Hamburg Day Off in the Time of Corona: Took the Ferry…

Well, before I took the ferry, I actually took the subway to get to the ferry. This is big. In fact, it’s enormous, or it certainly feels that way. I haven’t been on ANY kind of public transport since March. We were sent off to work from home, accompanied by regular reading of recommendations on the news of what not to do. Since I was lucky enough to be able to walk where I needed to in those months, for the first time ever in now over 11 years, I completely stayed away from what had been a constant companion in my Hamburg life, the local transportation network.

I’ve always been a walker and I’m incredibly fortunate in how Hamburg is built as a city in that respect. But this week the thought of getting on a train kept popping up, and finally I just knew I had to try it again. The main reasons are winning back my daily courage day by day and hopefully contributing to not being completely overwhelmed once it’s possible to travel safely again, whenever that may be. That said, it’s important to remember that in cases like these this is all a voluntary choice and you really have to listen to your feelings, sometimes even on the day, planning or no planning. Everyone is different. For some it’s no big deal. You just go. It’s not really so different from going grocery shopping, is it? Some didn’t get to choose. Still, for me, it’s definitely a leap.

Contrary to my expectations, my tension didn’t mount as I set off. In fact, the preliminary stage of deciding and waiting had been more intense, but once I was on my way, the process just got divided into tasks as I used to do during my travels. Walk down the street, put mask on before entering the train station. Notice with relief after careful scanning of the platform that everyone is standing at a distance and wearing masks with full nose and mouth coverage. Mentally pat myself for successful post-morning-rush timing. Get on the train. Reminders to keep the mask on during the whole ride are played on the loudspeaker at every stop. In German and English. Notice, incensed, the woman opposite reading a book with her mask pulled down from her nose. NO.

Get off at the Landungsbrücken station in the Port of Hamburg. Stare, because the station is cleaner than I’ve ever seen it. The usually present construction barriers are gone. Go down to the dock and board the local ferry, which basically also acts as a bus and is part of the city transport. Again gratefully notice that it’s not busy and people are following rules. Get a seat on a row on the outside deck and no one else sits there, hallelujah. Then see a group of six middle-aged men confidently making their way to the front of the deck, all of them laughing, clearly convinced of their coolness. The leader is wearing a leather jacket. They stop to take group selfies, which is when I see that leather jacket isn’t wearing a mask. Immediately a severe female voice demands he put one on, “…also for taking pictures”, or else he can disembark.

It’s wonderful to feel the wind from the Elbe river again and see the familiar landmarks along the way. My original tentative plan was to get out at Neumühlen/ Övelgönne and walk a while, but big rain clouds roll in and soon it starts to drizzle insistently. OK, that answers that question, though basically at that point it simply felt like a bit much to do. As we say in the family, not everything at once (не всё сразу in Russian). Somewhat reluctantly I change spaces to take shelter on the lower inside deck, where there’s still plenty of room. I just stay seated at the end stop. After a few minutes the ferry turns around and heads back to Landungsbrücken, so this is a great (and cheap!) alternative to booking an actual harbour boat trip with a company. It’s not raining anymore and the sun is shining again, so I gratefully go back up and once again get a good seat.

Even in these times, or precisely because, humans will still exhibit strange behavior. The maybe ten-year-old girl also sitting downstairs at first jumps up after the rain stopped, runs past me…and I notice she’s barefoot. She stays barefoot until we dock and, despite my optimistic hopes, disembarks still sockless and shoeless. I don’t see her anymore afterwards, because I concentrate on keeping my distance and making my way back to the subway.

That’s enough adventures for one day.

 

Dreams and the Day Job

For those in that position…

Does everyone, as a child, imagine what they will be like when they grow up? What they will look like as a working person, doing something? Or even not only as a child, but at different times. So often “Who do I want to be?” equals “What do I want to do?” Which is naturaI, because also through doing you become more of your own person.

Plus, how else does it work?

(Or you do things for a while and then realize you don’t really know anything, nor will you know EVERYTHING FOREVER AND RIGHT NOW, but you know enough for this moment and that’s fine.)

