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.

 

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?

 

Random Struggles in German

Even after many years of living here, I have a list of words and phrases I still need to look up. That’s actually fine by me. First of all, I’m not a computer. Second, learning a language never really stops, because it’s a process and languages are living things. Wouldn’t it be boring if you just knew all there was to know? Third, it creates interesting conversations. Fourth, it gets me my regular dose of laughing. So off we go…

Fordern and fördern – one means “to demand” and the other means “to support” or “to sponsor”. I routinely forget which is which and sometimes end up using the wrong one in a sentence. Neat trick: at the same time it’s easy for me to remember that Förderung means “sponsorship” etc., so I can make the appropriate conclusion if I catch myself in time. Otherwise I just opt for a synonym or still do that thing where my voice kind of sinks, I don’t finish my sentence and expectantly look at my (usually) native German-speaking conversation partner.

Schnurren and schnüren – well, the first only has one meaning, “to purr”, and the other one means “to tie”. Sometimes I’ll use the first one, but pronounce it like the second, and then I’ll forget the ü when I’m talking about shoelaces (a subject that pops up more often than you’d expect), which, incidentally, in German are called Schnürsenkel. They might also lose an ü when I’m trying to kindly tell someone their laces got untied, and I spend 5 seconds remembering whether the plural gets an n at the end or not. The answer is no. By the way, a friend of mine once offered a lovely solution, and since she’s German, I tucked away the phrase she used with total confidence. “Oh,” she said, pointing at my undone shoelace, “deine Schleife ist auf.” This translates as “Your ribbon came undone.” Wonderful.

Tablett and Tablette – the first one means “tray” and the second one means “pill”. The second one was easy to remember, because the Russian word is very similar, not to mention the English one. But these are also the reasons the first one confused me at first. At the same time, the article of Tablett stuck in my memory from the first time I heard the word. Go figure.

Schnacken – this is northern German, which means I was hearing it very soon after arriving in Hamburg. Another example of how far the textbooks in class can take you before you have to dive in for real, whereupon the lessons start all over again. Was this the German pronunciation and adaptation of “snacking”? Nope, it means “to chat”, but it’s also used in a work context between colleagues who either know each other or assignments they are expected to work on together well.

Two examples which showcase my inventions basically influenced by translating English from my head into my German speech.

Relativ neulich was “pretty recently”, but it’s not used. Just neulich or vor Kurzem. Noted. I’d gotten away with it for a couple of years, though. So either no one noticed, or they were all patient and polite, not wanting to offend me, waiting it out, taking their time, analyzing what I’d said and making lists…

Ein ernstes Stück Fleisch – this innocent literal translation of “A serious piece of meat” while describing a fantastic hamburger (yeeeesss) dinner caused a lot of mirth and became a, dare I say, beloved quote. Ein ernstes Stück Kuchen (cake), ein ernstes Stück Käse (cheese). You name it, it works.

 

Weekday Morning: Stream of Consciousness

Love summer and that morning light, so much easier to get up than in winter. Every season has its place, but this is just so nice, even if it did rain the other day, but I don’t mind, as long as it’s not windy, because then I can’t walk peacefully under an umbrella, and I’ve always loved walking under an umbrella since I was a kid, but only when it’s not windy, because then you’re not walking, you’re fighting, and then the umbrella breaks, and you’re drenched, and you have to get a new one. How many umbrellas have I bought in the last 11 years of living in Hamburg?

And there’s always that person, maybe one in 5, who will ask you in puzzlement, “But why do you use umbrellas, don’t you have a raincoat?” No, I don’t, I have an outdoor coat, but I somehow don’t feel like getting a raincoat, because I consider the only proper raincoat I had was the one we got when I was 8 during the most colossal downpour I had ever seen in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and we got a set in different sizes for the whole family, they were bright yellow and had Mickey Mouse on the back, and I’ve never wanted to get a new one since, even after I outgrew my raincoat…

Where was I? Does it look like it’s going to rain? Go to balcony, open window, look out, sniff the air, that one always works, check the weather app, hmmm, I guess I’ll just pack the umbrella, maybe this time the one with the dots that change colour when it rains on them, so cool, I was so surprised when my best friend handed me that thing when we were out for my birthday, I know where we live and that it’s a rainy city, but why an umbrella…

Must not forget the cup of ginger tea, it used to burn when I’d drink it, but come corona and suddenly I’m downing that thing every morning like orange juice in the olden days and now it’s practically the same as drinking mint tea, wonder if it influences anything, but my friends have been talking about drinking it for years and I did feel weird the other day when I forgot, though it’s funny to remember how back in Russia I steadfastly refused tea the more it was commented on that I didn’t drink it (“WHAT? You don’t drink tea?”), and then I moved to my student dorm here and suddenly it was the key to socializing in the kitchen, get a cup, a teabag, turn on that kettle, start chatting, chat more as the tea steeps, who knew, and now I have several bright boxes lining my kitchen cupboard, though I didn’t get them for the packaging alone, hah, but what’s so bad about liking a pretty box…

