Hamburg - Photo: Pedro | FlickrCC

Hamburg – Photo: Pedro | FlickrCC

In Hamburg, you have to pay attention.

Things are moving here on the edge of time. A store doesn’t open at 9:59, it opens at 10:00 exactly.  People still have wrist watches not as an accessory, not as a nod to the 90s, but actually use them for their intended purpose. The train / subway / HochBahn is rarely, if ever, late. Only once in six whole months did I see a train come startlingly late (I would consider “startling late” ten minutes), and it caused panic to ripple throughout the crowd. Where is the train? How could this happen? When the HochBahn comes, it opens and closes its mouth within ten seconds and you better already be there to jump in. One time I made it, but my bag got caught. The doors do not wait for anyone or anything. Every four minutes it arrives and leaves. Time is important here, efficiency is important. Hamburg people cannot live on borrowed time, and there is something to respect in this efficiency.

In Hamburg, people stare at you.

Truly, stoically, painfully, everlastingly look at you. Never have a cold sore in Hamburg. Make sure you brush your hair. The staring, the (perceived but often not real) judgement, and the curiosity only increases between the elderly and the children. You feel 15 and awkward again in Hamburg. Why is everyone looking at me? They are not, in fact; everyone is looking at everyone else. Over the months, the stares don’t feel so strange or threatening. You begin to realize that the staring, the looking-for-longer-than-necessary-look is how people interact with each other here. It is different, it is uncomfortable, it can be unbearable and then… it isn’t. Eventually you will stare back.

In Hamburg, fashion is function over form. There are not a lot of bright colors or varieties of clothing here. Sensible black shoes, a Fjällräven backpack, a jacket that hits your knees that is both waterproof and windproof for the unpredictable dark winter. In some cases, this is a relief. You don’t have to fuss much about your wardrobe in Hamburg. It is easy to wear greys and blacks and the occasional pop of color scarf. You bundle up here. The extreme humidity in the summer means you sweat, but in the winter it means there is a sharper cold. Looking put together, clean, sharp, business ready is very important, but fashion in itself is not. Maybe it is the climate or maybe it is the culture… I can’t tell the difference.

In Hamburg, the food also does not confuse or surprise you.

Curryworst - Photo: Lucas Richarz | FlickrCC

Curryworst – Photo: Lucas Richarz | FlickrCC

It does what it is supposed to do, it does not trick you with misleading imagery. You will see sugar pellets on the tables, not “natural looking” sugar to give you the facade of health. Many, many, cured meats in sausage form line the shelves of the supermarket. Powdered chicken broth. Certainly most of the U.S. food isn’t good for you but we make an illusion that it is. Why bother? says Hamburg. You know what you are getting yourself into.

In Hamburg, people here are reserved but real.

Not constantly warm and inviting but absolutely genuine. They do not mix words, they mean what they say and say what they mean. It is not easy to have a “passive aggressive” attitude with a German person. They will not accept it or frankly understand it. Because of this cultural quirk many German people pride themselves with, you tend to build character and resilience living here, and don’t get the luxury of having things sugarcoated with false niceties. It is easy to miss friendliness and openness, but you know where you stand with people here.

In Hamburg, it’s clean and shiny everywhere, minus the cigarette butts.

Americans underestimate how much people still smoke in Europe. When we were flooded with propaganda about the dangers of smoking, Europe was laughing with a cigarette in one hand and some red wine in the other. Smoking is not “cool” here, it is common. A stress relief. A social engagement. An average part of your day. I have seen a mother smoke while holding a baby. I have seen kids who look no more than 14 light up for an afternoon puff.

In Hamburg, you will not find a tourist city.

I really love Hamburg.

Hamburg

Venice is flooded with tourists. Berlin. London. These are the cities people want to flock to for the culture and the atmosphere, but not Hamburg. Hamburg instead is an economic wonderland. Rated number 14 in the world for one of the best cities to live in, Hamburg is thriving independent of tourism. It is a well-oiled machine. This place is a secure cocoon of prosperity, growth and problem solving while perhaps lacking in some spectacles that have tourists come flocking.

In Hamburg, people are tall and fit.

