We have just returned from five days away in Hamburg, Germany. This is where my mother comes from and where I spent every happy summer of my childhood.
Every year, my sister and I spent six precious weeks with our wonderful Oma and Opa (grandparents), enjoying the freedom of an unstructured summer. They lived out in the suburbs and had a large garden with plenty of space to play and roam and a quiet neighbourhood to explore – I have tried to recreate something similar for my own children, inspired by these memories, so they too can experience the feeling of space and possibility.
We try to go to Hamburg once a year as I feel it’s good for my mother to return home and I think she wouldn’t do it without us; she needs the moral support somehow. She still has a couple of good friends there and we are still in touch with a few relatives. As I said previously, I have such happy memories of Germany as a child (and later as a young adult, when I spent every free holiday from University living and working in Munich in the South) so I am always happy to go back! I feel very connected to the German way of life.
We were lucky to be staying in a fabulous apartment right in the city centre, so a lot of things were in easy walking distance, but the transport facilities in Hamburg are so reasonably priced and efficient, it is really easy and affordable to get around anyway. Even the ferries on the Elbe are included in the price of a day ticket.
My cousin now lives in the house my grandparents lived in but unfortunately he and his family were away this year so we couldn’t visit. Luckily we did pay a visit to my mother’s friends who live nearby and who also have a beautiful spacious garden to play in.
I love the way Germans decorate their homes; they put a lot of attention into design and detail, whatever the style of the home. There is a wonderful cosiness and welcoming feeling, that I really treasure. And that’s not even mentioning the delicious tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen in the afternoon!
We visited two of my mother’s cousins. One of them lives in quite a special place called Oevelgoenne, down by the River Elbe, which you can access by ferry. The houses run along the river bank with gardens and a footpath separating them from the river.
His father, my Oma’s brother, founded the ‘Oevelgoenner Seekiste’ museum, a fascinating treasure trove of seafaring paraphernalia. It is now run by his daughter-in-law ( you can book it for a party these days).
The museum is close to the ‘Strandperle ‘ cafe which was originally owned by my great aunt Eva. It continues to be a very popular spot for refreshments in the area, being so close to the small beach there.
We used to visit these relatives every year as children and were fascinated by the activity on the docks, as are my children today. It was a privilege to sit out on the veranda ( enjoying Kaffee und Kuchen again 🙂 ) watching the busy docking world at work. There was an amazing variety of different ships from faraway lands being guided into dock by the Elblotsen ( river pilots). One we thought had almost 2000 containers on it! (unfortunately the photo is unclear as I took it from inside a ferry).
and of course there was the occasional paddle steamer on an outing!
I remember as a child sitting on that veranda whilst the adults talked, using binoculars to try to spot where the container ships were coming from. It was a lovely to be there again with my daughters ( and again the adults talked, as adults do!)
Apart from these trips down memory lane, we enjoyed our fair share of ice cream (it’s so reasonable and delicious and it was hot!) and were happy to sample all the the delicious breads and cheeses that Germany is so good at producing. Heaven!
It is always just myself, my mother and my two daughters who take the trip back to Hamburg. Daddy stays at home as he doesn’t speak German ( and it is a nice chance for him to have some peace and quiet and also an opportunity to do some jobs around the house without interruption!) In years gone by, we stayed with my mother’s friend in her cosy home and we didn’t miss home so much or Daddy, but this year as we stayed in an apartment, my daughters insisted on speaking with their Daddy every evening and there were some tears too as they missed him so. Before we left, the girls drew him these pictures and put some sweet peas by his bedside table as a surprise 🙂
Daddy bought the girls a little duck and squirrel toy before they left and requested that they take photos of them on their travels, which we did. When we were first married, he bought me a velcro monkey when I was going away for the first time. I have quite a selection of photos of that monkey in various countries and scenes! 🙂
A lovely relative also gave the girls a small teddy each so they got their fair share of photo opportunities too! 🙂
I always intended to speak German with my children as I was so disappointed about not being bilingual ( my mother stopped speaking German at home when I was five, I think). I did speak it with my eldest daughter exclusively until she was six and a half, but then I felt a need to express some things in my mother tongue. English is my soul language and I really needed to speak soul to soul with her and it didn’t feel authentic in German. Unfortunately this opened the floodgates to more and more English and eventually only English spoken. My youngest daughter was four at that point. I had been so assiduous about speaking German up until then, I was rather disappointed with myself that I let it go and my youngest understands a lot less.
Saying that, when they are spoken to directly and slowly, they do understand quite a lot so it wasn’t all in vain and we will continue to visit Germany every year so the girls can also experience the German traditions that I hold so dear.
I would highly recommend Hamburg for a visit. It feels very manageable in size and has an interesting seafaring history, not to mention the delicious seafood!