Zumba Zingers

Because, you know, it’s just what I do now, and I just mention it in conversation like any regular thing, “Oh, just going to zumba tonight, didn’t get to go last week and I’m REALLY looking forward to it, I just feel like something’s off when I miss a class, you know?” This is all true – thanks to a good friend I felt brave enough to try out zumba and discovered I liked it. It always feels good to come back and it’s fun to see myself in the gym’s mirror:

I don’t move with the same speed or energy as our trainer, but then I’m NOT the trainer, so that’s fine. Whenever she praises us and tells us how wonderfully we did, I want to hug her and tell her how nice she is. But she seems to know it’s about the smiles each woman eventually has for herself during the class, and not just about the individual ways in which we all interpret the moves we’re shown.

However, we do need her guidance. Recently she’s been attempting to show us the moves and the choreography, subsequently doing one sequence with us and then stopping, perhaps for a well-deserved break, letting us follow the choreo (watch me drop the slang like nobody’s business) on our own. The moment she stopped moving, things unraveled like a rolling ball of yarn.

And then each one of us, being ready to jump back to being the individuals we all are when there is no supervision, starts doing her own thing. It looks like this:

Our trainer rightly identifies the potential for disaster and steps in once again. She doubles her speed and I just skip in place like an overgrown toddler, minus the cuteness. I do love the bent forward, backwards running, booty-shaking part, though. We’re all good at it and it creates a strong tribe vibe (rhyme alert). I’m not saying squad, because I haven’t researched if that’s still trendy nowadays, plus we don’t know each other.

We finish the last routine before the last relaxing sequence, the trainer giving it her all, while I stay true to myself.

 

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Ballet Workout Number 14

Actually, there have been more ballet workouts between my last post about it and this one, but for the sake of consistency and harmony I’ll just continue numbering normally.

French class is out due to the place where I have my course being classified as a school, and therefore they stick to Hamburg state school vacation regulations. This means that my evening is free to go to the ballet workout with my favourite trainer. I come in and it’s a bit more crowded than usual, plus two dudes immediately stick out among the usual majority of women. One is young and bendy, practically teenage-looking, the other is middle-aged and wrapped up in layers, but as the class starts everyone forgets about each other, because all our inner prima ballerinas are unleashed and we concentrate on professional things like balance and poise.

The routine, however, is literally flipped. Instead of starting with doing exercises while standing up and working our way down to sitting and lying down positions, we begin by sitting on our mats and stretching – still feels great! No planks this time, though. There is a brief tremor of fear in the air as it looks like our trainer might just go for it, but it passes and we all laugh in mutual recognition and bonding. I think.

Predictably I’m feeling the burn when we get to the ab-based moves, but I do my best. Some go easier than I expect and I wonder whether I’m doing something wrong – maybe I’m not paying attention to some detail that is supposed to make it harder? Or maybe I should just accept that I’m getting better at this! Don’t forget the prima ballerina.

We get to a half-sitting position, legs outstretched to the side, and then we’re supposed to raise the top leg and stretch it some more. This is all very soothing and I calmly do my thing as far as I can go. Meanwhile, our trainer raises her leg all the way to a right angle and then nonchalantly tucks it behind her ear. She continues talking and advising us to be careful.

I will not forget this moment in a hurry. I’m pretty sure my little niece can do this without a second thought and laugh at the same time. Maybe one day I will return to that kind of flexibility. Until then…

We raise ourselves up – the trainer does it using only her legs and I’m not sure what I do, but I don’t fall over. We finish with a tiny bit of choreography, enthusiasm and happiness making up for some lack of elegance. People who laugh at ballet and ballet dancers should really go to one of these workouts, seriously.

Belly, Butt and Thighs Workout: First-Timer Report

When I walk in there’s a burly-looking guy with tatoos up both well-muscled arms patiently sitting at the front by the mirrors, and my heart sinks, because a gleeful inner voice dripping with Schadenfreude whispers boot camp. I hold out a little hope that he might be just another person come to join the workout who simply looks like he really, really knows what he’s doing, but no, there’s his fitness headset.