Not all, but quite a lot. You step off the plane and you are in the land of the giants. Testing my theory, the internet tells me that Germany is ranked the sixth-tallest nation, only to be overshadowed by literal neighboring European countries. These long and lean people are often into sports. Over and over I am asked, what kind of sports do you do? None, I say. And they believe I misunderstood the question. So many people here won the traditionally attractive gene pool award and would be considered extremely beautiful or handsome in the U.S. There are misplaced athletes and actors everywhere here.

In Hamburg, you better not have celiacs disease.

Forget everything I said about the food earlier. Throw it away. Rewind. I forgot perhaps the most important part of living here: The bread. Oh my God, the bread. German people have said that when they visit or move to another country one of the first things they miss is the their bread. Bakeries are everywhere, Dat Backhus, Brotgarten, Ditsch, Le Crobag (to name a few) all across the street from each other, all co-existing in some sort of heavenly, gluteny alternative world. How can everyone have the same consistent, fluffy, perfectly baked bread? How do they all have the same warm lighting to shine over the glistening loaves like newborn babies? It is no wonder everyone is into sports here. My belly gets bigger with delicious carbohydrates every day.

In Hamburg, your heart better be ready for a beating.

It isn’t a walk through the park (though they have some lovely parks here), it’s more like a jog through a crowded well-dressed city block. You have tall, intimidating buildings intermixed with pre-war ones. (Yes, that war.) You have these gothic canal ways in Hafen City, the alleyways of prostitution in the Reeperbahn, you have beautiful, rich, put together mansions on the waterfront, red tailed squirrels, so many jobs related to green energy, people helping you with your luggage up the (dare I SAY NEVER ENDING) stairs. Minimal homelessness. A hodgepodge of things that make a city vibrant and thriving and lonely and forgetful.

Loving Hamburg is not easy.

In fact, I don’t know if I would say Hamburg is lovable in the traditional sense of the word. However, particular captured moments of watching snow fall in November while riding a speeding train, helping an old woman down the stairs as she whispers gratitude in German, or me successfully ordering a pizza in a language other than English makes me grateful for my time in such a sensible, functional, puzzling and flourishing city.

This story was written by Sarah Miller to be shared on AirlineReporter. Sarah, originally from Seattle, WA,  is a freelance English teacher in Hamburg, Germany. She can often be found whining online, making YouTube videos reviewing children’s books, or taking day trips to fancy bakeries to eat her feelings. You can read more of her work via her blog Ham in Hamburg or on her Instagram. 

From time-to-time we will share contributions from others on AirlineReporter. If you have strong writing skills, a passion for aviation and a story to tell, then learn about potentially sharing your story and then contact us. [email protected]

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36 Comments
Andrew Taylor

I want to go!!

Delightful, well written essay and I wanted more. Went to Sarah’s blog to find a political rant. Sorry. At least it wasn’t published on the great AP blog. Thanks!

And the post before that is about mental illness! And before that, food. The joys of owning your own blog, I guess. Thanks for reading, Max!

Nice article! Well written and very interesting to read! Not to discourage you Sarah, but how is this part of “AirlineReporter”?! Just kidding, keep them comin, David……

Hey Suraj,

It is a valid question. I thought about putting an intro into this story, but decided to let it live on its own. This story resonated with me. For most of my travel, I am on the ground for one or two days max. I often think about what it woudl be like living somewhere longer. I have been to Hamburg a few times and if I were to live anywhere else, I think it would be there. I feel that there are many similarities to Seattle (where I live now).

So it is a stretch. Airplanes -> flying -> travel -> living somewhere. Top it off that Sarah is a friend and I wanted to share the story and here it is :).

Stay tuned. I will be sharing another story about Hamburg soon that is all about airplanes!

David

Wait a minute, something seems fishy….. David doesn’t usually reply as a “Guest Contributor”, he replies with his full name. I think I’ve spotted an impostor! ;p

I have to admit I am impressed Suraj :). Not to get too nerdy, but I am the owner of the “guest” account and get the comment emails. You can reply to the comments via the email you get (b/c the Postmatic system is pretty rad). However, it commented as the “guest” user vs mine. I saw it posted as guest, but was too lazy to fix it.

David

Sam Nishi

Sanka Sarah ~ Nicely done .. ..

When we visited HAMBURG about the first visit of the QM2, people lined the river from 3A and woke us up with all the flashes from the riverbank! When we docked, it looked like half the city turned out to watch the ship berth .. ..

Everywhere we went into the city, including the Bahnhof, pictures of the ship were everywhere and official postcards of the morning berthing were available that afternoon .. ..

