Sep 252008

The nice thing about Star Alliance international frequent flier tickets is that they entitle you to a stopover, which makes for a much more interesting trip than just one destination would afford. Case in point: my trip in 2004, when on a free ticket I went to Israel for a week, and then on my way home stopped off in Frankfurt, from where I took a train into the Balkans. Each leg was incredibly poignant on its own, and together made for one of the most profound fortnights of my life.

Of course, not all of my trips are that long, and this past one was for just a long weekend. Also, I wasn’t allowed a stopover because I’d routed my ticket as an open-jaw, into Berlin and out of Hamburg. However it turns out that the rules let you have up to 24 hours in one place before it counts as an official stopover, so through some creative planning I managed to get myself a bonus day in London on the way home from my law school reunion in Germany.

Readers of my old blog know that I did a semester abroad while in law school, at Bucerius Law School in Hamburg. Bucerius is a fairly new institution, less than a decade old, and stands as the first private law school in Germany. It’s named after Gerd Bucerius, who was himself a judge. During the Nazi era he became frustrated at being co-opted as a cog for an unjust machine, so he resigned his post and worked as a lawyer to try to defend against it. When the war ended and the British controlled Hamburg, they recognized him as not being complicit in Nazi crimes and so awarded him a printing license. With that he started the paper, Die Zeit, and the wealth he accumulated as a result was then bequeathed to a foundation, Zeit-Stiftung, which funds many worthy projects, including the Bucerius Law school.

As a law student there were some opportunity costs in doing a semester abroad, like certain classes I didn’t get to take or extra-curriculars I didn’t get to pursue at my home law school while I was away. But on balance I am sure I came out way ahead by doing it. By connecting with this other school and community I’ve been able to become connected with people and law around the world.

And this weekend was a chance to meet with some of those people again. However, in my earlier account of my arrival in Germany I discussed my two failed errands in Berlin, when I failed to re-activate my German cell phone and also failed to locate an appropriate travel adapter for my laptop. Both of these failures really reflected a failure in packing, when I failed to pack my travel adapter for my laptop and also failed to include the paperwork with my phone, which, thanks to some post-9/11 German law, apparently was necessary to have in order for O2 to agree to turn it back on, but the upshot was that I lacked any sort of information technology to properly support my various rendezvous in Hamburg and London. Fortunately for the most part it all worked out anyway.

After arriving in Hamburg Thursday night I checked into the hostel at Landungsbrueken. Apart from it having a lock-out in the morning, I thought it was a decent hostel, albeit a little hard to find in the dark… It also included a decent German breakfast (mostly cold cuts, cheese, bread and butter). Friday morning I went to the school to meet up with some of the German friends from my time as a student there, who are now heavily embroiled in their year-long study for the Staatsexam. The Staatsexam seems to be like the bar exam on steroids. I tried congratulating them for having completed their degrees, but like every American JD realizes come graduation time when the bar exam suddenly looms, the degree itself seems pretty meaningless.

That afternoon began the events for the official reunion, beginning with a job fair that was followed by a reception. I then holed up in a computer lab to play with the Internet, which reminded me so much of my time as a student at Bucerius. I’d had no Internet at home, so I’d often stay late at school tooling around on it (I was apparently notorious for being tethered to my laptop). Though there have been some changes to the school since I left (including a new addition), as I left the other night, strolling down the quiet, dark corridors, it smelled, sounded, and felt just like it had three years before.

Saturday morning I saw my non-Bucerius German friends. Eventually as the German students move on with their lives I will know people all over Germany, but for now all my German friends live in Hamburg, including two that I know from Huey Lewis and the News fan circles. Before you snicker, however, bear in mind that my first visit to Hamburg (at the end of that 2004 trip mentioned above) was to visit one of them, and his having showed me around the city was what opened me up to the possibility of applying for the study abroad program there.

With my HLN friends there was breakfast in Portuguese Town, followed by a walk around the harbor area and then up to the Hauptbanhof via the ruined church (Germany often leaves orphaned steeples erect as a reminder of what their mid-century behavior had wrought). Then it was time to meet up with Bucerius people for a tour of a museum. We had a choice of three, and I chose the one at Ballinstadt, which I think is new.

As a port town, Hamburg was an exit point for Europe’s immigrant masses. Including the impoverished ones, who surged through the town to the local residents’ displeasure. Meanwhile a man named Ballin who, working for Hapag-Lloyd, decided to build a complex of dorms to feed and house these travelers as they waited to board their ships for America.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the museum. There seems to be a little too much patting themselves on the back for it to be perfectly believable. Maybe they are right; maybe the fact that the immigrants could be housed, cleaned, and fed as they awaited their journeys did make Hamburg a more desirable exit point than some other European ports. But I have always heard, including from my family, how miserable the whole excursion was in steerage, how there was no air and no food, and the museum seemed to gloss over those details. Not completely, however; an exhibit included an excoriating letter in Yiddish addressed to Mr. Ballin complaining about the conditions. I wish I could have read it, because I would have liked to know if the writer made any mention of Ballin’s own Jewishness, but in the end Ballin became a tragic figure. While his strategies for leveraging Hapag-Lloyd’s empty shipping capacity for the transport of people made him and the company a lot of money, the outbreak of World War I reversed their fortunes. The boats were seized for war reparations, and Ballin’s favor with the Kaiser was no longer an asset. A broken man, he killed himself.

