15June 2013 Hamburg and Lübeck, Germany: Hello, Goodbye

Moin moin.

That’s “hello” or…later on, “good bye” in Frisian and Low German dialect or lingo.

That’s the local greeting Hamburg, where Silversea Silver Cloud arrived today.

Actually, there’s a wonderful musical coincidence here: “Hello, Goodbye” was the name of one of the many hits by a rough-and-tumble rock-and-roll band from Liverpool.

You know them as The Beatles, but they went by a number of names from 1960 to 1962 when they underwent an intensive round of hardscrabble engagements in the Red Light District of Hamburg.

They played the Star-Club, Kaiserkeller, Top Ten, and Indra.

The Reeperbahn—the word means ropewalk, a place where ropes are made—is also sometimes described as die sündige meile, the sinful mile.

The Beatles: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe, and Pete Best played at strip clubs and dank beer joints in Hamburg. (Sutcliffe would leave the band to pursue a career in art, and Best would be replaced by Ringo Starr once the group began iuts ascendancy to the Rock Pantheon.)

“Liverpool was where I was born,” said John Lennon, “but Hamburg was where I grew up.”

The clubs (and the “sex workers”) are still there, joined by a modern sculpture immortalizing the band, at Beatlesplaatz.

The symbolic heart of the city is the Rathaus or Town Hall.

It is a substantial, in-your-face neo-Renaissance structure completed in 1897. Like much of central Hamburg, the Rathaus was heavily damaged in World War II air raids, but was restored by 1957.

It still holds the office of the Mayor and the meeting places for Hamburg’s parliament and senate.

The immense building has about 647 rooms (six more than Buckingham Palace). I say “about” 647 rooms because it’s apparently hard to keep count.

In 1971 a room in the tower was discovered accidentally during a search for a document that had fallen behind a filing cabinet.

SHADES OF GRAY

Hamburg was nearly flattened by bombing by the Allies seeking to destroy the industrial facilities including shipbuilding and submarine pens, as well as other industries.

And there was also the Neuengamme concentration camp, about 15 kilometers or 10 miles southeast of the center of the city.

By the end of the war, more than half of its estimated 106,000 prisoners had died: about 50,000 dead. The camp served the needs of the German war machine and also carried out exterminations through labor.

As if that was not enough, consider this: on April 26, 1945, about 10,000 surviving prisoners from Neuengamme were loaded into four ships: the passenger liners Deutschland and Cap Arcona and two large steamers, SS Thielbek and Athen.

The prisoners were in the ships’ holds for several days without food or water.

Hamburg Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann later claimed during a war crimes tribunal that the prisoners were destined for Sweden. However, at the same trial, the head of the Hamburg Gestapo said that the prisoners were in fact slated to be killed, with one plan calling for scuttling the ships with the prisoners still aboard.

On May 3, 1945, the ships were attacked by three squadrons of Royal Air Force Hawker Typhoons. The RAF believed the ships carried SS personnel who were being transferred to Norway.

Intelligence that the ships carried concentration camp prisoners did not reach the squadrons in time to halt the attack.

About 5,000 of the prisoners died.

On May 8, 1945—five days later—most German forces surrendered and the war in Europe was over.

LUBECK

I spent the day on a shore excursion in Lübeck, about an hour from Hamburg up the Elbe River.

The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with nearly 2,000 landmark buildings including St. Mary’s Church from the late 12th century and home to the world’s largest mechanical organ.

It is a handsome place, the City of Seven Spires. There are many more churches than that–some dating back five hundred or more years–but seven steeples remain.

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Around town in Lubeck

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Inside the shell of St. Petri Church

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St. Mary’s Church was the pride of the town. It was all but destroyed in an air rad in 1942–those big clumps of metal above are the remains of the original bells, preserved within a chapel.

The stained glass windows are a modern version of the Dance of Death or the Danse Macabre of Bernt Nottke. At the bottom were added two scenes of St. Mary’s in flames.

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Lovers’ Locks mounted on a pedestrian bridge in Lubeck. The idea is for a couple to get a lock, paint or chisel their names on it, and then toss the key in the river. I imagine there has to be an occasional re-visit with a jeweler’s saw or mechanical cutter for good love, gone bad.

Hello, Goodbye.

(And I also thought of the bridges in Venice, I was there a few weeks ago, and the locks are weighing down the ancient bridges.)