Lovely city, and as you said, very functional .. ..

Danka, Samuel

I look forward to Sarah’s experiences in Europe in AR or her own blog. Excellent writing plus great images!

Thank you, Samuel! I really appreciate it!

Cute, but biased. Unless you are incredible short I would disagree with your opinion on the height of people in Hamburg. Very few are what I would consider shockingly tall and I am 5.7. Although people here do exercise more than the average american, there are plenty who are chubby, overweight and who don’t exercise at all.
As for your comments on tourism, you must not have done your research, as Hamburg is one of the top tourist destinations for Germans, and is typically crowded during peak tourist times of the year. How long have you lived here?
As far as fashion goes there is a strong sense of function over fashion in Hamburg compared to cities like London, Paris and New York City but you have missed the most import point. Subtlety. There is sense of style here but it is not in your face flashy, bold or eccentric. It is subtle, soft, elegant and beautiful. People here make an enormous effort in how they look and present themselves in public.

Hey Natalia,

I know Sarah’s is one of her perspective. I can say that I have been to Hamburg (and Frankfurt) quite a few times and as a 6’1″ guy I can tell you that I feel short when I am there. I don’t think it has to do with everyone is taller, but there are just taller people than in the US. Here, I easily am one of the taller people. There I am average.

David | AirlineReporter

David, your comment is precisely my point. Sarah’s piece is her opinion, and there is a difference between fact/fiction and a bloggers personal story.
You might want to check the Associated Press, they are a great resource for industry standards in writing and journalism that your publication could benefit from.
Lastly, David, as the editor, you might want to check your grammar before you post :(.

Ohhh my Hamburg! Thank you Sarah for your lovely and honest description of my hometown. But i have to say that in the tourist time of the year, there are a lot of tourists. And i would describe the fashion as typical Hamburg.

Thank you for this accurate and pretty funny/honest portrait of my hometown as well. Beeing born and raised here I can confirm your witty observations! Of course there is tourism in HH but the city is not flooded by it during peak time (unlike other international cities). Going to have some nice german bread now ;-).

Victoria Verani

Loved your humorous input of the city of Hamburg!! Looking forward to reading more from Sarah!
Victoria

Jeanne K.

Sarah – loved your post about Hamburg. Although I have never been there (unfortunatelyl), I would love to go. I think what I liked is that this is a true perspective from someone who is trying to make Hamburg your home and the slight difficulties that you are finding in doing so. I say “slight” because the delight that you find in other aspects of the city are evident as well. I will be looking forward to more blogs from you!

Carolyn Chamberlain

Your article makes me want to pack my bags and leave right now. It all sounds very inviting. You have a wonderful way with words. I think I actually see myself in one of those bakeries eating some fantastic looking bread. What a great experience you are getting and it seems as if you are taking it all in. You go Girl. You are an amazing writer.

Very interesting article when the opportunity arises I will visit Hamburg and make sure I walk the city and taste the food.

Thank you all for the abundance of kind words, criticisms, and thoughtfulness in reading and digesting my story! That really means a lot to me! I think looking at a city through several different lenses is important as ultimately I am only one person, and certainly I am biased. What a 29 year old middle-income white woman experiences in a city would be completely different if any of those denominators changed. What “tourism” means to me, could mean something completely different to someone else. Opening up a discussion and talking about it, and perhaps visiting the city yourself so you get your own experience is why I wrote this article in the first place!

To comment on some of your previous statements, Germany is the 6th tallest country in the world (from telegraph.co.uk, but of course that number changes within each article I read, and within each year it is studied, it always makes it within the top 10 from what I’ve seen though.), and the others from the top ten are neighboring countries. Must be something in the water over here!

Another comment about the tourism. I wrote this on the heels of visiting Venice and Florence with my mother. It was a CIRCUS over there! Living in Hamburg now for 9 months, I appreciate the more subtle approach to tourism that they have here. It is not Disneyland here, and that is something I’m GRATEFUL for. But also, to put it into perspective, Hamburg did not make it in the top 100 touristic cities people travel to. (http://brilliantmaps.com/top-100-tourist-destinations/, there are other similar ones as well!) However, the neighboring cities, Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt did. Lastly, I was looking at this from a global perspective. Natashia mentioned that this is the city GERMANS travel to, and that is very possible and highly likely.

