We got up pretty early, a little before 8, and while Kai was running through the shower and getting himself ready, we helped clean up last night’s drinks and dishes and set up breakfast. I ended up cutting avocados and lemons in the kitchen, with other people working on cheese and cold cut platters, getting pre-ordered rolls from the baker, taking dishes up to the big dining room, etc. We had just enough time to pack up our stuff and put it in Uschi’s car before breakfast was ready at 9; while the others stayed, Uschi took us to the nearby train station in Neumuenster at 9:30, for our 10:22 train to Copenhagen, and we had a fairly uneventful trip, even though we had to stand for the first two hours or so of our five-hour trip through a very pretty Danish landscape, because the train was overly full and we hadn’t been able to get reservations for it. But once we were on the train from Fredericia to Copenhagen, we had seats and a very pleasant journey, which included several stretches across the ocean between Danish islands, and even a tunnel under the sea for a while, before we arrived in Copenhagen around 3:30. Our hotel was really close to the train station, and once we had scored a free map at the tourist information center, fairly easy to find. It’s a funky place called the “Annex” which is really the annex to the “Absalon Hotel” and features minimalist rooms in bright colors. Ours has a double bed, a single bed, a sink, a weird thing that doubles as a desk and a wardrobe, one bright orange and one bright green wall, and is perfectly acceptable. What makes it cheap (for Copenhagen) is that there are showers and bathrooms at the end of the long, rabbit-warren hallways for all to share, but they are all individual shower stalls and bathroom stalls, and that’s worked well, too. We dropped of our stuff and then went exploring for a few hours, initially without more than our paper map. Everything seemed very urban and under construction, but once we got a slightly better sense of directions, we managed to find the waterfront with a very interesting modern building, the so-called “Black Diamond,” a 2000s addition to the royal library. Kai thought it looked fascinating, and we decided to come back when it was going to be open the next day. We then walked along a canal to one of the many castles, and eventually managed to find the main pedestrian shopping district and something simple to eat–shawarma with salad and bread for pretty exorbitant prices, but we really needed food! We then walked around some more, watched a street performer and established that the main museums were (as I suspected) going to be closed the next day, and came home to the hotel at about 8 pm, pretty beat and in need of some quiet time and some planning time for our one full Copenhagen day.
We had an amazingly good night, given that we are only two floors up from a busy city street with quite a bit of 24/7 noise and kept the windows open–even the very early daylight didn’t really bother us (the sunrise being at 4:30 still takes a bit of getting used to!). We got up around 7:30, and once everyone was upright, dressed and showered and we had even located our guidebook for Copenhagen, we left about 8:30 to retrace our steps to the “Black Diamond,” where we knew there was a cheap student cafe with outdoor seating; we had coffee, tea, scones, and a sweet cookie that was a little like a jam tart, except big and square. We then checked out the library for its architecture and the view from the sixth floor, which was pretty awesome. We also took a quick walk through this spherical glass building that is temporarily displayed next to the library and features some very simple but beautiful sustainable architecture. Then we walked through the library garden and past Slotsholmen, the current parliament but also a former royal palace, toward Nyhaven, the very picturesque but touristy area where the houses right on the canal are very colorful and have street cafes in them on the bottom floor. The boat tour that we had picked started from there, and was actually quite cheap for 95 kroner(about $ 20) for all three of us. The guide explained the sites in English and Danish, and kept us busy and curious for the whole hour-long tour of the harbor and the canals, all in the bright sunshine. We saw the very modern new opera house, and across from it Amelia Palace, where the Danish royal house still resides; we also saw the little mermaid statue (which is tiny; only about 3 feet high or so) and the mostly residential canals on the other side of the harbor. After the boat tour, we went in search for something cheap to eat and found a Thai noodle place where the lunch “boxes” were only 54 kroner (or about 10 bucks) which counts as cheap in touristy Copenhagen. We then went on our very own walking tour for about 4 hours, and saw a lot! Kai was really a trooper about the walking, and had a lot to say and to ask about the things we were seeing. We walked along the waterfront to the royal palace and the church behind it (called the “marble church” and memorable for its big cupola), and then on to the little mermaid statue. On the way, Mark and Kai watched a small military ship dock and some high visitor being dropped off by it, and after we’d seen the overrated mermaid, we walked around the star-shaped citadel that lies right behind it, and is still an active, if also very cute and endearing-looking military barracks site. We walked around half the ramparts, and then continued, with an ice cream / coffee break, toward the King’s Garden (Kongens Have) and an older palace, called Rosenborg Slots (or palace)that is now a museum and houses the Danish Crown Jewels. We didn’t go in, but walked around the grounds a bit before heading in the general direction of the hotel, via the shopping district, to take a quick peek