Our cousins, Christine and Renate, took us to Blankenese, 41 minutes by bus to the west of Hamburg. Blankenese, which celebrated its 700th anniversary in 2001, is built on the side of a hill overlooking the Elbe, with little narrow streets that snake their way around the townspeople’s homes. Everywhere you go, you encounter diminutive dwellings that are at once private houses and tourist attractions that please the visitor’s eye. A front door here greets a steep public pathway there. A small manicured lawn shared with the passer by over this way sits next to a hedge-hidden garden over that way. Near the top of the steep Kroegertreppe, a rhododendron and a Japanese maple reward the weary walker with aching calves, forever perambulating up and down, in and out and around. From all of these vantage points, the Elbe appears in the background, a feature of every scene. It’s around that corner. It’s behind that dwelling. And it smiles on that garden.
I told Jean that the Elbe meant a lot to my ancestors. They sailed past Blankenese whenever they sailed to England in the 1820s and 1830s, but even after the 1790s. And my great-grandfather sailed past this spot when voyaging to Australia in 1884.
We had come to Blankanese by boat from Hamburg. We headed back down the Elbe to Finkenwerder, where we saw houses that had been built in former times. Christine explained that Finkenwerder had belonged to Hamburg when Hamburg had been an independent state. That was of course long ago. History is all around us here.