September 16, 2018
As much as Hamburg is a garden city, typical of German cities, it is also endowed with significant parks, the Stadtpark, or City Park, being the closest major green space to the city centre. It’s calling card is the size, and ability to get lost in its expanse of fields, moors, flower gardens, forested tracts and artificial lakes.
The flower beds in the park are scattered and have a wild, somewhat haphazard quality, either by chance or design. The treed areas of the park on the other hand seem more planned in nature, the fact of being in a historically settled area of Europe precluding the possibility of nature becoming too uncontrolled.
Walkways meander through the park or follow straight lines through linear stands of trees. The structured, geometric approach of organizing parks typical for English gardens dating from centuries ago crops up occasionally, while most of the park is laid out along more modern terms. Despite the expanse of the park – and the prestige of the neighborhood it is located in – it is bereft of ostentation, with little in the line of public art, although there are eye-catching modernist statues to be found.
The lakes and other artificial waterways provide a draw for visitors looking for a venue for water sports, such as stand-up paddling, canoeing, kayaking, or for that matter playing with their toy boats. Of course, there is ample room for sports on land, such as volleyball or petanque, and no public space anywhere in Europe would be worth its salt without the obligatory restaurants and cafes. And the further north in Europe, the more leisurely the establishments …
Artificial beaches have been set up along some of the pools in addition to play areas for children, all possible thanks to the huge space available. The volleyball courts are set up on sand. The drumming group has an entire field to itself, not that other groups would want to compete with them for attention. In a highly regulated society, the availability of generous amounts of open space in a relatively natural setting is a panacea.
Yes, even in this natural setting, there are those who can’t seem to get away from staring at their cell phone screens. And yet, look around: the stunning planetarium, built in the so-called brick expressionist style from a century ago, located at the end of an alley flanked by beds of diverse flowering plants and linear ranks of trees. I don’t have the inclination to visit the institution, but the visual effect from the outside is quite impressive. And even though it is not far from the limits of the park, the surrounding area is as densely forested as anywhere else in the park.
The historic, recently re-opened Trinkhalle on the southern border of the Stadtpark is also a product of the same architectural movement as the planetarium. But the architecture isn’t what holds my attention – the grounds of the building seem to be a staging ground for some sort of elaborately -costumed surreal incarnation of Alice in Wonderland. The fantastical Mad Hatter in particular catches my attention; as much as I would love take in the theatrics that should be unfolding, I do have a mission, and that is to continue further on my exploration neighborhoods around the Alster.
I travel from the area of the Borgstraße subway station immediately south of the Statpark entrance to the patrician enclave of Rotherbaum around the Hallerstraße subway station. One of the most celebrated areas of the city, lining the west side of the Alster lake, Rotherbaum encompasses several important cultural institutions in the city, including the Museum of Anthropology.
The elegant buildings range four, five stories in height, all with elaborate facades, except perhaps the deliberately stark mid-century modernist works. Each level of the buildings features rows of identical windows encased in stone frames, often crowned with heavy pediments, the combination of pastel colours and solid materials built to convey a restrained ostentation – and of course to last as well. Bay windows offset the even surfaces, as do the occasional false balconies, then crowning some of the buildings are mansard roofs with dormer windows shaped to reflect the Dutch Renaissance look.
The Museum am Rothenbaum – Kulturen und Künste der Welt (formerly Museum für Völkerkunde) is one of the most important museums in Hamburg, but it has even far greater importance to me. As a young person who had next to no knowledge of the world, I visited the museum and was transported by the impression of its extensive South Seas collections, hearkening to an era when Germany held considerable territories in the Pacific. These included Kaiser-Wilhelmsland and the Bismarck Archipelago, (part of contemporary Papua New-Guinea), the northern Solomon Islands, Bougainville Island, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, the Mariana Islands, and the Caroline Islands (today Micronesia and Palau).
Artifacts of the indigenous peoples of these territories are represented in the collections, broadly encompassing Melanesian and Polynesian cultures. Despite what appears to be a major reorganization in progress (not that I can comment on the recent evolution of the museum, given that I visited some 45 years ago), a considerable amount of historic masks and totem works are still on display.
The Oceanic collections draw from the Bismarck Archipelago, New Guinea and the Caroline Islands. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the museum acquired the extensive collection of the businessman Franz Emil Hellwig from the islands of Wuvulu and Aua. The Hamburg South Sea expedition initiated by Georg Thilenius from 1908-1910 contributed to the creation of well-documented collections of masks, dance equipment and sculptures.
Extensive purchases in the 1960s complement the inventory with a few hundred pieces from the inland of what is now Papua New Guinea. From Micronesia, the collections include everyday objects such as household items, clothing and fishing utensils, mainly acquired in the second year of the Hamburg South Sea expedition on the Carolines. Recent purchases primarily document the revival of traditional crafts.
The focus of the Australian collections is primarily on ritual objects, jewelry, weapons and clothing of the residents of Northwest and Central Australia. The collections of the missionary Oskar Liebler and the Wroclaw anthropologist Hermann Klaatsch, dating from the first and second decade of the 20th century, are particularly significant. The museum owes recent additions from Western Australia to the oceanographer Helmut Petri.
(Narrative partially excerpted from markk-hamburg.de)