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There may be easier ways to get from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, to Hamburg, Germany, but the most direct way is the flight to London from Halifax. Unfortunately, it is a red-eye, scheduled to leave around midnight. It lands in London around 9:30 AM. The first available, reasonably-priced flight to Hamburg leaves at three in the afternoon. On paper, that doesn’t seem like too much of a problem. In reality, it is a nightmare. The night flight to London is too short to get a proper night’s sleep and there is nowhere in that section of Heathrow offering any semblance of rest or relaxation.

So, we arrived in Hamburg absolutely exhausted. Our handful of German words had disappeared and the taxi driver was quite dubious about our destination. He offered to take us to the Elysee Hotel to pick up the key, but had no idea where the Gasthaus might be, even though I had the address and assured him it was only a short distance away.

People who are nearly catatonic so easily pass for idiots, especially when they don’t speak the language. In the end, it all worked out just fine. When in doubt, dress well. That’s our motto.

For those readers unfamiliar with the two hemispheres, it is now summer in Melbourne. It is a good time to be elsewhere as the temperatures in Australia tend to soar into the stratosphere. This year, our escape entailed a return to our home in Nova Scotia (for Christmas), and a visit to the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg, Germany for January and February. Not to mention a brief stopover in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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You sentimentalists will be happy to know that our Christmas in Grand Pre was white, although the snow disappeared soon after it arrived. Maritime climates are fickle that way. Two years ago they were skating on the lake called the Alster, within walking distance of the Gasthaus. This year it is fine for boats and birds. It is a winter of rain.

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We are fortunate to have found a home away from home at the Gasthaus of the University of Hamburg, a building that has some serious history and a wonderful staff. We are not the only visitors here associated with the Max Planck Institute, which runs a centre dedicated to Comparative and International Private Law.

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The nearly 80 research institutes of the Max Planck Society conduct basic research in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the arts and humanities. They have a total staff of approx. 13,000 permanent employees, including 4,700 scientists, plus around 11,000 non-tenured scientists and guests. Their budget for 2006 was about €1.4 billion, with 84% from state and federal funds. The Max Planck Institutes focus on excellence in research, with 32 Nobel Prizes awarded to their scientists, and are generally regarded as the foremost basic research organization in Germany and Europe.

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We are talking big potatoes for a country this size. Exploring Hamburg and the surrounding area will be a new adventure, challenging for both us in terms of language and culture. This is will be the first of several posts based on my sojourn here. And I have some catching up to do, so you will find me backtracking to do a couple more posts in Australia. Things have been a bit hectic of late, and I’ve been preoccupied. We are in a good place to write now, so stay tuned.

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