July 15, 2010 (Friday)
Rose early and grabbed my prepacked duffel bag. M had graciously offered to drive me to the airport so I wouldn’t have to take the train. So nice of her!
I was nervous that something would be wrong with my flight, but there were no problems. I zipped through security, boarded the plane, and an couple hours later, I was greeting E in Hamburg!
I spent my junior year in college (1987-88) in Hamburg, sharpening my German and seeing what Germany was really like. I was on scholarship, and lived as a dirt-poor student. At one point I joined a theater group there, partly because I was acting at the time, and partly to make some friends. E became a good friend, which was especially convenient because she had a car. :) In the her car she had a stuffed toy mouse named Mausi. I used to hold Mausi on my lap when E gave me a ride home from rehearsal and I threatened to keep Mausi. E howled, “Nöööö! Das ist meine Maus!” On the day I left Germany, E presented me with Mausi on the condition that I put Mausi in my own car, when I got one. I did.
Now it was 24 years later. E and I have stayed in touch, at first by paper letter, then by email and Facebook. We’ve both gotten married, had children, found jobs, moved around, gotten divorced, and through it all, stayed in touch. She found me at the airport and we spent several moments hugging. It was so great to see her again!
We headed off to E’s house. Her kids were visiting their father for the week, so I didn’t get to meet them, unfortunately, but when we arrived, I opened my bag and pulled out . . . Mausi! She had returned. E was thrilled. We ceremoniously returned her to the back seat of E’s car.
And then we headed into Hamburg to look around.
It was very interesting and strange visiting Hamburg. Remember, I hadn’t set foot there for nearly 25 years, so it wasn’t as if I were visiting a place I came to often. A great many things were the same, and others were different, and it was weird.
We started off by taking the train to the University of Hamburg, and we followed the same route from the station that I used to follow to get to class. However, a few things were a different, and I had to get my bearings. (E lived in a different part of town at the time and in any case, she drove to class, so she didn’t know the U of H from the same direction I did.) Once I did, memories kept jumping up. This sculpture. That building. This rooftop. That street. This building was a coffee house now. That building was still a bookstore. Incredible.
The Philosophenturm, where E and I both had several classes, was largely unchanged. We went up to the top floor, and the view from the windows shifted me back in time to when I was 20 years old and had no idea where my life was going yet.
“I keep expecting to run into myself,” I told E. “With my old black jacket and my red backpack and my leaky tennis shoes. There are probably still fingerprints in this building that I left behind, and now I’m back to touch them again.”
There was a sofa in a common area back then. We both used to sit on it and talk, and we were half hoping it would still be there, but it wasn’t.
We also snuck into the theater where I had performed on stage and E had worked back stage. We laughed about the stuff that had happened during the play. I was struck by how little of the outer part of the building I remembered, but I remembered everything about the stage and the house. The backstage area was locked, much to my disappointment.
The Mensa, or student cafeteria, had moved and actually served edible food. (!) Back when I was a student, the Mensa served rubbery boiled potatoes, some sort of gray goop poured over them, cabbage boiled into mush, and other horrors masquerading as food, but there were times when I had so little money, it was the only place I could afford to eat. (One time I wanted to buy a particular book, and I went without lunch for a week to save up for it. Eventually I found a job tutoring English, and things got a little easier.) Now, though, the Mensa served fresh fruit and vegetables, salad, meat you recognized, even milk! About time someone did something about that!
I followed old muscle memory and came down an alleway that widened into a street. On the corner was a café I liked. It was gone now. A stationary store was there now. But I was glad I found the spot.
E and I also found a used bookstore we both had often browed through. It was still there, and we browsed through it. How cool!
We grabbed some lunch at an Italian restaurant, then retraced my old route home to the Wohnheim (dorm) where I used to live. We got off the train at Lutterothstrasse, just as I used to every day for a year. The station was exactly the same, and when we emerged onto the intersection at Lutterothstrasse and Hagenbeckstrasse, I was again shifted back in time. Everything on the street was exactly the same—the houses, the Eastern Orthodox church, the backery, the hair salon. We arrived at Hagenbeckstrasse 60 and found the dorm was being renovated. Scaffolds covered it completely, and the inside had been ripped out. Well, dang!
I still kept expecting to see myself. It was as if I could wait there for a while and eventually I would meet me coming back from class or from downtown and we could talk. The surroundings were so familiar but so far away at the same time.
By now it was getting late, so we went back to E’s house. We thought about trying to catch a movie, but nothing was playing that we wanted to see, so instead we watched the German version of AS GOOD AS IT GETS on tape and ate popcorn. It was very enjoyable, actually.