I think I shouldn’t have started with the Reeperbahn. Visiting the prostitution district on the first day of your getaway just sets a seedy tone for the whole rest of the trip.

Either that, or Hamburg’s just seedy. I think it’s a little of both.

Many parts of it are very nice, with a few lovely historic buildings, more greenspace than Munich, lots of history, and plenty of stark postmodern architecture to put you in the northern European frame of mind.

The goal for today was to do the walking tour from my guidebook without getting so lost that I give up, as normally happens. I was 75% successful. Much of the afternoon, unfortunately, there was rain that could only be described as a soaking mist. Although it usually takes more than rain to defeat me, I didn’t think it wise to soak my only coat, only scarf, and only pair of pants on the first day of the trip. Fortunately, I was able to take shelter in a church that turned out to boast C.P.E. Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann as former directors of music, as well as being the place where Brahms was baptized. Turns out these guys all lived on the same street, and now there are little house museums in their honor. I went to the Brahms one to escape the increasingly disruptive rain, and although the friendliness of the docent was more striking than any part of the museum collection, it was still a pleasant half-hour. The museum boasted a lot about how hard some musicians of the city fought to get Brahms any sort of honorary status as an Important Citizen of Hamburg. Although I suppose their efforts indicate great dedication, the fact that the Powers that Be required any coaxing at all to shout to the world, “WE GOT BRAHMS!” doesn’t reflect well on them.

As intended, the rain had slowed by the time I finished with Brahms. I considered going to Telemann’s museum anyway, since it was right next door. But then I remembered that I don’t really give a flip about Telemann, so I continued to St Pauli/the Reeperbahn to ensure a well-rounded tour.

Since my AirBnB (really a thinly veiled motel, and therefore probably not even a little bit legal) is in a sketchy area of a sketchy city, I headed home early. First, though, I went to find something to eat with the (nasty) lentil soup I brought from home and have to eat because I made it (note for future self: if you are making soup, red lentils are the only lentils). So I went a-wandering while there was still light and chanced upon a sign that said, “Arabisches Brot frisch vom Tandoor” (you really don’t need my help to read that, but if you want to check yourself, “Arabian bread fresh from the tandoor”). This was my expectation: Go in, approach counter. Point at bread, receive bread. Hand person behind counter money. Leave.

That’s not what happened. I walked in, and there was indeed a counter, manned by a guy dressed to the nines, but there was only one piece of round, seed-covered flatbread sitting on top of an empty glass pastry case. This wasn’t what I had expected, but you have to play it close to the chest when you’re stealing other people’s cultures, so I told myself, “just be cool.”

I marched up to the counter and asked to have the piece of bread. Mr. Tweed-and-elbow-pads replied, “No, that one’s sweet,” and smiled in a way that was partly friendly and partly condescending. I suddenly felt very white. He then explained that my bread would be ready in a minute, and would I please wait over there?

This gave me some time to get oriented. The tandoor was up on a mezzanine in the  back. Two guys were working up there: one of them shaped the dough into a two-foot-long, flat football shape, and the other installed it in the oven, removed it when it was done, and slid it down a ramp that led from the tandoor to a table near me (If you’ve never seen bread made in a tandoor, check out this video, and it will all make sense–or at least the process of installation will). At the end of the ramp, several men were claiming their loaves, hacking them up into manageable pieces and stuffing them into bags that they had brought from home because they apparently do this all the time.

After a minute or two, the man behind the counter indicated that the most recent loaf was mine. Again, trying to play it cool, I took one of the knives lying on the table and cut up my still-steaming bread with an air of what I hoped was nonchalance.

And that’s the story of why all the fingertips on my left hand are burned.

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