Tag: Hamburg

Germany: One Year On

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Nürnberg old town

It’s strange to think that I’ve been living in Germany for more than a year now. I feel like this time has flown by in the blink of an eye! But my initial reaction to the country still hasn’t changed – I really love living here and the Germans make life so easy.

Here are some German situations that I don’t even bat an eyelid at anymore:

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Cologne Cathedral

Open invitations

Something that constantly surprised me at the start (and I admit, it still sometimes does) is that I got invited to everything. I must have been used to people being more exclusive and ‘invite only’ with their gatherings, because I found that Germans were the complete opposite – so warm and welcoming.

Dinners, barbecues, birthday parties of a friend-of-a-friend’s, it didn’t matter; I was invited along to them all. Even if the person that invited me was the only person I knew there and I felt like I was gate-crashing the event.

It didn’t even matter that I couldn’t speak German – time and time again I found that the whole group at the gathering would completely switch to English for me, even when talking amongst themselves. I was baffled. And totally charmed. Way to go Germany for making the Hobbit in the room feel completely welcome!

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Lüneburg

Street harassment…or lack thereof

One of the very best things that I have experienced since being in Germany is the lack of street harassment.

The pure joy I feel every day at being able to walk the streets day or night and not be whistled at, honked at, catcalled out of car windows or shouted at by leering men passing by is so damn great. And literally all of these things are what I had to endure on a daily basis even just walking down my own street back home. But this surprises no woman – we have all been through this and continue to go through this public victimisation regularly.

Of course, bigger cities in Germany may be a different story, but this is from my personal experience living in a small Bavarian city. It’s so nice to know that in some places, everyone can be left alone to walk, run and bike in peace.

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Old town of Heidelberg

Jeans are the uniform

If you don’t know what to wear, put on your jeans and you’ll fit right in. This is what I would have told myself a year ago when I was fretting about what to wear to a birthday party that I’d been invited to out of the blue.

In Germany, jeans are the uniform. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many people in jeans until I came here! I would say that everyone dresses in a very practical manner. If it’s winter, you wear jeans and a jacket and if it’s summer, you wear jeans and a T-shirt.

You’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you go out in shorts when it’s only (gasp) 20 degrees…this is from experience. (Although I’d be in shorts even at 15 degrees back in NZ).

I’ve also always been used to dressing up when going out, even just to have a drink at the bar, but here, there is no such unwritten social rule. So jeans and a T-shirt to the bar it is – and I ain’t complaining!

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Oktoberfest in Munich

The customer service is so bad that it’s good

It’s always been said the Japanese and Germans get along well because they have some cultural norms in common, but boy, customer service is not one of them!

If you walk into a shop and get a greeting from the shop person, that’s a good sign, but the majority of the time you will be ignored, or grudgingly served like it is the last thing that they want to do. I’ve been in places where the shop assistants are openly chatting across the shop to each other and ignoring customers. A friend once said to me that his bank bluntly told him that there is no customer service there.

This would normally be regarded as a bad thing…but as an introvert, I absolutely love it.

I’ve always just really hated being spoken to in shops. The worst case scenario was when clothes shop assistants would follow me to the changing rooms and call through my door asking if they should bring another size…and I cringed every time. But here, I’m left totally alone to do my own thing, at my own pace, without the weird pressure they put on you to buy something. It’s a godsend, I tell you.

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The old post tower in Hamburg

Supermarket Master Packer (SMP) status

I never realised that the bag packers at supermarket checkouts were a luxury…until I came here and saw that no such job description exists.

When you’re at a German supermarket, you have to have a plan of attack before you go to the checkout because this is war…a war between you and the checkout operator.

They zap your groceries through as fast as greased lightning and if you’re not ready to bag your items just as quickly on the other side, you lose the fight and hold all of the next customers up, your groceries mixing up with theirs. I know, I’ve been there. The horrors. So here’s what you do:

  1. Load your groceries onto the conveyor belt. Make sure your heavy items go first and your fragile, easily squished items like tomatoes and bread goes last.
  2. Get your fabric tote bags ready and open (come on, you’re not paying extra for plastic bags).
  3. Have your wallet at the ready. Preferably nestled under your armpit for quick access.
  4. Start bagging your items as soon as they get zapped, alternating items between your bags so they will each end up with an even load. (You’ll gain a few extra seconds every time the checkout operator has to weigh your vegetables/fruit and look up the price of the bread you’re getting).
  5. Pay quickly with cash (and not all with small change).
  6. Smile, wish them a good day and walk away with your finely packed groceries and know that the battle has been won. (A big explosion goes off behind you and you keep walking in slow motion without looking back).

