Hamburg - to me this city is one of Western Europe's best-kept secrets. I know this because when I talk to other North Americans at home and say where I live, they always wonder where it is. However, Hamburg is slowly growing in global travellers hearts and is starting to shine, as it should. Speaking of shine, what is actually slowly bringing mass tourism to the city is the famous 'Elbphilharmonie', almost a billion dollar project, it is now the star of the harbour and the city. Hamburg is developing quickly and gaining international attention, internationals are flocking here and making a new home base. Are you wanting to flock to Hamburg too? Then as an Expat, there are some tips about living in Hamburg that you need to know below.
Looking at Hamburg's Harbour and the Elbphillharmonie from Landungsbrücken station
Environment and Climate in Hamburg
Hamburg is a beautiful city with many parks, nature and with plenty of canals, lakes, rivers through and around the city. The centre of life in the city is at the 'Alster', Hamburg's lake in the middle of the city, and at the 'Elbe', a famous German river which flows to the North Sea. A popular leisure activity is walking or biking on the canals, around the lake, or down the river to our 'beaches' in Othmarschen or Blankense. Also, on warm days you can rent a canoe or paddleboard and explore the backyards of the rich by paddling down the canals all around the city. The plentifulness of water makes Hamburg very green, the flora and fauna are always well nourished and beautiful which makes the parks always a nice place to visit too.
When I said the plentifulness of water in Hamburg, I didn't just mean all the bodies of water, unfortunately, I meant the rain too. :)
Weather in Hamburg is what makes or breaks the city. if the weather here was nice 50% more of the time, the cost of living here would be even higher, and I am pretty sure unaffordable for most people. The biggest downside to living in Hamburg is the grey, sluggish, rainy weather which takes over this beautiful city a good percentage of the time. From living here for almost 4 years, here is my general overview of the weather per season.
Winter in Hamburg
The winter is mild, and in the city centre it hardly ever snows. The temperature varies from 8 ℃ to -10 ℃ at the lowest. Lots of rain, but also a few beautiful brisk sunny days. The glowing Christmas markets almost make up for the dark days.
Spring in Hamburg
I like spring. Flowers are blooming, people are smiling again, and the rain is not soo bad. Temp's from 10 ℃ - 25 ℃. This is when the grilling in the park season starts. May and June tend to beautiful.
Summer in Hamburg
Ok, the past 3 years I've had pretty bad luck for nice summers in Hamburg. The summers have been really rainy, and slightly depressing. I am being honest here, but 'Hamburgers' say that this isn't normal. It's normal for me though. However, when the sun shines it's almost heaven. Temp's vary from 14 ℃ to on GOOD days 31 ℃. Again, lots of rain.
Fall in Hamburg
The city is littered with gorgeous coloured fall leaves, and on sunny days the city has a golden glow. However, it also can get dark and gloomy and the days start to feel short. Temp's are from 16 ℃ to 3 ℃, it still rains.
FYI: I am not a meteorologist, this is just my overall feeling about the weather here.
Springtime in Hamburg at the Alster at Hayns Park in Eppendorf.
Culture and Lifestyle in Hamburg
Ok, glad I didn't scare you off with the rain part. I'm happy you kept reading. If Hamburg's only thing was rain, people wouldn't live here. The reason people live here is also because of the unique culture and lifestyle. Hamburg's isn't all glitz and glam, we have culture, underground scenes, and wonderful places to spend your evening.
Nightlife & Dining in Hamburg
Hamburg's nightlife scene is unique itself, and it has one of the biggest and most famous party streets in Europe. It's called the 'Reeperbahn' pronounced RAPER-Bawn. Yes, it doesn't sound so nice to an English speaker, but this long street and the area around has hundreds of bars, clubs, and plenty of debaucheries. The tourists love to flock here, and it's not to be missed. However, there are nicer places to go for a drink around the city such as quieter areas in St Pauli, Sternchanze, Neustadt and in quieter neighbourhoods like Ottensen and WInterhude .
Dining around Hamburg is an expensive activity, but there are plenty of places to try. Since the four years of living here I have seen the foodie scene become more modern and westernised, however, it has a far way to go compared to some western countries. My favourite places to find a restaurant is in my neighbourhood, Eppendorf, or Sternchanze and Winterhude. I could list many restaurants but let's save that for another post.
The 'Schanze' in Hamburg
One of my favourite districts for Nightlife and Dining in Hamburg is how the locals call it, 'Schanze', which is referring to Sternchanze. Sternchanze is the centre of culture in Hamburg, with artistic graffiti which you might see in Berlin on the buildings, young and old hipsters walking the streets and endless cafe's, delicious restaurants, bars and clubs. On the weekend people stand outside kiosks and bars, drinking beers and cocktails and make their way down the street visiting many eclectic bars and clubs. Foodie lovers love to come here to enjoy hole-in-the-wall restaurants and fine dishes.
