What was it like growing up in Liverpool, a journalist once asked John Lennon. “I didn’t grow up in Liverpool,” Lennon replied. “I grew up in Hamburg.” – The Guardian
There might be two reasons why Lennon said that. First, because The Beatles started their career in Hamburg’s naughty neighborhood Reeperbahn before they became world famous; and second, because HH is… simply amazing! I personally love this city and wouldn’t mind to go back and live there (again). Okay, I know the weather sucks and rent prices is quite high for German standards, but there are ten of reason why you will easily fall in love with this beautiful port city – in random order.
1. Big green city by the water
Hamburg lies on Elbe river, near North Sea, and has the second largest port in Europe. Populated by 1,8 million people, Hamburg became the second biggest and one of the richest city in Germany.
True, Hamburg is a busy city, but living here is not as stressful as you imagine. During your free time, you could easily stroll around the city. Run, walk, or with bike, you will surely find place to spend your leisure time with peace and surround by green nature. Almost half of Hamburg, 40 percent to be precise, covered by green areas. On 2011, Hamburg won the title as European Green Capital.
Also known as the capital of German’s media, Hamburg is home for infamous Der Spiegel and Die Zeit. There are a lot of international big companies in Hamburg including Airbus, Adoby Systems, Google Germany, Nivea, and many more.
2. Cool and tolerant people, foreigners-welcome
In Leute von Hamburg (People of Hamburg), Siegfried Lenz said it was hard to find a native Hamburger in Hamburg. “A hurried and superficial search turns up only crayfish, people from Pinneberg, and those from Bergedorf. Heinrich Heine must have had the same experience when he tried, with his cultivated scorn and gifted melancholy, to find the people of Hamburg.”
That’s probably sums up my encounter of Hamburger in Hamburg, where I met zero adult who is actually born in that city. Most of people I know were born in some smaller town then moved to Hamburg for study or work, then settle-down there. That probably the thing that makes people are more open to foreigner (the city itself is quite international anyway).
Although people are more reserved here compared to Cologne, for example, but they are polite. I was maybe the only one from a few foreigners who live in the Poppenbüttel neighborhood, but my neighbors were very nice. They always smilingly greeted me “Moin, moin” when we passed each other, or simply rang bike bells if we were on bike.
My neighbors, an old couple who are really sweet, were helpful as well. One time I had electricity problem. I was cooking using hand blender and suddenly there’s small explosion on the plug. And just like that, the electricity in whole house was down. I didn’t know what to do and was also quite panic. I knocked their doors and the old guy was instantly came over and helped me to solve it.
3. Safe and clean, with relatively low crime rate
Germany is generally a safe country, and while crime in Germany exists, it is rather low-scale. Hamburg is noted as 7th most dangerous big cities in Germany, Berlin lays at number 3, and Frankfurt first.
Red district area Reeperbahn and its bohemian alternative Sternschanze are named as the most dangerous area in Hamburg. But as I at least hung out at that area at least twice a week (my first language course was located in Sternschanze and I regularly party at Reeperbahn), I never experienced anything serious. Yes, some friends had lost their phones (because they’re too drunk to be cautious) and one time I witnessed a drug dealing transaction at Schanze, and of course there’s many drunk guys at Reeperbahn on weekends that would naturally try to bother girls, but other than that it was fine. I felt it was safe to walk alone at night, went home by myself after crazy night, and so on.
To be honest, the news about refugees making problem were sometimes exaggerating. I was there when the refuge crisis started, so I can see the difference between after and before thousands – or millions – of refugees came to Germany, including Hamburg and Hannover. On Silvester (new year eve), we were encouraged to not go to the city center, because there was shooting threat, so I celebrated Silvester at my ex’s university bar. But the day after, I didn’t hear any shooting case.
The situation might be different now, but from what I heard from friends who are still living there, mostly it’s fine.
About cleanliness, Hamburg is clearly way neat compared to Berlin. I love Berlin, too, but it’s pretty messy in my opinion. Just go there and you’ll see it by yourself.
