Hamburg Heat Wave Decoded

Today is once again the hottest day of the year and since the evening shows no signs of cooling down thus far, there seems nothing better to do than blog in the peaceful sanctuary of my darkened apartment, with my small fan plugged in, reliably churning the air, and in an outfit I wouldn’t show myself in outside. Could this bliss be more introverted? In-between typing I’m switching to watching WIRED YouTube Videos in which various celebrities answer the Internet’s most searched questions about themselves and laughing my head off.

The combination of being a list-making redhead who is voluntarily influenced by the German way of life means I’ve got this particular summer’s routine all figured out. And may I just point out that in my almost ten years living here, this is the FIRST summer in Hamburg which has lasted way, way more than two weeks in a row (someone was telling me ferverntly just this morning it’s been going on since April, that’s what’s happening to our minds now). So I actually had data for developing said routine.

You wake up in the morning and peel off whatever stuck to your skin during the night (get your minds out of the gutter right now). You open some windows in a hurried attempt to take advantage of the morning coolness, which you know won’t last long. You make a mental note to DEFINITELY shut the window before you leave for work, because the last time you forgot, and you came back to the predictable oven. You get yourself ready for the day and try to make breakfast consist of more than chugging water. Then you slap on sunscreen and walk to work, and you know exactly where all the shady spots are during your route, so you feel a sense of accomplishment, and when you reach your destination, your sense of accomplishment changes to feeling smug, because really, this was quite pleasant.

The day goes on and by lunchtime you’re seriously debating whether you’ll go outside. Again. Ever. The heat is snaking its way in. You’re not even thinking about the trip home, because it’s so far away in the future and there are more pressing concerns. You drink the amount of water you subsequently sweat out, and so the cycle continues. You also shower the same amount of times as the water bottles you emptied during the day. Unsticking your skirt or dress when you get up with a dainty grasp (not) of material between thumb and forefinger becomes second nature. Sleep is a gamble and then…see the beginning of this paragraph.

There were, of course, other things I could have decided to do after my supervisor told the department we could leave earlier as it was 36 degrees Celcius outside. Beach bar around the Port of Hamburg? Nah, based on experience all the spots in the shade would be taken, and I’ve become such a pro at avoiding generous sunlight that I don’t want to break my winning streak. Steal the office picnic blanket for an evening and stretch out in the shade of Planten un Blomen park? Nein, I went out earlier in the afternoon for a break and being in the shade felt like walking in to a wall of chicken soup. Go to the pool? Again, good luck finding a spot in the shade to lay down my stuff and I’m sure every pool in the city is bursting at the seams. It’s too hot to traipse around packing up to go somewhere out of town and clearly if one thing is obvious, it’s that I AM good at saying no (to myself), which the Internet says is an important survival skill.

Fragments of what I read in the local paper online between productive bouts of work in an office which hasn’t seen the light beyond our window blinds for what feels like months flit through my mind. Fish are, sadly, dying in the Alster river and the Alster swans were moved all the way to their WINTER quarters in what is still AUGUST by Hamburg’s very own swan father Olaf. I don’t know which of these two bits of information was more convincing, but in stealthy survival mode I crept along the shaded side of the street on my way home, stopping only to satisfy one wish in an air-conditioned shop. Because chocolate, like revenge, is also a dish best served cold, so in the fridge it goes. I’m once again experiencing a sense of accomplishment.

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Smashing Used Cars for Fun

One of my colleagues picked up the sledgehammer that was almost as long as my leg (I’m 5’9) and started swinging it around a little. The rest of us had gone quiet and then discovered that we were already standing back at a sensible distance. The hammer left his hand and flew towards the cars, landing with a resounding thud on the hood. Cheers and laughter filled the air.

No, this wasn’t vandalism, it was a completely legal event. We arrived at an enormous scrapyard for recycling old cars outside of town and I listened as the man behind the counter we’d approached made a phone call asking to bring over three cars for smashing, like it was an everyday request. A few minutes later my eyes popped as he carted over a shopping trolley containing several sets of gloves, protective goggles and a few very long sledgehammers.

With the same nonchalant air we were given instructions on where to go next. Did we need to speak to someone once we got there? No. Did we need to pay attention to anything specific? No, not really, except when we smashed glass. Did we have a time limit? Nah, we could keep going until closing time. OK…Did we perhaps need to sign something, I was dying to ask, but we felt like we should just go.

Walking past layer upon layer of crumpled cars with missing windows and plenty of dents, piled high like walls on either side of us, I was immediately reminded, somewhat unsettlingly, of that scene in Disney’s The Lion King when Simba and Nala sneak off to the elephant graveyard. But hey, the sun was shining and I had a badass sledgehammer at my disposal.

We actually saw our three booked cars being dropped off in the area we were to remain in. Standing under the summer sun, everyone seemed a bit hesitant at first. We busied ourselves with dividing gloves, goggles and discovering how heavy those sledgehammers actually were. Then after a while we got in to the swing of things (no pun intended) and seamlessly knew what to do. The freedom of not having to clean up afterwards helped a lot as well.

