How do I love thee Hamburg? Let me count the ways! As an expat it’s really easy after a while to just focus on the negative aspects of your new culture or country. And the thing is, we really do need to get things off our chest sometimes and we need other expats to complain to—this life ain’t easy folks! Every little day to day activity is more difficult in a foreign country, and even though many of us Canadians are descended from Europeans, there is still a rather elephant-sized cultural mountain between us at times. So, since Thanksgiving just passed (well the US one anyway) and Christmas is coming, I thought I would do my best to put on my hat of positivity and focus some of my favorite things about living in Hamburg, Germany.
1. Put on your walking shoes and your cycling pants. Walking and biking are such a huge part of the culture here that you have a sort of daily built in exercise system. I love that Europe is set up so much better for transit and walking and cycling in general. I mean, sometimes I get a little annoyed by the endless number of cyclists that almost run me down on a daily basis, but hey, they’re out there biking, they’re doing it! I applaud you! But really….I know you’re sophisticated and European and all, but shouldn’t you be wearing a helmet? Just a suggestion.
2. Just add water! There is something about living next to water that makes your quality of life that much better. Maybe it’s the idea of freedom on the horizon? The possibility of jumping on a ship away if you need to? I’m not sure, but all I know is that this one is a life saver for me. Really. Whenever I am stressed out I just find one of Hamburg’s many bodies of water, and we spend some quality time together. I’m lucky enough to live near Hamburg’s Stadpark and there is a lovely little lake in the middle that makes for perfect reflecting time, pun intended. They say that Hamburg has more canals and bridges than Amsterdam and Venice put together. Crazy, eh? You can also take one of the ferry lines as part of the transit system, so sometimes I just hop on, look at the view and relax. Maybe it’s the island or west coast girl in me coming out, but there is something about being on a ferry that feels like home. Sadly there are no BC Ferries chicken strips and Caesar salad on these little boats though, but there is beer.
3. Get your spray cans out. Graffiti and street art here in Hamburg provide me with little daily surprises. I had heard stories of the great graffiti and street art in Germany before even coming here and I’m happy to say that I haven’t been disappointed at all. I also know that Berlin has amazing graffiti, but Hamburg does not in any way fail to deliver in this department. I try to photograph it as much as possible since so much of it gets painted over or cleaned up so quickly, but so much of the great graffiti is along the train lines, making it much harder to get shots of sadly (but much more appealing to graffiti artist who want to show off their work.) You can look forward to a whole blog post about this later, with some of my favourite shots. I have also had the chance to learn a bit more about this whole sub-culture and it fascinates me. I can’t understand why graffiti is illegal really, but if it were legal would it be as cool? Hard to say….
4. Boredom is completely impossible. Expect the unexpected. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Hamburg resident say to me, “I’m bored. I have no idea what do to.” Or “That was a boring night out.” On the other hand I have heard, “There is SO much to do that I’m completely overwhelmed. I have no idea how to decide.” From gypsy techno remix nights, to opera, to street festivals, community runs, and an always bustling clubbing scene, Hamburg has something for everyone—seriously (just ask my cousin about the hard core chess scene here!) And hey, if you don’t feel like an event just walk around a corner and you’ll discover some funky cafe that you had never noticed before, or some cool neighbourhood, or some beautiful park. And the great thing is, that you don’t even have to be in a European mood—try the new New York burger joint, the bowling alley, a Hollywood movie in English (though sadly the English movie theatre, Streits, is closing down in March!). You just never know where your night may lead, trust me.
5. He’s got the whole world—in his Hamburg. This has been one of the biggest and best surprises and comforts for me since arriving here. I had no idea what a vibrant international scene this city had and how many wonderful friends I would make from all over the place. There is a deeply entrenched Hamburg community of quiet and reserved Germans who are difficult to get to know. I am sure once you get to know them, they are wonderful, but getting to that point is no easy feat. So, being able to make friends with people from all around the world or even just outsiders who have moved to Hamburg from other parts of Germany is not only fascinating and fun, but a necessity if you want to have friends…which most of us do. I love that on a daily basis I interact with people from places such as the UK, Australia, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan, Poland, the US, New Zealand, France, and so many more places. And I also love that I have a few Canadian friends here now that I can always turn to when I want someone to completely understand where I’m coming from and or someone who understands the word “toque” and what a “double-double” is.
