20 January 2022: Covid – UK v The Rest; Getting Spanish nationality; Leaving the Spanish nest; The delights of Hamburg; & Other stuff.

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Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’


Some people think it’s all over . . . The WHO insists it isn’t.

Fair comment from this writer?:-

1. The UK: The cohort of scientists who projected disaster without an Xmas lockdown has been humiliated, as their disaster spectacularly failed to materialise. It has left people with the lingering question: What about the previous restrictions? What about all those months we spent trying to navigate those byzantine regulations. How many of these were really necessary? Many Western countries have managed to create a new underclass of the non-vaccinated from previously law-abiding citizens, who will now be alienated and radicalised for years to come. England has mainly avoided this; our society is strained, but it will hold.

2. The EU: Across Europe, lockdowns returned in response to Omicron, and did little to prevent huge surges in cases. In the Netherlands, the lockdown was justified by the same bogus claims from Imperial College about Omicron that nearly scuppered England; meanwhile, the UK case rate is crashing to the bottom of the European league table. From Italy to California, the obsessive focus on vaccine passports — more pointless and divisive than ever in the face of Omicron — has intensified in the past months, while England has all but steered clear of them, save for occasional use at larger events. 

Cosas de España/Galiza 

There’s been no rush of Brits seeking Spanish nationality, it says here. I had to laugh at the (under)statement that: The process can then take some time. Even  before Covid it was 3 years plus. God knows what it is now. For comparison, the Irish process was taking only 6 months when I applied in November 2019 but, more than 2 years later, I’m still waiting for a response. I can’t imagine things area any different here in Spain.

Spanish kids don’t exactly leave home early and the age at which they finally flee the nest has naturally risen during the age of Covid. Here and here is news of an attempt by the government to lure them away from home comforts.

Be warned that, If you’re strolling around the Costa del Crime, you might just bump into one of these. 

The UK

If you’ve read the Covid article cited above you’ll have seen the sentiment that: England can lead the world out of pandemic . . Meaning that: Covid could still save Boris

Richard north: For the moment, this prime minister is going nowhere, and parliament is impotent, neither able to remove him nor bring him into line. Any progress is essentially down to the self-centred, self-interested Tory MPs, which perhaps illustrates the parlous state of our supposed democracy. We have no say in the matter.

The hateful BBC . . 


I’ve been to Hamburg several times and like it a lot. So, I endorse the paean of praise to the city below. Talking of cities . . 


Paris. No longer the pearl it was? Announcing a planned “Manifesto for Beauty” to restore the capital’s elegance, the (socialist-led) city council has admitted its new street furniture and other outdoor innovations have turned into eyesores. Irrelevant to me, as I was never going to return there. Too full of French folk.

The USA 

The USA shares with Russia the highest percentage – 20 – of un-vaccinated citizens. The range for 15 major economies is 5 to 20%, with Spain being down at 5%. Notably, except for the USA and Russia, the range is 5 to 8%. Details here.

The Way of the World 

Beware . .  One of the latest scams – A wotsap message purporting to be from one of your kids or family members saying they desperately need money. Fraudsters can fake contact details, making the scam very convincing. 

Finally . . .

Asked to identify the foundation stone of democracy in England, almost everyone would answer Magna Carta. In fact, the Provisions of Oxford a few decades later have a much greater claim to this status. The Provisions had a significant effect upon the development of the English Common Law, limiting in part the expansion of royal jurisdiction by way of the number of available writs,  but in the main confirming the importance of the common law of the land for all, from king to commoner.

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The city where Brits will finally change their minds about Germany. There are lots of connections between Britain and Hamburg that go way back beyond the Beatles – here’s why it makes a great city break: William Cook , The Telegraph

Sitting in my supremely comfy seat at the spectacular Elbphilharmonie concert hall, listening to the Hamburg Philharmonic gliding through Beethoven’s 8th Symphony, I think of all the times I’ve been to Hamburg since my first visit, nearly 30 years ago – and I end up wondering why no-one I know ever seems to think of coming here. Indeed, not only is the city underrated, but Germany as a whole deserves more attention from British holidaymakers.

This blind spot doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’m rather glad my favourite city hasn’t become a tacky tourist trap. Yet I can’t help thinking my friends back in Blighty might be missing out. Because if you’re British and you’ve never been to Germany, I reckon Hamburg is the best place to start.

OK, so I’m a bit biased. My German grandma grew up here and my father spent his first five years here – he was born in 1942, a few months after my German grandfather, Werner von Biel, was conscripted into Hitler’s Wehrmacht. By 1945 the British Army was in Hamburg, and Werner was in a British prisoner of war camp. He didn’t make it home until 1947.

Meanwhile, back in Hamburg, my grandma met a British soldier called Gerry Cook (a journalist back in civvy street) and fell in love with him. Gerry brought her back to Britain with my father and raised him as his own. My father was anglicised, but my grandma couldn’t hide her guilty secret. Even though she spoke faultless English, her accent gave the game away.

As a child, I loved visiting my grandma, and her husband Gerry. They lived in a smart townhouse in Chelsea – journalists made more money back then. Their house was full of beautiful things, and the most beautiful thing of all was a painting above the fireplace, a picture of a place I’d never visited: a huge grey lake, surrounded by grand old houses. That huge lake was the Alster, in the heart of Hamburg, and one of those grand old houses was the house where my grandma used to live.