in the Lego store (which, even though Legos were invented in Denmark, looked pretty much like any Lego store, except that it had a recreation of Nyhaven and a tiny diorama of the Black Diamond with a bunch of little “jewels”–tiny transparent multi-color square legos–spilling out of its middle). An hour of rest did us all good, and it was actually nice that the sky, which had been bright blue all day, clouded over a bit, so that the room could cool off (air conditioning not being a thing in Northern Europe, and with a high of 68 today not really needed, either). We then ventured back out to find ourselves some dinner, and ended up eating a vaguely Turkish buffet not far from our hotel for a reasonable price (89 kroner per person, so about 12 Euro or 16 or 17 dollars), but the small drinks still bug both of my guys a lot, especially since this particular restaurant required that you buy a drink. We’ve been buying water all day long, but the prices varied from exorbitant at the local 7-11s to super cheap in certain tourist locations where you wonder whether you’ve just been sold tap water. At any rate, our food was good, and after dinner we walked the extra block to the Tycho Brahe planetarium, which looked cool and very 60s, but is mostly famous for having an Imax theater, so we’d decided earlier that we really didn’t need to check that out. We then added the last component to our Copenhagen day–spent the time from 8 to about 10 in the Tivoli, the big amusement park that’s right in the city center (only about 5 minutes from our hotel, actually) and has been there, with some changes of course, since 1843. It’s a very cleancut and tidy amusement park, with rides, booths, restaurants and boutiques and an emphasis on old-fashioned design and bright but sort of Victorian colors (and a tendency toward oriental kitsch) even in the newest rides, which include some major twirl, drops, and heights. We enjoyed hearing other people scream, but had really no inclination to go on any rides ourselves. Kai got to have cotton candy and we all had ice cream, but otherwise, we just enjoyed walking around and looking at things. It was easy to understand why Disney, who visited in 1950, was inspired by this place, even as its newer attractions were maybe themselves inspired by Disneyland ideas and designs. As it got a little darker, Tivoli’s lights went on, and although we didn’t wait for the light show at 10:45, the illuminated buildings etc were fun to look at. Now for another good night before we take off for Roskilde in the morning!
We slept well and got ourselves up early to check out of our hotel and figure out what train to take to Roskilde, a town straight west of Copenhagen that was originally the more important port city, inside a sound/bay area called the Roskilde Fjord. (And by “originally,” I mean the 8th and 9th century; Copenhagen became the main port in the 11th century, I believe). Once we had our tickets and a departure time, we found ourselves some breakfast to go and traveled the 20 minutes to Roskilde, then had to haul our suitcase and two backpacks all the way to the other end of town, where the Viking Ship Museum was built right on the bay. It was a lovely 20-minute-walk through town, by the ancient Roskilde Cathedral (dating back to the 11th century) and through a park–but it was quite a haul with all our travel gear for the whole week; we were glad the suitcase has wheels! The museum was really interesting–it displays the remains of five different types of viking ships that were excavated here, since they were used–after they’d been sailed as ships in the 10th century–by the vikings to form an underwater barricade in their ship channel, and so got preserved in the water for a thousand years. We watched a film that showed how they were excavated and then painstakingly reconstructed, starting in the 1950s, and then displayed in this museum. Some of them really didn’t have much left than a few boards, but the documentation and the replicas outside in the harbor really made clear what amazing ship builders the vikings were, and the exhibits made clear how far they traveled–not just to Greenland and then Newfoundland, but also to the Mediterranean and on to the Persian Gulf. The outdoor exhibits featured the shipyard, where we could see how the vikings built their boats (very complicated), and how they made ropes and nails etc. There were lots of hands-on activities and even a boat tour, but we didn’t have time for that, unfortunately. Kai was a little disappointed that we couldn’t ride a boat, but he really liked the viking ships. At around 11:30, we took off again and walked back to the train station. On the way, I went into a supermarket and bought us stuff for lunch from our very last 100 or so kroner ($20), which of course went a long way in a supermarket vs. a restaurant, so we had a pretty substantial meal of bread with cheese and cold cuts, yoghurt drinks, fruit, and a huge bottle of bubbly water once we got to the train station. We then caught the very train that we were booked on for the way home to Germany, at 1:20, and were en route back to Osnabrueck for the next 8 hours! We had to change trains twice, but the trip was uneventful and we saw a few interesting sights on the way — especially the view of the Kiel Canal from the high railway bridge in Rendsburg, where my mother grew up and where my grandparents lived, so I knew this was coming and told Mark to take some pictures. We also had enough time in Hamburg to grab some hot lunch (Asian noodles) and take them on the train with us. We were pretty tired when we finally reached Osnabrueck, and delighted that Imke came to pick us up, so we didn’t have to wait for the bus to come and lug our luggage anymore! We were home by 10 and in bed by 11, and glad to be back–although the trip was really lovely!
