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Settling In

Now a week into my residence here, I’m beginning to find a comfort zone, of sorts. The dreariness of northern Europe in Winter takes some getting used to; today was particularly cold–29° F/-2 C– with a scattering of snowflakes in the air. Time for a wool cap, sweater, scarf and gloves. The wind is out of the East; the Russian Steppes are out that way and you can feel them.

Last night, the Director of the Centre for Manuscript Studies hosted six of us for dinner in a nice Italian restaurant called the Etruscan run by actual Italians. I had a very nice frutti di mare with spaghetti and too much white wine, although I didn’t feel the effects until I tried to fall asleep. (Eating after 6 PM is no longer a good idea for me.) However, the gathering was extremely convivial and energetic. I again met some of the people who had attended last June’s conference here and also some new folks. One person in particular, the director of The Islamic Manuscripts Society (TIMA), was a good contact and we are going to meet up again this week before he leaves for somewhere else. The evening gave me the opportunity to discuss some of my planned activities while I’m here so I feel like I can get the ball rolling on some of them. I have one trip in the works already–to Strasbourg–for early next week and then back again.

Because of the late night and too little sleep, today was not very productive but I did take a camera with me when I went to the office and snapped a couple of pictures so you might get a sense of place. First up is the building in which I live. 34 Rothenbaumchaussee is in a relatively upscale neighborhood directly adjacent to the university (or at least a big chunk of it). The street is wide and light, even in Winter. The buildings lining it are a mix of apartments and small businesses. Traffic is heavy by European standards but to me it’s not bad. Lots of BMW’s, Audis, Volvos and Jaguars parked along the way indicate the income level of residents and customers alike. Here it is:

I’m on the fourth level facing the street; . Nice efficiency apartment with big windows and high ceilings, a small kitchen, small bathroom, couch, table, bed and desk. The scaffolding you see will be here for as long as I am; they are continually renovating apartments and other parts of the building. It is heavily used.

I remember being surprised the first time I visited here at how many pre-WW II buildings were still standing. I’ve since learned that many of them didn’t survive; most were the victims of Allied bombing in the war, others suffered various fates. Near the center of the university, about a quarter of a mile from my building, there was a synagogue that was burned to the ground in 1938. The space has been left vacant and its existence is recalled with an outline of its dimensions marked by red bricks. Right next door to where it was there is a Torah School that has been completely restored and returned to its original function.

This is juxtaposed with what I find to be a wrenching type of memorial of those times. Walking along the streets of Hamburg, one encounters small square brass markers embedded among the paving stones of the sidewalks.

These plaques bear the names, birth years and, when known, the death dates of Jews who once lived at the location in front of which they have been placed.  Sometimes there is only one, other times there may be three or four or five. But there are very, very many. It makes me want to stop writing now.

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