We spent the day on Tuesday in Lübeck, the capital of the Hanseatic League, a free trade zone dating back to the Middle Ages. After entering Germany on Friday evening, we spent two half days in Hamburg (Sunday and Monday) and have had the pleasure of being hosted by some wonderful people.
We spent Saturday night in Zeven after a 92 mile day, passing through Oldenburg and Bremen. This was the first day we started to have a little bit of elevation gain and loss. Not much, but certainly more than we’d had the prior days in the Netherlands. B’s knee started to bother her more, so we did our best to work together to minimize the effort for her.
Our hosts in Zeven are the only Warm Showers hosts between Hamburg and Bremen, so they explained that they are constantly welcoming guests. They registered on Warm Showers in September of 2015 and within three hours already had someone confirmed. They are a biking family – the husband has 9 bicycles, the wife has 6 or 7 (they weren’t sure), and the son who still lives at home has 1. We didn’t ask about their older son. Many of their bikes are titanium Lynskeys from Tennessee. The family are vegetarians and prepared us a delicious dinner of vegetables cooked on a wok on the grill, rice, and salad. Some of the food came from their garden. We ate on the back terrace. B and I slept on mattresses in their attic.
The following morning they generously laid out a beautiful breakfast spread complete with fresh buns, several kinds of cheese, butter, peanut butter, homemade jam, soft boiled eggs, and fancy espresso. We didn’t want to leave the table. Much of our conversation with them revolved around politics, Trump, the German legal system, refugees, and other controversial topics.
They took a photo with us as we walked our bikes to the front of the house to head off.
B’s knee was hurting badly enough that we decided it made more sense to bike to the nearest train station, and then take a direct train in to Hamburg. We rode 23 miles to Tostedt, where we caught a train to Hamburg. On the way, we passed a gigantic vide-grenier, or community tag sale. There must have been 300 cars parked in designated lots around the town.
There was an entire bottom half of a train car reserved for bikes, called a fahrrad-wagen. We disembarked at the main station in Hamburg and rode the 2.5 miles to where we would be staying.
B and I did a bit of crowd-sourcing to find accommodations for the trip, and people’s generosity has been incredible. We stayed in Hamburg at the office of an NGO that fights sexism in the advertising industry, founded and run by the cousin of longtime friends/neighbors of my family in Nova Scotia.
Our stay in Hamburg, though brief, was enjoyable. On Sunday afternoon we walked around the water and saw the rathaus, built in the 1800s and comprising some 650 rooms. Stores are closed in Germany on Sundays so it was rather quiet, but we managed to find a café where we enjoyed some delicious sandwiches and a pretzel bun.
We had dinner outside at a restaurant with our friends’ cousin at whose office we were staying. Dinner lasted nearly 4 hours as we covered topics ranging from our respective areas of work, the current political system, American/German/English cultural differences, raising strong women, combating intolerance and political incorrectness, and more.
On Monday morning, I headed off to the Hamburg Immigration Museum – known as the book end to Ellis Island – and Bryna went to an art museum. The immigration museum is housed in the old brick buildings that served as temporary accommodation for the immigrants set to embark on one of the many steamships that left from Hamburg harbor. Jews were housed in separate buildings and fed from a different kitchen. The kitchens could feed 3,000 people per hour. These dockside accommodations were the idea of a Jewish-Danish man named Ballin as a way to both provide for immigrants needing more time to gather papers or to prepare for their departures and to squeeze more money out of these often desperate travelers. Ballin’s company was eventually bought by HAPAG, a name one still sees around Hamburg. It was moving to walk through buildings and over bricks that my relatives very likely passed through and over as well.
In the afternoon on Monday, B and I headed to Lübeck, about 40 miles away from Hamburg. It sprinkled intermittently throughout the ride. We stayed at a rather conservative pace in the hopes of not aggravating B’s knee further. We were due to stay with a Warm Showers host in Lübeck and she had asked us to meet her at the holstentor, the famous gate at the entrance to the old city. The gate was built in 1477 and is a major tourist attraction.
We ended up staying with our host, LH, in her apartment in a small 400 year old building, for Tuesday as well as we wanted to go to a doctor the following morning to get B’s knee checked out. It ended up that our host had studied and worked in Brazil for a year and a half, in the same city as our good family friend. And of course they know each other. That was reassuring and LH ended up being absolutely lovely and kind – she called friends to track down a good doctor for B to see in the morning and walked us there and then to a second doctor when the first couldn’t fit B in.
Lübeck is famous for its marzipan production and for being the birthplace of the author Thomas Mann. Many of the old buildings are built with bright red brick. LH explained to us that this is due to the fact that red brick was more expensive and so residents of the city sought it out to demonstrate their wealth.
Lübeck also has access to the sea – though the sea is about a 20-25 minute train ride away. We bought a cone of fish and chips with a creamy garlic sauce from a stand along a roundabout outside the old city. It was delicious and the fish was extremely fresh.
As a way to say thank you to LH, our host, for welcoming us for two nights, we took her out for dinner on Tuesday night. She suggested the restaurant – an Italian place on the second floor of a boat docked in a canal. It was delicious and really reasonably priced. We spoke about similarities and differences between the US and Germany and about German reunification and the lasting effects in the former East Germany.