of disapprovement behind it. I think it’s also characteristic of the northern German character. One might not say outright that someone sucked on certain levels or express anger. But unfreundlich is both reserved and layered with subtext at the same time. There’s a range of German phrases, both long and short, that immediately convey consideration and good manners when spoken.

Daydreaming while standing in line is not necessarily frowned upon, but you will get a louder “Hallo” from staff. Saying you were lost in thought (one of the first phrases I learned when I moved and proceeded to use often, again, not to give away too much) with an apologetic smile diffuses this situation of potential minor time wasting.

These useful facts about Germany are as random as the situations life sometimes puts us in, so you’re covered.

Rubber Boots in Hamburg Are…

A necessity? Another important step towards becoming local, after getting wet in the rain, eating Labskaus and taking a harbour boat trip on the HVV ferry?

I have held out for almost ten years, most likely because of my Siberian roots making me more used to searching for warm winter shoes rather than rubber boots. We don’t get as much rainy weather there as in Hamburg. But I do believe, if you don’t own rubber boots already, when you move to this city, you will arrive at that point. One day, possibly a day when huge flakes of wet snow are dropping rapidly from the sky, you will wake up, go outside, take a few steps and know, now. Either you splash through, get wet and DEAL with it (whether complaining or nonchalantly is up to you), or you get the proper EQUIPMENT and stay dry!

So sometimes profound life questions that we have been asking ourselves for years get answerd in one go. I enjoyed browsing silver, flower-patterned and generally glittering rubber boots priced way beyond my budget range for this month, virtuously walked away and got comfortable black ones with a dependable sole. Let the puddle jumping begin.

Aunt in Progress

Your eyes changed colour some more since the last time we met. The traces of grey-blue were still visible, but they are gradually being replaced by other hues. I wonder if your eyes will be like your grandmother’s and mother’s, if you will share that same unique shade.

One day you were sitting on your mother’s lap at the dining room table and gazing around with wide eyes at us big people talking. Your grandmother stroked your mother’s hair and yours, looked at both of you, smiled and said, “Child of my child.”

At this point in time you and I seem to have established a pattern of moments when you recognize me. You looked around with a curious and questioning expression on your small face when your mother brought you to my side in the mornings, then your mouth turned up in an open, toothless smile when your eyes settled on me, and you bounced a little in your mother’s arms. After that you would always zero in on and reach for the beautiful shawl from your other aunt that I loved to wrap myself in, which is also true for your mother. Clearly we all share the same good taste!

During an outing I gave you my finger to hold while you lay in your pram, and you turned your hand around, so I carefully put my palm against yours. You tried to interlace your fingers with mine, but your hand was still tiny, fitting completely in the palm of mine. We looked at each other and I hoped you could hear my thought that I would always be there for you.

Your energy and increasing awareness of your surroundings remind me of your mother as a baby. When you focus on something, I have to remember your father’s face when he’s figuring out a task. Your vivacity makes me think of your shawl-giving aunt. The way you and your grandfather sometimes look at each other with the same twinkling, satisfied expression is uncanny. When you are quiet and settled, maybe thoughtful, your grandmother’s serene demeaner immediately comes to mind. The way you turn your head to follow your parents’ progress through a room and smile when they near you warms my heart.

There are many more family members walking through my memory as I watch you. You seem to further connect us all in the infinite passage of time.

On the morning before I left you were sitting on my bed, supported a little by your mother and me. I don’t know what you were telling your recently discovered feet, but you were very intent on it. You would turn around and smile when your mother spoke to you or laughed. All I could think was, Kid, I hope you will take as long as you need to figure things (feet) out, and that you will bring the attentiveness, focus, interest and happiness I see growing in you out in to the world.