Comparing Hamburg & Rome

Since moving to Hamburg in January, I have been asked many, many times what brought me here, what I think of Hamburg (and Germany in general) and how it compares to our previous home – Rome. I’ve already answered Why Hamburg?’ , talked about my first impressions of the city and describe how and why I moved to Rome. Now I thought it would be fun to start sharing some of the similarities and differences I’ve noticed.

The short answer? Hamburg & Rome are really, really different.

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Let’s start with an obvious difference….

The weather!

Romans enjoy lengthy periods of uninterrupted sunshine. Of course it occasionally rains and there are cooler days, but on the whole, the weather is great. Even the cold winter’s nights don’t seem so bad when the days have bright blue skies. Early & late summer are gorgeous but during the peak, it gets incredibly hot, sticky and sweaty. Good night’s sleep become a thing of the past. Leaves shrivel and grass dries up to become scratchy, yellow straw underfoot. Mosquitoes guzzle on you throughout the day and night and your skin becomes an itchy, blotchy, bitten mess. Groggy students complain about how tired they are and suggest we just nap instead of learning (tempting…so tempting).

My first summer in Rome, I only had a bedside fan, amusingly shaped like a foot. It was the only one left in the shop and I was desperate! During my second summer, my boyfriend and I had air-conditioning and it was pretty great. Except our bills were sporadic and unpredictable and we were scared about overusing it. So alongside intermittent air-con use, fans were on constantly and windows wide open, desperate to catch a breeze.  Trying to dress in as little as possible, whilst maintaining professionalism, was a real challenge. After sweating like mad on the cramped buses and metro trains, I used to walk to and from lessons in a vest top and skirt, at the last minute pulling down my hem and putting on a cardigan before entering my students’ buildings. I still looked like I had swum there, thanks to my flushed cheeks and flattened hair but at least I didn’t look like I was hitting a club afterwards.

When we first moved to Hamburg, it was early January and….Yee Gods! It was cold. Dark. Icy. Windy. Wet. We had to really push ourselves to leave the house and explore our new city. Some of the photos I took in the city’s main park (Stadtpark) looked like they’d be taken with a dramatic black-and-white setting. Not the case, it was just that bleak! Then spring came and Hamburg blossomed (literally and figuratively). Luscious parks were suddenly full of flowers, plants and people; strolling, sunbathing, barbecuing, playing football and cycling. Boats and canoes travelled along the canals, many of which had frozen over during winter. The Außenalster lake became cluttered with sailboats.

Whereas Roman weather was far more consistent, Hamburg has been a rollercoaster of weather conditions (not dissimilar from my home country!). Here, only a fool leaves their house without an umbrella, cardigan and pair of sunglasses….just in case. Hamburgers really make the most of the good weather by socialising/being outdoors. Every Sunday, all supermarkets and shops close, encouraging the citizens to meet up with friends, go for long walks, out for lunch or dinner (restaurants and cafes remain open), exercise or just take it easy. One Sunday, I watched six episodes of “The Good Wife” in a row. It was raining and- wait, it was Lazy Sunday, no excuses needed!

Even during the wintery months, Germans determinedly filled up cafes, bars and restaurants, regardless of the bitter temperatures and slippery pavements outside. On the other hand, Romans get so used to having months and months glorious sunshine and beautiful, cloud-free skies, that the winter comes as a bit of a shock! I remember one friend solemnly telling me “I will see you in March. Rome is too cold for me now”. It was November and she was getting ready to hibernate. And no, she wasn’t joking…

Another obvious one – food!

Italian is renowned as one of the best cuisines in the world and Rome has some fantastic restaurants. We followed residents’ recommendations, avoided tourist traps and dined at local places, run by Romans, charging only €20-€25 per person for a two-course dinner with a cravat of house wine. You can read about my favourite Rome recommendations here! Of course we didn’t eat out all the time. My boyfriend is an excellent cook and we enjoyed recreating classic Roman/Italian dishes and making the most of the high-quality ingredients available. So much is locally grown and sourced, which keeps costs down. Our weekly shop was lower than in Hamburg and we ate much more fruit and vegetables. We really focused on eating what was in season and buying from local markets.