Anyway, yes, obviously this article is written with a lot of emotions (I’m an emotional gal, after all) and my own personal experiences. I speak with about 20-50 new people a week (nature of my job) and I feel I benefit getting to know the culture in this way. I even sent this to a couple of Germans to make sure I was accurately portraying their city! Thank you all again for reading my work. It truly means a lot!

Sarah, thank you for following up and adding some needed corrections and information to your story. Ultimately, my point is, this is your story and we all see things differently based on our personal experiences. There is nothing wrong with that but it shouldn’t be presented as fact. You are a good writer and should keep pursuing your passion. I would also recommend visiting the Associated Press website and adhering to their standards in the future.
Hopefully it was just a typo but it is Natalia not Natashia ;).
All the best.

My apologies, Natalia. It WAS a typo! I don’t see a way to edit it in the original comment. This blog post was taken from my own personal blog, (where there are no rules, haha!) and certainly it perhaps could have been tweaked for a broader audience, add some sources etc. Something to keep in mind for the future. All the best!

Poe Phillips

Loved reading this article! I have lived in and travelled to many countries over the last 42 years, but I’ve never been to Germany. Reading Sarah’s insights about Hamburg have inspired me to take a trip there and enjoy what it has to offer.

Joanie Englund-Halle

Very funny & insightful article about Hamburg. Makes me want to go there!

Libby Sustachek

Sarah- I loved reading your article. I have never been to Germany; but while reading your article, I felt as if I was there. I love the way you describe people, food, social attitudes, and the normal every day life in the City. I have to say that you should travel the globe and write about different cities and countries. Your insight is wonderful! As usual your talent, whether writing or drawing shows through here.

Love this article about Hamburg! So informative and interesting! Really like the pictures that go along with it too. So interested to visit and see what the city is all about. It looks beautiful and less touristy makes it more enticing to visit! Thanks Sarah for writing it!

Great insight on the German way of life, the culture, and specifically about Hamburg! Makes me want to travel to Europe and investigate myself. Thanks Sarah!

Really interesting article about Hamburg–it sounds like a place I’d like to visit! I enjoyed and appreciated your honest writing, Sarah.

I really enjoyed reading Sarah’s commentary, observations and experiences. It really brought the city and people alive.

OliverTwist

Um, currywurst, not curryworst. Beside currywurst and breads, Hamburgers do like ‘Pommes rot-weiß’, meaning french fries with both ketchup and mayonnaise.

One thing I noticed about Hamburgers the most is their tiresome tendency to bloviate on and on, going off the topic too often. I persume it is due to their sea-faring heritage in the past when the sailors came home after many weeks or months at sea and shared their stories of travels with their families, friends, and others.

Interestingly, Hamburg is second largest city in Germany following Berlin. Lufthansa does not have large hub operations for international flights there. Lufthansa’s international flights are heavily concentrated in Frankfurt and Munich along with Düsseldorf in the distant third. According to Lufthansa website, Hamburg has just one direct flight to the North America: New York City. If Hamburgers want to fly to the United States or other international destinations outside Europe, they must change aeroplanes in one of three cities or peruse the codesharing airlines with additional stops or changes.

You know, you’re right about the airline situation. Many expats and I have talked about this. Having direct flights are always impossible. I did hear that Ryanair has now opened up a few European locations from Hamburg which makes flying easier than it was before, but certainly not easier when going back to the US still. Perhaps soon!

Smoking is definitively not common in Germany, it is seen as habit of the poor.

You may actually be right, but smoking here (specifically Hamburg) is much more abundant and common than it is in any of the US cities that I’ve lived in. Likely due to different rules and regulations. I was only mentioning this subject in comparison to the US. It’s entirely possible that compared to the rest of Europe smoking may be relatively low here!

OliverTwist

Bavaria has the strictest and clearest smoking prohibition rule in Germany: absolutely no smoking inside the buildings or any enclosed space such as tents, train wagons, buses, and like that are accessed by the public. No exception. No private or membership-based smoking clubs are allowed. Going to the Wies’n (Münchner’s term for Oktoberfest) with the smoking ban in place was amazing experience. One actually can see the ceiling inside the tents at last!

The other German states have various approaches to the smoking prohibition that can be very vexing and confusing. I shan’t go in length here.

Recently, the cigarette and tobacco packages must display the gory images of diseases caused by smoking. Hopefully, this would bring the percentage of smokers further down…

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