 

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Europe’s largest Buddhist temple in Düsseldorf

What do I miss?

As I’ve mentioned before, the one thing I’ve really missed since living in Europe is good (and affordable) Japanese food. And Indian food. And Thai food. And Vietnamese and Korean and Chinese food.

I’ve found that a lot of Asian cuisines tend to get lumped together here, under the umbrella term of ‘Asian Fusion’.  And even then, it’s usually just low quality Chinese food with some Thai curry options and a side of suspicious sushi. If you’re lucky enough to find a proper Japanese restaurant with real Japanese cooks, it’s likely to be upmarket and very expensive. (Unless you go to Düsseldorf. Yes please!)

I just really, really miss these different cuisines! Of course bigger cities will have more authentic Asian restaurants with reasonable prices, but there’s not much hope out here in the smaller ones. It makes me realise how spoilt for choice we are in New Zealand with our melting pot of different eateries on every street corner!

 


So, did you like my post about some of my German experiences?

Any other expats got something to add to the list? Let me know!


 

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Hamburg: The Highlights

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Hamburg’s Coat of Arms

Over the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to be able to stay at my Schnucki’s house just outside of Hamburg, and we got to go into the city a number of times during my stay. So without further ado, here are my highlights of Hamburg!

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Hamburg Rathaus (Town Hall)

Hamburg, also known as the ‘Free and Hanseatic City’ is the second largest city in Germany and is located in the Northern region. Since being in Germany, I’ve found out that Germans are damn proud of their own city/region (they even have a song for every city) and Hamburg was no different – the coat of arms and Hamburg flags were everywhere!

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St. Michael’s Church

One of Hamburg’s most famous landmarks is St. Michael’s Church or ‘Michel’ as it is lovingly called by the locals. I’d been forewarned that Hamburg weather could be grey and overcast a lot of the time and most days were like that, but we did get to enjoy a few clear, sunny skies.

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Looking back on Landungsbrücken and Michel from the ferry

The Port of Hamburg on the river Elbe is the second largest in Europe and is Hamburg’s pride and joy. We got to go on a ferry tour around the harbour and although I couldn’t understand a word the ferry guide was saying, it was a really interesting ride. We got to see a lot of cranes, shipping containers, huge ships and tourist attractions like The Lion King musical theatre on the waterfront, complete with its own yellow Lion King ferries.

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As expected, the port was full of cranes, shipping containers and huge boats

We also went past the somewhat controversial Elbe Philharmonic Concert Hall, which was 110 metres high and located in the new urban development area of Hamburg called the HafenCity.

It was supposed to be finished in 2010 with an estimated cost of €241 million. Fast forward to 2015 and it is still under construction, with its scheduled opening date to be in January 2017 with an estimated cost of over €789 million. The building was also featured in the Miniatur Wunderland – but it was already finished in there!

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Elbe Philharmonic Hall

The Hamburger Dom is a huge fun fair held three times a year in Hamburg, and we were fortunate enough to be there for the Spring one. It’s known as the biggest and longest fair held in Germany and it was AMAZING. It was the type of fair you only see in movies and television programmes – filled with every fair stall and ride you could possibly imagine (I have a soft spot for fairs, festivals and circus’ and the like).

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Hamburger Dom

My Schnucki showed me a favourite sweet treat of his called Schmalzkuchen, which was yummy little bite-size doughnut balls that could only be found at these sorts of fairs. I also spotted the typical German Lebkuchenherzen biscuits, which were bigger than my face and iced with ‘I love you’ and other cute love notes. I’m determined to buy one of these one day and finish it all myself!

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Lebkuchenherzen

Aside from all of the yummy food, there were also rides…a lot of rides. The famous Wilde Maus rollercoaster, bumper cars, the Ferris wheel, water slides, illusion mazes and even a horror house or two. It was crazy to think how the fair staff set all of this up and took it all apart again after just a few weeks!

