August 2016
More photos here


Monday 15th August
Why Hamburg? Well the Kunsthalle has some major works by Caspar David Friedrich, who has become a bit of a thing for us and so worthy of a pilgrimage. And then there's Lübeck - a short train ride away, with some special churches and the St Annen Museum, a former monastery now housing religious art, including Memling's Passion altarpiece. It's also a famous marzipan centre, with the Niederegger shop and marzipan museum being another pilgrimage site.

A comfortable 13.35 flight meant a no-rush morning. A trouble-free tube journey also, except for the Green Park Piccadilly Line indicator boards tendency to lie. Safely through bag drop and security at Heathrow with only personal pat-down and the rubbing of my shoes with a piece of cloth which was then inserted into a little machine before I was given the all clear. Some dwell time, and then fuss-free boarding. The BA vegetarian 'lunch' option was a maple syrup oat bar and a packet of two shortbread biscuits - not my idea of lunch. The wait at the baggage carousel was longer than the train journey into the Hauptbahnhof, and the Hotel Senator a worryingly short walk away, towards the lake. It's a not-old and quite well-appointed hotel, but a bit odd and scuffed around the edges, which is fine.

After unpacking and gathering we had an evening stroll to the Rathaus and down to the docks. But our lack of any real lunch made for early dining at a characterful little place called Bella Italia. Superior tomato soup and pasta mains oddly embellished with chunks of unmelted mozzarella filed two empty bellies. And a glass of draft Gröninger, a local brew, and a cassata dolci helped too. A stroll back through pretty quiet streets followed, to an unlate night.

Tuesday 16th August
Breakfast was without lacks and fine and fresh in all its components. To the Kunsthalle this morning, the main art gallery, which is even closer to our hotel than the station. The early gold-ground stuff is a bit exceptional, especially as there's next to nothing Italian. I'd never heard of Bertram of Minden or the Hamburg Master before, but that's been my loss. Gems by Rembrandt, Canaletto, Böcklin, and Hammershøi and rooms of tasty still-lifes and church interiors all stuck in the memory. The arrangement mixes the centuries a bit, and pretty soon reaches the 19th, this gallery's dominant century, but the room of Casper David Friedrich makes this OK. About a dozen works, two of them amongst the most famous, with The Wanderer so famous people were doing selfies in front of it. When I say 'people' I of course mean idiots. A new favourite was one called Waft of Mist, which I later learned had been stolen, and was only returned in 2003 after nine years lost and a ransom not paid. We were wilting by this stage, so may have to return to do the later stuff justice. Lunch was seedy mozzarella and tomato bagels from the railway station, eaten overlooking the huge lake, with sailing and steam boats and sunshine. Back at the hotel I made some spicy redbush tea to have with this cake, bought with the bagels. Not sure what it was called but it sure was a cinnamony treat.

In the evening we explored more of the docks and found the buildings impressive and the converting done without the chi-chi-ness that sometimes blights the London docklands area. Back to the same Italian place as last night, for pizza this time. We decided to explore further up the road that our hotel is in and found it teeming with eateries, including a veggie place we might try tomorrow. And an eis cafe - vanilla and lemon a classic test which it passed. I only noticed the chilli chocolate flavour after I'd ordered. Next time.

Wednesday 17th August
Today to Lübeck. Buying the train tickets was a trial and a torment. The machine gave no option to buy a return and then wouldn't take any of our cards. Getting a number, watching the screen, and waiting to speak to a real person got us the ticket (a two-person open return) and the knowledge that the machines don't take cards for short journeys (!) even when said ticket is not cheap. The journey on a full train involved four noisy boys playing a card game and a half-hour hold-up due to lines being down. Not a pleasure. Out of the station and veering left it's a short walk into town under the spectacular Holstentor gate near the pretty salt warehouses. We then turned sharp right heading towards the St. Annen Museum, and away from the crowds. In fact we had the place, mostly a museum of the religious art from Lübeck's churches but with exhibition spaces too, almost completely to ourselves. And having the room containing the wonderful late Memling altar piece of the Passion to ourselves for the full length of our admiration was an unforgettable treat. Lots of other good stuff too, including lots of carved wooden altarpieces, which are not an area I have explored much. Several unusual scenes, and a few panels depicting the Virgin's extended family, including her mum's three husbands, her other daughters (both also called Mary) their husbands and children and dogs. Not a common subject elsewhere.

The museum's cafe provided mushroom and tomato ravioli for lunch. Which was followed, on the walk into the centre, by an ice cream combination of marzipan and lemon & basil flavours and then some marzipan shopping. The Niederegger shop was a bit bewildering in its size, but the variety was mostly down to the range of shapes - all forms of fruit, foodstuffs and animal life seemed to be represented. No real surprises, except maybe the marzipan redbush tea bags, which went in the basket. Then a visit to the Marienkirche which is impressively tall and oddly and stripily decorated. One chapel still has the broken bells imbedded in its floor where they crashed down during the British bombing of 1944. The train home to Hamburg was emptier, quieter and undelayed, thank goodness. A visit to the station's Body Shop for some coconut soap, as the hotel has liquid soap of an industrial blue colour that may suit car mechanics but is making my face feel stiff and stingy.

