A day in the life: An English teacher in Hamburg

One of my greatest accomplishments to date is learning to wake up naturally before my alarm clock. I usually wake up around 7am and get out of bed immediately. I’ve never snoozed my alarm, due to a major fear of oversleeping (it happened once and it was horrendous!). My boyfriend wakes up later than I do, so I have around forty-five minutes to myself. I have the same breakfast every day as I’m a creature of habit: porridge oats with half a sliced banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I sometimes make myself an espresso in our moka pot, but I usually wait until I’m at work, where I get free tea and coffee. During breakfast, I try to ignore the neighbours stomping upstairs. Our bedroom and kitchen face onto a small courtyard so there’s no street noise, but our neighbours’ kids have a never-ending supply of energy and love to run, thump and hurl themselves around their apartment every morning and evening. They’re a strange bunch!

After breakfast, it’s the usual routine of getting dressed and looking presentable. There is very little decision-making in my morning routine. I’ve already selected my outfit, prepared and packed my lunch, organized my work bag and got everything ready the night before. As I only see my students once a week, I can get away with repeating outfits often (which works well with my minimalist wardrobe!). My usual outfit consists of a black skirt or black trousers with a smart top and a cardigan. I wear lots of neutral colours and items I can easily mix and match, along with layers to cope with the very changeable weather in the north of Germany.

I leave the apartment around 8am and it’s a short stroll to Kellinghusenstrasse U-Bahn (underground) station. While I walk, I reflect on how lucky we are to live in Eppendorf. This neighbourhood is a prime location in Hamburg – it’s an attractive, affluent area with large houses, elegant architecture and ornate balconies. There are some pretty parks like Hayns Park and Eppendorfer Park, along with canals that are popular with kayakers, paddle boarders and people in pedalos and canoes. It’s very convenient for transport too: Kellinghusenstrasse is connected to two underground lines and only twenty-five minutes from Hamburg airport. Lots of buses pass through the neighbourhood as well.

Outside the U-Bahn station, there’s a sea of bicycles. Hamburg is really bike-friendly, with lots of cycle paths and a city-wide scheme called StadtRad which lets you ride for free for the first 30 minutes. After that, it’s only 10 cents per minute. In the spring, there’s a pop-up stand near the bikes, selling organic strawberries, strawberry juice and wine. Between April and June, it transforms into an asparagus stand. White asparagus is incredibly popular here, although it in no way compares to green asparagus (we can debate that in the comments section!).

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I join my fellow commuters on the platform and board the train. I get a seat around 50% of the time, but as it’s only a 10-15 minute journey, standing isn’t a problem. The service is very reliable; trains run very often and delays are rare. There are four underground lines in Hamburg which overlap at different stations so it’s easy to transfer from one to another. It’s not a perfect system but having moved here from Rome, it’s a big improvement! I don’t need to buy a ticket as I have a monthly travel pass which covers me for two zones and costs €69. Luckily my boyfriend has a better travel pass (a Profi Card) which is subsidized by his employer and means I can travel with him for free across all zones in Hamburg’s public transport network. I listen to an audio book or podcast during the journey. The train carriage is very quiet; Germans don’t make much noise on public transport so you rarely hear loud conversations or phone calls.

I teach Business English to adults in-company, which means I travel to my students and deliver the lessons in their offices. I usually teach for six hours a day: a combination of 60 and 90 minute classes, between 8.30am and 5pm. In Italy, many of my students had to have their English lessons after work, whereas my German students insist on having lessons during working hours so we all get to finish earlier. Hurray! When I first moved here, I accepted courses all over the city, including in the suburbs, but now I prioritize location and convenience and most of my lessons are in the city centre. This has dramatically reduced travel time which is important because I don’t get paid to travel to lessons (unless the companies are really far away). Travelling from place to place can be annoying when it’s raining / snowing / windy (or all three!) but I do enjoy seeing the city and being in different locations every day. It’s given me a much better understanding of how Hamburg’s neighbourhoods fit together and I’ve become somewhat of an expert of the public transport infrastructure. Seriously, test me and I can wow you with my knowledge of bus stops and U-Bahn stations (how sad am I?).

Lesson cancellations don’t happen often, although of course sometimes people call in sick or have an urgent meeting that takes priority. The general rule is if a student cancels with less than 24 hours’ notice, the school can charge them for the lesson and I get paid. My students tell me their holiday dates weeks or months in advance, which is very useful as I am registered with eight schools and if I have some gaps in my schedule, I can offer the time slots to my schools and hopefully accept some cover work or one-off lessons.

I get off the train and walk to my first lesson. I usually have to sign in at reception or am escorted by the receptionist to wherever the lessons take place. Before I start, I grab a coffee. I try not to have more than two a day (a vast improvement on my daily habit of five espressos in Italy!). Kitchens are well-stocked with coffee machines and lots of herbal and green tea. Germans love coffee, although I was surprised to learn how milky they take it. A latte may be half milk, half coffee, and one of my students always drinks a large glass of warm milk with a single shot of espresso in it! I drink my coffee black, unless it’s particularly bitter and then I add just a dash of milk!

The topics of my lessons vary depending on the level of the students and what they want and need from the course. I teach across different sectors, including banking, real estate, logistics, law, IT and insurance. As it’s a Business English course, we look at language for meetings, emails, telephone calls, presentations and other business scenarios, along with reviewing and practising grammar, building their vocabulary, reading and discussing articles and doing listening activities. Lessons aren’t as heavy-going as they sound! I’ve been teaching my students for months and months, we’ve got to know each other well and have fun together.

