Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg's main train station

Hamburg has played an important role in Germany’s economic and industrial history. Today it is still the center of the country’s shipping industry, and it is Europe’s third largest port. Its reputation had been one of an industrial city, with nothing much to see, but in recent years it has become a tourist destination with a growing arts scene. I decided it was worth checking out on a recent trip.

Sitting along the Elbe River, Hamburg’s history dates back to the early 800’s, when
The Emperor's Station, because here he would descend from the tracks
Charlemagne ordered the construction of a castle to stand against invaders from the east. While it was attacked and sacked several times over the centuries, it maintained its importance. In 1189 it was granted the status of “Free and Imperial City” by the Holy Roman Emperor, giving it both political and economic independence. In 1266 Henry the III of England signed a contract that established free trade with the city-states of northern-Germany, forming the Hanseatic League. The League controlled shipping and trade in northern Europe from the 1300’s until around 1600. Hamburg’s economic and shipping importance allowed it to maintain tis independence after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and up to the unification of Germany in 1871. Today, it’s official name is still The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

One of Hamburg's many canals

The first thing that I noticed while walking around Hamburg is that, like Venice, it is built on a collection of islands. You can’t walk too far without running into a canal or lake. Just north of downtown there are two lakes – the Binnenalster (Inner Alster) and
Along the Aussenalster
the Aussenalster (Outer Alster). There lakes are formed by the damming of the Alster river in the city. The names refer to their position relative to the original city walls. I had taken the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus around the city, and I got off along the Aussenalster for two reasons. The lake has beautiful park along its shore. This area became the home to Hamburg’s rich at the end of the 19th century, and the street along the lake is lined with building that had been built as mansions. Today they house offices and schools, cultural institutions, and some high-end stores. This neighborhood, Rotherbaum, is also home to the University of Hamburg. In among it high-end stores there are inexpensive restaurants. Here you will also find the Museum of Ethnography, which is what Germans call the museums dedicated to non-European cultures.

The second part of my walk was through the center of the city, from Stephensplatz, through the Gänsmarkt to City Hall. This area has been fully rebuilt since the end of World War II, but it has been done in a way that melds the old and new. Height limits were placed on buildings, so that the profile has been maintained. You don’t have skyscrapers towering here, in fact you have to look carefully to figure out which buildings were put up more recently.
The Old Post Office

Taking in the sun in the Gänsmarkt

The main rail station

City Hall

I also visited two museums during my stay. One was the Kundsthalle, one of the main art museums in the city. It has a large collection of works by German artists, from
Wooded Landscape byThomas Gainsborough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
medieval times through contemporary era. When I visited, the Kundsthalle was hosting an exhibition of Thomas Gainsborough landscapes. While many people know Gainsborough for his portraits, landscapes were his true passion. It was in this genre that he felt most free to experiment and push the boundaries of both his skills and the accepted style of art. Its permanent collection includes several pieces by Max Beckmann, whom I love, and a whole building dedicated to contemporary art. It was here that I developed my new theory of art – “a contemporary artist has never met a floor that wouldn’t be improved by adding a pile of dirt or rocks.”
three different piles of rocks on the floor in the Kundsthalle

The other museum I visited was the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. These two former market buildings among the train tracks and canals are now exhibition spaces that are mostly dedicated to contemporary art and photography. Because they were markets, the interiors of these buildings are large and open. This not only allows for the display of large works of art, but also allows for the chance for some excellent people watching. There was an exhibit of drawings by Roberto Longo, whose work is almost photographic. They are large, often 2-3m (6-8 feet) tall and 5 m (15 ft.), or more, wide. As interesting were the reactions of the people who came to see these pieces.

Hamburg’s history and present role as industrial city is evident, but it has become much more than that. It is definitely worth a visit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lewes and Rehoboth Beach Delaware

The Jersey Shore and Ocean City Maryland are the big names in the mid-Atlantic Shore areas. But sitting in between them is a 30 mile stretch that is not as well know, except by locals – The Delaware Shore.

At the northern end of this stretch of beautiful beach front is Lewes, Delaware. Lewes sits at the mouth of the Delaware Bay, protected from the Atlantic by Cape Henlopan. Lewes was first settled in 1631 by the Dutch. While this town did not survive, in 1663 a permanent presence was established.  Lewes has served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and was home to Fort Miles, which protected the Delaware Bay from invasion from 1943 until 1991.

Lewes Beach

Today, Lewes is a vacation destination for residents of the area from Wilmington DE to Washington DC. It is a small town, with around 2800 full time residents, but it has a growing number of summer and weekend homes. I first visited the area around 20 years ago, over Christmas week. Back then, it was a typical beach town in December, that is, it was dead. In fact, a friend of mine who lives in Lewes today told me that even five years ago it was still pretty empty during the off-season. When I visited in March of this year, it was fairly crowded. All of the stores on 2nd street, Lewes’ main drag, were open and parking was hard to find. The restaurants were crowded for a late lunch on a Friday. More people have discovered the area, and they are enjoying it all year round.

Lewes has several small museums in town. The Zwaanendael Museum is dedicated to Lewes’ maritime, military and social history. It was built in 1931, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first settlement in the area. It was modeled after the town hall in Hoorn, The Netherlands.

The Ryves-Holt House is a National Historic Park. It was built in 1665 and is the oldest surviving house in the state of Delaware. Today it is open for tours as  representative of historic homes in the area.

There is also the Lewes Historical Society. It occupies a group of 9 buildings on Shipcarpenter Street. Its buildings provide a tour through the history of the town, Delaware Bay and the river pilots who lived and work there.

Finally, there is the Lewes Lifesaving Station. This former Coast Guard Station is now home to an exhibit of the tools and boats used by the “surfmen” who were there to rescue and sailors whose ships ran aground in the late 19th century. You will also find the Lightship Overfalls, which served as a beacon off the coast of Connecticut and Massachusetts from 1938 until 1970. It was decommissioned and gifted to Lewes in 1972.

About 10 miles southeast of Lewes is the town of Rehobath Beach. Founded in 1873 as a site for Methodist camp meetings, it became a destination for many more people when the rail line was completed from Lewes. This made it easier for people from Philadelphia and Wilmington to enjoy the shore. Today, Rehobeth Beach has a well-developed shore line, with a wide, cement boardwalk. The center of town is a four-block long stretch of Rehobath Ave., populated with tourist shops, restaurants and fast-food joints. At the foot of the avenue, near the beach, is the Rehobath Bandstand.

Getting There:

Lewes is 90 miles south of Wilmington DE along DE-1. But for me the best way to get there is on the Cape May – Lewes Ferry. The ferry operates year-round between Cape May, NJ and Lewes, DE. From July-Aug the cost is $44 for a car and driver. Additional passengers are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and $5 for children age 6-18. It is lower in the off-season.