In your mind, especially in your teens, when you’re not a kid anymore, but also not an adult with some quantity of experiences and years allowing you to look back, gain perspective, you end up planning it all out in your head. This is the dream, this is what I can do to get there, here’s the research. Sometimes it’s more a list of questions than a plan, in varying internal tones of seriousness or worry. You might set yourself time frames, because not only are you extremely eager and ready, as you think, to get where you want, you also want to get out of wherever you are now.

Through various circumstances relating to the practicalities of life, geography, relocation, money, concentrating on an education and those first part-time jobs, just to name a few factors, and work, work, work to know as much as possible about what sets what YOU want to do apart, that time plan, those earlier images might be somewhat different in reality.

But are they? OK, maybe getting that degree took longer, but you wanted it and you had a lot of support while you were at it. Maybe you met your best friend during those few years. Maybe that first internship that wasn’t directly connected to writing, in the beginning, was the first foray into working in a medium that would turn out to accompany you for the next four years in various (very educational) internships before you landed the day job. Maybe you learned a lot of other things (the workings of an office universe) before that first internship led to a lengthy translating and writing stint in two languages you originally didn’t expect to work in, or even imagine you’d have fun with. Maybe that other assignment at that next job that friends don’t believe you about when you tell them now taught you how to concentrate on getting the job done correctly no matter the subject matter.

Having a day job and being a creative person have been two elements perfectly capable of combination for centuries, even if it’s sometimes a challenge. It doesn’t hurt the dream to have a framework of stability and it certainly helps it grow. I’d say it even feeds it and there are so many conclusions, discussions, thoughts, ideas I may not have arrived at for those joyful creative hours otherwise. All of that makes what I create more relatable, at least to me, which is where it all starts anyway. In turn, the creativity feeds the day job and prevents me from taking myself too seriously, or helps during difficult moments, by just mentally stepping away and thinking for a moment, “This could be good for a story or a blog post.” Whatever it is doesn’t always end up in a story or blog post. Sometimes it ends up on a spoon tucked into an evening bowl of ice cream, but that’s not so bad, either.

So maybe the packaging is different, but the contents are the same. There isn’t just one way to do things anymore.

Or, as my mother says, don’t overanalyze and go for it.

Hamburg in the Time of Corona: Heat Wave 2020!?

The curtains are drawn, the windows are closed to avoid letting in the warm air of the currently breezless evening and my fan is plugged in. It’s summer in Hamburg, everyone! But are we getting another heat wave?

This is fun to talk about, because we never really know how long it will last. It’s been a lovely week in terms of the weather already, but this weekend is already a taster for what’s to come, because if the weather forecast is to be believed (if it’ll stay that way in this city of “let’s make it rain for 15 minutes and then get the sun to come out and then rain again when all the cyclists are on their way home after work, because people are avoiding public transport these days, mwahahahaha!”), starting Monday the temperature will be climbing up, up, up on a daily basis. Bring it on!

All my habits and valuable knowledge gained from the great heat waves of 2018 and 2019 are kicking in at once. I just need to remember NOT to open the curtains tomorrow morning before I leave for work. Another project to concentrate on.

Sunscreen season has definitely arrived. And I just came up with this: asking a redhead if he or she has put on sunscreen (“Hast du dich eingecremt?” in German, “Hast du dich nicht eingecremt?” if you still got sunburned, happens, but some well-meaning local who is suddenly an expert asks you all the same) is like…asking someone if they have their mask with them? If a millennial charged their phone?

How does one combine the natural burst of joy about summer with Hamburg in the time of corona? Well, thanks to the previous months and reading the news, it’s possible to guess which places in the city will get crowded and therefore likely attract police attention. There are plenty of positive notes to make, such as Hamburg being one of the greenest cities in Germany and therefore offering lots of choices for having some space outside of where ‘everyone else’ might congregate; varied bike routes; shaded streets in the many lovely districts here; no lockdown; walks; summer clothes.

I do find myself daydreaming from time to time… Let’s just call it relaxed planning for now, shall we?

 

Hamburg in the Time of Corona: Diary Note #3

This time last year I was packing for a long weekend near Paris with family. It was a free weekday evening and I was laying out my stuff, enjoying the fact that I could still fit everything I needed in my smallest suitcase, including presents for the little ones. Summer had settled both in Hamburg and Paris, so I stuffed a spare T-shirt into my backpack, because if I got on the train after exiting the huge airport without freshening up, I would melt before reaching my destination. It was already hot in the apartment as I packed.

