Discover Northern Germany: Husum

Husum is a beautiful historic town in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein worth checking out if you want to discover Northern Germany. Lovely walks along streets lined with old brick houses typical of the area and everything being reachable on foot make for easy planning while you’re there.

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Cold winds blow in January from the North Sea nearby, brilliant sunshine might be expected and there are lots of places to stop by for a cup of tea – popular beverage here. The traditional Brauhaus Husum in the Neustadt street is a recommended stop if you’re interested in the local beer culture, and there’s even a proudly sold local brand of mineral water, Unser Gutes Husumer.

The local castle is a good place to start if you want to get a town history fix and the park around it fills with crocuses in the springtime. Even now in this cold winter weather tiny ones are sprouting up from the earth. The Schlosscafe, located right in the castle courtyard, serves tasty (and cheap) dishes, as well as delicious, generously sliced cake. It’s a good way to finish the visit to the castle (which follows a route noble guests were expected to take in the olden days – you might get a guide from the stern lady at the entrance and don’t even think of saying no). I didn’t know Czar Peter the Great visited Husum during the Great Northern War (dim memories of history lessons in school), or that the town used to belong to Denmark. Many signs in the castle and other places are written both in German and Danish.

Husum is also the birthplace of Theodor Storm, an important influencer of the country’s 19th century literary scene and connected to the development of realism in German literature. After walking through all the rooms of his house, which has stayed largely unchanged since his death, through two world wars and despite other owners, it’s amusing to find out that Storm collected and penned ghost stories (Spukgeschichten), which had been unpublished for a long time before being discovered. The receptionist tells me about children huddling around a fireplace in kitchens during dark evenings, while that cold wind raged outside in streets that weren’t yet lit the same as nowadays. They would tell each other these stories, both drawing from what they had heard elsewhere and making things up as they went along. This certainly creates quite an image in my head!

Just like in Hamburg, people say Moin in Husum. Another gem in Northern Germany.

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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.

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.