I have to say that it was VERY nice for all of us not to have to do any traveling today! Kai slept in while Mark and I took off fairly early in the morning and had breakfast at the corner bakery; it was warm and sunny enough to do this outside even at 9 am, and very nice. We then walked to the nearby lake, which is a really nice area for walks, with lots of mature trees and a nice walking / biking path all the way around it. By the time we had walked around it and back home, we had walked 7.8 kilometers (about 5 miles) in 1 hour 45 minutes. We putzed around with computer things until it was time to have lunch with Imke, who had made us a lovely potato salad, which we had with Vienna sausages, which are quite a different deal in Germany from those little cocktail wienies. We spent the (rainy) afternoon at home, working on some business-related issues and on uploading photos, and napping (what a wonderful thing), and had bread and cold cuts for dinner; Imke had been out with a friend, but joined us right as we were starting to eat. By the time we were done, it had cleared up, and we went for another little walk and then looked at old photos and my journal from when I was 11 before turning in. I think Kai spent basically all day in front of the computer playing a game, so clearly his idea of a non-traveling day was rather different from ours! We went to bed around 11.
This morning, we were already back to packing a suitcase, but since we were not leaving until the afternoon, Mark and I walked downtown (nippy and partly cloudy, but it never rained) and ran a few errands in the morning. We also stopped by a former church that is now a museum, but this week has a special program going on: since the interior walls are going to be redone, the museum curators invited everyone to use their own art medium to make (or exhibit) their own art for one week, in which the building is open 24/7. We saw some very interesting art and lots of graffiti on the wall, and we built something with paper tubes that were set up for that purpose. Fun! We also had a cup of coffee in one of my favorite cafes, which has a mezzanine/loft area where you can sit and have coffee (Cafe Laer), and then we walked home and had lunch with Imke at about 12:30 before gathering our luggage and walking to the bus to the main station. The trip to Hamburg takes less than 2 hours, which seems like no time at all after the 8+ hours from Copenhagen! We took public transportation to our friends Peter and Andrea’s house and got there at about 5 pm. We hung out at Peter and Andrea’s place, just shooting the breeze, had a lovely dinner that Andrea cooked for us, and talked all evening until it was time for bed. Kai got to sleep in Andrea’s tiny art studio, which I think he thought was seriously cool.
