Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wintery Weekend in Hamburg, Germany

Happy Holidays, all!

How are each of you spending the upcoming week and a half holiday time?  What are the special traditions and activities your family has planned?  Any fun moments you will spend with friends as well?  Delicious seasonal foods you will prepare?  Will you take any exciting trips?



This past weekend, I trekked off to Hamburg, Germany!!  One of my very best friends, Somayeh moved there about 4 months ago, from Frankfurt.  This was a major loss for me.  She and I had been nearly inseparable for the past 2.5 years.  We saw one another multiple times every week, going for tea and cake at Iimori (we were both head over heels for their green teat torte), walking along the Main river, laughing and talking about anything and everything as hours literally fell away. 

We went to Hot Iron at her gym every single Sunday, sweating it out side by side and swapping grins and looks of exhausted understanding at one another as we pushed our way through the class.  We met one anothers friends.  Somayeh attended my dinner parties.  We celebrated birthdays and holidays together.  We developed a summer tradition of going out for drinks at Good Times for Good People, or exploring the street markets together. 

We talked about books, work, guys, friends, travel, our families, the list goes on and on.  We ventured to Budapest, Hungry together, one of my favorite trips ever.  SUCH a blast. 

Somayeh and I have a layered, close knit friendship.  What it lacks in years (only 2.5 so far), it makes up for in closeness and depth.  Its as though we have known one another for years and years already.


So, I arrived in Hamburg on Friday night, December 16 at 11pm, after a cozy, languid train ride through the cities and countrysides of Germany.  Somayeh met me on the station platform, all smiles, moving towards me and into my arms.  It was funny, for the first ten minutes or so in one anothers presence (it having been 4 months since we had last seen one another), it felt both strange and as though no time had passed at all.

Somayeh drove us to her family's home, a cozy little brick house on a quiet, residential street.  I met her brother, his wife, her father and hugged her mother hello once more (whom I had already met previously).  They were all warm, welcoming, big grins on their faces.  Somayeh and I retired to her room soon thereafter.  I was exhausted, having been up since 6:30am.  I thought I would fall to sleep immediately but instead, we stayed awake talking for the next two hours.  Very much in character of our friendship ;-).  This was just great.  Rejuvenating and wonderful.

The next day, we awoke and enjoyed breakfast in her family kitchen.  Somayeh offered me a traditional Persian dish, rice topped with a sauce that was essentially lambs meat, a variety of spices and herbs, plus dried lemon.  This was delicious, wow.  I have never tried Persian food before but loved this.  The dish was flavorful, light, hearty, with a slightly grainy texture.  The taste was earthy and very yum.  She was surprised that I liked it :-) but like it I did (though I omitted the lambs meat from mine). 

For breakfast, we ate this along with heaping plates of omelet cooked with crushed tomatoes and oil.  We sat at the breakfast table and talked for a good hour and a half, much longer then we had intended.  We just had too much to tell one another, all of it tumbling out. 
Then, we were off and into the city to explore.



Somayeh and I wandered the resplendent, magical, but packed-to-the-gills Hamburg Christmas market.  We split a potato pancake (traditional German Christmas market grub) topped with something similar to cranberry sauce.  SO delectable.  We pushed through the hordes of people, eyeing the gluhwein, chocolate covered fruits and roasting meat.  Delicious smells filled the chilly air.  Somayeh told me there was a traditional Christmas market sweet that I HAD to try, so we set off to find it.  We did sample this supposedly excellent sweet.  The dessert was tiny pillows of dough covered in a dusting of powdered sugar.  We split a bag of these, devouring them in minutes.  

























We continued our exploration of Hamburg, stopping for a tea with a fabulous view, wandering the city streets, snapping photos, talking nearly the entire time.  So many stories and updates were spilling out of us, things we had been dying to tell one another.  We laughed loads, had heart to hearts, and just chatted the day away.

For dinner, we had burgers, split an order of rosemary and sea salt topped fries and an order of coleslaw in a cute, no frills cheeseburger joint.  The conversation got particularly poignant over dinner <3

















After dinner, Somayeh wanted to show me the red light district, which, in Hamburg, is the largest in all of Europe.  As we came closer to the area, this became apparent as the people milling about seemed to decline in slightly seedier look and vibe, the buildings grew more worn and dingy, scents in the air held a shade of nose curling ick.  Marquees flashed, alight with advertisements for the scantily clad women (and the services they offered) within.  Somayeh led me to a notorious street that was famously forbidden to women.  Apparently when/if a woman dare venture down this street, she is doused with an unidentifiable liquid which is shot from water guns at her.  This is the rumor/legend on the street.

This infamous street is blocked at either end by an imposing wooden fence which is covered in graffiti and foreboding wording alerting the fairer sex to their being unwanted past this barricade.  The two of us poked our heads around the wooden fence, hoping for a glimpse of whatever debauchery was hidden around its corners.  We were met with a glimpse of a nearly empty street, the cobbles largely unoccupied save for a couple of lone stragglers. 

All alongside the buildings, which ran along both sides of the street, were windows glowing a brilliant, otherworldly shade of red.  Behind the glass, the glowing red rooms were empty save for one or two pieces of stark furniture.  The rooms looked sterile, were nearly naked aside from the lone chair or a bed.  Everything was lain in white sheets giving the room a ghostly appearance.  In a few of the windows sat women clad in their bras and underwear, staring out of the glass to the street beyond, awaiting their clientele for the night.

Somayeh and I quickly ducked our heads back out, safely on the real world side of the barrier for a moment.  We watched, stunned, when a few minutes later a group of people, a mixture of both men AND women, emerged from behind the barricade.  Somayeh exclaimed her shock to the woman, asking her how she had managed a stroll down this famously female-prohibited street.  The woman didn't appear to be soaked with any unidentifiable liquids upon her exit.  In fact, she appeared quite dry, she was smiling and giggly.  Somayeh looked at me, a question in her eyes.

