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Elbphitharmonie Kulturcafe


Hamburg, Germany  April 4, 2011

I got up early enough to have breakfast with Volker and Esther before she went off to her job. I said goodbye to Volker a while later and walked to the S-Bahn and got off three stops later at the train station. Having no stated time to arrive in Kiel I went looking for a Starbucks and free Wifi. The Starbucks up the street from the train station in Hamburg was very interesting. It was in its own self contained building in the middle of a plaza. The building seemed to be about a hundred years old. There was very little seating on the ground floor but lots of tables outside. A third of the ground floor was taken up by a raised area with three computers with what looked like some sort of travel agency team manning them. The main indoor seating was upstairs. It was a big open room where old time dances could have been occurred. I guessed it was more probably for fraternal club meetings. Or maybe it had been the reading room of a library. There was an upright piano in the corner. I had started with a medium cup of Pike Place Roast coffee and then had a “Wild Blueberry” muffin with my refill. I am not sure what sort of wild that meant. I spent a lazy couple of hours getting caught up on things.  Soft sunlight glanced off the brown wood table I had claimed for my space.


I walked outside outside and circumnavigated the building. I had originally approached it from the rear. It was a nice day.  In the front was the table area. It was contained by a low stone wall that extended from the outer walls of the porch of the building. At the front of the tables, and still connected to the building by the low walls, was a fountain. It had a tower in the middle at least fifteen feet high topped by a statue of a lion. It was flanked at a lower level by statues of both a man and woman, both posing with what looked like Harbor Seals. Below the man was a plaque that read:

Gestfifit Von Den

Burgern Hamburg


There was also a plaque below the woman:

Demandenken en


John Georg


Atop the pillars in the front at the eaves level it said Elbphitharmonie Kulturcafe. A few feet below that, hanging between the pillars, was a sign that said Starbucks.

I later found out that before it became a Starbucks it had been a Burger King.  When it was a Burger King the words Elbphitharmonie Kulturcafe had been replaced with Burger King.  All things considered Starbucks was a step in a better and more tasteful direction.


It being a lazy day I ambled to the station and found a train to Kiel leaving immediately.  I hurried and got on board.  I left my bags on a rack at the front and took my seat.  When we hadn’t left in several minutes I realized I had missed that train to Kiel.  Sure enough, I was on the train to Lubbock.  Luckily it didn’t leave until after I got off.  I then found it was twenty minutes until the Kiel train.  I bought the Trib and a bottle of Becks beers.  It seems the height of indulgence to open a beer on a train and relax during an afternoon ride.  George Will recently wrote an editorial claiming the movement for more trains in America was a Liberal plot to “diminish Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”  Oh?  I’d like to see George crack open a cold one in his car and wave it as a salute to Liberty at the police passing by.


When I arrived at Kiel the sky had darkened and rain was pouring down.  I went into the Sophie Mall to get out of the downpour.  When I exited from the back a few minutes later I walked into blue skies that  had replaced the storm clouds.  I walked to Karsten’s house. There I found Martina in the kitchen.  That was nice.  It is more usual to enter the house and find it empty.  Karsten soon got back from his errand of buying bike locking gear at a hardware store.


I went to the store and bought beer.  I got  Dithmarscher Maibock from a display rack.  Martina told me that it was beer only produced in the spring.  It had first been produced in the middle ages when Monks had to fast for forty days for Lent.  It was created as a liquid that would substitute for food, a sort of Dark Ages nutritional supplement.  It was tasty and I could see how it could soften difficult  times.


It being Asparagus season we had asparagus and fish stew.  Very nice.  In general I would say cooking in Europe is more seasonally oriented than in America.  Food from a box or a can doesn’t depend on the weather.  We talked after dinner and into the evening.  I then retired to bed and enjoyed a couple of chapters of Charles Dickens’ wonderful tome The Old Curiosity Shop  featuring  Little Nell.




