I have to admit that Hamburg had never made it to my shortlist of places I wanted to visit. Apparently I’m not alone in that respect, because research soon revealed that there weren’t any English-language guidebooks about Hamburg in print. I started assembling what information I could from online sources, while rothko purchased 2 German guidebooks and started reading those.
The reason for our choice of destination was simple: both sides of rothko’s family can be traced back to Hamburg. It was to be a visit to the ancestral homeland, and a chance to do some genealogical research. We would be staying with some distant relatives who had visited Minnesota many years before.
The shortest air journey from Austin to Hamburg is two hops via Continental. Unfortunately, the timing is less than ideal; the first flight leaves Austin at 06:30, and on arrival in Newark there’s a 6 hour gap before the connecting flight to Hamburg. Factoring in the recommendation that you arrive 2 hours prior to departure, drive time to the aiport, parking, shuttle buses and so on, I realized I was going to have to wake up around 04:00 at the latest.
Early mornings to me are like Kryptonite to Superman, so I had to come up with a strategy for waking up. I opted to start winding my body clock backwards the day before; I took melatonin at 19:00 and went to sleep. As a result I actually woke up at 03:00, and was able to make a couple of quick espressos to rouse the still-slumbering spouse with.
Security at the airport was really no worse than before all the fuss about liquids on a plane. I offered to let them inspect my aerosol asthma inhaler, but they just told me to toss it on the conveyor for X-raying. The flight was on time, and we were soon seated in the Newark airport Garden State Diner enjoying a spot of lunch. The next flight was going to be the tough one. It was an overnight, so my plan was to do my best to sleep, again with the aid of melatonin. Hopefully I’d arrive in Hamburg at 07:00 local time feeling like I’d just gotten out of a moderately uncomfortable and noisy bed.
I’ve tried all kinds of sleeping-on-planes devices over the years. Those inflatable neck collars don’t work. The big inflatable wedge-shaped pillows don’t work either; I just slid off it to the side. This time I had yet another device: an elasticated head strap that you use to stop your head from sliding forward or sideways.
Did it work? Well, kinda. The first problem is that I’m tall, and airplane seats are clearly not designed for tall people. The “headrests” start off digging into my shoulder blades, and even when I pull them up as far as they’ll go, they still only reach about ear level. Hence, there was a tendency for the straps to slip off the top of the seat unless I slouched down—and slouching would soon make my back ache.
I eventually managed to recline the seat and slide down into a more or less stable position, at which point I discovered that there wasn’t enough leg room between rows of seats, and my knees were jammed up against the seat in front, even if I tried to shift them to the side. This was uncomfortable enough that my sleep was intermittent at best; I estimate I got about 3 hours. However, if you’re 1.60m or less in height, head straps could work for you.
Other than the leg room issue, Continental is my new favorite airline. Both flights were on time, both had food, they remembered my booked dietary preference, and they served me curry!
On arrival in Germany, we were processed through immigration with minimal delay. The officer barely glanced at my European passport. We picked up our luggage and went through customs, and were met by Josef, one of our hosts; Ute was at work. Our luggage was thankfully small, as their car turned out to be a Mercedes A-class. We were driven through rainy weather to their house near Harburg. Josef showed us to our rooms, and we took a nap for a few hours before heading out on a first foray into Hamburg.