Hamburg’s Christmas Lights

Warning: This post is photo heavy!

One of the things I love about Christmas here in Hamburg is all the gorgeous Christmas lights. They make the cold and the dark at this time of year seem worthwhile. Therefore last Sunday evening armed with my fancy new camera I headed into the city to try and capture them. What I learnt is that I still have much to learn about photography. Still I got some pretty decent shots.

Looking across the Alster at Sunset


Going for the art-house look


Rowers out on the Alster

I don’t think I could ever get sick of this view

Merry Christmas in multiple languages

My beloved Rathaus


A Christmas Tree of Light

Another art-house shot

Fairy lights strung across the street

Football German-Style

I can now tick off another thing on my German Integration Checklist: Attend a local football match.

Fellow expat Scott (@papascott) invited me to join him at the HSV vs Stuttgart match last night and of course I jumped at the chance. I loved watching the World Cup and had, subsequently, wanted to attend a Bundesliga match.

It was a chilly and damp winter’s night but that didn’t stop 48,223 fans from turning up to a game in the middle of the week. But even with that many people it didn’t feel overcrowded. We arrived an hour before game time which gave us time to leisurely grab a drink & in my case a pretzel before heading to our seats. It also gave Scott time to warn me about what was about to happen – namely a local celebrity King Karl being hoisted up in the air on a cherry picker to sing HSV’s pre-game song ‘Hamburg, Meine Perle’ (Hamburg, My Pearl) during which all dedicated HSV fans stood up and waved their HSV scarfs in the air. It was, let’s say, an experience.

Despite being up in the top section, we had a great view of the game.

The camera makes it seem so far away but we had no problems seeing the players and the ball and regrettably the HSV players forgetting that the main aim of the game is to take the ball with them and not leave it behind.

Scott also pointed out to me the pen in which the opposing team’s fans are kept.

That’s them there in red with the line of police in fluro. Sorry about the somewhat blurry photo. The sad fact of German football is that to help prevent violence the opposing team’s fans need to be kept separated from the rest of the stadium. There were only about 500 Stuttgart fans in attendance, but what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in noise. They spent the entire game banging on drums, singing and chanting. I guess you need to be a pretty hard core fan to come all the way from Stuttgart for a mid-week game.

The game itself was pretty exciting. The teams were fairly evenly matched, both of them being at the bottom of the Bundeslinga table. Whilst the HSV team could get the ball to the goal, they just couldn’t get it into the goal, much to the disappointment of the fans. When they left the field at half-time after Stuttgart scored a late goal, the HSV fans actually booed their own team. I have to admit I have never seen a team’s fans actually boo their own team, but the HSV fans were not happy – and I can’t blame them.

During the second half, tempers were frayed on the field with a Stuttgart player getting a red card for what looked like a minor scuffle and a HSV player got a yellow card for trying to start a fight with a Stuttgart player. However, up in the stands the fans were kept happy by the mobile beer sellers.

Unfortunately the score line remained at 0:1 so I never got to see how HSV fans react to their own team scoring. However, it was nice to note that language is irrelevant at a football match ‘Yeahhhh!!!’ and ‘Awwww! are universal. As are hurling whatever abuse you feel like at the ref that missed an obvious foul.

Getting back to the train station was almost as exciting as the game itself whilst the arena tried to deal with over 48,000 people trying to leave all at once. Waiting for and then trying to get on the shuttle bus involved a fair dose of humour as we were basically herded like cattle. Fortunately, despite the loss, the cold weather and the large amount of people, everyone was laughing and I saw no aggression or even yelling, just good humoured comments about all of the above.

Thanks Scott for a wonderful night out! You might make a HSV fan of me yet.

The Only Constant

The quote ‘Change is the only constant in life’ is once again ringing true for me. Today is/was my final day at the job I have have for 7 years and the job that moved my life from Australia to Germany. It’s a big change, a massive one even. From my second day in Germany I have gone to the same office every weekday, seen the same faces regularly on the U-Bahn, gotten my mandatory Coke at the same supermarket and basically had a very comforting daily routine amidst all the upheaval of learning to adapt to life in a new country. Now that is all changing.

Alas, I don’t have news of an awesome new job which prompted all this change. I left my job in part because I felt undervalued and unappreciated. Regretfully my now former company chose to show me just how little they valued me. I have learnt some really tough life lessons, especially this past week, and now move on into the world a little wiser and a lot less trusting than before.

I do, however, have a plan, such that it is. For the first two months of the upcoming year I will be a full-time German language student at the Goethe Institute in an attempt to drag my German from barely conversational to business level. It is going to be a very tough 2 months, but one I’m looking forward to. Unfortunately, evening classes were never going to be enough to get my German to the level I need it to be to find an awesome new job here. Therefore if I wanted my job situation to change, I needed to make that happen for me. It kinda feels like burning everything to the ground in order to rebuild it.

So lots of changes are happening and all without the safety net of having a steady reliable income. I’m excited and, if I’m honest, also scared about what 2015 will have in store for me.


It’s not just Advent Calenders that supply Germans with a steady stream of chocolate in December, but St Nicholas (Nikolaus) also gets in on the act.

On the night of the 5th December, German children clean their shoes (the bigger the better) and put them outside their door. If they have been good, then on the morning of the 6th, they wake up to find their shoes have been stuffed full of chocolate, lollies and other goodies.

Unfortunately, as an adult if I put my shoes outside my front door all that would happen is the strong possibility that someone would steal them. However, the business centre in which my company has an office plays St Nicholas for us grown-up children and every December 6th we arrive at work to find chocolate on our desks. This year was no different, but since the 6th falls on a Saturday this year, we got our presents a day early.

