Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hamburg, visiting Ethan & Patricia

I spent the weekend in Hamburg, went up Thursday night and returned Monday morning. I was hosted by my college friend, Ethan, and his fiance, Patricia. The Heidelberg->Hamburg train ride is 5.5 hours, but I found the long train ride much nicer than a long flight.

On Friday, Patricia was at work and Ethan and I worked from home.
We went to Vesper's for lunch (gnocci), worked the rest of the day,
and then went to dinner with Patricia (at "Leonar's").

Saturday we had breakfast at home, which was German style and quite good:
muesli/flax/granola/fruit cereal, German style boiled egg, toast and cheese,
and tea. Then, with Ethan, I biked through Planten un Blomen, the Japanese
botanical gardens. (The name "Planten un Blomen" is plat-German, a
"low"-German dialect found in Northern Germany. It would be hard to
understand for someone from Bavaria but is part of the institutions here, so,
e.g., Patricia who grew up around here used it in school some growing up.)
We continued biking past the gardens towards the harbor, where we left our
rented bikes (Hamburg has a subsidized bike rental system which operates on a
point-to-point basis).

Next, we walked along the Harbor towards Speicherstadt which are these two
streets of what used to be warehouses. It's very neat: they open directly
onto a canal, and they used to be loaded directly from ships. Now the old warehouses
have been redone as apartments or commercial buildings mostly.

We continued walking on to Hafen city, which is this "city within a city" in
Hamburg. It is a neighborhood which was previously docks and warehouses,
which has been re-zoned to be residential and commerical building, so there
is a massive amount of development going on as of the past ten years.
It's partially been moved into but development is still ongoing.
Interestingly they manage to continue construction while opening some
parts to the public to gradually build the sense of life in the area.
It's pretty lively already.

Also, on the German window technology (which is on full display in the
very modern architecture in Hafen city): basically all windows rotate on two
axes, a vertical one which opens very fully and a horizontal one which just
lets in a slight breeze. And many office buildings have computerized blind
systems. Wild.

Next, we moved on to wandering around the nearby shopping district. After
that, we saw an exhibit on the German impressionist Max Lieberman at the
Hamburg Kunsthalle. Lieberman was influenced by his French and Dutch
contemporaries, and spent dozens of summers in the Netherlands.

After the Kunsthalle we walked along the aussenalster (Aussenalster
is the upper lake formed from the Alster river) and bussed home.

Sunday, we brunched (at "Sweet virginia's"). It was delicious -- we had lox
with horseradish, eggs&feta&olives, yogurt with fruit. Later we went out
again to Leonar's for coffee and cake, then I went down to St. Michael's
Kirche (St. Michael's Church) for the famous view of the city from the top of
the spire. Afterwards, I took a walk through the St. Pauli district on the
infamous Reeperbahn. I skipped the more vivid side streets.

We had dinner out at a pan-asian restaurant in the Schanze neighborhood,
which is young/yuppy/punk-y/gentrifying area. Then we returned home
to prepare for Monday's early departure.


I traveled to Oberwolfach with my advisor (Jon Wellner). The train trip is 2.5
hours from Heidelberg, quite easy. Oberwolfach is a really wonderful place,
a mathematician's heaven. The buildings are very modern/contemporary, with
huge glass windows and crisp, clean architecture. There is a library and
meeting building, a main residence building with a dining room, and another
residence hall.

Three meals are prepared each day by their cooks, and they are all very
delicious. For lunch and dinner there is a tradition of random seating, so
that people are forced to meet each other. It's a good idea, although, on
the other hand, math folks can be very quiet, so I had some nearly silent

The Oberwolfach staff also clean the rooms each day, and laundry machines are
availble in the buildings, so the whole setup is organized around being very convenient
for the weeklong workshops (which are running all year).

On Wednesday there is a tradition, I believe for all workshops, of going on a
hike to a nearby village and getting coffee and schwarzvald kirche (black
forest cake) which is cooked with kirsche-wasser, the cherry-liqueur of the
region. It was a great afternoon.

The statistics talks were, of course, really good. (They made me realize how
much there is yet to learn, though...!) I met almost everyone at the workshop
at least briefly.

An interesting tidbit: the institute was about to be destroyed by
French Moroccans at the end of WWII but an English Colonel who
had been sent to search for mathematicians commandeered it for the
English army to prevent that from happening.