The Best Neighbourhoods in Hamburg to Live
The best neighbourhoods are in the west of the Alster and just above it or below it. As I said before, the city life is centred around the Alster Lake. There you have lovely neighbourhoods and quarters such as Winterhude, Eppendorf, Eimbüttel, Rotherbaum and Neustadt. Some other nice places are Uhlenhorst, Hafen City, Ottensen and Altona. These places still have a lot of old-style buildings filled with charm, plenty of leisure activities, dining, schools and easy transportation. The prices to rent here are much higher, but the lifestyle in these districts almost make it worthwhile.
Fitting in and things that might be weird to you
Oh.. let's not forget this. Hamburger locals have their own way of saying hello - instead they say 'Moin' or 'Moin Moin!' depending on their mood. I am not sure how this came to be, but almost sounds like a squished down version of 'Morgen' (Morning in English) but they'll deny it if you ask that.
A street in Eppendorf, a neighbourhood in Hamburg.
Transportation in Hamburg
Let's make it simple if you live in the city centre of Hamburg you probably don't need a car unless your work is outside of town. The U-Bahn, S-Bahn and buses make it very easy to travel around the inner city. I find that everywhere takes at least 20 minutes, because you usually have to always go around the Alster to get to the other side. The U3 U-Bahn is famous for its scenic ride through the city and is one of the first things you should do to check the whole city out. The trains and buses come very often, and on the weekends run all night. A transportation pass can get expensive depending on how many zones you need, but if you commit to a yearly pass you are entitled to a discount.
Flights out of Hamburg
The airport is lovely and easy to travel too as it's directly in the city, but finding a good deal is usually slim to none unless you travel during the week and use EasyJet or Ryan Air. There are some international Cross-Atlantic flights, but they mainly go just to New York. All other international flights usually transfer through Frankfurt. In the summer there are better flights, but they tend to be very expensive.
Being an International Expat in Hamburg
Finding a community
The international community is very large because we have a huge port with big international companies. It's easy to find friends if you use social networks like Facebook and join the many groups available such as Expats in Hamburg or Creative Nights (if you're into crafting). This is actually how I found most of my friends while being open and meeting new and like-minded people. There are tons of events and meet-ups to join, and I highly recommend doing this to prevent getting homesick or lonely.
German is needed
If you don't already know German, get started. Hamburg is very international but not everyone knows English. Learn the basics before you come, and sign up for a German course at the local Volkshochschule (Community College) when you're here. The prices are the cheapest and there are many classes to fit anyone's schedule. Trust me on this one. If you want to hang out with German's and really become one of them, you have to know their language, as they are not always very open to making new friends, especially non-German-speaking ones.
Finding a Job in Hamburg
It's not so easy to find a job here if you don't speak German and/or English isn't your mother tongue. There are many jobs that require just English in international companies and in new tech start-ups, but they expect your level of English to be very high and the same level as a native. If you speak German fluently then there are many many doors open for you whatever your second language is. My tip is to sign up for daily job emails from job posting websites, and make your keywords for jobs English & Englisch to find all English jobs available. Remember to have an open mind when it comes to your job hunt, think of the skills you gained from your job at home and how they could apply to a job in a completely different field here, as it's likely you won't be able to work in the same one.
Working Permits & Visas
This is a complicated one and needs a dedicated post. Don't think you can just show up and start working in a company when you don't hold an EU passport. There are laws, regulations, and it's always a major battle with the German bureaucracy. It's not easy, it's annoying and if you don't do it correctly, you can risk being kicked out of the EU for a long period of time. My best tip is to find a mentor who has gone through it and will help you to guide you through the steps. It's also good to do some research online and read government websites.
Cost of Living in Hamburg
Hamburg is one of the richest and expensive cities in Germany. However, it might not be expensive compared to where you lived before. To see the average costs of stuff in Hamburg, I find this page very helpful. You can also compare to where you were living before to see the difference. As the property is very expensive in the centre, most people choose to rent, as it is almost hopeless to buy something of your own.
Basically, if you want to live in a nice area, dine out regularly, enjoy a healthy amount of coffee and cake in cafes, make use of the fun nightlife and shopping, then you will spend, and you will spend a lot. However, no matter where you live you should always have a healthy balance of spending and saving. A number of free leisure activities in Hamburg make it easy to not always spend money on activities, but enjoy nature itself.
Speedboats are a nice way to visit a fine-dining restaurant on your lunch break if you can afford it ;)
No doubt Hamburg has everything to be the perfect place to live, in-fact recently it has been listed as a top place to live in the media. If you're not bothered by the rain, or maybe own a rain jacket and a sturdy umbrella, Hamburg can be your perfect place to live too. From green parks, endless canals, a metropolis centre and a huge port supporting a healthy economy, it deserves all the attention it gets. It is Western Europes best-kept secret, so if you are interested in a new international city to live in abroad, this might be your best bet.
For more of my adventures living in Hamburg and travelling abroad be sure to follow my blog.