Welcome to my first ever belly, butt and thigh workout, OR legs, bums and tums in British English OR Bauch, Beine, Rücken, Po (BBRP) in German, because we just have to one-up everyone else, so we added the back to the name.

The trainer starts talking with ten minutes still to go until we start. He seems to enjoy hinting at push-ups and “using our whole body weight”. I knew it, they can read minds, tapping into what probably 80 percent of the audience is trying hard not to think about.

The room is filling up fast and the air is thick with energetic apprehension. Or is that just me? There are two other guys in the crowd of women. Everyone is looking focused and the trainer suggests taking off our sneakers and removing our socks if they aren’t slip-proof. Two women look around and proceed to do so. One of them is me. I wait a few minutes, notice no one else, the trainer included, has done this. Damn. He got me. If it was a trick to make me laugh, it didn’t work. If it was a trick to make me a tiny bit angry, it did work. All the better for the workout?

I quickly pull on my socks and shoes, and we’re off. Everything is mostly fine until we start going lower and then he shows us how to do the jumping spider plank. Oh my God.

My inner swearing count goes up dramatically and one F-bomb actually escapes my mouth, but the music is so loud and with the uneven noise of sneakered feet repeatedly hitting the floor I am unheard. No, the answer is just no. Same for the full-on plank, though I try my best with three restarts, which we’re encouraged to do. We’re asked if we’re doing OK and since apparently no one but me feels free to confess their grunting inability of doing anything remotely push-up related, everyone collectively grumbles “Jaajooooojaa”.

We lie on our backs, legs bent to one side, arms spread on the floor, stretching, and I can feel the temporary relief before the next ab-strengthening exercise, pulling those knees up to your raised chin while still positioned on your side. I don’t even want to think what I look like right now, but it’s probably more spectacular than that time I was trying to follow those zumba arm movements and made the impression I was trying to awkwardly cross myself.

We’re praised to the skies at the end of the session and I don’t have to hold on to anything to get up, which is a bonus, but ask me again tomorrow. For now I feel pleasantly energized, but also like I deserve a reward, so I buy all my favourite breakfast food on the way home.

 

You Can Tell It’s Spring in Hamburg When…

Your favourite park doesn’t look like it’s sleeping anymore even if the trees are still bare, but they are not actually bare anymore, they are clearly waiting.

People are walking around with those tell-tale, increasingly ubiquitous regardless of the season stretches of bare ankle between low sneakers/ Chucks/ loafers and cropped jeans or chinos.

Jackets and coats are FLUNG open. Scarves flap in the light breeze or are discarded completely. Those daring enough sit without coats on in patches of direct sunlight. Sunglasses are worn like we do it every day.

Cafes start setting up tables outside, though with blankets discreetly draped over chairs.

There are crowds of people walking anywhere by the water, which definitely means the Außenalster (bigger Alster lake), the Elbe and the Port of Hamburg. No one will be going away for the weekend.

The sky was so blue and virtually cloudless (we always notice that here) during the day that in the evening, once it starts getting dark, the blue just deepens and you can see the almost full moon as clearly as if you painted it up there yourself.

Oh, and there was that little fact of it being 14 WHOLE DEGREES today. Let it be noted down in history that the first day of spring in Hamburg in 2019 was February 16 and it has so far lasted beyond the weekend. We’ll see what happens.

The Nutcracker Ballet: Timeless Magic

So the reason I’m including this in the Hamburg section is because my beloved city has a beautiful cinema, the Passage Kino, and for a few years now they have been showing live broadcasts of selected ballets performed by the Bolshoi Theater ensemble in Moscow. I have increasingly enjoyed going to ballet performances as I grew up, but since childhood I have deeply loved three of Tchaikovsky’s ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and, a special favourite, The Nutcracker.

These live broadcasts are a fantastic option for those of us who might not always make it to a live performance on stage, but are dying to get their classical Russian ballet fix AND like a good bargain, because obviously prices for the cinema tickets differ considerably from theater ones. AND you can see everything. AND I love going to the movies as well. THOUGH I would also love to one day see a performance in the Bolshoi Theater itself. BUT I also feel patriotic about the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater, where I saw all those ballets first, and they remain the most beautiful performances I have ever been to.

