We’ve had a bit of bother lately. Things came to a head last week when my husband of 25 years was portrayed as a sinister corporate mastermind and I as his “girlfriend” in the national gutter press.
Our friends’ enquiring minds hit the ground running and we were inundated with emails and phone calls regarding the article and the state of our marriage.
I am happy to report that we are still married, there is no girlfriend (or rather the girlfriend in question is moi), and Vince is brilliant, but not anything resembling a “sinister corporate mastermind”. It was all getting to be a bit much for both of us and we decided to get out of town for a few days.
Hamburg, Germany is 3 hours away from where we live, so we decided to take the Mini and blow out the cobwebs in her carburetor on the Autobahn.
As part of a group of free cities which formed the Hanseatic League from the 13th-17th century, Hamburg has always enjoyed special diplomatic and economic privileges which go along with the membership. Hansa cities are characterized by the abundance of buildings with copper rooftops gracing the skyline. This diabolically expensive roofing material was a display of wealth and power. Hamburg is still a major port city with a harbor to rival Rotterdam, boasts the largest warehouse district in Europe and here and there you can find enough of a louche patina to keep it from feeling like a Disney attraction: a perfect getaway destination for a sinister corporate mastermind and his girlfriend.
Being disposessed of our spouses in the press and given new labels for our couple status a opened a vista of opportunities to explore our relationship. I decided that in Hamburg, Vince was my boyfriend and acted accordingly.
After checking into our hotel on the Lange Reihe, we headed for town. It was late in the afternoon and we weren’t really in the mood for a museum or a tour so we just hung out and poked around the interesting shops of Hamburg: from model train specialists to galleries, to Milik, the goldsmith and artisan jeweler where I fell completely in love with a fabulous ring. After all the window shopping, we went for coffee and cake at Wirth, a Viennese style conditorei with Mozart playing in the background. Ensconced in red plush seating, surrounded by the gold and ivory colored fixtures with Wolfgang A. playing in the background, we had time to talk and flirt and take an hour to drink a kännchen kaffee.
Dinner was at Casa Nostra (a perfect dining location for a figurehead of the corporate underworld and his moll) where Vince was greeted as “padrone”, which made us giggle. I took a look at Vince and realized that he is, out of Dutch context, a very big man, and I realized I hadn’t seen who he is outside our family roles for a long while. He is a “padrone” in the classic sense and I’d forgotten that somewhere along the way. We kept it to salads and pasta and coffee for afters. While ordering, I’d forgotten I was “the girlfriend” and went for the Aglio e oglio, heavy on the aglio. I’d have been mortified, but “the boyfriend” assured me garlic breath in the morning is sexy. I chose to believe him even if he were just being gallant.
The next day we went down to the warehouse district to marvel at the warren of storage, the breathtaking architecture and the harbor scene. Years ago I worked for a diesel motor company who traded with Nippon Diesel in Hamburg, so I was keeping an eye out for the old Nippon logo and any of the ships which may have ordered engine parts from me. It turns out that Nippon is located in the far reaches of the harbor and the oil tankers are even farther out than that so I did not get to wave at my old friends Otaru Rex, Kota Raja, or Eurydice.
We spent another hour or so peeking into the warehouses full of Kelims and fine Arab carpets then popped in for lunch at the legendary Zum Schiffchen. We passed Milik on the way back to the center of town and Vince gave me the fabulous ring for my birthday present. There was a scent of snow in the air, the weather was bright and it was just nice to be out of Hengelo for a change, the city is made for walking and people watching is prime entertainment. We shopped at our favorite clothing stores. I helped him pick out a sweater and some new cords. He waited patiently in the “husband corral” at my dress shop, read the paper and was just about to snooze when I emerged from the dressing room loaded with new stuff. The mid-season sales are on, I couldn’t resist. Around 4 pm we dropped into the Café Alex for a glass of Grauburgunder and watched the boats on the central lake from our window seat.
Vince decided he wanted German food for dinner that evening and we wound up at Paulaner, a classic German stube with lots of wood paneling, joints of beef and potatoes, eisbein and saurkraut, big beer and a gemütliche atmosphere. They even serve bread and schmalz, with your drinks at Paulaner. I almost fell asleep in my schnitzel and spätzele so we skipped dessert AGAIN. I remember kicking off my boots and falling onto the bed like a starfish and not much more after that.
Saturday was museum day. The weather had turned really cold overnight so we opted for walking to the closest museum and wound up going to Hamburg’s “Museum Für Kunst und Gewerbe” instead of the Beatlemania museum. It houses a wonderful, small but well chosen collection of art, antiquities and design pieces. There was an Alexander McQueen retrospective going on in the basement as well as your typical ancient Egyptian and Etruscan art, almost an entire section for the period Art Nouvea through to Art Deco, and gorgeously illuminated books of Arabic poetry and so much more. You really need more than two eyes in a place like this. We were there for four hours. My favorite pieces had to be the minature Egypitan gods carved from turqouise and the illuminated poetry books. Vince liked the furniture. When I asked him what he liked best in the museum, I was surprised at his answer and really took time to listen instead of running on social convention auto-pilot.
After a lovely lunch at Paulaner (which is henceforth to be our local when we are in Hamburg), we stopped at a Hansabäkeri for some delicious German pastry to take home to the boys and headed back to Hengelo.
Nobody was home when we arrived. The sink was full of dishes, nobody thought to run the vacuum and I suspected the dogs hadn’t been fed any dinner yet. I got busy setting things to rights, Vince checked our email. The cavalry must have arrived soon after we left town. Numerous friends and family took it upon themselves to write to the newspaper and skewer the hack who wrote the offending news article including Joe College, who questioned the integrity of a journalist who couldn’t be bothered to Google his subject to check facts.
What I liked most about this weekend was the change in perspective of how I view Vince. Away from the boys and the newspaper hassle and the mundane chores we need to do to keep things running smoothly at home, we had time to talk about ideas again, about dreams, about our feelings in general and our feelings for one another. Instead of seeing the “Father of the Imps” when I looked at him, I saw “the boyfriend”, the one I chose to marry and I remembered why I did.
The boys eventually showed up. They both had basketball games late yesterday afternoon (though they neglected to leave a note to tell us) and we enjoyed a nice family dinner together and evening in front of the TV. It’s good to be home.