Hamburg, Germany  April 3, 2011

It being Sunday things were relaxed in Volker and Esther’s house. When I awoke no one was astir. I recalled a nearby Starbucks that should be a short walk away. There I could spend time on line posting a blog report. Since it had been such a nice day yesterday I went out without a cap or top coat leaving a note saying I would return at 10:00. I didn’t have a key to get back in. I had walked a block when it started to rain. Not sure just what direction I should go I asked a passerby. He didn’t speak English. He did understand “coffee.” He pointed in the exact opposite direction I intuitively thought was right. I went the way he pointed. It began raining harder. I walked to a business street. That wasn’t hopeful. I remembered the Starbucks as being at the edge of a park. A young guy was waiting for the light to change. He was eating the end of a loaf of bread peeking out from a paper bag. I asked him if he spoke English. I should add here, almost any German who is asked if they speak English, assuming they can, will reply “Just a little” or “Not very much.” This young man replied “Sure.” He didn’t think there was Starbucks anywhere near but suggested an upscale area a few blocks away. I walked there. It kept raining. By the time I got to the upscale area I was really soaked. I asked a passerby for Starbucks. I was assured there was none nearby. About then I realized I was lost. It began raining even harder. I had made a note that Volker and Esther’s house was on Heinrich Strasse, remembering it by associating it with Tommy Henrich former big league ballplayer 1927-1940 with the New York Yankees. A guy passing by on a bicycle directed me to Heinrich Strasse. On the corner there was a pastry shop. A bunch of people were inside buying stuff. I went in and got coffee and a donut. The donut was still warm and as good as a Krispy Kreme. The coffee was passable. The main attraction of the place were unlimited paper napkins so I could dry my sopping head.


Volker let me into the house. He told me there was no Starbucks anywhere in the area.  I wonder where the one in my mind was?  We had breakfast of bread, cheese and salami with cafe au lait. I turned down a brown egg. After breakfast we took a walk. It had stopped raining and turned into a nice day. Looming over most German cities is a TV tower. The height of the tower would be a point of pride for each municipality. The one in the former East Berlin is a doozy. The one in Hamburg, Germany’s second largest city, is also a pip. It had restaurant at the top that revolved. That restaurant had gone out of business. We walked to the base of the Tower. There was a chain link fence around it, giving the whole thing a forlorn feeling. Signs were posted forbidding roller skating or skate boarding.


Across the highway from the TV tower was a large park. It was a destination place for people. Inside were several contained parks including a Japanese garden. We stopped for ice cream. Esther and I got cones and Volker got a cup. Smart man he. I was giving my cone an ambitious lick and the ice cream went flying, landing in the dirt. I don’t think the guy who scooped it had mushed it properly down into the the cone. Since it was early in the season I am sure he will improve and avoid further tragedies.


The park has a really impressive children’s area. Both Volker and Esther had played there as children and said it was unchanged. In the middle of it is a fiberglass mountain. It sort of resembles the Experience Music Project in Seattle, which is at the base of the Space Needle.  The park mountain  is hollow inside but I was assured no kids play inside as there is no ventilation and the stench from it being used as a public toilet is horrible. We walked back home through the business area of the neighborhood. A two block area was awash in Saturday night trash. It was a designated a “party area” and has been surrendered to loud bars and drunken revelry.


Volker and Esther subscribe to a vegetables and cheese service. Every week a box arrives with an assortment of organic vegetables and interesting cheeses. There is vegetable service in Portland but it has no cheeses.  That is a German specific wrinkle, at l least for the time being.  For dinner they tossed a bunch of vegetables into a wok and made a curry. Over rice it was great. We lingered over dinner and had to take a taxi to Metropolis for my 7:00 show of The Effect of Dada. Another good crowd showed up which looked scattered inside the big auditorium. As usual, everyone loved the show.


The 8:00 show continued the Dada and Surrealism theme with a Buster Keaton short and feature. The short was One Week. The feature was The Navigator. I was asked to introduce the show. I talked about how the surrealists loved Buster and didn’t love Charlie Chaplin. I think the Surrealists appreciated in Buster Keaton’s art that he always played a man interacting in a world seemingly one step removed from himself. Buster had an existential aura around him as though he was not so much taking part in reality or nature, but battling against it, sort of one man against the universe.  In One Week he builds a pre-fab house of which the disparate parts have been jumbled. The result is a crazy house. In the Navigator he is placed on a big completely abandoned and adrift ship. Both show his ability to persevere inside an insane reality.


We took the S-Bahn home.

Everybody Dance!


April 2 Duselldorf, Germany

I was awakend by a bird that sounded more like an electronic alarm clock than a living thing.  It would go peep peep peep peep peep  peep – pause – peep peep.  It then would repeat it in a very regimented way.  Each peep itself was sharp and almost metalic sounding.  Last fall I read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle while I was in Europe.  Maybe what I was hearing was a wind up bird.  Bright sunlight had filled the room by the time I got up at 8:00.

The free breakfast  wasn’t bad at all, but all I had with the not very good, and not enough of it, coffee,  toast and a couple of croissants. I grabbed a banana to eat later on my way out.  Back in my room I turned on CNN and actually got some baseball news.  I left the hotel at 9:30. My intention was to walk to the train station  but was talked out of that idea by the desk clerk.  She told me it would be over a half hour walk but only three stops on the Metro.  It was already warm and it looked like it would be a hot day. At the Metro I found didn’t have the coins to buy a ticket and the machine didn’t take cash.  There are no attendants at Metro stops like in the subway in New York.  There are also no turnstyles.  You can ride a train without a ticket and the chance of getting caught is slim.  I took my chances.