Anyway, I just went to a live Bolshoi broadcast of The Nutcracker, ’tis the season, and here’s a trailer.

The magical, familiar score of the ballet carried me home and I found myself thinking of The Nutcracker‘s timeless appeal. What made this particular ballet such a hit, year after year? Why did I still feel a strong pull to see it whenever December rolled around?

There is a lot to say about this, without getting technical, and I couldn’t get technical anyway, because I’m not a ballerina or a choreographer, despite my ballet workout confidence.

Everything starts with the story, and I was fortunate enough not only to read the book in different translations, but also to see two lovely animated adaptations that closely followed both E.T.A. Hoffmann’s novella and the musical sequence of the ballet. If you’re curious, one was Russian from 1973 (45 years ago?!) and the other was Canadian from 1990 (that 90s nostalgia…) The Russian version was without words, with the ballet’s music being the narrator, while the 90s adaptation had dialogue.

Of course it was inevitable that at some point both book and ballet fused in my imagination, since the music captures everything about the story that draws you in: the joy of celebrating (not just Christmas), the magic and mystery of a winter night, the underlying fear of what lurks in the darkness, growing up, romance, dreams and reality – there’s a lot!

The ballet is a masterpiece of dancing, and I can tell you this as well: even though I’ve barely scratched the surface of my ballet workouts, I can now actually spot some of the movements we learned, compared to just watching and marveling, and therefore imagine JUST HOW DAMN SKILLED all those dancers are. General tip, if you’re watching or reading something where the characters are doing stuff that awakens your interest, maybe try out a course that teaches it or something related. You might gain valuable insight.

The enduring, exquisite choreography by Marius Petipa seamlessly matches the music of the ballet and I never tire of watching the group dances, especially the airy, joyful Waltz of the Flowers (also a wonderful springtime tune, thus making The Nutcracker music suitable not only for the winter season).

The ballet, in its stunning visual representation, also cleverly leaves plenty of questions unanswered, and that might be another reason for its timeless appeal, because we keep coming back to interpret anew. At the center of the story is the experience of a young girl, Marie, who blooms into a young woman, but how does that work with the timeline (one night)? Of course, logically only adult ballerinas can dance the role, which automatically influences our perspective. Is the godfather a magician? Whose side is he on? Did Marie become the Sugarplum Fairy?

I don’t need to know, because I love the continued delight, wonder and charm of the ballet, and it’s fascinating that music and a performance put together some 125 years ago are still very much alive…

 

Ballet Workout Number 13

Oh my God, you can see just how long it’s been since the date under the last post about ballet workout number 12… But true perfection cannot be rushed. I’m back.

The classical music starts playing (oh, bliss), because I’m once again in the class taught by the trainer who gets me. Her elegance is immediately obvious before she even starts moving and she makes even a simple black training outfit look chic. She starts with the warm-ups, bending, arm movements that make me wonder how she looked dancing on stage.

I enjoy every second, but predictably I rapidly feel it’s been a while with my whole body. At least I can definitely still stretch, I tell myself, I’m not stiff, I just need some… renewed practice. Still, the peaceful atmosphere, the large mirrors, the music all bring me a bit closer to the world that fascinates so many. I get lost in a daydream of another world where I might be able to do this…“Stay on your back, swing your right leg over your left one and try to reach your heel with your left hand.” Heel? I hope I can get halfway down my calf. But it’s OK, because “…be careful, we don’t want anything to…” She pasues delicately. “…tear?” I croak helpfully. Bingo!

We stretch and do the attitudes I’ve missed, flex and raise our legs until I’ve perfected my drunk grasshopper pose so much even I’m impressed by myself.

It all feels very nice at the end, though the delayed soreness reaction surprises me a little, but maybe it’s better because I wanted to enjoy getting back to the workout.

 

10 Years in Hamburg: 10 Things I Learned Here

10 years in Hamburg! 10 years of living in Germany’s jewel of the North, eating Franzbrötchen (local pastry), buying a new umbrella at least twice a year (it gets rainy AND windy here sometimes/ regularly), saying Moin (local greeting), walking around the Alster lake and river, loving Hamburg Airport for not yet being big enough to need a shuttle train or bus, getting tipsy from sunshine when it makes an appearance, not being able to drink sparkling water (it hurts and only makes me thirstier), and affectionately cracking up every time the English translation comes on when a subway train reaches its last stop, because it reminds me of watching action films with Arnold Schwarzenegger: “This train terminates here. All change please.” Oh, Hamburg.