In the evening we tried Franzi, the veggie place up the road, discovered last night, and did not regret it. I had the cheeseburger and Jane had the avocado burger and these was a side order of sweet potato chunks coated with sesame seeds. The temptation of the apple and cinnamon cake was not resisted either. We'll go there again.

Thursday 18th August
Today churches. We started with St Jacobi which has two good carved wooden altarpieces and a famous baroque organ. It was a pilgrim's church, hence the name, which had relics of the saint and was usefully outside the city walls so that pilgrims arriving after the gates closed at sunset could find refuge. Then on to St Petri, the big brick one near the Rathaus, which is more adapted for use inside, with modern bits, and is memorable for having a key-cutting shop in its under parts. St Peter, keys - appropriate or what? Then on to St Nikolai, left ruined as a memorial after being destroyed buy bombing in 1943, but with its huge surviving tower currently covered in scaffolding. The church provides a link to Durham, our last trip, by having been designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, who was responsible for some out-of-keeping fittings in Durham Cathedral. We then made for St Michaelis, but some kind of service was starting when we arrived, at 12.00.

Further west, but before the St Pauli district, a string of parks laid out when the city walls were demolished in the 19th century, loop north and east, so we decided to make this our route back to the hotel, and very pleasant it was too, with its greenery, lakes, water features, vistas and toilet facilities. We returned via the railway station to repeat our tasty lunch (and the excellent cake) of Tuesday, but eaten back at the hotel this time, as dark clouds were looming. Still no internet in the hotel, since this morning, and my asking about it got me a shrugging apology and a 'he is working'.

In the evening we took advantage of the Kunsthalle's late opening Thursday to visit again. I revisited from Friedrich onwards, where I'd drooped a bit on Tuesday, and found the Piranesi Carceri exhibition, and Jane did the modern stuff. The old art rooms were blissfully empty. After the art it was back to the Italian again. I had the penne all'arrabbiata, which wasn't too hot, but got the nose running and the mouth tingling nicely. And back at the hotel the Internet was back!

Friday 19th August
Have you noticed how museums of applied art (like the V&A in London, the MAK in Vienna, the MAKK in Cologne...) need to have upper-case acronyms these days. Today we went to the MKG, the Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, which is also very near our hotel. It does the trendy themed-arrangement thing, whilst being also roughly chronological. So you begin with the ancient, leap to the Renaissance which it inspired, and then on to religion, which slips you back to the middle ages. Upstairs was even better with rooms and cases of jugendstil and art deco and other lovely mainland Europe stuff not commonly found in my country. That we had the rooms to ourselves most of the time added to our considerable pleasure.

We walked into the centre after so as I could go to Tee Gschwendner, to get, as it turned out, some almond milk honeybush tea, a small jar of marzipan-flavoured honey, and a tasteful mug. Lunch at a salady joint called dean & david nearby was tasty in the grilled sandwich and wrap line, and on our way back I got this raisin Danish...with marzipan icing!

The last evening stroll took us by the lake, busy with boats, pedalos, loungers, joggers, and speeding cyclists. For the last meal we went back to the veggie place and I had the veg, lentil and cinnamon pie with poppy-seed potato slices. Very good. The last eis was mango and stracciatella.

Saturday 20th August
Breakfast, then a stroll to the station to navigate the complexities of the ticket machines and to buy some redbush tea (spicy flavoured and vanilla/lemon) before returning to the hotel for final packing and checking out. The airport train was quick and not busy, and all the airport business went hitchless. Sitting at our gate we couldn't help noticing piles of sand outside the window rather than the more usual aeroplanes. But there were buses, to take us across runways to our plane. Having had a child-free flight out our flight home saw us surrounded - a bleeping and repetitive Tamagotchi tune in front for the whole flight, an occasional screaming behind, and a more distant child amused by shouting 'mayday' at intervals. The quickest progress through passport control in ages, though.

The keywords for this trip: marzipan and carved wooden altarpieces.



Catalogue corner

Eight Centuries of Art
Museumsführer der Hamburger Kunsthalle
2016  €14.90

A new handy-sized book of just the highlights, nicely designed and well printed, as you'd expect. It covers the modern stuff too, so is half of no use to me. After the highlight pair of large local altarpieces it gallops to the 17th and 18th century where the bulk of the good stuff is, and then the early 19th where the Friedrichs are. And I nearly missed the section devoted to drawings and prints at the end. The captions are short and capable and often informative, if not revelatory. There were no catalogues for sale that were more sizeable or comprehensive or specialised.

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