4. Great public transportation system
You’ll always be able to get home, even after party all night long in Reeperbahn, because the public transport works 24 hours. It is managed by Hamburger Verkehrsverbund (HVV), which has six lines of S-Bahn and four lines of U-Bahn, covered the whole Hansestadt Hamburg. The ticket price is quite expensive compared to others German cities. For 2 zone daily ticket, you have to pay 7,60 euro (2 zones). Monthly ticket is more economic, you can get CC Karte which is only valid from 09.00 until 18.00 for 61,40 euro per month (4 zones, I used this one), or get the full-price one for 105,40 euro (4 zones). If you want to check the detail, click here.
There’s no gate to enter train station, so there’s no strict checking on inner-city train tickets. However, they do a lot of random checking and you will get fine if you don’t own ticket. Funnily, most of
One time, I went home pretty late and at one of the stops, there’s announcement that the train has caught a fire so all passenger had to get out. It was a cold, windy night and I was still halfway home, so no chance to walk. Luckily, there’s special car that is provided by the transportation company to take us to our final destination. It’s a nice gesture. The public transport are mostly on-time as well.
This city also has most important railway junction on the route to Scandinavia. It has airport that offers international connection (no RyanAir, though).
5. Fancy residential areas
Both end of S1 S-Bahn – Blankenese and Poppenbüttel – are probably the best area to live in Hamburg, and the most expensive as well. The houses in Poppenbüttel are at least EUR 500,000, while in Blankenese it’s at least EUR 1,000,000 (based on information from my former host-dad and internet). Yes, it’s super-expensive to buy house in those area, but even if you don’t live there, you can still enjoy the neighborhood. For example, one of my best friend lives in Blankenese and the parents of my ex lives only 10 minutes from that area, so I often went there, strolling around the pedestrian-only streets and thousands steep stairs, enjoying the view on the side of Elbe, and so on.
I also love the lighthouse there, quiet area with picturesque view.
I evenenjoyed my morning walk from central bus station of Poppenbüttel to my house that was located around 3 kilometers away. Many times it was too cold to wait for bus after long-night partying, so I just walked and enjoyed beautiful sunrise on the way home. Since most of people who live in the area are families and pensioners, their garden are neatly took care of, which are amazing for flower-enthusiast like me.
The Reeperbahn is a street in Hamburg’s St. Pauli district, one of the two centers of Hamburg’s nightlife and also the city’s red-light district.
The Große Freiheit (Great Freedom) is a cross street on the North Side with several bars, clubs and… a Catholic church at the end of the street. To be fair, yes there are many pick-pocketers, sexual harassers, prostitutes, drunk people, and drug-dealers here. But it is the best place I’ve ever been party at and it was always fun to club-hopping there.
In the early 1960s, The Beatles played in several clubs around the Reeperbahn. In memory of this time, a Beatles-Platz was built at the cross of Reeperbahn and Große Freiheit.
My favorite is Irish Pub Thomas Read (they have live-music too!), Shooter (super crowded though), and for pre-drink I love Bar 99 Cent where I can get any kind of drinks – beer, caramel vodka, sambuca, tequila, even whisky – only EUR 1. Fun tip: take at least 3 shots of sambuca and you’ll be ready to party all night long afterwards. Ah, and most clubs are free for girls to enter, except at Thomas Read.
There is also a club that offers free salsa lesson every Thursday, Galeria Del Latino – love it!
Done with party, usually around 7 am, we went to Fischmarkt at the St. Pauli to eat breakfast: delicious sandwich with fresh fish!
7. Open spaces and outdoor activities
Hamburg has a wonderful botanical garden, Planten un Blomen – an 47-hectares urban park that located in the inner-city and such a perfect place for picnic, read books, or jogging. It also has tropical greenhouse (not comparable with Indonesian forest, though, for sure) and the largest Japanese garden in Europe – with a lake in the center and an authentic rustic Japanese tea house stands on its shores. Classic tea ceremonies are celebrated here from May to September. There’s rose garden as well, with around 300 different varieties of roses are planted here including historic roses, shrub and wild roses, climbing roses and hybrid teas.
