What I Did Not See in Hamburg

Hamburg is one of the most interesting cities in Germany. A city of contrasts. Still a port town with traditionally a working-class population, mainly fishermen and dockers. It is also increasingly a hub for business and the German town boasting the highest percentage of high-income people (and convertibles, despite the less than stellar weather). Yet decidedly less conservative, ‘chi-chi’ and stiff than Munich or Bonn. Less achingly hip than Berlin, it is nevertheless a city justifiably proud of its rebellious streak, innovative thinking and a distinctive local dialect.

View of Hamburg from hanseballon.de website.
View of Hamburg from hanseballon.de website.

I hadn’t been in Hamburg for over 10 years, so was looking forward to spending half a day just reacquainting myself with the town at the tail end of my business trip there earlier this week. Sadly, the German railway employees decided to strike yesterday, so I preferred to stay at the airport, for fear of missing my flight. So this is what I did NOT see yesterday:

1) One of the most spectacular harbours in the world. I always have what the Germans call ‘Fernweh’ (‘farsickness’, the opposite of homesickness) and harbours even more than airports convey this world of limitless possibilities…

From Wikipedia.
From Wikipedia.

2) The Reeperbahn, also know as ‘the most sinful mile’, is a notorious street in the nightlife district (also red-light district) of Hamburg. The Beatles played the clubs here in the early 1960s, and the area is mentioned in many songs worldwide (including Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, The Police). However, I know it from a book we studied at school Faust auf der Reeperbahn, stories about and by Willi Bredel (a German socialist realist writer, imprisoned by the Nazis, fleeing to Russia and later resident in GDR), in which he describes a performance of Goethe’s Faust performed for the working classes on the Reeperbahn. The audience starts booing Dr. Faustus and try to force him to marry Gretchen after he seduces her. A very funny story and ‘Hoirad’n soll er sie, hoirad’n!’ (he should marry her) is a line that I still use for any simple and obvious solution to a complex problem.

Reeperbahn by night, from virtualtourist.com
Reeperbahn by night, from virtualtourist.com

3) The rebels of St. Pauli. St. Pauli is a neighbourhood of Hamburg (and yes, it’s the one that houses the Reeperbahn). The traditional entertainment district for sailors, it is also home to the local Chinatown and best known for its football club, St. Pauli FC, with its distinctive pirate’s flag. Although it hasn’t always been successful on either the national or world stage (and struggles to stay in the Bundesliga), it’s a club that has achieved cult status for its anti-establishment, left-wing tendencies and for banning any right-wing hooliganism at its sports events.


4) Leuchtturm 1917 stationery. This was one of the things I was looking forward to buying: several years’ supplies of the distinctive, high-class notebooks which originated in Hamburg in 1917 and was then re-established there in 1948. Shock, horror! At the airport, I could only find the ubiquitous Moleskine and even asked the newsagents and booksellers why they didn’t stock their local product. Are they not aware of the brand’s international reputation? Or has Moleskine pulled out all the stops to be the sole supplier?

From notedinstyle.co.uk
From notedinstyle.co.uk

This, incidentally, is my 600th post since I started this blog in February 2012. I’m not big into round-figure symbolism or celebrations, but I’m pleased it happened right now with Hamburg. I couldn’t think of a nicer town (that I very nearly saw) to write about…



Friday Fun: Stationery, Glorious Stationery!

Is there any writer out there who doesn’t love stationery? Of course, there are plenty of stationery lovers who are not writers (just hoarders or designers or… procrastinators), so there is no immediate causal link there.

Based on a conversation we started over at dVerse Poets Pub about the tools we really need as poets, I collected a few of my favourite things in this post.

1) Of course I appreciate Moleskine and the reinvention of a brand, but my personal favourite is much simpler and cheaper. Rhodia notebooks have been the smoothest writing experience in France for 80 years now. They have all sorts of ‘nouveautés’ (novelties) every year, but I just stock up on their most basic black or orange note-blocks.


2) I like high-quality fountain pens. In fact, I have my eye on a Montblanc Virginia Woolf pen when I sign my publishing contract – or perhaps for autographing my books.

Notice the waves pattern?
Notice the waves pattern?

3) However, more realistically and practically, I bulk-buy Pilot G2 gel rollerballs. They work really well with the slippery-smooth Rhodia pages.


4) I’ve just discovered these rather funky notebooks from Huck and Pucker. An elastic to keep them closed is always a good idea and of course I’m bookish and proud of it!



5) Finally, a trip to London always means a stopover at Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road: a stationery-lover’s idea of heaven. Sadly, they seem to have discontinued (at least online) my favourite notebook type, so you’ll have to make do with my own pictures. It’s a chunky A5 notebook with elastic, colourful plastic covers, 5 sections (lined, squared and blank) with dividers (with pockets to stuff notes in), plus more plastic covers and a zipped purse at the back. Just the most practical, wonderful notebook ever: I carry my whole life around in it! Paperchase, please, please bring it back!




Apparently there is such a thing as National Stationery Week and it’s this week. So, let me know what your ‘cannot live without’ items of stationery are. Do you hoard lots of pretty (and empty) notebooks? Oh, and point me in the direction of your luxury items too, while we are on the subject…

I’ve Lost My Poetry Book

I’ve lost my poetry notebook.

That slender scribbler with blue and white boats on the cover

fitting instantly in pockets

unobtrusive on nighttables

familiar with coffee shops and handbags, desks and grassy mound,

alert and keen

it waited for flighty inspiration.

I’ve lost the mad jottings,

the crossing out, the changes,

synonyms in endless lists,

invented words mocked by their conservative neighbours.


I’ve lost my mind

my moment of respite

my calm in eye of storm

the grips that hold me onto life.


And in the world I know

nothing is ever fully replaceable.