"Want to walk down it?" she asked me, hesitation and intrigue in her voice.

"Lets go," I said, ducking into the darkened folds of wood that made up the barricade and onto the nearly deserted street. 

I walked fast, at a brisk stride, my heart thudding in my chest.  Somayeh followed close behind me, a few feet back.  I felt adrenaline rush through me.  I looked left and right, left and right, both a peeping tom peering into the rooms of glowing red (like something otherworldly or out of a science fiction movie, this type of thing utterly unknown to me being an American), as well as terrified of being caught.  I had no clue what might actually happen to those of the female gender who dared to venture down this street.



We made it to the other end, no harm, no foul.  Somayeh and I grinned at one another, feeling smug and probably overly confident by that point, still high on the rush of having made it through the forbidden forest of red rooms that had lined our way.

"Wanna go back?" Somayeh asked, indicating walking back the way we came so we would be able to exit from where we started.

"Yes," I said in what I hoped was a bold voice before I took off again at a brisk stride in the other direction, a few steps ahead of Somayeh. 

Our return trip though, was slightly different.  Women had begun to congregate in the windows, their huge breasts spilling upwards and nearly over the tops of their bras.  Their legs like long stilts balanced precariously on towering platforms.  Their faces heavily made up.  Their eyes both vacant and yet, delivering ice pointed stares out into the street beyond the small cubicle rooms in which they sat.  A few had opened the window to their room and were chatting with men, who had saddled up alongside of their window. 

A couple of the girls noticed us and began to yell.  I couldn't understand what they said, but I can assure you it wasn't nice.  I did pick up on a few cuss words in there though.  At this point, I picked up the pace, my heart pounding.  It felt like a spotlight suddenly snapped on and was being shown directly on Somayeh and me.  Within milliseconds, we were nearly running.  It felt as though all the gazes in this darkened alleyway had turned our way.  We made it out the other side, breathless, giggly and both admittedly anxious, our hearts racing in unison.  We agreed, that was an intense but fun experience to be sure.  From an American standpoint, it was certainly a great European story to have in ones arsenal for retelling later on ;-)


After this, we walked around a bit more, laughing and chatting before we headed back to the house.  Once back at Somayehs, we played with her nephew, Tiam.  I met her brother via Skype who happens to be living in Detroit right now!  This was a surprising, short but sweet meeting.  Then Somayeh and I retired to her room with warm mugs of tea in hand to chat and relax.

The next morning as Somayeh got ready, I sat with her father in the kitchen.  Upon my arrival, he had been cooking a Persian specialty dish which involves a goat head soaking amidst a clear soup stock.  Yes, you read that right.  An entire, intact goat head. 

I asked Somayeh if I might see it, and could I take a photo?  She said forget it, laughing.  When she was getting ready on Sunday morning, I found her father in the kitchen, who speaks zero English.  They speak Persian with one another at home.  I asked him in broken, cave-man-level German if I might see the goat head soup that he had cooking in the garage?  He whisked me out to the garage, excited to show it to me.  Somayeh appeared in the doorway a few minutes later, a knowing grin on her face.  "Ha!!"  She exclaimed.  "I knew I would find you out here," she laughed playfully.  Her dad and I shrugged, smiles on both of our faces.  No, I didn't take a photo.  I have to admit, it smelled delicious.  But no, I didn't accept the taste that was offered to me.  I politely declined that one.

After the soup viewing, I sat in the kitchen with her dad and chatted for a good twenty minutes or so, in totally broken German.  This was SUCH fun.  I loved this.  We walked about his visit to the US the previous year.  He told me the cities he had liked (San Fransisco was gorgeous, he thought.  Las Vegas, not so much, he said.  Not for living, too loud, too much after a day or two.  He loved New York though).  We discussed how big the US is and just how long it takes to drive across it.  He asked where in the US I was from, etc. 

Somayeh and I headed to what appeared to be an ultra charming brunch spot in Hamburg called Pauline.  They were booked through the entire day.  Not a single table open.  I was crushed.  I had so been looking forward to this spot, as it reminded me a bit of Roamers in Berlin, one of the best brunch spots I have EVER eaten at.  I still dream of the french toast at Roamers.  So, instead of Pauline, we went to Omas Apotheke.  This was alright, though I wouldn't give it top ratings (despite the fact that it had high ratings online).






After breakfast, we headed to the harbor and seafront.  This was impressive.  It actually reminded me quite a bit of Boston.  Major nostalgia.  Swoon. 

We walked along the pier, the sky gray and temperamental looking, the wind strong, the air cool and brisk.  Our conversation was especially humorous during this activity.  I asked Somayeh, if she could be any type of person in history, what might she be?  Some examples I gave included: a pirate, a princess back when there were knights and kings (aka Game of Thrones style), a 1920s flapper girl, a hippie from the 60s, etc.  What time period might she like to return to and whom might she be? 

The conversation got REALLY funny from this point on.  Lots of gut busting laughter between the two of us.
















We walked across Hamburg to the train station, as my train was due to come in about a half an hour (my train departed for Frankfurt at 3:30pm).  Before I left, Somayeh bought me a traditional Hamburg sweet.  She insisted it was a must try.  She was right, it was excellent.  A cinnamon roll type of sweet filled with some kind of sugary paste.  Delicious.

I absolutely loved every minute of this weekend.  It was as though Somayeh and I had never been apart.  Though it reminded me of how much I actually miss her back in Frankfurt.  I will be returning to Hamburg again sometime soon, for sure :-D

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