This was our first big Hamburg day, and we spent the morning with Andrea and Peter: after a sumptuous breakfast, we headed out to the harbor area of Hamburg, specifically the so-called Speicherstadt, or “Warehouse City,” where tall brick storage / warehouse buildings directly on the canals from the harbor are still partly used for merchandise and partly for cafes, residences, and a few museums and exhibit halls. We went to one of these–the so-called Miniatures Wonderland, a huge multi-story model train exhibit that features a miniature Hamburg, parts of Germany, the swiss alps, major sights from the US, Scandinavia, etc. There was an airport with a recreated emergency landing, lots of massive crowd scenes, and lots of little “Where is Waldo”-style scenes all throughout where you could find funny little mini stories, like a crime scene with a water-logged corpse, a crystal cave with fairies, and a hippie campground, not to mention an underground area that had 6 little rooms dedicated to six popular conspiracy theories / stories (aliens/Area 69, the Philadelphia Experiment, and the Illuminati are the three I remember). It was a lot of fun, although Kai and I ran out of steam a little earlier than the others and sat in the cafeteria for a while (in train compartment seats, of course), while Mark, Andrea, and Peter admired the landscapes a bit more. After we got out, we had a light lunch in a little cafe nearby, which also featured a model of the overall area, the so-called Harbor City or Hafen-City, where a former duty-free zone has become a vast construction area for a new residential area for 25,000 people, with very nice condos and cafes and a harbor promenade. It is about halfway done, and still amazes me because when I lived in Hamburg in the late 80s, the area was a complete wasteland (not even officially part of the city, but a sort of no-man’s land for merchandise that hadn’t gone through customs yet). We left the area for now, though, because Andrea and Peter had to go back home and get some work done, whereas we went to the main bus station to meet up with our friend and former student, Lane Sorensen. Lane is a graduate student in Kiel this year and will return to the States in August; when we were in Kiel, he was out of town to visit his wife Jennifer, who is spending the year in Bulgaria, so we didn’t get to see him then. Instead, we spent the afternoon hanging out with him and showing him Hamburg, where he last visited (for more than passing through) almost 10 years ago. We had a great time–the weather was gorgeous, and we started our tour at the harbor, including the old harbor, the new harbor city, and a rid in the Ferris wheel that they still have set up there (we took it 2 years ago; it provides a fabulous view of the city and down the river Elbe). Then we took a train to the downtown area and the “Binnenalster,” one of two lakes, really parts of the Alster river, that border on the downtown / main shopping area of Hamburg. We also walked through the botanical gardens nearby, “Planten un Blomen,” where Kai especially liked the Japanese garden and the tea house. At the end of our walk, we found an outdoor cafe with fries for Kai and a beer for Lane, and visited the Lego store (which wasn’t as much fun as the one in Copenhagen). Back at the train station, we left Lane to meet up with another Hamburg friend, while we returned by subway and bus to Andrea and Peter’s apartment, had another lovely homecooked meal (including strawberries and ice cream for dessert), and watched the movie “Pacific Rim” on their huge movie projection system. I was tired enough that I fell asleep half-way through the movie, even though we had the sound turned up to movie volume! We didn’t go to bed until almost midnight, which is late for me!
Kai actually ended up getting up early, because he got to play a videogame on Peter’s Playstation 4 that he had discovered the night before–“Flowers,” very peaceful and pleasant to watch, until we had another sumptuous breakfast, and set out for another day of discovery. We started out with a visit to the museum of Decorative Arts and Design, which I have always liked a lot. Although some parts were closed for renovation, we still saw a lot of very cool stuff–including the entire former pop-art style cafeteria from the publishing house that publishes Germany’s foremost weekly magazine, the Spiegel–all in orange and red. There is also a huge Asian collection, which included some samurai swords and masks that Kai found fascinating, and a special exhibit of the works of an artists who makes microscopic sculptures that fit into the eye of a sewing needle or on top of a pin. You could look at the dozen or so pieces that were exhibited through microscopes; they were amazing. We stayed for a little less than two hours, and then took the elevated train out to Western edge of Hamburg, to an area called Klein-Flottbek, where there is a very nice, rather expansive botanical garden. I had never been there before. We had a simple, quick meal (sausage, bread, potato salad–nothing to write home about) in the outdoor cafe, and then went exploring. There were some really interesting exhibits and unusual plants, and, perhaps most memorably, a pond with some very curious carp that came right up to us when we offered bread crumbs. Kai got to pet them and felt like a “carp whisperer.” We then walked on from the gardens through another park, a former private park with an impressive 18th-century mansion at its center, all the way down to the banks of the Elbe. There is a long promenade along the Elbe that we could have taken along the river, but it had gotten too hot for more walking (upper 70s in Germany always feels quite warm!) and we opted to take the boat back to the harbor instead. This is one of Hamburg’s most fun “secrets” that locals know but tourists typically do not–you can take commuter boats through the entire harbor with regular public transportation tickets instead of paying for a harbor boat tour. We took these ferry boats from Teufelsbrueck to Finkenwerder, on the south side of the Elbe, and then again from Finkenwerder to the harbor. The boats were packed, because it is a holiday weekend, but there was enough room to stand on the edge of the boat and look out at the residential areas and the harbor docks while we were going along. We hit the harbor at about 5 pm and then found our way to the spot where we were supposed to meet Andrea and Peter for dinner at 6 pm, in a restaurant called the “Turnhalle,” or “The Gym,” where we sat very near an open door and had a lovely meal–arugula salad, pizza, pasta, and, lemon risotto which Kai thought was excellent. After the meal, we divided forces–Kai, Peter and Mark went to the movies, since there is a theater in Hamburg that shows movies in the original, and Kai got another one of his heart’s fondest wishes, i.e. watching the new X-men movie that came out just as we were leaving the US. Meanwhile, Andrea and I walked partway around the Alster, found ourselves some ice cream, and then headed home, sat on the balcony, and talked until it got dark. The guys were home by 10:30, and a good time was had by all. Again, it was 11 or later by the time we went to bed.