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I got to the station an hour and half  before train time.  I walked out of the station looking for a Starbucks.  I gave up and went back inside and bought a Trib and asked the clerk if there was a Starbucks nearby.  She said in the station at the opposite end.  Sure enough, a real Starbucks with plenty of seating and free wifi.  I posted a report on my blog and announced it on facebook.  I walked to the platform five minutes before scheduled time and found a cryptic note on the board.  It was cryptic  only  because I don’t read German.  I was able to decipher, which was proved by an announcement, that the train was delayed 25 minutes.  I went back to the Starbucks and sent Volker in Hamburg  a message to adapt accordingly.   Back at the platform I found a place to sit.  There was an air of stoic resignation among the people waiting. It was present in their postures and in the tones of their voices.   Many lit up cigarettes.  The sunshine and warmth made it less bad.  A train arrived but it was the one scheduled and not the tardy one.  When the late train did arrive it had no signage saying it was the right one.  All of the long time loiterers got on and so did I.  The cars were of an old design with all chairs and no compartments.  An announcement said it was a replacement train.  I was amazed they could rustle one up in such short order.  It even had a bistro car.


At Dortmund that train terminated and we all got off and boarded a more modern replacement train across the platform.  I went into an empty compartment but was soon joined by an older couple who were speaking a language I didn’t recognize.  I would guess it was a Slavic language.  They kept up a lively conversation for most of the trip. No conductothe old curiosity shopr arrived to check tickets or give out free beer vouchers.  I got deeper into The Old Curiosity Shop.


Hamburg is one of my favorite train stations.  It is laid out sort of like a football stadium.  The tracks are on the playing field and the concourses are accessable by  stairs and  escalators at each end.  I got off the train and walked toward the South escalator.  Looking up I saw Volker and Esther waving at me from the top.  The train was almost and hour late.  That didn’t leave time to go to their  flat and then to the theater.   The event would be the film Hellzapoppin at 6:00 and my Lindy Hop and Jitterbug show at 8:00.  Dancing was to follow.  Volker suggested we get coffee.  I suggested we drop all my appurtenances at the theater first.  It was a warm day.  The Metropolis Kino was built in 1957 and at the time was the largest theater in Hamburg.  It had 70mm and Todd A-O.  It is now on the wrong side of the tracks from the train station. The other side is all upscale shopping.  The Metroplis side has bars and sex shops and even small grocery stores.  Past the Metorpolis in a nicer area we found a cafe with sidewalk seating. The sign in the window said it was a Bistrotecque.   I ordered a chef’s salad.  Since I didn’t understand their order I was surprised that it was pie.  I was pretty sure there would no time for dinner later.


A crowd of fifty or so came to see Hellzapoppin.  The program had been written about in a feature article in the newspaper.  There might have been more people but it was possibly the first really nice Saturday of the the year.   I should not have been surprised when it hit the screen and was dubbed into German.  That compromised most of the repartee between Olsen and Johnson but since that’s  not  exactly Shakespeare, and not much of a loss,  the film was still enjoyable.  All of the musical numbers were in English and all of the running around  and slapstick was universal.  The evening had been co-sponsored by one of the local Lindy Hop clubs.  A young woman introduced Hellzapoppin at length using words Harlem New York, Savoy Ballroom, Swing Music,  and Frankie Manning more than a  few times.


I’d forgotten to take the slips of paper out of my reels that list the contents before giving the films to the projectionist.  That allowed me to visit the projection booth to get them.  To get there we had to go outside to an alley and then up a fire stairs.  I was told that was fire code to keep the film isolated from the rest of the theater.  That was done even though showing of flammable Nitrate film had stopped by 1957.  The crowd was closer to 100 for my show.  That is much better than my shows here last year. Even with that many the crowd was spread out in the big old place.  Everything ran smoothly and looked good on the huge curved screen.

Metropolis Kino Lobby – Soon to Become a Dance Floor

At the end of the show I got a lot of compliments on it. I was introduced to both Volker and Esther’s moms, women of my age.  Most of the crowd then went into the lobby where a dance floor had been created in the uncarpeted area where tables had been  All were dressed for a special occasion.  A DJ provided vintage dance music and most everybody danced.  So did I. I danced with a whole bunch of women.  They knew the basic Lindy without being expert but all had personal style. I really had a ball.   The music was eclectic with most of the tempos being what the hep cats used to call “Business Man’s Bounce.”  That was just as well.  Dancing generates a lot of heat.  The woman tending bar told Volker that she had never seen so many smiling faces at the Metropolis.