I came to Hamburg on 1 October, right at the beginning of the Fall. When I look out my window today, it might be Autumn-like, but really this is midsummer in northern Europe. I’m used to this; my hometown of Copenhagen, just 300 km to the north, is a great city for many reasons, the weather not being one of them. I’ve almost come full circle as my Erasmus stay in Hamburg draws to an end, and for tba-readers, I will give some impressions on this North European pearl.
Hamburg is so green! The first thing that really struck me, on my way around the city, were the many trees that lined almost every street. In the Fall, the city was an amazing palette of colors. In the Winter, the snow highlighted the many bare branches, the Spring with its pink cherry blossoms was romantic and now, in the Summer, everything is full, lush and green.
When doing research on my future hometown back in Copenhagen, I made a note of checking out the neighborhood of Karoviertel, which is made up of Marktstraße and its adjacent streets. Labeling this the “street for creative capital”, probably done by “the creatives” themselves, could be an ironic comment on Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital, and this really is the place where people are not just from the creative class, but indeed the even more alternative, “creative” part of this social class. Here, it isn’t enough to spend your Sundays in the Kunsthalle or have membership at the Hamburg State Opera; preferably you ought to be spotted at the opening of the new, local pop-up gallery or playing old punk records at Golem on Saturday nights, while entertaining a little graphic print business on the side.
The street is packed with small designer boutiques, and this is where I’ve found it easiest to spend my Erasmus-funding, not just in the shops, but also in the cozy and unique cafés. Even though this could sound like a poser-paradise, it doesn’t feel fake. Many different kinds of people come here, and the welcoming attitude towards outsiders gives the neighborhood a vibrant and cool atmosphere. The social life on the square at one end of Marktstraße is a place I like to people watch. As the lawn is free of charge, there will usually be a group of homeless people sitting in one corner, accompanied by dogs and beer. Another part of the lawn is often occupied by Turkish families, having their Sunday picnic on blankets under the open sky, with children running around. The cafés, home for the brunch-goers and latte macchiato-sippers, are very popular and in good weather, people cluster together on the benches with the long tables, something you don’t find in Copenhagen.
Hamburg has many different neighborhoods, making it possible to always find one that suits your mood. Another place I’ve spent quite a few hours, is the newest addition to Hamburg, namely the much disputed HafenCity. The myriad flow of city life hasn’t yet begun to stir up this space by the harbor, and the main actors here are the shiny and uninviting facades of the new prestige buildings, reflecting themselves in each other and the water, but not the people – and then you, with the feeling of insignificance, but also of life and humanness as opposed to these cold, insensitive mastodons of rationality and sublime aesthetics.
Hamburg has a vibe of kindness and openness, and as a foreigner, one feels welcome. Other cities have given me the feeling that I’m left on my own, and that I better be on top of my game in order to get by. Whether it’s the easygoing and pleasant people, the inviting cityscape with its canals and many cultural offerings for its citizens or something in the water, I’m not sure. It is easy to be a foreigner in Hamburg, and if you want, you won’t stay one for long.
When I compare it with Copenhagen, I find that the counter culture has a more prominent place here, and it seems to be valued, also by those who are not a part of it themselves. This makes for a vibrant and heterogeneous atmosphere and brings more life and rawness than in Copenhagen. Here, you don’t have to run to keep up, but if you just gaze down at your own shoes, you’ll stumble. The rhythm of Hamburg is a solid, steady, pacing beat, which drives itself forward, always pushing a bit ahead, and as my year draws to an end, I become more and more open to hitting “repeat”.
Hannah’s hot spots
- Shopping: Kauf Dich Glücklich (Susannenstraße), Mono (Rosenhofstraße), YBDPT Studio (Marktstraße)
- Cafés: Panther (Marktstr.), Kaffeekontor (Schanzenstr.), Elbgold (Mühlenkamp), Café Gnosa (Lange Reihe, Pony Bar (Isabel Allende Platz)
- Art: Hamburger Kunsthalle, Der Kunstverein, seit 1817, Deichtorhallen
- Concerts and going out: Molotow, Uebel & Gefährlich, Golden Pudel Club and semi-illegal open air parties