Eurotour Stop 1. Hamburg, Germany: “Nowhere does the summer fade more splendidly”

Guten Tag from Hamburg! Our first extract comes from…

John le Carré, Smiley’s People (Sceptre, 2011 [1979], pp. 29-30). 

The extract is set at the height of the Cold War.

The second of the two events that brought George Smiley from his retirement occurred a few weeks after the first, in the early autumn of the same year: not in Paris at all, but in the once ancient, free, and Hanseatic city of Hamburg, now almost pounded to death by the thunder of its own prosperity; yet it remains true that nowhere does the summer fade more splendidly than along the gold and orange banks of the Alster, which nobody has yet drained or filled with concrete. George Smiley, needless to say, had seen nothing of its languorous autumn splendour. Smiley, on the day in question, was toiling obliviously, with whatever conviction he could muster, at his habitual desk in the London Library in St. James’s Square, with two spindly trees to look at through the sash-window of the reading room. The only link to Hamburg he might have pleaded – if he had afterwards attempted the connection, which he did not – was in the Parnassian field of German baroque poetry, for at the time he was composing a monograph on the bard Opitz, and trying loyally to distinguish true passion from the tiresome literary convention of the period.

The time in Hamburg was a few moments after eleven in the morning, and the footpath leading to the jetty was speckled with sunlight and dead leaves. A candescent haze hung over the flat water of the Aussenalster, and through it the spires of the Eastern bank were like green stains dabbed on the wet horizon. Along the shore, red squirrels scurried, foraging for the winter. But the slight and somewhat anarchistic-looking man standing on the jetty wearing a tracksuit and running shoes had neither eyes nor mind for them. His red-rimmed gaze was locked tensely upon the approaching steamer, his hollow face darkened by a two-day stubble. He carried a Hamburg newspaper under his left arm, and an eye as perceptive as George Smiley’s would have noticed at once that it was yesterday’s edition, not today’s.

Klaxon! le Carré’s new novel, A Legacy of Spies is out on 7 September. After 25 years, George Smiley is back! 

Hamburg Gallery

We’ve had a wonderful couple of days in Hamburg, seeing family, friends and lots of sights. It really is a most beautiful place. A few highlights below…

View across the Aussenalster (Outer Alster), which is mentioned in the passage above and lies right in the middle of the city:

Here’s the kind of boat our young man was waiting for – these chug around the Alster like genteel water-taxis:

Here’s the front of the Rathaus or City Hall. We noticed that it was flying the Hamburg flag and the European flag, but not a German one. The city’s Hanseatic Free City status is one it is very proud of and likes to stress:

Here’s the back of the Rathaus. Rather splendid:

Pavement graffiti – ‘be free’:

A local delicacy from this seafaring city – matjes (herring) with Bratkartoffel (fried potatoes). Delicious!

The German election is coming up later in September, so election posters are everywhere. Behind to the left, the offices of Die Zeit, the influential weekly broadsheet.

The Elbphilharmonie, a swish new concert hall and architectural wonder, has just opened. This is the way in (*hums stairway to heaven*). Hamburg locals have already nicknamed the building ‘Elphie’:

Lastly, the best souvenirs ever: an iconic Tatort key-ring and a book-bag (Lesestoff = reading matter).

Click here for an overview of Mrs. Peabody’s Eurotour


19 thoughts on “Eurotour Stop 1. Hamburg, Germany: “Nowhere does the summer fade more splendidly”

  1. Those are lovely ‘photos, Mrs. P.! Thank you for sharing them. So happy to hear that you’re having such a good trip thus far. Thanks, too, for sharing that extract from Smiley’s People; such skilled writing, I think, and really conveys a sense of place and time. Looking forward to your next travelogue post!

    • Thanks very much, Margot. I couldn’t resist the le Carré extract – a number of his novels play in Hamburg (at least in part), and of course his latest and possibly final Smiley novel is out today. He’s a wonderful writer and really knows Hamburg (and Germany) incredibly well.

      We’ve now just arrived in Copenhagen and I’m thinking lots about a novel I happen to know both of us love…

  2. Ooh – thank you for your Smileyesque intro. There is a lovely film clip – available online, I’m sure – of le Carré in Hamburg – not talking about Smiley but Most Wanted Man. My treats for this month are going to be Legacy of Spies – and also going to see le Carré on Smiley in conversation (on film, alas, not the live performance) – with proceeds to Médicins sans Frontiers.

    • Thanks for that, murmursofmole – I’ll see if I can track the clip down. And PLEASE, if you get a chance, let me know how the evening with le Carré goes. I’m sure it will be wonderful and am wildly jealous. I’m with you in spirit! Enjoy!

  3. Morning Mrs P. No doubt you’re both enjoying a lovely continental breakfast, and getting the rucksacks 🎒ready for today’s adventure.The photos are lovely, and thank you for sharing them with us. Hamburg has certainly changed from the dark and gloomy cold war images we were always shown, to a really beautiful city.
    Will have to add ‘A Legacy of Spies’ to my TBR list, and I feel a re-read of ‘Smiley’s People’ coming on too.
    Looking forward to seeing more in your next post.

    • Afternoon, Kathy. Yes, Hamburg is a really beautiful city, and I imagine a pretty great place to live. I spent a few months here at the end of the 80s and thoroughly enjoyed myself (worked in a bakery called Dat Bakhus).

      We’ve hopped over to Copenhagen now. Have just gone mad on Danish delicacies in the supermarket and am sitting in our little flat in Westerbro looking out onto a lovely old street. PLUS A Legacy of Spies has just arrived on my Kindle. So life is pretty much perfect at this moment in time.

  4. Have only been 1-2 times to Hamburg, but have such fond memories of it. Although it’s the city with the highest number of cabriolets per population in Germany, did you know that? (Despite the weather).

  5. I haven’t been to Hamburg in many years (since the year the Wall came down actually to meet my relatives from Leipzig and for my aunt’s funeral not long afterwards) and I really must get back there. You’ve made me even more keen to take a trip. Oh and “A Legacy of Spies” is on my reading pile for our holiday to the Mosel at the end of the month – no idea how I’m going to stop myself reading it before then but I shall do my best.

    • Hi Stella – glad to hear that I might have helped to push Hamburg up your list! There are lots of interesting new areas now, like the Hafen City (a modern extension of the old Speicherstadt). That’s where ‘Elphie’ is too – very much worth a visit.

      A Legacy of Spies has just appeared on my Kindle. I know for a fact that I’m not going to be nearly as disciplined as you…! Have a lovely trip at the end of the month.

    • Thanks, Christine. It was a lot of fun finding the extracts for the different cities. The only rule was that they had to have a strong sense of place, and it made me come at the texts from a completely different angle.

      I’ve actually never been to the London Library (I know…), but will have to make sure I pay homage at some point.

  6. Hamburg sounds wonderful. And Copenhagen, can’t wait to see what novel you are referring to. And eating Danish pastries, real ones made in Denmark. Must be a real treat.
    I keep thinking of Danny Kaye singing, “Wonderful, wonderful, Copenhagen.”
    Met a mother and daughter from Copenhagen last year who were visiting my city. They love life there.

    • Hi Kathy. I’ll be posting on Copenhagen today! The food is indeed divine (still a few things on my list including more pastries!). And we did hum that very tune at one point yesterday 🙂 My impression is that this is a very nice city to live in (although we’ve seen quite a few homeless people too).

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