Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Farewell, Hamburg

So I have spent the past four days in Hamburg, Germany helping to present Guild Wars 2 to the European press. We have a new build that we have been springing on people here and abroad, showing one of our racial areas, our underwater adventures, and our dungeons (multiplayer instances).

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'd rather talk about the Bubble, and being a stranger in a strange land.

The Bubble I have mentioned before in these pages. It is the Travel Bubble which surround the modern voyager, at best a frictionless surface that carries the journeyer from one point to another as humane cargo with a minimum of fuss. The Later 20th has perfected the model, such that for the vast bulk of travel happens with very little fuss, and idea of jetting to Europe for two days of business presentation is not only feasible, but suitable.

Hence, I am in Germany with the ease that one could previously go to Ohio. The entire modernity of it all leaves me completely gob-smacked.

(It is not to say the entire process is not without perils - My luggage was delayed coming through Amsterdam while some of my fellows will never see their possessions again, due to a baggage handlers' strike in Paris. When the Bubble collapses, it collapses catastrophically. Still, it is hardly on the same level as having to fight mountain lions to reach your destination).

So, Hamburg. I would like to speak about the coolness of the museums and the bustle of life, but my time was not my own, and I am now being whisked back to the states having completed my mission. However, we have been staying at the Radisson Blu downtown, and extremely upscale operation in the Dag Hammarskjold Paza overlooking the Planten un Blomen, or rather, the botanical gardens. As a result, I have managed to slip out several times to walk the grounds and mix with the locals.

I pass like a mute ghost, smiling but saying little. My German is at the "Ein bier, bitte", level, which leaves me functionally illiterate and a possible danger to myself and others if left unsupervised. However, I am German by genetics, though heavier than most of the population (The locals I have encountered have been fit and have a huge number of bicycles). In effect, I blend, such that I often get hit up by American tourists, also speaking halting German and asking directions.

The weather here has blossomed into a beautiful summer, and the gardens are luscious and green. It is akin to Seattle on those few nice summer weekends when people visit and marvel at the innate beauty of the land, and say how nice it would be to live there, and us locals holding our sides to prevent ourselves from busting a gut in laughter. Hamburg has all the signs of a cold and bitter place in winter - very steeply pitched residential roofs to handle heavy snows, a populace that is stunned by the change of weather (a lot of long sleeves among those lounging on the grass and in the numerous lawn chairs in the area), and heavy and amazingly effective curtains in the hotel. On the last, I was surprised to discover that Hamburg was even further north than Seattle, and since I tend to wake with the sun, that meant a lightening sky at 4:00 AM.

My view, by the way, is southern into the city itself, overlooking the green expanse of the garden and the various surrounding government buildings and capturing a skyline of steeples, office buildings, loading AT-ATs, and wind turbines. Hamburg is mostly flat, which adds to the omnipresent nature of the bicycles as a chief mode of transportation. To that end, the local population are masters of utilitarian bike skills, and handle them with an ability that Americans have trouble matching (drive through crowds is always a challenge in the States, due to the nature of our sidewalks and pedestrians).

But most of my time has been in the Bubble - making presentations in a conference room at the hotel in the international language of Computer Games, English. Our handlers and contacts have been highly competent and friendly, and one has lived in Hamburg for many years (apparently, one is only a Hamburger if one is born here. Also, they don't think being a Hamburger is silly, though they think being from Vienna/Wien, and therefore being a Wiener, is hilarious). Short walks into town to see the Rathaus (City Hall) and the monuments. And a sense that everything moves without any problem right up until 8, when the city center rolls up its sidewalks even though there is another three hours of sunlight.

But Hamburg has been very pretty and very kind, even if I have engaged it only on the most superficial of levels. And now I re-enter the Travel Bubble and am whisked back to my daily life with an ease that would leave my grandfather scratching his head, as if I had suddenly mastered teleportation and blinked from continent to continent with ease.

More later