A harbour for everyone
A very close London friend approached me to learn about Hamburg’s character and whether it may make it onto his shortlist of London alternatives. Here you go, British and Irish folks and anyone else who fancies a change.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Samuel Johnson surely was not aware of the spiralling rents and the Pre-Brexit situation many Londoners are facing in 2017.
I have spent unforgettable years of my life in the British capital before I made the decision to pack my stuff and move back to Germany – Hamburg to be exact. Two very good friends of mine, both Londoners themselves, are contemplating the many pros and cons of Europe’s cities which may provide a new home to them. They’ve asked me to share my wisdom and feelings on Hamburg so I shall try my best now to lure them in my hometown for the next visit (or for good 😎).
Let’s start off with some small talk around mankind’s most popular topic. The weather is just as great and just as bad as in London. Exposed to the breeze that comes across the land from the North Sea Hamburg’s weather is always on the move. Winters tend to be pretty dull in heart-warmingn grey and wet melange accompanied by a nice and constant drizzle.
That’s perfectly fine though. Hamburger (yes, that’s what Hamburg people are called 🍔) speak of proper rain when it splashes at them horizontally or even from below.
You don’t get the harsh winters of Berlin (blistering cold) or the thick white blanket of snow that covers the South of Germany every winter.
Means you probably end up with just as much snow (none) in the summer as in London. Summers are amazing in Hamburg – it can get fairly hot (30 degrees if you’re lucky) without the mugginess or smog you sometimes have to endure in London.
Hamburger might come across as bit reserved or even up-tight first, being scarce on words. Once you’ve made your connection they are very talkative and welcoming though. They show a great sense of humour ranging from dry to sarcastic what certainly resembles the Brits. Don’t expect the British politeness and the graving for a neatly organised and straight queue. It’s not like a chaotic pile of people yet our queues are probably a bit wonkier than yours.
Hamburg is a very liberal and open-minded city. Must be its DNA that has been shaped by international trade and its harbour ever since. To be fair our little town (1.8 M) is not as international as London or Berlin yet it provides a great mixture of people of all kinds and colour.
There is the posh chaps and yuppies around the Alster Lake, Othmarschen and Blankenese the equivalents to Kensington, Chelsea and Primrose Hill heads. There is the homeless chaps as well as left-wing blokes triggering riots every now and then and proper punks across Altona/Pauli/Schanze preferably – remember this year’s G20? There’s the full-bearded hipsters, the green minded Birkenstock mums&dads pushing their prams through the park living up to the Stokie (Newington) dream. There’s the elderly original Hamburger sirs and madams who have some stories to tell and wisdom to share.
As we learned Hamburg is a fair bit smaller than London which means you won’t find the same quantity of things to do and see, yet the very same breadth and diversity. You can munch your way through world cuisines, give in to the burger hype, enjoy fresh and mouth-watering fish and indulge in local craft beers before you finish off the feast with a Mexikaner shot.
The main character of Hamburg can be witnessed in its marine atmosphere. As it’s Germany’s most important and Europe’s number 2 harbour you will soon realise there’s loads of big ships, boats mcboat faces and seagulls around the piers and the Alster Lake right in the heart of the city.
If you fancy a trip to the sea consider yourself lucky as Hamburg is situated right between the North Sea and Baltic Sea means you can dip your toe into the salty goodness within 1.5 hours from the city centre. There’s even a cheap, convenient, yet slightly unhurried train connection straight from the central train station.
One lesson to be learned. Don’t move to Hamburg if you fancy breathtaking and successful football. You don’t get that in the North of Germany. Move to Hamburg if you fancy a club that swallows millions of Euros every season with little to no success over the last years (HSV). Or come here if you fancy a club that is notorious for its amazing fans, liberal spirit and intensive atmosphere in the stadium, just a stone-throw away from the even more notorious Reeperbahn.
Picture Hamburg as one massive liberal cake, the Reeperbahn would be the cherry at the top. It’s certainly a tourist and stag-do trap that attracts voyeurs and connoisseurs likewise. It’s a stretch you keep visiting when your friends are in town, but there’s undoubtedly more attractive corners to explore.
The St Pauli district, Sternschanze (Schanze) and Karoviertel have a nice vibe due to their many bars, pubs, cafés, restaurants and shops. So does Ottensen which is not quite as commercial and gentrified as Schanze, yet I fear it’s just a matter of time.
The Stadtpark, Planten un Blomen and Jenischpark are just few of Hamburg’s green lungs offering wide and open fields for amateur footballers and other athletes, proper foresty bits and a stunning observatory that has just been refurbished. You get the beautiful contrast of urban and rural-like sites – a lot of green to fill up your nostrils and lungs with fresh air like you wouldn’t find it in the inner zones in the British capital.
Wonderful museums such as the Kunsthalle, Deichtorhallen and the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe as well as extraordinary theatres like the Thalia Theater and Deutsches Schauspielhaus form a solid block of cultural excitement.
Mesmerising architecture and venues like the Rathaus (city hall), Laeiszhalle, Elbphilharmonie mean eye candy for the beholder – and more importantly supply us with the most excellent music. So do the smaller indie, electro and hip hop clubs scattered across the districts mentioned a few paragraphs before.
Remember the weather that can be actually quite pleasant? There’s loads of beautiful canals and the always popular Elbstrand. A long beach along the bank of the river Elbe where you can spend hours just enjoying a good read, a few drinks whilst watching the impressive cruise and container ships pass by.
If you’re still thirsty on your walk home through the residential streets with plenty of beautiful somewhat Art Deco styled houses stop by in one of the corner shops or stumble into a pub. You won’t find the glorious British/Irish pub culture here, yet Hamburg pubs/bars tend to be very casual and -yay- are open till (very) late.
Hamburger love a good brick building just like Londoners do. Besides the aforementioned and popular high-ceiling Art Deco houses you’ll find loads of brick buildings which are often converted council estates. Unfortunately there’s a trend towards an extremely monotonous architecture style as Hamburg is pretty eager building as many flats as possible.
Fair enough, having worked nearly 10 years in the creative industry you won’t find anything like London. The British epicenter may be even Europe’s or even the world’s top spot for creatives and digital workers. Nonetheless Hamburg has a great variety of small graphic design studios and larger digital design/new media players such as IBM, Xing (German LinkedIn), Facebook, Google, Dropbox, mytaxi, Twitter to name a few.
Germany’s most relevant publisher houses are based in Hamburg spanning from magazines like Der Spiegel, Stern (Gruner+Jahr), PAGE and brandeins to Hamburg’s most famous newspaper Die Zeit. Not to mention the various TV shows like Tagesschau and Lanz that are produced in this lovely corner of Germany.
It’s a wrap
I love London to bits. It’s a fixed star for design professionals, a paradise for art and culture and a sinkhole for dizzying rents. Hamburg can tick a few of these boxes on a smaller scale. It’s certainly just as diverse, contrary, but more laid-back, slow-paced and liberal on the other hand. The housing is certainly better value for money.
It is a funny mixture of ingredients that are rooted in the well-ordered, familiar (non-Bavarian) German way of life, yet complemented with the element of excitement for the new, the European idea what moves the city forward and makes it so appealing to new arrivals.
I am new to this (medium). I have been living and working in Hamburg for nearly 4 years. I usually prefer to keep my thoughts short and simple, hence you might prefer my twitter @johoham where I capture bits and bobs around design, Hamburg and silliness.