The best part: it’s free entry (and I had a memorable second date there).
The other places I love to go for outdoor activity is Alster, both Außenalster (Outer Alster) and the Binnenalster (Inner Alster). The Outer Alster is surrounded by ancient trees, green parks and beautiful mansions of the Winterhude, St. Georg and Rothenbaum districts, which give the area a sophisticated, exquisite charm. In summer, the parks surrounding the lake are a great place to barbecue, enjoy the rare warm sun, or to jog around. You can also hire boats, canoes and kayaks.
Meanwhile, in Binnenalster you can just sit around with friends, have a beer and great conversation while examining the tourist and sailing boat activities on the artificial lake. It is directly in the city center, Jungfernstieg area with lots of shopping options and excellent Rathaus on the other side. From here, you can basically walk to other Hamburg landmarks easily.
8. The ‘Beach’ (Hafencity), Ariba, and Freibad
I am a beach person and I love water activity so much, that I often think that I was a fish (or turtle) in the previous life. Germany doesn’t have beach. Actually, the whole Europe doesn’t have any beach as nice as Indonesia does. The comparison is already out of context. So I tried to just accept the situation when I lived in Germany.
I moved there in summer, so when my host-mom says that we can go to the beach that weekend, I was really happy. Little that I know that the beach is a sad fake beach with dark-greenish water. It is called Freibad, like big outdoor swimming pool – complete with sands and spots to sun-bathing. Instead of being disgruntled, I decided to seize the fact that it was sunny that day and I can swim outdoor. Beside that, I look at the bright side: my country has best beaches in the world, so I will be always disappointed to go to other countries’ beaches if I expect the same level of paradise.
I went to Freibad a few times, as Hamburg is not known as the best place to spend your summer. The coast makes Hamburg has high percentage of rain, even in summer (especially in summer!).
So when it’s too cold to swim outside, I went to indoor swimming pool Ariba. It has warm and various kind of pool, hence I could swim even in winter. It’s open until 23.00.
Back to the fact that Hamburg is located on the coast, it has maritime vibes with the ports and huge Elbe river. If you happen to be at the Hafen, you can take a ferry ride with your pubic transport ticket and get off at Elbstrand. Again, for me the beach is ugly, and definitely not for swimming as there’s huge cargo ships that anchor near the ‘beach’, but it is decent enough to have an ice cream with friends.
One of the most famous Hamburg landmarks, the century-old Speicherstadt is the world’s largest warehouse complex that is located in the Freihafen (free-port) between Deichtorhallen and Baumwall.
The warehouse was built on oak piles in 1883 and since 1991 it has been given historic monument protection. In July 2015, it officially becomes UNESCO World Heritage Site.
10. Amazing cafes and restaurants
Sternschanze has numerous great cafes to hang out. Some recommendations are Zoe Couch Bar – a bar with sofas and vintage interior but quite expensive drinks – and Oma’s Apotheke that has super delicious meals with huge portion (to-go for brunch and dinner as well).
However, my runner-up coffee shop is Alex (Alster Pavillion), which lays right of the bank of Alster Lake. And my favorite spot is at the ground floor by the glass-wall, so I have the exclusive view of the lake that is literally beside me.
Meanwhile, my number one favorite coffee place is Coffee-to-Fly that is located near Hamburg airport. In the middle of the night, many landing strip lights and some air-crafts landing late at night. The cafe, with glass walls so you can see outside clearly, is on a hill that overlook the airport runway.
It was indeed such an amazing place to have your first kiss there with your crush, as the planes are taking-off and landed just before your eyes. Such a go for pleasant night out.
As addition, it is probably a good choice too to study in Hamburg, as the city has many international program in University of Hamburg, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, and Hamburg University of Technology. However, if you plan to move to Hamburg, it’s necessary to speak at least a bit of German for survival kit.
I hope you enjoy this long read article. See you on my next post.