Hamburg, while technically a port city, is about 100 kilometers from the open sea. The river Elbe is its vital connection to the North Sea, a main thoroughfare for ships for trade and leisure. Hamburg brands itself as das Tor zur Welt (“the gate to the world”), a reminder of its heydays as a major player in the Hanseatic League.
Excerpted from a speech YG blogger Andrew gave at an official reception for international students in Hamburg this January. You can read it in full on Andrew’s blog Freetaste.
I am a student from another country, the Philippines to be more precise, and now living in Hamburg. And like some of you, I struggled or continue to struggle to speak German and to cope with the bitter cold winter. Like some of you, I like Franzbrötchen mit Streusel, bitte, but have never tried Labskaus. I can no longer say I am new to Germany. I first set foot on this country almost four years ago, not here in northern Germany, but down south in the small and beautiful university town of Freiburg, where I pursued my Master’s studies. Back then and up to now, as an international student, I still have the same worries: my visa running out, applying for scholarships, and wondering when I can finally hand in my thesis or dissertation.
I arrived yesterday and checked in a 0.5 star hotel, the nearest and cheapest one that I can afford near the train station. As they say, you get what you pay for. I didn’t expect five-star hotel accommodation. To begin with, I heard sirens when I made my reservation via phone. I did not expect that it is the same sound that would greet me as I cross the street to my hotel and that I would hear for the rest of the night. I heard somewhere that there was a demonstration last night. It must be that, or the police station and hospital is really near my hotel. The street that faces my window must be the route that connects the police station and the hospital to the rest of the city. If not sirens, it’s some shouting from across the street or the zooming of cars passing by that keeps me shifting from neverland and Hamburg. Is it for this reason they say ‘sleep sound’?
I am now writing my thesis, and what better way to proceed than taking a break in between? It was a coincidence that we traveled from the capital of then West Germany (Bonn) to Berlin which is now the capital of unified Germany. My first time in Berlin last March was marked by helping out a friend move in, and of course, taking the touristy route. This time, I spent the first day touring the city with my Ozzie. The days after were dedicated to discovering more of the city and its history.
A tug of shame bugs me in conversations concerning Berlin. Who wouldn’t be embarrassed if you had been in Germany for almost two years but had never set foot in the capital. But now, this is true no more. Thanks to my friends Omar and Billy who sought my generous umzug service. After ten of hours in and out of the autobahn, three stops, and driving through six German states, I felt worthy of proclaiming, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’