It was one of those “shit, we forgot to take pictures” kind of trips. We’ve travelled so much and have taken so many photos since we’ve been living in Berlin, that we just got lazy. We had gone on a “Hamburg in 27 hours” trip (not counting the travel time!), trying to show up the “36 hours” trips touted by the New York Times. And we were dazzled by every moment we spent in the elegant, sparkling city of Hamburg despite the frigid temps that almost kept us off the banks of the Elbe.
The beauty of Hamburg was made more remarkable for me by the fact that my mother was born there in 1933. Like so many German Jews, my mother has little desire to reconnect with her native country, avoids speaking German despite her near-perfect Hoch Deutsch (at her age!), and found the idea of our move to Berlin abhorrent. But Hamburg was her home for 5 years before she was forced to flee Germany with her parents in 1938. When I told her how much we enjoyed walking along the harbor, she relayed a vivid childhood memory that she had never before shared with me. On the day her family fled Germany she sat at the harbor waiting to board the boat and asked her father “why is mommy crying?”
For the many of us who have always wondered and asked about, but could never fully grasp, the experience of our parents and grandparents during the Nazi era, this revelation hit me with a small but powerful punch. Had we strolled right past the place where she had waited for the boat that would take her to New York and the safety of America? We were just tourists taken in by Hamburg’s clearly thriving port (the third largest in Europe) and the surrounding mixture of old warehouses and ultra modern urban development projects such as Hafen City. But at least now I can almost picture my mother as a 5 year old girl sitting at the harbor and waiting to begin her new life in America.
As I was writing this post Avery reminded me that he had actually brought his camera and taken just a few photos of the harbor and our ferry ride. Although there are many fancy boats to choose from along the harbor, we of course opted for the public ferry and it was lovely and oh so warm! I took a pleasant snooze while surrounded by the sounds of the locals sipping beer and chatting with friends on their Sunday afternoon outing.