We started with this:

And ended with this:

Propelled by a desire to have a moment for myself first and test out my grip on the impressive sledgehammer in my hands slightly further away from the group, I circled to the back of one of the cars and positioned myself to the side of the rear window. I knew the protective goggles were placed securely over my glasses, that the thick gloves weren’t slipping off my hands, and I was just going to try this thing out that were doing as a work outing.

I got a comfortable grip on the sledgehammer’s handles, raised it to waist level, swung back and then forward. It was a bit like that time I slid down a wet slide from a wooden platform straight in to the Baltic Sea. When I slid forward, accelerating rapidly, everything around me seemed to disappear, except the sensation of speeding without control, the brief image of the blue sky above me and then the split-second knowledge that I wasn’t holding on to anything before I plumetted in the water.

The sun was bright, my feet were planted firmly on the ground, the hammer swung forward and entered the window smack in the middle. The whole glass erupted in miniscule cracks and then shattered with what sounded almost like a kind of music to me. Shards rained down on the ground, and it was only then that I heard my co-workers reacting to what I had done. Because before then, alongside the soundtrack of the shattering glass, I’d heard the remains of every single dark or sad thing that had lodged itself in my brain, that I thought I had gotten rid of, shattering with it.

Yep, who would have known I’d find poetry in a car recycling yard. I took a break, and returned a couple of more times to make some obligatory dents, but I’d had my moment, and the evidence glittered in the sunshine on the pavement.

Ballet Workout Number 12

Yes, it’s once again been a while, because I was traveling. I walked in to the class slightly apprehensive, but then, oh joyful miracle. The trainer from ballet workout number 1 walked in, put on some classical music…and I would have wept tears of pure joy, had I not needed to concentrate on my plié and breathing. Because make no mistake, the dedicated extremely amateur ballerina is still there.

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I’ve enjoyed all the other workouts and obviously they’ve provided a lot of fun material for this blog, but as soon as that music started playing and the trainer had us raise our hands in the positions that make me feel regal, then do all those lovely stretches, I knew that these were the classes I truly wanted to attend. I wouldn’t be contributing anything to the other ones with my underlying discomfort and attempts to do something I wasn’t yet ready for. The epiphany filled my chest with peace and I didn’t mind at all when the trainer gently repeated to me that I needed to stretch out my other leg from my half lying position on the mat.

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It’s a good feeling to know what you want and what suits you to make sure you do your best, or what feels right in the moment.

It also helps when your abs and thighs ache the next morning and you try to remember why.

Ballet Workout Number 11

Ooof, it’s been a while and I feel it. One thing I noticed, seemingly nonchalant enquiries from my classmates about whether anyone knows which trainer we’re getting today are on the rise. Depending on the answer, people either stand gently stretching or attempt to coax out their inner pretzel princess.

Me, I just breathe through my nose and try to center myself and stuff like that. I am, after all, as mentioned many times, on a separate path.

But I had no idea just how separate. “When you stand at the front and do things wrong, out of sync (ouch), everyone behind you follows you.” – “I can stand in the back” (hopeful tone of voice misinterpreted as annoyed diva behaviour) – “No, you don’t have to.” Until now, occupied with the sole dedication to my own craft, I didn’t consider the responsibility resting on my shoulders.

I also thought everyone knew I was standing in front mainly because I’m nearsighted, the trainer doesn’t let me stand in the back and actually I try to sync my movements with those standing behind me. Pick a person and stare at them in the mirror! Not creepy at all!

“What you are doing is not ballet! This is ballet! This is not ballet!” I appreciate her commitment, but my butt seems to have a mind of its own, and the same looks to be true for the rest of the class. But hey, ballet butts, here we come!

I sweat my way through the fast-paced tendus I have come to know and love – front, back; side, back; behind, back; side, back; change to left foot, add arms! No arms for me, hands on hips, I’m on serious sweat patrol and concentrating on my feet. There is only so much multitasking a diva-in-training can do.

We lower ourselves in to the deepest of pliés – mine stops about a foot above the floor. Hands on thighs, we raise ourselves on tiptoe from that position and I promptly sway forward like Humpty Dumpty, thankfully avoiding the great fall. The next task is to raise ourselves and straighten our legs while still on tiptoe. Sorry, but no. My whole foot goes down, and I straighten up, only to meet the stern gaze of our trainer. “No”, she says, shaking her head at me and pointing at my feet. I shake my head too to keep her company. Boy, she must love me.

As the workout ends my ballet butt and I hobble out of the room before she can make us stay for the stretch class immediately after. It’s not like I want to hog the limelight.