This evening of packing was framed by meeting up with friends for an after-work bite during the rest of the week, celebrating a birthday, all while leisurely choosing among Hamburg’s many cafés. Sometimes, gasp, we would even decide on a location an hour before leaving work, despite that fact that I share my love of planning with a few other people. If the evening stayed warm, we would round off the rest of it with a long walk before dispersing to our respective buses or trains, savoring the summer night, listening to conversations around us coming from people doing the same thing, maybe stop for a final drink before going back home with a smile and that carefree, relaxed parting call, “This was lovely, let’s do this again soon.”

These are all precious memories for various reasons.

Fast forward to today and I’ve done so much reading of all the news on which European countries fully opened their borders, how they correspond to each other or not, which still require quarantine and which don’t, what’s the deal with social distancing, confirmed corona cases status, I could probably fill multiple hours talking just about that. It is a day I’ve been waiting for a long time and I’d like to think it’s a positive sign. I feel it’s a positive sign, it has to be. Now, after waiting, phase two, which I partially knew would come, as much as I could, has begun. So much is still listed under a question mark and this is not a case of waiting for the sprint start signal to fire. Because the fact is, I can’t just go anywhere I want, in Europe at least, virtually without thinking, like I used to. “So, when are you going to *insert country here* ?” isn’t a question I can answer with an estimate these days. Can anyone?

I have to think, just differently than I did. I have to think beyond the habits that became ingrained during the last decades, all those things that are still on autopilot: remember to get travel-sized shampoo, toiletries go in a sealed transparent bag, put on the nice socks in case I have to take my shoes off and have a spare pair ready in my backpack, have a scarf ready in case of a chill from the air conditioning in the plane, empty my water bottle before going through security, get another water bottle after security and try to find a brand that supports a good charity to justify the price. Researching a destination now obviously goes beyond deciding where to stay or what to see. Or are you supposed to just “switch off” and go ahead? Again, can anyone?

Anyway, OK, then my list of autopilot habits just becomes longer for the future, most likely to include a mask, hand sanitizer (which I always had on me anyway) and extra attention to make sure I see how things are done in airports, where to stop at a distance etc. And trust me, sitting down in a restaurant is the last thing on my mind right now.

It’s staggering to think how much freedom of movement, literally, freedom of mind I had before. Remember that oft-repeated sentiment that if you’re flying somewhere, as the plane takes off and you watch the view below fall away and expand at the same time, before it becomes sky and clouds, any cares or worries you had fall away with it all? I suppose I do wonder what it will be like now, as we hopefully move forward.

But I’m a fan of starting small, so after all this sentimental musing, the next step is seeing whether public transport pops up in my near future. Not in a hurry.

Hamburg in the Time of Corona: Diary Note #2

“Get out of your comfort zone! Do something this weekend that you’re too lazy to do or that you don’t trust yourself to do.” This was the energetic suggestion, in German, on the tear-off calendar a lovely friend gave me. The thing has 365 ideas for 2020. Since March, I’ve smiled at some of them, sighed wistfully at others and filed away a few in hopes of a future where it might be possible to do more again.

I’d say we’re very fortunate in Hamburg with the freedom we do have, knock on wood, and even if it isn’t always easy, especially mentally and emotionally, I’m prepared to wait things out and follow social distancing rules if they are prolonged. Like many, I hope we won’t have to wait too long, though at the same time it’s just not possible to predict. Still, it seems a small price to pay for not only reaching a point where no new corona infections are reported, but to be able to hug loved ones.

I don’t know if the comfort zone exists any more, these days at least. But doing things I haven’t trusted myself to do for a long time? Heck yeah, where do I start? Maybe I should get on the bus again? On the subway? Push it and pass two stops instead of one? Touch a door handle with my bare hands? Stop repeating to colleagues and friends that I’ve “just washed my hands” if I give them something?

To be honest, while I’ve stopped feeling scared and exposed when going grocery shopping, the process is still plenty outside of my comfort zone, enhanced by the mask element, though I occasionally forget and just wear it on autopilot. The thing is, what I don’t trust myself to do now are things I used to do before, they just have to wait due to external circumstances. At least I don’t go, “Wow, real people!” anymore when I go outside. Progress.