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.

 

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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.

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.

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.