A Modern Nomad
Two continents, six countries, eight cities, five different languages – I’d like to call myself something fancy like ‘a modern nomad’, but that’s impossible without sounding a little pretentious. I recall meeting a certain US American in Japan a few years ago, who once proclaimed himself to be ‘a child of the world’ and it made me think he was just that. The least snobbish, yet accurate term I can come up with is a permanent foreigner – I’ve been living abroad for a large portion of my rather short life and Hamburg is my latest destination-turned-home. I landed here almost a year ago and it was supposed to be a very short-lived affair – a little less than three months. As of yet, I’m still here. I’ve found that the more places you live in, the higher your standards and expectations become. Before you know it, your mind has turned into an unceasing contraption performing subconscious yet constant comparisons and contrasts. What struck me the most about Hamburg from the very beginning was that its own population seems to adore it to death – a gem of the North with an influx of people wanting to live here so large that housing is increasingly becoming a rather serious issue. For me as one of many foreign internationals, staying in Hamburg has become something of a personal experiment. Is it possible to actually have it all within the confinements of one and the same city? Naturally, the answer would be ‘no’ – just look at the weather! – but Hamburg has its ways of making up for what is lacking. With its abundant parks and greenery, and plenty of water to reflect a wonderful, though sometimes weirdly conflicting architecture, it’s certainly pleasing on the eye. It doesn’t lack in historical attractions either, though during the next Long Night of the Museums I will definitely be skipping the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte. If you’re into shabby – there’s the trendy down-at-heel chic of the Schanzenviertel, and if you can’t afford to live there, you can surely be satisfied with a night out in one of its offbeat bars. A hipster? – you’ll be right at home in Altona and Ottensen. Party-type? – Reeperbahn and St. Pauli, as long as you can overlook the corner of Reeperbahn – David Str. Posh? – Perhaps a villa in Blankenese or a smart town apartment in the heart of Winterhude. And if that’s not enough variety, then there is the HafenCity, one of the biggest rebuilding projects in Europe, but with bricks and cobble stones that still give it a Sweeney Toddesque air after hours. With its new, however yet underdeveloped promenades and larger open-spaces, it is almost comparable to the Yokohama bay area with a touch of London’s South Bank. (Here’s only hoping that upon completion of one of its largest sub-projects, the Opera House, no one will end up like the famous Austrian architect Eduard van der Nüll). Isn’t that a little something for everyone? Beyond the beautiful surroundings, greenery, fairly good entertainment and a vibrant culture, for me the ultimate deal-maker (or breaker) is the people you share all of the above with. As an international, it’s always a challenge to integrate yourself and find the right rhythm so that you fit in with your new surroundings. The good news is that Hamburg embraces you, foreigner! With the exception of London and Edinburgh, of course, this is the only city I have ever lived in where only being able to speak English has not yet been a major obstacle. The general rule remains the same as everywhere else, however – be nice, and people will be nice in return (they will)!
(By Polly Hristova: language instructor at Institute4languages, April 2013)