Along with a note explaining why. Apparently Nikolaus is a busy man this year.

Rough translation:

Tomorrow on Saturday 6th Saturday…no, comes not Santa but naturally Nicholas.

And because he also has so much to do this year, we allowed him to show up a day earlier at the office to leave a little something to sweeten the pre-christmas time.

So, story time is over:  Unpack and enjoy… and continue working.

I just love this tradition! And that the staff at the Business Centre get really into it.

If you also work in Germany, does your office do something similar? Or are you forced to buy your own chocolate to celebrate Nikolaustag?

Chocolate: It’s What’s For Breakfast In December

Growing up in Australia I didn’t know that Advent Calenders were a thing.  Sure, I knew about Advent as I was dragged taken to church every Sunday, but having a calender associated with it was not something that Australians did in the 80s. However, here in Germany Advent is a huge deal, especially the Advent Calender – and it is a tradition I have embraced wholeheartedly as who can’t get behind having chocolate for breakfast for the first 24 days in December.

The first Advent Calender I got was one designed especially for children so the chocolate came in all kinds of festive shapes

and ones that were supposed to be festive but looked strangely suspicious

Then the following year, I discovered that After Eights did an Advent Calender and due to my addiction to mint flavoured chocolate there was no going back after that.

So now every December I start my mornings with a piece of mint chocolate and life couldn’t be better for those 2 minutes it takes me to eat it. Actually I would be in favour of extending Advent to cover the whole year. I think the world would be a happier place if everyone started their day with a delicious piece of chocolate.


Meeting Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman at the Literaturhaus Hamburg

Hamburg, whilst it is the second largest city in Germany, is not the city most artists visit, if they happen to visit Germany at all.  Berlin, Munich and perhaps Frankfurt or Cologne is where they go. But rarely, they do decide to venture off the usual itinerary and that’s what happened last night when Neil Gaiman paid a visit to the Literaturhaus in Hamburg to promote the release of the German translation of his novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane.

I had seen Neil Gaiman do a reading in Sydney about 5 years prior. There was over 100 people packed into a bookstore hanging on every word he said. Neil is one of those rare authors who can not only write amazing books but can narrate them as well. His voice is like liquid chocolate, the only disappointment being when he stops. On that visit to Sydney, I was way too nervous to get a book signed by him. I have fears of saying really stupid shit to people that I admire. However, I wasn’t going to let my fears get the better of me this time.

Neil’s appearance at the Literaturhaus was in a way the same as any author event. There was a moderator asking questions, the author answering them and then the author reading some of their promoted book to the audience. However, with the visit to the Literaturhaus, there was an extra twist. It was assumed that whilst some of the people in the audience might speak English, all of them could speak German so the event was bilingual. The moderator asked Neil questions in English and Neil answered them in his typical storytelling way and then the moderator tried to paraphrase what Neil had said in German. Quite a few details got lost in translation and the moderator added some of her own, but it worked for the most part. The only drawback is that we didn’t get to hear Neil read very much as most of the reading was done by the man who had translated The Ocean At The End of The Lane into German. This, of course, made sense, but given that I could listen to Neil read for hours on end, I would have liked to have heard him read more and the translator read less.

What was wonderful about the Literaturhaus event was the numbers were limited, perhaps just slightly over 50 people there. This made the event feel very intimate and it also meant that the line to get a book signed was not very long. Neil was kind and gracious with every single person getting a book signed, taking the time to have an actual conversion with them. The two girls before me had a discussion about the current Doctor Who series and I in a rare moment of not embarrassing myself completely admitted that I had chickened out of meeting him in Sydney 5 years prior and he asked me lots of wonderful questions about why I was in Germany and how I was finding learning German whilst he signed my copy of Neverwhere.

Given I have the urge to read Neverwhere whenever I travel on the London Tube, the inscription was pure perfection.

Now that I know that English language authors do indeed visit Hamburg from time to time, I’m going to keep a lookout to see if any of my other favourite authors decide to pay us visit. I’m also going to hold out hope that Neil Gaiman will return to Hamburg in the future cause I have quite a number of his books that I would love to get signed.


Four Years On

Seal of Hamburg, ca. 1245

Seal of Hamburg, ca. 1245 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In trying to formulate my thoughts on my fourth anniversary of living in Germany, I re-read the posts I wrote for Year One, Year Two and Year Three. One thing that has remained constant is that I have loved being here – and that fact remains true. I love the quality of life that living in Hamburg affords me and the opportunities I have here. Hamburg has become a mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar allowing me to feel both at home and a stranger in a strange land. There is enough strangeness to jolt me out of complacency but not so much that I feel overwhelmed.

This is the first year where I feel that I am slowly beginning the process of integration. My German has developed to the point where it is functional and I can finally start taking part in activities that are not conducted in English. My German still has a hell of a long way to go until I am completely proficient and not constantly stumbling over the grammar and searching for words, but I feel I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s like I have graduated from the wadding pool and can now splash around the shallow end but the deep end is still beyond my current abilities.

This year has been tough in many ways but perhaps it was a toughness that I needed to experience in order to work out my priorities and the areas that still need much more work in my life. Perhaps Year Five will be when I get it all together or it could take a little longer than that.

Still I love the little life I have made for myself here in Hamburg. I have managed to surround myself with good people and I am so grateful to have them in my life and am appreciative of the lessons they have taught me. In the four years I have been here I have changed and grown as a person. The person that left Australia four years ago is not the same person I am now, not completely. Germany has changed me, but it is a change I feel good about.

I can’t wait to see what Year Five has in store for me. Hopefully improved German skills as well as a deeper understanding and appreciation of German culture whilst still retaining my curiosity for the unknown and a thirst for the unusual.