Hey guys! Welcome to American Expats, a series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world. Next up we have our first Germany-based expat — Jordan! Jordan has been living in Hamburg, Germany, for almost two years.
Here, she talks about local German beers, the hip warehouse district, and how everything is closed on Sundays.
Jordan's background: Moin! (That’s ‘hello' in northern German slang.) My name is Jordan and I live in Hamburg with my boyfriend. I work in advertising, helping major German companies launch their campaigns on the international market.
I ended up living in Hamburg due to my German boyfriend. We met at a ball in Heidelberg, Germany, while I was doing my Master's. After doing long-distance for almost eight months while I was living in Scotland, we decided that I would move back to Germany as the visa process would be easier for me than for him.
On Hamburg's modern vibe: Hamburg isn’t your traditional German city – there isn’t an old town because most of the city was bombed during WWII. One of my favorite areas is the Speicherstadt. It’s the largest warehouse district in the world, and it's filled with gentrified warehouses, narrow canals, and bridges.
Fun fact – Hamburg has more bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined! We really are a water city.
On learning German: I know quite a bit of German as I studied it in high school. The only problem is that get so nervous speaking and have such a confidence issue!
Learning German is difficult due to all the crazy German grammar rules. Most English speakers find German to be a hard language to learn — it requires a lot of work to become fluent.
On making friends: At first, it was somewhat difficult meeting people — Germans are known for being hard to get to know. However it helped that my boyfriend is German and a lot of his friends’ girlfriends reached out to me and tried to include me.
I also joined a bunch of expat groups on Facebook and started attending meet-ups — it’s really a great way to meet people.
On local beer: Famous Hamburg beers include Asta Alsterwasser, Ratsherrn, and Holsten. Other popular northern German beers from the region are Jever and Flensburger.
On white asparagus: Spargel (white asparagus) is the “it” food from April to June and Germans go crazy over it! They make ‘Spargel' everything – soup, salad, meals, etc. I initially hated Spargel but now am completely obsessed.
On the relaxed lifestyle: Compared to life in the U.S., I think life in Hamburg is really laid-back. In general, Germans value a healthy work-life balance and employers encourage everyone to use all their vacation days. I never feel overly stressed at work or stay at the office really late. It’s expected that once you leave the office, you’re done with work for the day!
On German cultural quirks: Germans are typically reserved, which used to bother me because I’ve very extroverted. In general, Germans don’t do small. I’ve actually grown to enjoy it because I can get everything done quickly and in peace.
Other local customs are hearty breakfasts (I love them now!) and recycling. I’m so obsessed with getting my 25 cents back for every plastic bottle that I carry bottles around on weekend trips so I can get the money back.
On Sundays: I always used to forget that NOTHING is open on Sundays in Germany. I scraped by on some Sundays with very little food after having forgotten to buy groceries on Saturday.
On personal safety: Even though Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany, I feel 100% safe. The only crime you’ll see here is minor pick-pocketing instances. However, I’ve never had anything stolen and never feel unsafe as a woman walking alone.
On the cost of living in Hamburg: Hamburg is one of the most expensive cities in Germany – there's a lot of wealth here. However, it is still cheaper than living in the most major cities in the U.S..I’d compare the cost of living in Hamburg (especially rent prices) to those of a Midwestern city.
On transportation: I usually get around by public transportation or by foot. We don’t have Uber here but we do have a taxi-like service that uses an app called “mytaxi.” My boyfriend has a car but we hardly ever use it – parking is horrible and expensive in Hamburg, and the public transportation is quick, efficient, and runs almost 24/7.
On great Hamburg neighborhoods for expats: I absolutely adore my neighborhood of Eimsbüttel – it’s mostly inhabited by young adults, couples, and families. The neighborhood is very central and easily connects to the rest of the city through public transportation.
I love that I can go out to other parts of the city at night, have a great time, and then come home to my quiet neighborhood. It really is the best place to live!
Freiburg, Germany — a beautiful city in Southern Germany.
On traveling in Germany (and beyond): I love exploring my backyard. The long-distance train connections are amazing and I can get almost anywhere in Germany in under four or five hours.
As far as Europe goes, I think I’ve been to almost 40 European countries in less than five years. Gotta take advantage of all those cheap flights!
On living in Hamburg long-term: My boyfriend and I plan to start a family in a few years and maternity leave is a huge incentive to stay in Germany. I would get 14 weeks paid in full (six weeks before the birth and eight after), plus another 12 months at two-thirds of my salary. My boyfriend would also get two months of paternity leave at two-thirds of his salary. Considering the U.S. doesn’t have any paid maternity/paternity leave, it’s hard to be convinced to start a family in the U.S.
Additionally, I just love the pace of life here. Everyone and everything just seems a bit slower and more relaxed – there’s an emphasis on enjoying yourself and embracing your free time. I really like that and find that it’s not as common in the U.S.
Danke schön, Jordan!