We have lived in Hamburg for three weeks so I thought I would describe our time and experiences here so far. The first few weeks have been challenging, especially at the start. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. You’ll get the honest truth, not the sunshine & rainbow version. Maybe someone reading this has just changed city/country/job and is feeling overwhelmed and miles out of their comfort zone. I felt the same way. Fortunately, things are getting easier. In hindsight moving to another country in the middle of winter wasn’t my smartest idea, because we were immediately plunged into short days, long nights, cold temperatures and having to resist our natural instincts to hibernate, sleep or watch back-to-back episodes on Netflix.
When we landed, in early January, on a grey, cold morning with dark storm clouds overheard, got a taxi from the airport and lugged four suitcases up five flights of stairs (!), I admit there were flashes of ‘Oh my God, what have we done?’. Quite a few flashes actually – giving a strobe lighting effect. Leaving Rome – where we felt very settled, where I had a work contract and a set salary, where we had a wonderful group of friends – to move to a brand new city neither of us had even visited before felt like a huge leap into the unknown.
We have been staying in an Air B&B apartment over January. I know many people use Air B&B nowadays but for those who haven’t tried it yet, I really recommend it. Ian and I have used Air B&B for about 90% of our holidays together so we are definitely converts! It is a great way to experience living in a city as a local. You can rent a room or your own apartment. We do the latter. You get to unpack your bags, spread out and enjoy the whole apartment (as opposed to a single hotel room). Most apartments have a fully-operating kitchen so you can choose to have some meals at home, which reduces costs. You can use the washing machine (great for holidays as it means you can pack less and wash things as and when). You can go to the supermarket, which is one of my favourite things to do when abroad. I like finding new food to try and it is a good way to start learning some new words! Many Air B&B hosts include essentials like shampoo, shower gel, toothpaste, towels, bed linen and kitchen basics. Our host went beyond that – there was food in the fridge and cupboards, lots of spices and seasoning, a cupboard full of kitchenware, pots and pans, lots of toiletries – so we only needed to briefly pop to the supermarket for a few extra ingredients on our first day. Which was good as it was pouring with rain!
During our first week, I did some cover lessons, had some interviews and visited some schools to introduce myself in person. Wisely, I had started applying for jobs and sending out my CV months before and had already had some Skype interviews, so many of the schools were already familiar with me and I was able to quickly sign my freelancer contracts. Having some work lined-up in that very first week gave my days structure and helped me to start to get my bearings in the city.
In my free time, we have explored. We’re staying in Eimsbüttel, which is a really popular area with lots of restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and bars. We have explored Eimsbüttel quite well, along with nearby neighbourhoods Sternschanze and St Pauli. We are enjoying the international restaurant scene – tasty, juicy bacon & cheese burgers at Otto’s Burgers – I got mine with sweet potato fries and a side of guacamole. Really good coffee and a rich, dark, nutty brownie at Less Political. A big, steaming bowl of pho with our friend Kat at Cucci (Thanks Kat for patiently translating almost the entire menu for us!). Along with cocktails and beers at The Boilerman Bar with our friend Domenico (and his friend Angelo), who was visiting from Rome. The Boilerman Bar has the motto: No dogs – Lions are welcome! Sadly we saw no lions, this time. We also went for a really delicious kebap at the well-known Sel’s Kebap.
We have done some sightseeing but will save some attractions for when my parents visit in February. We have been to the Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015.
The Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus District
We have enjoyed a few beautiful sunsets by the Harbour (I have a thing for sunsets as you’ll soon learn!)
Hamburg is an incredibly aquatic city, with a large port, lakes, canals and the River Elbe. Apparently there are more bridges here than in any other city, and over 2,300 canals (more than Venice and Amsterdam combined!).
Despite some good food, nice exploring and a surprisingly smooth transition into working as a freelancer for five language schools, our first few weeks have definitely brought some struggles, stress and tears! Little things just took so much more time and energy than expected. For example, I had ordered a phone SIM card online, before we moved, but it never arrived so I needed to find another SIM card ASAP! I chose Aldi Talk, as I had heard their packages were cheap and simple. Getting the SIM card was less so! The day we went to Aldi, the pavements were covered in ice, hardly any grit had been put down and so we perilously crept our way along, clinging to buildings, cars and each other. Isn’t winter fun? At one point, I slipped and fell hard on the pavement. In true British form, I staggered to my feet, kept calm and carried on to Aldi, shrugging it off to show Ian how strong and brave I am (
although I was crying on the inside).
I must point out that Ian and I don’t speak much German at all, beyond a handful of simple words (Ja, Nein, Bitte etc). Luckily many people speak English in Hamburg, especially in customer-facing roles. However, our cashier in Aldi did not. She was desperately trying to explain something to me but I had no idea what and no one in the queue around us could
or wanted to translate. A queue of 15 shoppers formed behind us – not tutting or throwing things (yet…) but growing impatient. Fortunately after about five minutes of fruitless sign language, a kind stranger travelled down the snaking queue to come to our rescue. Vielen dank!
So, mission accomplished. I got my SIM card. I have since opened a German bank account with N26, bought myself a monthly travel pass and we have found temporary accommodation for February & March so we won’t be homeless! Hurray! In my next post, I will tell you all about how incredibly complicated it has to find accommodation here. And how baffling ticket prices for the public transport system are (although the system itself is very efficient, easy-to-use and punctual. Which, after Rome, is an absolute delight!). In a future post, when I have legally registered my presence here AND organised my health insurance AND my pension AND got a tax number for my invoices AND found a tax advisor, maybe I’ll tell you just how fun all those bureaucratic hoops and hurdles were….
Ciao for now,
The Curious Sparrow