However, what Rome lacked was a range of good international restaurants. Italian food is fantastic but variety is the spice of life (for me anyway). You could buy the spices, seasoning and pastes you needed at particular markets (our favourite being Nuovo Mercato Esquilino) but sometimes you can’t be bothered and want to eat out. There were a few good sushi restaurants, we always enjoyed burgers at Hopside and had other places recommended to us, but generally options were limited. In Hamburg, we are overwhelmed with international options! On our street alone, there’s an Italian, a Vietnamese, a Greek, a tapas and a burger place I want to try. That’s just what I can see from my terrace. Every neighbourhood is packed with restaurants from all over the globe and you could eat out every night of the year in a different place.

Finding good restaurants has been easy but food shopping more difficult. There are regular hijinks that happen when you shop in a foreign supermarket without a translator. I recently bought butter which inexplicably smelt and tasted like cheese, and once acquired a big lemon balm plant by mistake. I wanted mint but didn’t read the label properly. It’s not all bad though. I got some super cheap frankfurter sausages and upon biting into them, discovered they were filled with gouda. Tacky but tasty! When we first moved here, we made the mistake of food shopping exactly as we would have in Rome. When we got the receipt of our weekly haul, we blinked several times and wondered if the till had malfunctioned. We quickly changed our habits, getting almost everything from local supermarkets like Lidl, Rewe, Penny & Aldi. However, as Germany has to import so much fruit, the prices are much higher than what we paid before. One of the things I miss the most about Rome is the cheap and delicious spring & summer fruit; every greengrocer’s had mountains of magnificent cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, sharon fruit, strawberries and loquats.

There are some food similarities between the two cities. Both Italians and Germans adore gelato. I tried dozens of gelaterias around Italy, and have already visited several good ones in Hamburg. Eisliebe Eppendorf and Luicella’s are two of my favourites. Also, did you know Germans make surprisingly good coffee? Sadly espressos don’t cost 80 cents -> €1 like in Italy. Italian coffee is typically served black unless you specifically ask for milk. Cappuccinos are acceptable in the morning but frowned upon after lunch. Whereas Germans love milky coffees, whatever the time of day! I wonder how many milk cartons they get through a week. The German version of a latte seems to be 90% frothy milk with a dash of coffee. Their cappuccinos look similar and I can’t manage more than one a day (whereas I could have 4-5 espressos per day). I’ve started requesting black coffee with milk on the side but that is often served frothy & warm, or I am punished with little UHT milk cases (which no one likes).

Apartments

I have already shared the trials and tribulations we went through to find our HH apartment, whereas in Rome it was much easier. There, most apartments come furnished and landlords are very relaxed about contracts and legalities (surprise surprise). Some landlords and tenants are very old-school and would advertise vacancies on the street outside their apartment, or nearby lampposts, which meant you had to walk around the neighbourhood you were interested in, hoping to spot an advertisement or two. Luckily many of them also use Facebook, which is how I found our apartment. All in all, we were happy with it but it had its flaws. As Rome only has two metro lines (and a slow, often unreliable bus/tram system) it was essential we lived near a metro station.

Hamburg is more compact, with a very reliable public transport system, so we were able to be a little more flexible about location. Everyone likes an attractive home, of course, but the domestic sphere is really important to Germans; they prefer to buy their own furniture so their homes reflect their personal style. Germans spend a lot on furnishings and aim for their homes to look and feel welcoming and inviting – embracing hygge, like the Danes! We actually have a much bigger apartment here than in Rome, for less money. We are in a popular area, well-connected and have some perks like a dishwasher, terrace & washer/tumble dryer (that we didn’t have in Rome). Luckily our bills are now included in a lump sum with the rent – no more nasty surprises!

More comparisons to come…

The Curious Sparrow

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