Sunday, March 28, 2010

tripping stones in the Schanze

Hamburg is one of those cities in the northern half of the northern hemisphere that gets so cold in the winter, that locals begin to peel off their woolen layers the moment the mercury creeps past 55.  I appear somewhat overdressed next to the masses in tube tops and flip flops all sitting outside at the numerous outdoor cafés on the Schulterblatt, the main aorta of the hip Hamburg neighborhood, Schanzenviertel.

I squeeze into a slot at a table outside the Supermercato Italiano between übercool teenagers in cardigans and skinny jeans, a group of new mothers with their brigade of baby buggies, a gay couple who sit silently sunning themselves and three African men who spend more time talking on their mobile phones than to each other.

A sushi joint, a Pakistani place, a Portuguese café, an Italian deli, competing Turkish kitchens and Hamburg’s finest currywurst bude/shack are all – barring the bude - run by immigrant families. Around the corner is the “Drink and Call” a convenience store selling calling cards and cheap internet phone connections to reach family in Kabul, Accra and Ankara - the telltale sign of an immigrant neighborhood.

What makes this particular melting pot so unique is not the diversity, which is a prominent feature of major metropolises throughout Europe; rather the juxtaposition of past and present. It is almost unfathomable to think that not that long ago, Hitler’s regime of hatred sought to destroy an entire race and other individuals who were deemed too different or “unusual” to fit his mad Aryan dream.

From the deli, I head over to the “Helal Bazar” for a few groceries. On the way, I come cross a cluster of stolpersteine, literally, “tripping stones”. A project initiated by German artist Gunter Demnig in 1995, the brass blocks have been placed into the pavement before the entrance of the former homes of Jews, homosexuals, intellectuals, the disabled, and other victims who were deported to concentration camps and murdered during the Third Reich. These little memorials simply state the name of the individual, date of birth, date and place of deportation, and date of death – if known.

I have seen these stones throughout the city but the cluster that I have just come upon is particularly striking: seven blocks, all bearing the family name “Beer”. Presumably a couple and their children and grandchildren deported together. They used to live here.

Lost in thought, I am nearly run over by a group of young Turkish boys on bicycles.  As I look across the street at the Turkish men on the stoop drinking tea, the hipsters at the müsli bar, the veiled woman heading home with her groceries, the African man coming out of the call center, I am struck by how “usual” the “unusual” are in this neighborhood.  

On this gorgeous spring day, when everyone is giddy with the first promise of spring and liberation from the confines of the cold, good moods and goodwill are palpable. I think the Beer family would have liked it here.

Does this post resonate with you? Have you had similar experiences? How do these kind of everyday experiences compare with just visiting a major tourist site?


  1. Thanks for your entry! Good luck!

  2. i love this - diversity at its best!

  3. Hi, great story, I would love to visit this neighbourhood. Maybe this summer ;)

    Congrats on the fine finish in the comp!