Hamburg: First Impressions

I moved to Hamburg about a month ago now. I’m no expert and I shy to call myself a true Hamburger, but the city’s made a strong impression on me so far. Here are some of my thoughts.

Hamburg is a city of extremes.

“Good night, white pride” – anti-Nazi stickers like this are common around the city

The vegans are militant and the feminists are intense. On the far right end of the political spectrum, neo-Nazis beat up people on the streets and spew anti-immigrant rhetoric in the political offices. On the left, self-proclaimed antifascists turn abandoned buildings into refugee camps and community gathering spaces and glue anti-Nazi stickers in the subway stations. Even the weather is extreme – after a cool and drizzly June, this weekend hit 36 C (97 F).
Fortunately, while those who are extreme are REALLY extreme, the extremists are still somewhat of a minority, and most people are fairly moderate in their beliefs.


Hamburg is not Denmark


With nearly 2 million people, Hamburg is half again as large as Copenhagen (whose urban population is about 1.2 million) and the largest non-capital city in Europe. It has that big-city buzz like Copenhagen, but is geographically quite a lot larger. It’s bigger, cheaper, and more diverse than Denmark’s capital. And to compare Germany’s second city to Denmark’s second city? No comparison. Aaarhus is small, cozy and expensive. In Hamburg, there is a seemingly unlimited number of events to go to, from concerts in parks to free photo exhibits in museums to traveling circuses to flea markets to sport halls of every kind to bars, clubs and cafes.

Here is a vegan hamburger I got from a food truck downtown. It was extremely difficult for me to find vegetarian food in Denmark - here it's just a given.
Here is a vegan hamburger I got from a food truck downtown. It was extremely difficult for me to find vegetarian food in Denmark – here it’s just a given.



Hamburg is not Berlin

As Germany’s second-biggest city, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg has a major rivalry going on with its big brother, Berlin. Most people who live in north Germany have strong opinions about the two, usually preferring one over the other and willing to passionately defend their preference until you wonder what the big deal is, after all. The truth is, Hamburg is big, but Berlin is bigger. Typically the people who prefer Hamburg like it for the same reasons Berliners don’t: It’s smaller, it takes less time to get places, and you tend to run into people you know more often. Indeed, there’s a saying that “Hamburg ist ein kleines Dorf” – Hamburg is a tiny village. Although I wouldn’t say everybody here knows everybody, when I’ve gone out with Germans who’ve lived in Hamburg a longer time, we almost always run into somebody they know.


The Grünflecke near my apartment

I thought Berlin had the most “Grünflecke” (green patches) of any big city I’d seen, but Hamburg has it beat ten times over. Hamburg is full of trees, parks and bodies of water. While the port at the Elbe river is quite large and industrial, another bank of the river has a nice beach that’s a popular hangout place on nice days. The Alster is a large lake located directly in the city center, and its beyond-the-bridge counterpart, the Außenalster, is large enough for people to go sailing. Beautiful oaks and maples stretch over sidewalks and provide shade in park, many centuries old. Right near my apartment is a large green patch, not quite large enough to be called a park, where people regularly grill, exercise their dogs and toss Frisbees. And there are tons of rabbits!

Actually it’s called Schanzenpark. Screw adjective endings.

My Hamburger life

May and June were a blur of moving between cities, schlepping my things back and forth, and writing exams. After spending about 3 weeks sending out 20 emails per night on that infamous housing site WG-Gesucht, I arranged to come down to Hamburg to visit five apartments in one weekend in early May. As my housing contract in Aarhus drew to an end on May 30, I came back to Hamburg another weekend to move the bulk of my things over, then spent a week in Aarhus attending classes and living on friends’ couches from a suitcase, then moved officially back to Hamburg on June 8, where I spent the next week writing my last final exam. Only after then did I finally have a chance to breathe and start exploring the city.

Stadtpark, the largest park in Hamburg - a popular spot for grilling, playing football, and hanging out in the sun.
Stadtpark, the largest park in Hamburg – a popular spot for grilling, playing football, and hanging out in the sun.

I haven’t got a job yet because I’ve been dealing with an exceptional amount of bureaucracy trying to jump through the hoops necessary that I, as a non-EU citizen, need to legally work here. It has been a real nightmare of paperwork in German and offices with weird opening times. Example: By the time I finally managed to make it to the Bezirksamt before noon (when they close) to get my Aufenhaltserlaubnis, I found out the Ausländerbehordendienst was closed on Fridays. Undeterred, I made my way over to the Finanzamt, to pick up my Steuernidentifizierungsnummer (which should have arrived in the mail a week prior, but had not, due to the mail service being on strike), when I found out the Bezirksamt where I had registered myself wrote down the wrong date of birth on my Anmeldungsbescheinigung. So back to a different Bezirksamt, where the date of birth in question was corrected with surprisingly little adieu, and by then it was past noon and all the offices were closed, so I have to go back again on Monday.

A craft beer store situated next to a brewery at Schanze.

Some other awesome stuff I’ve done include:

Attended a feminist photography exhibit at the Kunsthalle

Ate a DELICIOUS vegetarian vegetable kebab, complete with feta cheese and lemon juice on top. If you get off the S-Bahn station at Schanze and follow the crowd and come to the street with all the falafel shops along it, it’s the one with the bright green interior – would highly recommend.
Found a bookstore in a bus

Took a free yoga class in an occupied building near the main train station. The building used to be a kindergarten and still looked for it, save for all the anti-Nazi and “refugees welcome” and pot leaf graffiti on the walls.

Got a sandwich and a chai latte for €5 – something that would NEVER happen in Denmark!
Saw many locked-up bicycles with their tires, handlebars or seats stolen
Went dancing in an actual abandoned bunker that’s been turned into a club (near U Bhf Feldstraße)

This is only the beginning of my adventures – I’m sure there are more to come. Keep on following my blog for more updates!

P.S. I made an Instagram account! Follow me for pretty pictures of Hamburg.


2 thoughts on “Hamburg: First Impressions

  1. Haywood Family

    Nice new post, Ali. I enjoyed your first impressions of Hamburg. I notice you never posted anything about your birthday. I hope you had a good time. I suppose what happens in Hamburg, stays in Hamburg, as they say.


    Sent from Windows Mail

    1. Alison Haywood

      Hi Dad, thanks for your kind words. Actually my birthday was during the week I was in Aarhus. I was going to throw a big birthday/going away party my last weekend there, but one of my classmates had a birthday that weekend and he threw a huge party and I didn’t want to compete. Plus I was pretty stressed over moving and I didn’t really feel like having a party. I had a quiet evening at my friend Kathi’s place and baked myself a vegan German chocolate upside-down cake. That cake was my first Instagram post 🙂 You can see it here:

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