What is it like to move to Hamburg, Germany? To start a new life in a foreign country?
In the Ask an Expat series I interview people living all over the world but outside of their own country. I hope to inspire you while simultaneously paint an honest picture of the ups and downs of life abroad.
I really enjoyed this interview because like myself Brigitte has traveled a lot and lived in different, very interesting countries which has clearly taught her a lot about life abroad.
Expat life in Hamburg, Germany
Location: Hamburg, Germany
Home town: a small village in Zeeland, the Netherlands
“I have always been drawn to foreign lands. During my studies I spent two semesters in Scotland and Turkey, I volunteered in Tunisia and did two internships in Kuwait and Egypt. I enjoyed all these experiences, but I never really felt at home – with the exception of Kuwait. After spending a few months abroad, I was always more than happy to return to Leiden, my university town. I never pictured myself abroad long-term, but with the economic crisis and lack of jobs in my field, I decided I should be flexible and be open to any interesting opportunity – whether at home or abroad. I would have been just as fine with finding a study-related job in the Netherlands, but the job offers from abroad came first.”
“Because I had such a great time in Kuwait I had initially set my mind on a move to the Gulf. My flatmate at the time casually mentioned that the German economy was doing so well and that I should consider applying for a job in Germany too. So amidst the few dozen applications I sent to the Gulf, there were two for jobs in Berlin and Hamburg. I hadn’t expected much of it, but I was offered not only a job in Kuwait, but also in Hamburg. It was a very, very, very tough choice. Kuwait is one of my favorite places in the world and I wanted to go back so badly, but eventually I decided that the job in Hamburg was the more interesting one. I did not really consider staying here long-term, but half-way through my previous contract I was offered yet another job, with my current company. Three applications, two job offers: there is something about my profile Germans like! Initially I had planned to stay only six months, and now we are at 13 months and counting…”
What do you like about Hamburg?
“Life is so very easy here compared to my previous experiences abroad. At times I found living in Turkey or Egypt tough and in those days life seemed a continuous struggle; from the moment you leave your house until the moment you come back. It was not so much a matter of culture, it was more a linguistic thing. If you are unable to understand the people around you, life just goes past you, you will never really feel part of your surroundings.
Although my German is by no means perfect, I am able to communicate with my landlord, the municipality, the mailman, the technician, the bus driver. When the train is delayed I understand why and what I should do, when the bus takes a different route I understand the announcements. It’s these small things that make life abroad a lot easier. And although Germans are still able to surprise me every now and then, I don’t really face huge cultural differences. I understand the Germans much better than many fellow expats do, and I tend to react pretty much in the same way to things too. The difference is more in the details this time.”
What do you dislike about Hamburg?
“The weather! I always thought that if I were to move abroad, I’d go to some place with tropical weather. Instead in Hamburg it is often a few degrees colder than back home!
And housing is a real pain. It’s very difficult to find a place to live and the rents are absolutely ridiculous. Paying the rent breaks my heart every month. And although Germany is one of the most developed countries in the world, I sometimes have the feeling that we are still living in 1990 here: handling official matters online still isn’t an option in most cases, and flex-work is not a thing here either. Whereas in my previous job in the Netherlands I could regularly work from home, here everyone is required to be in the office from nine to five. For companies at the forefront of Internet developments, they really like to stick to old work habits!”
What is your favorite thing to do in Hamburg?
“Sightseeing! I try to devote at least one day a weekend to discovering new places. Hamburg is not really a major tourist destination outside of the Christmas market season, but the number of tourists keeps growing steadily. I am particularly interested in the more recent history, and I am always amazed at the amount of historical traces I see in my daily life. The Second World War for example is everywhere around you, from the countless monuments and plaques to the stolpersteine (a cobblestone-size concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution) under your feet.
Since I moved to Germany I also discovered the joys of barbecuing. I mean, I’ve barbecued before, but never so often and extensively as during the Hamburg summer.”
What is your favorite place to hang out (restaurant, bar, etc) in Hamburg?