6. Take the train! So, I fortunately come from a city with a decent transit system, but one thing I absolutely love about Hamburg is the fact that trains run all night on the weekends. Seriously Vancouver, what is up with all the trains finishing at 1:30am or 2:00am on a weekend? That one boggles my mind. You can easily live in Hamburg car-free and if you want to drive anywhere you can sign up for Car2Go and easily hop in a little Smart car for any car-related tasks or needs. Also, if you buy a monthly or yearly transit pass you can take the bus, trains and ferries and on the weekends you can even hop on the regional trains, take along a passenger for free and travel to nearby towns like Lüneburg and Ratzeburg. Warning—even though Hamburg has no machines to scan your tickets, you should aways buy one. I’ve had two friends recently get caught for not having the right transit passes—don’t take a chance of having to pay a €40 fine because playing the dumb “I speak no German” tourist sadly does not always work very well in this land of “well I speak perfect English and I’m guessing you’re not really a tourist.”
7. No safety vest needed! Sometimes I feel like I could walk around at 3:00 am by myself and never have a care in the world. Oh wait, I do that already here. Okay, as in any big city, you need to be cautious, particularly in certain parts of Hamburg late at night, but honestly, there aren’t really any “bad” areas of Hamburg, at least not in comparison to most big cities I know back home or in North America. I never thought that living in a European city would be safer than a Canadian one, but it sure is! People even leave their ground floor apartment blinds wide open here, revealing fancy computers and audio equipment for all to see. I mean, I’m even tempted to steal those bad boys. Sure, there is some crime here like in any city, but overall it seems the police have way too much time on their hands hence why you see them all on the Reeperbahn “policing” on the weekends.
8. Nobody parties like my Hamburg. Yah, yah, I know all those Berliners would say that nobody parties like Berlin, but I have yet to experience the Berlin party scene so I can’t make a judgement call there yet. One of the great things about partying in Hamburg is that you could actually have a wild and crazy night out and pay next to nothing if you go to the right places and perhaps drink a lot before you go out. Sure, if you want to party on Hamburg’s famous Reeperbahn expect to not only pay more, but potentially to be turned away from clubs for speaking English. I’m not even kidding, I’ve experienced this first hand. But, having said that, Hamburg is a seriously great city to party it. Expect to start late—Maybe 10 pm at the earliest and expect to go all night long…maybe even finishing up at the famous fish market first thing on Sunday morning. The thing is, you never know where your night could go, what kind of crazy party you might find and who you could meet. It’s always an adventure, and always a crazy good time.
9. Get funky! Oh if I only had a million dollars (that’s right Barenaked Ladies) I would go to every concert here that I could. I love that not only do so many big bands come through Hamburg, but also tons of great indie bands. In fact, music is one of the reasons I decided to come here. Sadly it’s hard to have the time and money for all these shows, and it takes time to get to know a new music scene and all the venues, but there is an endless supply and I’m happy to say, many great Canadian indie bands come through here too. I’ll be seeing Dan Mangan in Hamburg for the second time next month! Crazy, eh? I can’t wait to keep on discovering this funky music scene.
10, You are so beautiful…to me. Hamburgers (yes, people from Hamburg are indeed called Hamburgers) call this the most beautiful city in Germany, or sometimes, the world. I have to say that I think Vancouver has Hamburg beat in terms of pure physical beauty (how can you beat mountains AND ocean really?) but there is a beauty in Hamburg that goes deeper than just the physical. It’s a magical city. Sounds cheesy, I know, but there is something about it. No matter how tough living in Germany can be, Hamburg always finds a way to cheer me up and make me feel better. Sometimes all I have to do is go downtown, sit by the water and see the reflection of the city lights on the Alster at night and I am good to go. There is a lovely mixture of the old and the new. Hamburg has been almost completely re-built since it was bombed in WWII, but you can’t really tell at all. It still has that old European feeling to it. Whether it’s the water, the buildings, the layout….I don’t know, but it really is one of my favourite cities in the world.
This post was originally published here. Check it out for more pictures from Kristi’s Hamburg!