I first came to Hamburg in 1992, on an overnight ferry from Harwich. This time I came by plane. Last time I came here, the Elbphilharmonie was still a construction site. Now it’s a gleaming citadel in the centre of Hamburg’s rejuvenated dockland district. It’s a stunning structure, inside and out, an iconic focal point for this rugged, gutsy metropolis. It’s done much the same thing for Hamburg that Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim did for Bilbao – repositioning a rustbelt city as a shiny new cultural capital. Swiss ‘starchitects’ Herzog & De Meuron have done a superb job. The building has become a catalyst, reinvigorating the post-industrial area around it, just like they did with Tate Modern and London’s South Bank.

The Elbphilharmonie has put Hamburg on the map for classical music, but it’s always been a bastion of fine art. Hamburg’s Kunsthalle boasts one of the world’s best collections of German painting, most notably the great Romantic artist Casper David Friedrich and Expressionist master Max Beckmann. There are more childlike pleasures too. Hidden away in an old warehouse in the Speicherstadt, Miniatur Wunderland (the name needs no translation) is Germany’s biggest model railway, Hamburg’s most popular attraction. I’d never been inside before, but this time I went to take a look and I was utterly enchanted. The scale and detail is staggering. Seeing all those children in there, completely mesmerised, made me feel like a kid again.

“When it rains in London, Hamburgers put up their umbrellas,” my German grandma used to say, but Hamburg’s British connections run a lot deeper than its wet and windy weather. Like Liverpool, Hamburg is a merchant city, built on transatlantic trade. Its grandest grand hotel, The Atlantic, was built for first class passengers transferring to ocean liners. Its key players have always been hard-nosed businessmen, not chinless aristocrats.

Mention Liverpool to any Hamburger and the conversation turns to The Beatles, whose seedy sabbatical here was encapsulated in a pithy aphorism by John Lennon. “What was it like growing up in Liverpool?” a reporter asked him. “I didn’t grow up in Liverpool,” he replied. “I grew up in Hamburg.” Playing night after night, all night long, in Hamburg’s infamous red-light district, the Reeperbahn, was a useful apprenticeship, but it’s a good job they got out when they did. The surrounding quarter, St Pauli, has a certain grungy charm, yet the Reeperbahn itself feels tired and tawdry. You can do a Beatles walking tour around the area, but it doesn’t really lift your spirits.

The Beatles arrived in Hamburg barely 20 years after Operation Gomorrah, the RAF bombing raid in 1943 which killed 40,000 people here. For Britain it was payback for Coventry, but it’s still traumatic to think of all those who died, in a terrifying firestorm which engulfed the city centre. The tarmac melted in the streets. Even the oily water in the canals caught fire.

Hamburg still bears the scars of the Second World War, but given the scale of its destruction, what’s remarkable is how much has survived rather than how much has vanished. No-one would call it beautiful, but it’s a handsome, imposing place, and its no-nonsense, unsentimental character is reflected in its robust architecture, old and new.

Despite its rough veneer, it’s a wealthy city, with lots of posh shops and stylish restaurants. As befits an international, outward-looking port, the cuisine is cosmopolitan – no need to stick to sausages and sauerkraut, unless you really want to. If you’re here on Sunday morning head for the Fischmarkt, the ornate fish market where The Beatles used to eat breakfast after a hard day’s night. The local speciality is Bismarck herring, served in a crusty roll with raw onion, washed down with a cold beer.

On my last morning I walked to the Landungsbrücken, where the ferries dock, and took a boat trip around the harbour. Container ships loomed over us, as tall as tower blocks. In the afternoon I took the train out to Blankenese – formerly a fishing village, now an affluent suburb. Nowadays, you need a lot of money to buy one of the fishermen’s houses on the hillside above the River Elbe. I walked along the windswept waterfront and watched the big ships sailing by. You can see why folk call Hamburg Germany’s gateway to the world.

The light was fading. I headed back into town for my final appointment, a visit to the Fontenay, Hamburg’s suave new five-star hotel. From the rooftop bar you can look right across the Alster, Hamburg’s vast city centre lake, and I realised, with a start, that I was staring at the vista in my grandma’s painting. I’d guessed her old house was nearby. I didn’t realise it was just around the corner.

I’d been there several times before, but this time felt different. The house still looked just the same. It was my perspective that had changed. Before, I’d been impressed by how smart it was, and I’d marvelled that my grandma had ever lived there. I’d wondered if I’d ever live somewhere quite so smart. Now I knew I never would, but I didn’t really mind. It was a beautiful house, but it was only bricks and mortar. It had belonged to her and then it belonged to someone else. In the end, we’re all just passing through.

I walked back to the lakeside and looked out across the still dark water. I brought my wife here when we got married. I brought my children here when they were small. Of course my family connections make this place unique for me, but if you come here I bet you’ll discover something else that thrills you – something just as special. And I think you’ll find that the British and the Germans are a lot more similar than they first appear.

For more information about Hamburg go to http://www.germany.travel or http://www.hamburg-tourismus.de. For events at the Elbphilharmonie, go to this link