“You can usually find me in one of two areas: Eimsbüttel or Sternschanze. I try to avoid the touristy Reeperbahn unless I have visitors, as there are too many drunk tourists around there.
My favourites: café Chakra in Sternschanze and La Paz and Maybach in Eimsbüttel. Dining out here is quite budget friendly in comparison to the Netherlands, and these places offer great value for money. If I want to imagine myself in the Middle East I go to one of the many shisha bars around here, such as LeVou in Sternschanze or Habibi near Hamburg University.”
What is the expat community like in Hamburg?
“Like in most countries I’ve lived in there is a real distance between the local community and the expat community.
Without knowing German, you don’t really have access to the local community. Although I do have some German friends I tend to hang out mostly with other Western expats. People come from all over the world. What I thought particularly interesting is how many South Americans live here. Before moving here I had never met anyone from that part of the world, but since then I’ve had colleagues from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru and many other countries, which is super cool.
The expat community is very active too, and there are countless activities you can take part in every day of the week. I myself organize sightseeing trips in Germany, which is always great fun! Communities such as Internations, Meetup and Couchsurfing have many members here, so it’s not difficult at all to meet new people.”
Any tips for moving to / living in Hamburg?
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes speaking German: it is a difficult language to master!
For many of us expats German is our third language, and no one expects you to speak it perfectly. But the more you practice, the less scary it becomes. In that respect German is like any other language really.”
Any resources you found useful during the process of moving to and/or building a new life in Hamburg?
“There are countless expat Facebook groups that I regularly consult, such as Expats in Hamburg and New in Hamburg. To practice my German I use the group Language Tandem Hamburg, where I found two lovely tandem partners that I regularly try my German on. Language exchange is a great way to get to know some locals and work on your language skills at the same time. And when you find a local you click with, learning a new language will no longer be an obligation, but actually something to look forward to!
The expat network Internations also has a large, active community in Hamburg.”
Is there something you just have to see or do when you are in Hamburg?
“Oh yes, plenty of things! You must walk around the Alster and the Altstadt, as that part is clearly the most beautiful part of Hamburg, and you must take a ferry across the Elbe from Landungsbrücke. Hamburg is a port city, and what better way to enjoy the harbor than aboard a ship! Don’t take the ferry cruises though, unless you want to throw away your money: there is a public transport ferry covering more or less the same route, for just a few euros.
The most beautiful building in Hamburg is the Rathaus (town hall), which you can visit with a guided tour every day. The interior is as stunning as the exterior, so definitely worth it. And if you are interested in World War II history concentration camp Neuengamme is just a bus ride away from the Hamburg-Bergedorf district.
If you’re not afraid of the cold, try to come in winter. The Christmas market season really is the best time of the year, super cozy! And if not in winter, then aim for summer. Hamburg is kinda gray the rest of the year!”
Brigitte is a Dutch researcher working and living in Hamburg, Germany. She blogs on The Life And Times Of A Dutchie Abroad about her adventures in exotic and less-exotic countries.
Hamburg has a well-deserved reputation as Germany’s Gateway to the World. It is the country’s biggest port and the second-busiest in Europe. It is also Germany’s second largest city.
The harbour is the heart of the city, however, Hamburg is also one of the most important media hubs in Germany. Half of the nation’s newspapers and magazines have their roots in Hamburg. And, unknown even to some locals, is the fact that, with one of the Airbus aircraft assembly plants, Hamburg is a major location of the world’s aerospace industry, right after Seattle (USA) and Toulouse (France).
Its location allows it to compete with Amsterdam or Venice with the number of canals, most of which are actually former small rivers and streams regulated to allow the sprawling city to expand over their banks. And on top of that, Hamburg has more bridges (over 2,300) than Amsterdam, Venice and London combined. There is plenty to enjoy in Hamburg, both in terms of views, culture and the general high standard of living Hamburg grew to be known for.
And yes, The beef patties on a bun were named after this city, where presumably they were invented. 🙂
For more information about Hamburg: Wikivoyage.org
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