At the computer terminals at the museum I tried to look up which of my relatives came through there. I’m sure some did, but I also think some left via Riga. There’s something very spiritual about being in a place long after my ancestors had been there and trying to see what it might have looked like through their eyes. But, alas, I was too rushed to linger, for next it was off to the waterfront for a harbor tour, a tour that I can best describe as “thorough.” At first it headed towards the open waters of the Baltic, and then for a change of scenery on its return it explored the canals and channels that ran through the Elbe’s ports. All of them, it seemed… The weather was great, so it wasn’t actually painful being out there, but after a while the sun and the waves started rocking us to sleep… and we had a big night ahead of us.

Once off the boat I ran around Hamburg somewhat fruitlessly thanks to some bad directions (the Germans’ revenge, perhaps?), then changed and hopped on a belated S-Bahn train with other Bucerius people for a closing dinner and reception at a restored mansion in the suburbs. The party only broke up at 11:30, and only because the party got broken up. Still festive and slightly inebriated we headed back to town to continue the party, leading to what must have been an amusing sight of several dozen suited lawyers racing for a train at 11:36 that we suddenly remembered was leaving at 11:37…

We found ourselves at a bar just off the Reeperbahn and down towards St. Pauli. In a sense I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t actually on the Reeperbahn, because when in Rome… Although I never really was one for hanging out there even when I lived in Hamburg. I think I went once at the beginning of the semester, and maybe once some other time. Still, at least the bars there sell the local Astra beer, as opposed to the one where we were that strangely didn’t seem to sell any German beer at all…

The next morning some people met for brunch, but I was headed off to continue my journey, catching an SAS flight first to Copenhagen and then, after a plane change in that enormous shopping mall of an airport, onto my bonus day in London.
Which took ages and ages to immigrate into. By the time I did, and by the time the Piccadilly line dropped me in Knightsbridge, and by the time I found the right exit, I was at least a half an hour late to meet my friend, whom I obviously couldn’t call to tell her I was running late. But thankfully she’d patiently stayed, and I got to catch up over coffee with yet another Bucerius friend who’s continuing her legal studies in London. A trained civil lawyer (she’s Chinese) this has been her first real exposure to common law, and it was fun to compare notes of what that’s like. Previously she’d never really had to read cases before, and we laughed about how they sometimes read like little vignettes — and sometimes fairly amusing ones at that. (Well, sometimes.)

That evening a friend I’d met at the Copyright History conference fed my stomach spaghetti and my brain lots of conversation on copyright. I really must start blogging more about these issues, particularly with respect to international copyright and comparative law, areas I find so incredibly invigorating. It’s partly why I keep going back to London — this was my third trip in a year — because there’s something about the English world I so desperately want to understand. Although I mostly specialize in copyright, all law fascinates me, and international comparative law especially. Law percolates up from the society it reflects, so to understand the forces of international harmonization (which bears, for instance, on how the US can spread its influence, or identifies what pressures seek to influence it), one needs to understand not just the mechanics of any particular foreign law, or even specifics of its substance, but the overall relationship it has with the society it regulates. And so I use England as a crucible for this sort of study, seeing how we share the same language, common law, and similar attitudes towards democracy and freedom, in order to note how, despite all those similarities, we are still so incredibly different.

By the next morning my 24 hours were nearly up, but before I turned back into a pumpkin I had time to race over to Liverpool Street to see yet another Huey Lewis and the News fan friend for coffee. This rendezvous, too, would have been well-served had I had any form of telephony available to me… But eventually we converged and had a nice chat before he headed back to work and I to the airport. Unfortunately I did not have enough time on this trip to continue my tradition of seeing a play and buying a new law book as I had on each previous London visit, but seeing how I’m a lawyer and exquisitely trained in how to wiggle out of everything, I’m hereby announcing that the tradition only applies to trips of greater than 24 hours…

As it was I checked in much later for my Air Canada flight than I should have. For that’s how I was routed, on Air Canada through Calgary and then onto San Francisco. This is one of the wonderful things about a Star Alliance frequent flier ticket: there are so many other carriers available than just United. And some of them are quite nice. Air Canada, for instance, had decent food and a nice in-seat on-demand video playback system, making the transoceanic flight rather enjoyable.
Unfortunately, in Calgary it all began to lose its luster. Here I was, feeling all recharged because I could travel the world, getting to think deeply and meaningfully about its condition and seeing all sorts of friends, and yet… And yet in Calgary I had to pass through customs, even though I wasn’t staying in the country, and security to board my connection even though that water they insisted on taking away from me was the very same water they actually had given me on the previous flight!

There’s nothing like useless security theater to ruin travel. Instead of the world feeling small, it makes you feel small, so aware are you of your powerlessness to resist an arbitrary and incompetent government. I do mean my own in this case, not Canada’s, but I was nonetheless unimpressed my Air Canada’s insistence that I fill out extra paperwork before boarding my flight back to San Francisco. They said it was the law, but I sincerely doubt it, and I think that’s what troubles me most.
I am a lawyer. I know law. Maybe not every law, but I do pay a lot of attention to as much law as I can. It is the filter through which I see the world, and my vehicle for connecting with it. My life is law, and law is my life. And yet, here I was, trying to board a plane after a long trip and being bullied by people wielding it stupidly.

It’s enough to make one want to stay home.

 Posted by at 9:19 pm

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