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Wilde Maus Rollercoaster

If you do go to Hamburg and you find that you are hungry, make sure to stop at a Jim Block. I’m not the biggest burger fan, but even Jim Block’s burgers won me over. They are so reasonably priced and tasted SO GOOD! I would recommend the JB Avocado or the JB Falafel – McDonald’s has nothing on Jim Block.

And if burgers don’t do it for you and you want a more substantial meal, go to Block House where you can get a slab of steak along with a massive baked potato and dollop of sour cream – lecker! Block House and Jim Block are both based in Hamburg, but have now spread to other cities across Europe.

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Alpen Hotel

Although I don’t think I would want to live in Hamburg city (too big and too ‘concrete jungle’ for me), I really enjoyed visiting and would love to do so again!

 


Have you been to Hamburg? What were your Hamburg highlights?


 

Hamburg: The Famous Miniature Toy Town was Mind-Boggling

I fell down a rabbit hole in Hamburg and I landed in a magical mini universe known as the Miniatur Wunderland!

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The Miniatur Wunderland is most famous for being the largest model railway in the world and it was immense. It had eight different sections based on Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria, Hamburg, Middle Germany, Scandinavia, America and Knuffingen Airport. The different regions all overlapped into one another and the model trains and cars would seamlessly travel through them all; even going under stairs or through the walls!

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Ski slope scene in Austria

The Miniatur Wunderland was located in the Speicherstadt, which was a part of Hamburg’s historic warehouse district. The whole facility took up three floors of the building and it included a gift shop, restaurant, workshop, special exhibition areas and of course, the miniature wonderland.

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Village scene in Middle Germany

The attention to detail in the Wunderland was just mind-blowing. There were replicas of famous landmarks like Neuschwanstein Castle, Imtech Arena, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, but what was even more mind-boggling was the miniature figurines of people carefully placed in all of these areas – over 215,000 figurines, in fact.

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DJ BoBo Concert in Switzerland

Every figurine was unique and every single one was doing something different. You really felt like God as you towered over their miniature world and looked at all of their individual lives. There were so many things going on and so many fine details in the dioramas that it was hard to take it all in – it was almost too much for my eyes!

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Traditional German Alphorn Blowers

You could tell the creators had a sense of humour through some of the scenes depicted by the mini people. If you looked really closely, you could spot hidden things far from reality like unicorns, fairies, superman, Pipi Longstockings and aliens in Area 51.

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Mischievous kids playing on luggage trolleys

It wasn’t all a perfect world though, because I spotted multiple road accident scenes, a house on fire with fire engines extinguishing the flames, police arresting party goers, injured skiers on the slopes and much, much more.

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No rest for paramedics in the miniature universe!

Another amazing area of the Wunderland was the Knuffingen Airport. It had a sophisticated flight simulation with over 40 aeroplanes which could take off, land and park at the airport. The cars and trucks of the airport ground crew all moved around the planes on their own accord; it was crazy how much it resembled a real life airport.

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Lufthansa Plane at Knuffingen Airport

A day in the Wunderland would only last 15 minutes, as the lights would glow red and dim at ‘sunset’ and darkness would fall, showing all of the 335,ooo LED lights of the buildings, roads, trains and cars in action. It really looked like you were looking over real cities and I could only imagine at the amount of time, money and effort that went into creating this miniature universe.

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When you’re in the Wunderland, you also have a chance to see the computer room where the staff are working. Over 64 computers power the place, and staff are constantly looking at multiple screens and controlling various aspects of the Wunderland. If I was working there, I would definitely want to be a part of the team that makes the miniatures!

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Soccer Match at Imtech Arena, Hamburg

Now, look at that Imtech Arena photo above and tell me it doesn’t look like a real stadium full of people!

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New Zealand boat docked in Hamburg!

The Wunderland is an ever expanding project, with plans to construct Italy, France, Great Britain and parts of Africa already underway. This place is an amazing piece of art and I am so glad I got to visit it! Photos really don’t do this place justice, so if you’re ever in Hamburg, you really need to go and see the Wunderland for yourself!

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If you want to see the planes, cars and trains in action, here is a video introducing the Miniatur Wunderland:

 


Did you enjoy the Miniatur Wunderland? Is it a place that you would want to see?