Sunday, October 4, 2015

Five Weeks, Five Moments

I wanted to share a few small moments from my first five weeks here in Hamburg. A mixture of “duh” and “don’t-be-so-smug” lessons about what happens when you’re hyperfocused on what’s in your own small orbit. J

Waiting on PINs and needles.  Our first week in Hamburg we learned that cash is king. Nearly everywhere you go it’s money or what I heard as “Euro” card (it’s actually girocard). So when we got our bank account and finally our own girocards, I was thrilled. I used my card in a couple of stores right away. The clerk ran it through, I signed a receipt, and was done. At one store they’d just gotten new readers, and I was able to insert the card myself. I stood waiting to get the receipt to sign. The clerk looked at me, looked at the screen, and looked back at me. I looked at the screen and wondered if I was supposed to sign somewhere electronically, but saw all text and no signature line. The clerk again looked at me and the screen, then had a flash of understanding. “PIN,” he said, looking at me and pointing at the screen. I sheepishly entered my code.

Can’t see the forest for the trees. Last Saturday we spent a productive morning having Larry’s iPhone repaired and getting our German SIM cards for our phones. As fate would have it our bank had a branch a few stores down, so we decided to get some cash. The sign on the door confirmed the bank was closed but gave directions to the geldautomat around the corner. At that entrance I zeroed in on a sign on the door, absorbed in trying to translate it to figure out how to get inside. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a hand reach past me and hit a large button on the wall, and the door swung wide open. I smiled at the woman, who was probably equally happy she didn’t have to wait for me to translate a sign that in all likelihood had nothing to do with entry into the ATM lobby.

“Two” hungry. I used to do my grocery shopping early on Sunday mornings, when stores were quiet and uncrowded. But stores in Hamburg are closed on Sundays, forcing me to alter my habit of many years. One Sunday morning, before this readjustment took hold, we found ourselves rather hungry but with very little food. For just this reason, many restaurants are open on Sundays, so we ventured to a nearby bakery. We scanned the many options and agreed on what we wanted. I originally thought I would ask what the different types of bread were for future reference, but instead, in my over-hungry state, whenever the baker hovered near one of our choices I just kept saying zwei (two) to which he just nodded and repeated zwei like he was placating a child. In my mind, I saw that moment in Total Recall when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s avatar head misfunctions and keeps repeating “two weeks!” until it finally melts down. Now I make sure to get food on Fridays.

“No” means “no idea what you’re saying.” Our complex has a “wash center” which is really just a laundry room with (depending on the week) 1-2 washing machines and 1 dryer. The machines operate on tokens you buy from the security office. Most of the time the office is manned by Herr Nagel, an extraordinarily friendly man who loves his job and dreams of backpacking across the U.S. On this particular day the office was manned by a stonefaced guard I hadn’t seen before. Larry asked him if we could get some laundry tokens. “Kein,” he quickly replied. “Kein?” Larry and I both repeated. He nodded, and as I was about to ask when they expected to get more, he continued, “Kein Englisch.” Aha. I asked for the tokens in German. He brightened and nodded we got our tokens with kein problem.

To the left, to the left. So back to that laundry room. I’d survived a messy struggle early on with one of the washers, which then disappeared and was replaced by a washer that had its own issues. I was pleased to get in early one Sunday morning and get the “good” washer, particularly when I came back to move my clothes and found a man punching buttons on the other machine, which just kept beeping at him. Poor guy, I thought to myself as I tugged on the door to my machine. If only he had known to use this washer instead. Although, after a few more tugs, I still couldn’t get the door open on my machine. No worries, I thought. Now I’ll wow him with my knowledge of the emergency door release (knowledge I gained through frantic translations of the manual for that now-departed washer). As I gave one final tug on the door and reached down toward the release lever, he leaned over and said, “Door opens on this side.”


  1. Whoa, this means your adventure might be ~10% over already. How did that go by so fast? I hope you get to plan some weekend adventures soon! Have you bought a Bahn card? I only visited 4 times in one year but it still made sense for me to buy the cheapest one.

  2. eek, hadn't thought of it that way, and now I've been out for half a week with a cold! I have a spreadsheet of local adventures, but I suspect Bahn cards and international trips won't start till 2016