We slept longer than I have slept in a long time, until 8:45, so all the walking clearly is taking a toll on us. Kai, however, was already up and playing another Playstation game, “Infamous: Second Son,” which I liked a whole lot less than “Flowers,” but which he was clearly very hooked on. He did stop to have breakfast with us, but stayed behind to play some more while we adults took a walk in a nearby park for about an hour and a half until we all got too hot and sticky. We saw a turtle and some other interesting wildlife, and had a good time chatting but were all clearly starting to wilt by about noon. We were back at the apartment around 1 pm, had a quick lunch and then were on our way again–Andrea accompanied us to the central station just to be nice, and got a kick out of Kai reading a book Peter had given him on the movie Time Bandits while walking (she said it reminded her of me at the age of 14, always with my nose in a book). The train home came in on time but had some fairly major delays on the short trip to Osnabrueck, but since we didn’t have any connections to catch, it really wasn’t a big deal. We got to Imke’s at around 7 and had a lovely bread-and-cold cuts meal; it had cooled off a little bit after a sticky day, so Mark and I took a short walk before turning in, which was a nice quiet end to our day.
We had a lovely slow start to the day, with breakfast around 9 and some catching up on work and on uploading photos for Judith and Michael, who came to spend part of the day here around noon, after a weekend camping trip, while Imke was watching their cat, who is very funny–he is normally an outdoor cat, but can only be outside at Imke’s house on a long leash that is tied to the patio door, which he cheerfully accepts as his limit. Once Ju and Mi (as they like to abbreviate themselves) were here, we had a great time–Imke had made a delicious meal with a soup and several salads and a casserole that I like especially well, which includes bread, tomatoes and cauliflower. We went for a nice walk after this late lunch (even though it was almost a little too hot for a walk and we deliberately picked a shady route through the nearby forest to the lake), and when we came back, Imke’s old friends, Wolfgang and Maya, had arrived. They’d come to congratulate Judith and Michael and to see us at least this once before we leave again, and we all had coffee and Imke’s fabulous dessert together. Another friend and neighbor, Elisabeth (who, like Wolfgang and Maya, has been a family friend since the mid-1970s) joined us as well. Ju and Mi took off around 5, with many hours of driving still ahead, while we had a pleasant evening with a modest dinner and a big thunderstorm system moving through, which cooled things off rather pleasantly, although a couple of hours south of here, caused major damage last night–thousands of trees were uprooted and blocked train tracks and roads, and 6 deaths have been confirmed, all caused by falling trees!
Mark and I got up around 8 and got rolls and bread from the bakery to have breakfast with Imke. We puttered around for a bit and walked downtown around 11 for a simple lunch at an outdoor cafe called Polly Esther and some ice cream at our favorite gelateria. My back was bothering me, so after we had walked back, I took a nap and we generally took it easy for the rest of the day, reading and puttering on the computer. Imke was gone all afternoon, but came back in time to have dinner with us; and Kai, who basically spent the day in his room except for meals, came on a postprandial walk with Mark and me, so that was fun. We got to say hi to Imke’s friend Sonja, who had stopped by, but wrapped up the day fairly early with some journaling for me and blinking lights in Mark’s case.