A friend recently asked me if these 10 years felt like a long time to me. The honest answer is yes and no, or jein in German – a combination of ja (yes) and nein (no). I remember my first few months here very clearly, as well as the years that followed, but I also feel the weight of all that I’ve experienced and achieved, in a very reassuring sort of way. I guess the conclusion is that I respect what was, appreciate what is and look forward to what will be.

It’s funny to look back and see that the two times I pondered whether I made the right decision in coming here, several years apart, were both caused by experiences which I’m sure would not have led me to such dramatic thoughts today. On the other hand, during a difficult phase when my future truly was suspended in midair, I never once doubted that I wanted to be here. On the contrary, my certainty that I had found the city for me increased by the day. There always came  a point during a trip away when I missed Hamburg. I love to travel and I love knowing that it will also feel good to come back home.

So just what have I learned while living here? Well, to narrow it down to 10 points…

  1. Say Moin! It’s short, it’s got just one syllable (I’m a big fan of short greetings, so effortless, so elegant, so quick, so easy in this busy city life on the go) and it’s undeniably local. You can say it almost anywhere – in shops, when you enter a bakery, in a club, and it might even soften up the grumpy clerk you need to approach for paperwork and whom the whole student dorm recognizes the moment you describe him. I didn’t say it as often during my first year here, but it would pop out all the time as soon as I traveled somewhere else. Not necessarily a good idea in Bavaria… But in Hamburg, and mostly anywhere else in the North, Moin!
  2. Unless you really want to, you don’t necessarily need to buy a ticket for the harbour boat trip tour. Your local HVV ticket (full-day one is the best option) is valid for ALL types of transport in Hamburg, including the ferry! There are ticket machines right on the ferry as well. So hop on at Landungsbrücken station and cruise back and forth along the Elbe as long as you please. Go to the top deck if the weather is dry. This is also a great way to unwind after work and enjoy an unexpected Indian summer.
  3. Franzbrötchen, a type of local sweet pastry with sugar and cinnamon, are constantly discussed, ranked, tested and covered by a variety of good local websites. Buy one, try one, or buy several and try them all, pick one or don’t, get in to conversations about them. Try the ones with extras like chocolate or crumble if you’re feeling adventurous, though I think in the end the original always wins.
  4. Labskaus is a traditional Northern German dish, and for years I’d find myself talking about it to people without trying it. I’d seen pictures, of course, and the moment I did eat it, I discovered it was delicious, somewhat in discord with what you think when you see it first. Have no fear.
  5. You will always find an umbrella in Rossmann or Budnikowski, those two drugstore chains sprinkled throughout the city. And trust me, you will keep needing one. Unless you prefer raincoats. Either one is indispensable around here. Although occasionally getting drenched does create a sense of community and team spirit.
  6. I have always loved being near the water and Hamburg firmly cemented this fact in my adult life. The Elbe and the Alster cover any mood you might be in. I have lost count of how many times I’ve walked around the Alster in particular. It has seen me through all sorts of phases – happy, dreamy, sad, at a loss, triumphant, the water is always there.
  7. No, people are NOT cold here. They just take their time sizing you up, and don’t forget you can do the same. Personally I like this, and it might be influenced by the fact that I’m an introvert, though a very communicative one. After some careful observing and that first coffee or drink you might find that you’ve met a wonderful friend who is still there ten years later. Patience!
  8. If you find yourself talking to a fan of one of Hamburg’s two football teams (St. Pauli or HSV), and you don’t follow either, plus you don’t know your conversation partner too well, perhaps it’s a better idea to listen to the person for a while first. Or indeed just listen, instead of blurting out, “Wait, don’t they keep losing?”
  9. There is a very high chance that your favourite band or singer will make a tour stop in Hamburg.
  10. It’s enough to be able to sing just a bit of Hamburg, meine Perle by Lotto King Karl to feel like you belong here. Everyone around you will join in and sing the rest anyway.