OK, so how did I end up with two bags again, but I can’t walk to work in those heels, so I’ll pack them in the tote and walk in those sneakers, but honest, I just want to wear those heels, so I’ll change shoes in the office, and the tupperware with lunch still fits, though I’m glad I made enough for two days, so I won’t have to carry any food with me tomorrow, YES, done, and did I put my mask in my bag…

Actually two masks, because what if I use the first one and it gets all icky and you’re not supposed to wear it again anyway until after you wash it and it dried, but what if I need to go to a shop again, so ta-da, TWO, it’s funny how I was so annoyed when they were first introduced as obligatory in some places and I spent two hours making one, now I have 7 of them ready, and I do wonder if it will just be a thing, so added to the already extensive list of all the things I pack into my make-up bag which barely contains makeup (gum, hairbands, bigger hair band if it gets hot and I need to put my hair up, band-aids, lip balm, travel-sized hand sanitizer) is now this and people asking “So what kind of mask do you have?”

No, I DO need all three notebooks, it just feels strange to be without them, and I love my day planner even if the notes in it look somewhat different these days…

What did I want to do, why am I standing here with the dishtowel in my hand…

I’ll take the scarf with me, don’t want to touch the door handles even if I was “adventurous” yesterday and touched the one on the door preceding the elevator foyer, shiver me timbers, such excitement, and it was actually scary that time the water was turned off for an hour, and I got up automatically to go to the bathroom and then realized in horror I still couldn’t wash my hands, and my bottle of hand sanitizer was empty, of all the first world problems…

Where’s the dishtowel? I think I asked that question 20 minutes ago…

 

Hamburg in the Time of Corona: Diary Note #1

The ringing of my mobile phone woke me shortly after 7 AM. This was, on the one hand, fine, even timely, because the dream I was having was really weird. On the other hand, it was completely unexpected. A slightly unfocused glance at the screen confirmed it was my dentist’s office…and I just let it ring. Because I didn’t know why they would be calling at that hour.

A little while and one voice message machine later ( “We planned an hour for you, please call back, thank you,” said someone in a disgruntled voice who had clearly gotten up very early to be there on time), I called back and managed to backtrack and untangle the mystery. Sometime in April, when new coronavirus cases were still popping up in Hamburg like mushrooms and the social distancing was in full swing, the practice was abstaining from its usual opening hours, politely requesting patients to call if they needed to come in after all. I assumed, somewhat happily, I confess, that my upcoming 7 AM appointment was cancelled and went about my business. “But no, that notice was for other procedures,” I was told. We rescheduled and remained friends.

Yes, I know they work with masks and sanitize their hands anyway. But three weeks ago I still couldn’t imagine going there, unless I absolutely have to. I had been waiting whether Germany’s contact ban (in effect, the social distancing measures) would still be in place after June 5, the day the government planned to discuss yay or nay. They were prolonged until June 29. There is progress, however, for me. Today I was in that dentist’s chair like no time had passed at all. Had it? “Do you work in an office?” the assistant politely asked, nodding at my skirt.

Why yes, I do, yes. No longer from home for about a month now. Working in pajamas, like actually for my job, isn’t something I can do. It takes away the special quality of pajamas for me, the sundayness (just freestyling here) of spending time at home immersed in a creative project. At the same time, not to make this all about clothes, but there were items I hadn’t worn for a long time: skirts, dresses, heels. Putting them on again felt like recognizing someone after previously seeing her only from a distance (no puns intended).

The security guy I’d gotten used to in my local supermarket isn’t there anymore, disinfecting shopping cart handles and then wheeling the cart over to you. Now you take one yourself, disinfecting either with the travel-sized sanitizer you made a habit of carrying in your pocket or the napkins provided by the store. I still smile at staff underneath my mask if I catch someone’s eye and the last time I was finally able to shop without remembering why all these regulations are in place. Two door handles were touched with a bare hand, now that was a big one for me. Wash hands at home, unload groceries, wash hands again, disinfect the handles I touched, wipe down the kitchen table, and I don’t even go through the list in my head anymore.

The movements at work come naturally to me now. I’m finally able to let my mind wander a bit longer somewhere else before sitting down at my desk. Dump stuff, wash hands, clean desk, keep a distance, hope for the best, feel grateful for simple politeness and consideration when people ask if it’s OK to get on the elevator with you or step aside to let you pass in a narrower space.

It should be so simple, right? You get up, brush your teeth, get dressed, head out, walk a familiar route, greet familiar people. So why does it take so long to connect yourself mentally, emotionally to all this? Probably because it might take the same amount of time to readjust as the time spent working from home. Simple things have taken on a new kind of significance after not being able to do them for a while. They do say it’s the little things. Otherwise, I might have to pull a Kindergarten Cop on myself.  “Stop whining!” “There is no bathroom!”