May 24, 2004

Cultural Fleas

It was a busy weekend.

We started on Saturday by trying to fulfill a quest of mine. I've been looking for the unique yet definitive German article -- some kind of souvenir or collectible that we can take back with us when we return to the States, polish up a bit, and then place on (or hang over) our mantelpiece. It will make houseguests oooh and aaah; it will subtly and warmly remind us of our time in Germany each time we look at it. Problem is, I'm not sure what "it" is yet, so I'm always on the lookout. Earlier in the week, I'd seen ads for a flea market at the Museum der Arbeit (Museum of Work) -- not just any market, but one with Kultur! Antik! (Antiques!) And held at a museum, to boot -- if I was going to find something classy and distinctive, no doubt I'd stand a good chance of finding it here. So relatively early in the morning, Shelby and I rode out to Barmbek, another ten thousand stops (or so it seemed) down the subway line.

Well, that was a bust. The museum-sponsored flea market, with its promises of culture and antiques, held just about the same collection of ragtag junk as any other market I've been to here in Germany. There was one vendor selling fountain pens and ephemera; Shelby spotted a cast-metal pen stand that would have been perfect for displaying part of her blown-glass dip pen collection -- until we turned it over to see the 105 Euro price, that is. Oops!

We headed home. While Shelby napped, I rode the bus a short distance over to the University to check out another flea market advertising similar promises regarding culture and antiques. This market did seem to have a better class of junk -- but it was near closing time, so half the vendors had already left, and those that handn't were packing their wares into boxes. The University flea market happens every Saturday, so I'll have to check it out again some other weekend while we're in town.

When I came back, we went out again, this time to the Hauptbahnhof in search of haircuts. "Get a haircut" had been on our list of things to do for quite some time; while our German has seen us through some harrowing situations -- a hospital emergency room, four trips to the vet, everyday shopping -- we both had an irrational phobia about getting our hair cut, afraid that we'd make some imperceptible misstep or ask for the wrong thing and come out of the experience with our heads shaved bald. Our theory was that if we got our hair cut at someplace frequented by international travellers -- say, the train station or the airport -- they'd be more likely to have a fluent English speaker on staff, we could make our desires clearly known, and there'd be no risk of baldness. So we went to the train station. Our theory was more-or-less functional; our requests ended up going through a single polygot hairstylist who translated to the stylists who were actually cutting our hair, and we both ended up with decent haircuts. (In my case, better than the haircut I usually get back in the USA.)

While I waited for them to finish Shelby's haircut, I read auto motor und sport, the most manly magazine available in the waiting area. I didn't learn much from the articles -- but in the advertisements, I did see, apropos of the TV discussion at last Thursday's expat gathering, that VOX has started showing HBO's Six Feet Under at 11:10 PM on Tuesday nights. These are all episodes that we've already seen on DVD, so maybe this will be another good chance for us to practice some German.

After the haircuts, we walked around and did a little non-essential shopping. On the Mönckebergstraße, we visited the Bären-Treff store, something that may have been there for years, but that I only noticed last week. I'd read about Bären-Treff before -- they're something like a snob gummi-bear retailer, with some claiming that their bears taste better and are made with better ingredients than those of Haribo, the gummi maker of Europe whose products are found in every corner store. Many different varieties were available; we bought a simple 1-kg bag of basic gummi bears for test purposes. The bears were good . . . but were they better than Haribo? Hard to tell. They were certainly fresher than Haribo, leaving me to wonder what a bag of Haribo Happy Cola (my favorite) would taste like if obtained straight from the factory.

Sunday was more laid back. I spent the morning working my way deeper into Ian McEwan's Atonement, the book-of-the-month for our book club back in San Jose. In the afternoon, we went out to Abaton-Kino, one of the two cinemas (that we know of) that regularly shows English-language movies in Hamburg, and saw Touching the Void, a documentary/renactment about seven days in the lives of Simon Yates and Joe Simpson, two climbers who suffered a spectacular accident (compounded through poor planning and additional misfortune) while climbing in the Peruvian Andes and who both still made it out alive. Simpson, in particular, showed incredible superhuman endurance and determination in making it down off the mountain. It was an extremely well-done, entirely riveting, edge-of-your seat film throughout -- I don't think that I relaxed throughout the entire movie, always cringing in anticipation of what would come next.

Posted by Kevin at May 24, 2004 07:55 AM