Alster River Trail

It’s summer, and while I’m a city girl through and through, the soul is demanding open spaces and lots of tall, leafy trees, their branches disappearing in a roof of green foliage over my head, wide paths and a bench every now and then to sit and read, or scribble…

Don’t want to go far, but want to be away from the center, though still near civilization and the possibility of public transport. Like I said, I’m a city girl. So where to? Their are several options in Hamburg, and one of them pops up on my radar immediately. Take the S-Bahn to Poppenbüttel and start from there, it’s easy to get your bearings. On your way to the trail you might stop for a glimpse of Burg Henneberg, which might be the smallest castle in the world, and then you proceed towards the Alsterwanderweg, or the Alster river trail.

Everything I had been longing for was there. Quiet water, plenty of space, old trees, shade and the green summer spilling from every corner. I’ve only covered a small part of the trail, but I’m eager to continue. Biking takes two to three hours, walking four to five hours, all depending on how fast you go and how often you stop for breaks. Considering how often I stop to take pictures I might take all weekend…

Click on the gallery to get an impression.

Ballet Workout Number 10

Drama in the classroom! But I’m ready for it, because, I am, after all, a prima ballerina on the cusp of fame.

Five minutes before class is due to start, our trainer still hasn’t arrived, which isn’t unusual. Instead of getting to stretch in peace or just contemplate whether we are brave enough to stand right in front (that doesn’t apply to me, my place is always in the front ever since I got called there from what I thought was a good spot at the back, but that’s what you get when you are reeking of experience and five foot ten), we were accosted by the trainer packing up after the previous course. Except she stopped packing up when she saw us and suggested we do some warm-ups from her children’s fitness class.

I hopped up and down out of politeness, but stopped when I noticed my classmates were all standing still and stony-faced. I get it, loyalty. We were further interrogated about what type of workout we were about to do and the woman was clearly floored when we answered ballet.

Our own trainer arrived shortly and I had barely registered her cool, brightly patterned wedge sneakers, when she was accused by the other lady of wearing “street shoes”. It took another five minutes for the accuser to exit, and I thought once again that shoes have the power to do all sorts of things to women. And considering we were in a ballet workout, this wasn’t even off-topic.

But I also saw our trainer in a new light – a graceful woman who always comes to our class with a determined smile and in cheerful, bright clothes. Some people can’t let go of that even in passing.

Within minutes I was once again joyfully sweating as I extended my legs in as precise tendus as I could muster, keeping my hands on my hips and smiling at the girl in the mirror. Arms rose, heads were held high, plies went as deep as we could go and the “dog” at the end was very varied indeed, though I think I once again took the cake in terms of looking like I knew what I was doing. Not.

I’m discovering that it’s easier to squat down to retrieve something and THEN get back up again, something I had become a bit ungainly at before I started this workout. I’ve missed the last two classes, but here’s hoping I have the right attitude (see what I did there) and that my body will remember. Stay tuned…

 

 

Ballet Workout Number 9

Niagara Falls has nothing on me, that’s how much I’m sweating.

Our trainer walks in, catches my eye and gives me a smile. I’m recognized and I instantly know that I can’t move to the back of the room. My place is here, front and center. Well, her place is front and center, mine is slightly to the side. I have accepted the prima ballerina inside me waiting to burst forth and will continue working out. With great workouts comes great sweating.

I missed the previous class, but it’s gratifying and energizing to see that my body seems to remember something. This time I actually manage to sincerely smile at my reflection in the mirror before the sweat obscures my vision. It’s nice to see what I hope really is a straight back and how we all do exercises in sync, as if we’re participating in a performance we hadn’t discussed with each other.

There is slightly less choreography this time and the larger parts of what we did previously have been broken down in to smaller ones. We’re concentrating in greater detail on steps, toes, fingers, and really making an effort, hence the sweating. I’m sorry, I’m writing too much about sweating in this post, it’s making me perspire.

Occasionally our trainer shouts, “Is that ballet? That’s not ballet!” Well, the question we might want to ask ourselves, really, or that we don’t yet trust ourselves to ask her is, what is ballet?

I don’t get as much attention as last time, except for my tendus. “I’m doing this,” our instructor says, sweeping her foot in a graceful arc behind her. “And that’s not what you’re doing.” But of course I remember the instruction about aligning my outstretched foot with the tip of my nose when I bring it back. Got it, got it.

This time I also manage to sometimes pick up my arms and do movements along with moving my feet, switching correctly, so score!

We finish with our hands and feet on the floor, our bodies bent upwards like triangles. “Nothing is supposed to be bending,” the trainer calls out, and I know this is leveled at me. I can’t see what’s bent, because I’m looking down, but I venture a sideways glance at the mirror and am rewarded by a total vision. Red face, sweat dripping down the sides, glasses slipping down my nose, hair all over the place, legs bent at the knees. “Go further forward with your hands,” my trainer says. I do. “Futher!” I do. But only so far. “This is the dog, from yoga, you know?” I didn’t know, I’m woefully misinformed where yoga is concerned, but then, I’ve only just accepted my inner ballerina.