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At lunchtime, I either eat in the office kitchen area or have an al fresco lunch on a bench outside. If I have time, I go for a walk around the Inner Alster, the smaller of Hamburg’s two lakes. It’s home to a large number of swans and you can watch the tourist boats travelling from the Inner Alster to (you guessed it!) the Outer Alster. Hamburg is a very green city – with 14% of the city covered in parks or gardens. It’s also very blue, with the River Elbe, the two lakes and dozens of canals. I usually bring my own lunch – leftovers from last night’s dinner or tabbouleh (my boyfriend and I could eat it five days a week and not get bored!). If I haven’t had time to prepare something, I get a mixed salad from Edeka (Hamburg’s version of Waitrose i.e. our classiest supermarket) which has a great salad bar where you can mix and match ingredients.

Alternatively, there are thousands of bakeries here. A Hamburg bakery is a thing of beauty as Hamburgers love all things bready and cakey! There’s all the usual stuff; fresh baguettes, rolls, croissants and loaves, along with a medley of different cakes, muffins and biscuits. The sandwiches are usually filled with sliced meat or cheese, but you can also find breaded fish and something called Mett. Mett is fresh, raw, minced pork served with salt, pepper and sometimes chopped onion. By German law, no more than 35% of mett can be made up of fat, so I guess that’s something. I’ve tried it and it’s quite nice but I couldn’t eat a whole sandwich of uncooked mince! The cakes are the real stars, especially the Franzbrötchen. A Franzbrötchen is a sweet pastry, baked with butter and cinnamon. You can get it with chocolate chips, almonds, sunflower seeds or jam but I’m a fan of the classic Franzy (as they’re known in our house). When you get one that’s just right, the perfect balance of flaky and caramelized, it’s divine!

I stop thinking about cake and head off to my next lesson. At the end of the working day, I either go to the gym or return home. I have a specific gym membership where I can do any of the classes but I can’t use the machines or weight equipment or the unisex sauna. I prefer the classes anyway and have no desire to be naked in front of strangers, especially as Hamburg’s not that big a city and I wouldn’t want to bump into any of my students in the sauna! Unfortunately my gym doesn’t have any branches in Eppendorf so I go to the one in the city centre.

In the evening, my boyfriend and I may go to the supermarket (we try to limit visits to once or twice a week). We normally go to Penny or Lidl, which are very affordable and have all the basics we need, but we are lured into pricier Edeka from time to time. For more exotic ingredients, we travel to an Asian supermarket near Hoheluftbrücke station, or Andrenaco which is an enormous Italian warehouse with an amazing array of meat, cheese, wine and other ingredients from Italy. As you can tell, my love of Italian food hasn’t diminished at all! I do miss shopping in open-air markets: the ones in Hamburg are much more expensive than in Rome, especially in our neighbourhood. We usually eat dinner between 6.30 and 7pm. Our go-to recipes include curries, stews, chilli, tacos, tabbouleh, pasta, stir fries and wraps. I say ‘Our’, but my boyfriend cooks the majority of the time. I learned very early on in our relationship that, although I enjoy cooking and am good at it, he is infinitely better. So now I’m the sous chef and washer-upper, although we have a dishwasher so I got lucky in this arrangement!

Our evening routine depends on the season. In the summer, we’re a lot more sociable and active, meeting friends for dinner and/or drinks, having barbecues or picnics by the water and going for walks. We like to go out near Sternschanze or in Eimsbüttel, two areas with more nightlife, bars and restaurants than our neighbourhood (which is very residential with lots of families with young children). In the autumn and winter, we invite friends over for dinner or drinks, or hibernate with Netflix and Amazon Prime. Of course we spend a lot of our free time planning our next holidays! I usually go to bed around 10.30 to 11, and listen to an audio book before falling asleep.

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What does your daily routine look like?

If you enjoyed this post, check out my ‘Day in the life as an English teacher in Rome’.

The Curious Sparrow

 

 

13 comments

    • I’m listening to “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss. He makes some good points about remote working, efficiency and productivity, but it doesn’t work well as an audio book as there are so many emails, phone numbers and website URLs that he dictates. I’ve just finished “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens which was really good. What are you reading at the moment?

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  1. I really enjoyed this! I love reading about people’s daily routines and also the cultures in other countries. I love the German language and culture and I always feel like I fit in really well when I’m in Germany!

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  2. Lovely photos which certainly show off how green and how watery Hamburg is! And I agree: there is no contest between green asparagus and the anaemic white variety which is grown in the dark and lacks the full flavour of the fresh green variety. The European mainland diners should just try English-grown green asparagus just once and they would agree!
    And I found reading your daily routine very interesting – the minutiae of other people’s lives often is!

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  3. I’m currently on a break from teaching full-time in the US. I love teaching but am over a lot of the non-teaching aspects and the disrespect from parents and students. I enjoyed reading about what your day is like and comparing it to teaching middle and high school in the US!

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    • I’m sorry to hear some aspects of your job have got you down; those aspects do sound draining and stressful. I enjoy teaching adults because they are more motivated to be there: it’s usually for their personal development or because it’s necessary for their job. As they’re older, they’ve been through school and university and have developed their own learning strategies and discipline, which makes it easier for the teacher. I hope things improve for you if you decide to go back to teaching!

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