The Last Time I Went to Hamburg…
The first time I went to Hamburg was much better. I got to hang with Oliver Wittchow, creator of Nanoloop, and played a show at Astrastube. But that wasn’t my most recent visit.
No, the last time I went to Hamburg I was on a day-long train journey, stuck killing time before a 4:15 a.m. transfer to the high school basketball gym of a flight terminal the budget airlines euphemistically refer to as Hamburg-Luebeck Airport. I was traveling on the cheap, so arriving at the main train station at midnight with four hours to kill didn’t call for a hotel. But where was I going to go and what was I going to do while the city slept?
What I’d usually do in this circumstance is find a 24-hour source of caffeine and electricity and light and safety, and compose or write until train time. But when I approached the tired-looking DB ticket agent and asked what would be a good place to kill time in the station, she pointed at the glaring golden M across the darkened chasm of train platforms and said it was the best, safest option in the area.
She was right, of course, but it looked boring, and the station was filled with the intolerable blurred sounds of hundreds of unseen fans and compressors whirring, the kind of din that makes you shout over it to be heard but which nonetheless sounds like nothing, just a raising of the noise floor. My pack was heavy and I was tired, but I had to get out of there. So for about an hour I tried to prove her wrong.
For starters, I walked aimlessly in the vicinity of the station. Hamburg’s safe, though it might not seem so. Cops are usually in full effect and rightly tolerant of the vice and human misery on display in the pungent mix of cheap falafel grease vapor and pee-smelling guys slinking out of the sad-looking sex shops. A few heroin junkies might ask you for change; other than that it’s pretty low-risk. But it’s depressing, so I walked on.
I found a decent, out-of-the-way falafel place, got a sandwich to go and took it back to the McDonald’s in the station. Fortunately for me I had a lot of uploading to get caught up on so bought a cola and logged into the free wifi and started dragging files. In order to keep it open twenty four hours a day, the McDonald’s crew cleans the restaurant one half at a time. These supposed cleanings are much more useful, I suspect, as an opportunity to harass people who might be asleep, and there were about two dozen that night. Mostly travelers, a few homeless folks, a cab driver or two, and me.
Far more than the panhandlers and porn addicts and my aching back, the well-dressed 20-something night manager was easily the most upsetting experience of the evening. Immaculately groomed and impatiently clipped in speech, he exuded a vicious, self-satisfied propriety that would leave a mark on me for a long time afterwards. He seemed to get a vaguely sexual pleasure out of telling people to move as each side of the dining room temporarily closed for cleaning. I could tell by the ecstatic, glazed over look in his narrowed eyes and a faint quiver in his slightly upturned chin as he said “[yes, these caps are necessary to convey how he spoke, and if there were a punctuational way to emphasize the jagged edge he gave to every consonant I’d use that too] THIS SECTION IS CLOSED, DEAR CUSTOMERS. PLEASE NOW LEAVE.” in undoubtedly perfect, cruelly polite Hochdeutsch.
The other WLAN campers and I dutifully picked up our coffee cups and laptops and shuffled, chargers and USB cables dangling, to the other side of the restaurant under his unmistakably self-satisfied glare. When my upload finished I was happy to leave, and boarded the diesel-powered regional train to the airport with relief.
In other words, the last time I was in Hamburg I had a disturbing, sleepless night and never saw the sun.
In other words, let’s get together and have a better party this time, eh, Hamburgers? See you Thursday! CLICK FOR TIX/INFO!