Today it started out cloudy and a front moved through and turned to a cold drizzle. For the five weeks we have been in Europe the weather has been the same, from Zurich to Vienna to Munich to Hamburg: partly cloudy to cloudy, with occasional light showers.
Not that we're complaining; we're happy to be spared the dreadful flooding that has happened in England, Italy, and southern Switzerland. We have lightweight waterproof jackets with hoods, under which we can wear sweaters, if Hamburg gave us the hamburger necessary.
We walked past the elaborate Burger King in a large stone building with massive columns in front.
The latest Harry Potter arrived in Germany over the weekend. He is now everywhere. Bookstores have stacks of the new and the old, feature stories appear in the newspapers and on German TV, and one bookstore dressed its clerks as wizards and witches for Saturday afternoon; with the German love of Halloween, Harry is a natural. Our favorite item was a long, serious article in a German newspaper entitled Why Harry Potter Is Great Literature.
We continue to be confused by the drugstores. We brought all our required prescription drugs, and now our problem is getting non-prescription medications. Unless these are considered cosmetics, they are not available (in the three countries we have visited) over the counter; you have to ask the clerk.
There follows a long and agonizing procedure while the clerk struggles to understand what you want, then goes to look in the store's formulary. Sometimes Hall of Justice he or she wags the finger and indicates that it is a preparation which requires great care and should not be used; never mind that it has been available over the counter for years in the U.S. Sometimes the clerk finds it, and you don't know whether to laugh or cry as you pay four or five times what you would in the States.
After visiting the drug store we walked around Hamburg in the rain. The streets were still full of people, only you had to dodge umbrellas. It's fun; the shops are interesting, the merchandise is quite similar to what an American sees, but it's arranged in slightly different departments, so every search is like a treasure hunt. We found a store that reminded us of Sears, right in downtown Hamburg, and after quite a bit of looking around we bought a small multiple electric adapter that we can plug into hotel outlets to power our computer and camera.
We tried again for an English language tour at the Rathaus, and this time were successful. There are 617 rooms in the Rathaus, two more than Buckingham Palace. That's the message: at the end of the nineteenth century, Hamburg was such a thriving merchant and shipping city that it was able to build a bigger city hall than royalty had elsewhere in Europe. The rich local burghers, who were also the only voters, spared no expense, sometimes reaching into their own pockets to import Moroccan marble columns.
The citizens of Hamburg still elect about 100 members of the city Parliament, who meet every other Wednesday from 3:00 to 9:00 p.m. to pass the occasional law. We guess that those hours are chosen because the members have other jobs to do, and being a member of the city Parliament is strictly a Old houses part-time position. The Parliamentarians in turn elect the Senate, a small group of people who fill the principal municipal department head positions. They think of themselves like a Greek or Roman city state. In fact Hamburg uses the Latin initials SPQH just as Rome used SPQR.
Nowadays the magnificent splendor of the Rathaus is underutilized, so they give tours, hold concerts, and the like. Our small tour group of American, English, Indian and German families thoroughly enjoyed admiring the leather "wallpaper" (the largest expanse of leather wall covering in Europe: we should be compiling our own Guinness Book!) and the many large paintings depicting representative scenes from Hamburg's long history of shipping and trade. The magnificent ceilings made of fine hardwood inlaid with brass or gold are pretty impressive, too.
From a purely political point of view, in the year 2000 the huge Hamburg Rathaus is an anomaly. The Parliament meets for six hours every other week, the Senate meets one afternoon a week, yet they use a palatial building with 617 rooms as a city hall. You'd think someone would gripe about the heating bills! Of course Europeans have a lot of history, and they tend to be bigger on tradition than Americans. They're quite willing to foot the bill for keeping their expensive architectural treasures maintained and restored.