Britain in Hamburg

Who doesn't recognise William Shakespeare's, England's most famous and greatest poet and playwright, immortal lines on the torment of unrequited love, spoken by Count Orsino,  in his 17th century play, Twelfth Night?

If music is the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Shakespeare was certainly aware of the importance of music in his plays; he was also aware of the overwhelming joy and power of love to transform human behaviour, leading perfectly sane individuals to take desperate actions or into the realms of madness (think of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear).

Yesterday (February 14)  was St Valentine's Day, which, for centuries,  has been celebrated by lovers in honour of the Roman martyr, Valentine.  During Valentine's  time, the Romans worshipped Cupid as their god of love,  responsible for shooting all his little arrows of love into hapless individuals (not literally, he was a god, after all!)  Now, I don't know how randy Shakespeare was. Valentine's Day wasn't really adopted as a day for lovers until after his death.  When he married Anne Hathaway he was only 18,  and she was nearly a decade older, and pregnant with their first child, so he may well have preferred the maturity of an older woman or been seduced!  It's open to speculation

What's true is that the sentiment of love, being in love or out of it, has inspired British poets, playwrights, writers and songwriters throughout history. Since the Beatles first sang 'Love me do' in Hamburg in 1962, British artists, from Elton John, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Phil Collins to Freddie Mercury (RIP) have written and sung about the frustrations and pain of being in or out of love.  Just think of the words to Rod Stewart's version of 'The First Cut is the Deepest', which was recorded in 1976, which recalls the heartbreak of first love or Phil Collins singing his version of the 1960s Motown hit, 'You can't hurry love'. 'How many heartaches must I stand/Before I find a love to let me live again'.

I may be getting a bit long in the tooth now to believe that the Beatles had all the answers when they were singing 'All you need is love/Love is all you need' a few years later. Life interferes with youthful idealism and love changes with the passing of the years, from  passion and desire to the trials and tribulations of enduring love in middle age and beyond. The Beatles knew about the loneliness and frustration of love cut short from their parents'generation, who were alive during WW2; they were aware of the need to find love,  to be in love, with that special person, or indeed, life itself, when everything was in turmoil around them.  How poignant is the album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band! The Beatles certainly expressed a profundity in their songs which belied their youth. And, just recall,  how beautiful are the words to 'In my life' from the 1965 Rubber Soul album:

'There are places I remember/

All my life, though some have changed/

All those places have their moments/

With lovers and friends I still can recall/


Though I know I'll never lose affection/

For people and things that went before/

I know I'll often stop and think about them/

In my life I love you more.

Like all thriving city ports, Hamburg has changed over the decades, from WW2-ravaged ruins to Germany's modern second city.  It is still, however, very much a city of love and it still boasts its vibrant night scene

So, for all those British people living, working, studying or just visiting Hamburg, either in love or seeking love, I hope the city helps you  find what you're looking for. I hope, too, that  you had an energising, invigorating and wonderfully satisfying St Valentine's Day - and night!

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