“I’ll get up at 4am, clean the house and pack”, she says a little too confidently, as she settles into bed beside me. We both know this is a lie. Inevitably, we awaken at 6.30am, with 20 minutes before we’ll definitely be too late to leave the house. Her sleepy neighbourhood awakening to her sweet dulcet tones, drifting softly around the cul-de-sac in unison with the early morning birdsong, as she shrieks: “I CAN’T SHUT MY BAG”. Bliss.
We set off 10 minutes late, but luckily only get stuck in an hour long traffic jam, so no reason to panic. We arrive sweaty and unprepared, but saunter around the airport bars like we intend to spend the week there. Gin at 9am will do that to you. Our flight leaves at 10.55, at 10.45 we order another drink only to discover in horror that our flight is on the last call. Down it. RUN.
Once aground, I arrogantly assume that I will be able to navigate the German transportation system without hitch, but fall at the first hurdle, unable to decipher a) German or b) the minuscule map that flashes up on the tiny screen for seconds at a time, offered presumably only to mock ignorant foreign tourists (we have a map, look, but we’re not going to show it to you)… I cower, admit defeat and we get a taxi.
Despite our best efforts to arrive at the apartment we have booked, the taxi driver helpfully drops us off at the Hamburg branch of Eon, laughing and exclaiming “EON!” and charging us 20 euros for the privilege. And I was so sure my year 9 German speaking expertise would get us through the week.
We seem to have crumbled so soon. Where did it all go wrong?
Everyone thinks we’re lesbians. “WE’LL HAVE TO SLEEP TOP TO TAIL” Jemma exclaims, just to make sure the owner of the apartment and his two infant daughters don’t get the wrong idea. We all crowd into 2 small rooms, which apparently require an inexplicably long, awkward welcome demonstration, as I struggle desperately to remember any sort of greeting in German, Hello? Ah yes, it was “Hallo” I conveniently remember, after they have retreated upstairs.
We land precariously amongst swathes of German joggers, barely succeeding in dodging the cyclists on the not-so-clearly marked cycle paths. We wander carelessly in this direction and that, stopping at various bars on the way, convinced we are “heading into town”, convinced also we are able to navigate our way back, despite the drinks we definitely didn’t down in the airport, on the plane, on the way to wherever we are now. Is this Hamburg?
We end up at an Italian restaurant, keen to taste the local cuisine. When in Rome. The restaurant is definitely not in the centre of Hamburg, but we’re sure it’s somewhere near. Jemma somehow manages to charm the waiter into thinking we’re drunk enough to write down the address of our apartment on a napkin for him. We’re not. Jemma draws a smiley face on the napkin and hands it back. He offers us 4 shots of Grappa for our troubles. We accept graciously, amid looks of disgust from the Manager, as he pretends to ignore my attempts to climb a nearby lamppost.
And then we’re off again, loose on the streets of Hamburg, weaving expertly into the exact paths of every jogger and cyclist we pass. There are literally millions of them. Coming from every direction. We’re not sure if it’s some sort of joke. Occasionally, we admit defeat and start to run alongside them, but we never manage to keep up with them for long. We’re not yet sure if we’re lost or not, but we’re soon to discover we are.
Cleverly, we have decided to navigate our way back to the apartment using a huge radio tower, that stands on a threatening pedestal above what we assume is the city we’re yet to find. But strangely, every time we move, so too does the tower, leaving us both flabbergasted and undeniably lost. Luckily, we find a nearby Frenchman, who insists on informing us of his woes regarding the British Monarchy and repeatedly insisting that the lake we are standing next to is indeed not a lake. It’s a great comedy act, but it doesn’t help us find our way home. We resort to just stumbling helplessly around the lake (which is definitely not a lake) until we inevitably happen upon our apartment. Unless of course, there are two lakes, and we are wandering aimlessly around the wrong one.
After several near death experiences involving both joggers and cyclists, but fortunately no further French men, we arrive back at the apartment. To our horror, it is 6pm. We stumble inside, intent on “charging our phones”, which of course, translates into passing out until morning.
Each day we awaken, convinced we aren’t going to start drinking as early. Only to discover the opposite is true some minutes later. Somehow, we manage to arrive at the gig, with a pretzel, no bag and minutes to spare. The crowd seems inexplicably both silent and still, we struggle to fit in. Silence, nor stillness, never was our forte. After the gig, we fall carelessly onto a train travelling to a place I barely remember the name of, and would mostly like to forget. The bars are meat markets. Are we in Hamburg now? At one point I spend at least 10 minutes talking to a man in a bar in a language I’m sure has at least some roots in German, only to discover he’s from Manchester. So long as we all know where we stand.
The next day, I can’t help but dribble all over myself as I struggle to remain conscious, while Jemma helpfully chortles down the phone: “Twiggy’s dribbling, Dad”. What does she expect from a woman who is made up almost entirely of alcohol and is weakly emitting green as a skin colour. It’s a wonder I’m even vertical.
The week progresses in a similar theme, until 4am on Saturday arrives, bringing with it 4 taxis we may or may not have accidentally ordered. We surreptitiously slide into the one with “Ruff taxis” printed across the bonnet, ducking down under the windows, pretending not to see the others. Ruff taxi for 2. Seems accurate enough.
We never did find Hamburg.