Reappreciating Hamburg

6.5 months ago I embarked on an adventure with an uncertain outcome. I knew I had a contract for 6 months, but little did I know where my future would lie afterwards. There was a possibility I would stay in Hamburg, but there was also a possibility that I would return to Leiden, my beloved Leiden, one of my favourite places in the world.

I arrived in Hamburg at the end of October, with high expectations. Everyone I had told about my move to Hamburg was very positive about the city, saying it was an amazing place to live. And then I arrived in Bahrenfeld, in that neighbourhood resembling an English industrial town. The next morning I drove to work, and a feeling of ‘is this really it?’ crept over me. Hamburg it seemed, was plainly ugly. I had no other choice than to give Hamburg a chance, as I had just signed my 6-month contract, but our first meeting didn’t go very well. That day I rode my bike around the neighbourhood without my usual excitement to be abroad, in a whole new place.

In the next few weeks I met dozens of people arguing Hamburg was a wonderful city, people who made me feel I was arguing ‘the earth was flat’ when I said I didn’t particularly thought Hamburg a beautiful city. I wondered whether I had got so spoiled with the Dutch cities, that I considered Leiden, Haarlem, Delft, Gouda and Amsterdam at least ten times more beautiful than Hamburg. My colleagues tried to convince me it was only because I arrived at the wrong time, that my image of Hamburg was as grey as the skies above us. ‘Wait until spring’, they said. And now it is spring. Did I change my mind? I guess I did, somewhat.

In November I went to visit a friend in Copenhagen. I immediately loved Copenhagen, and I was jealous of him living there and me having to return to Hamburg. In February I went to Berlin a couple of days. On my return my French colleague asked me how many days it took me to wish I was back in Hamburg. And in all honesty, that didn’t happen: I only wished I could stay, that I could move our office to Berlin. Berlin might not be the most beautiful city in the world, but the historian in me appreciates all the traces of Berlin’s eventful past. Traces that seem to have been wiped away by the Allied bombardments here. ‘Hamburg is an acquired taste’, my colleague argued. ‘You will still get there’.

Something has changed in the last few weeks. Maybe it had to do with the cancellation of my room in Leiden, as my German colleague argues. I no longer feel torn between two lives and two cities. I have decided to stay on the road I embarked upon. My main reason for moving to Germany back then was the better economic prospects. It would have been very difficult to get the same job as I’m doing now in the Netherlands, as there is so much competition of people with more or less the same background there. Here I can develop myself much faster than would have been the case in the Netherlands. But had you asked me whether I would have gone home if I had been offered the same job back home, I would have chosen a return to Leiden without question. There was no love lost between Germany and myself, I found it merely a convenient foreign country to live in, lacking real cultural or linguistic differences. But if you would ask me the same question today, you might get a different answer. I’m actually quite content here these days.

2.5 months ago I started a new job. Although my colleagues were welcoming, the first few days I felt I was drowning in a sea of people. Having previously worked in companies having no more than 15 employees, I was a little scared by suddenly working in a company with some 300 employees. In my second week I went to have lunch at my previous company, and I felt so relieved being again in the company of people whose names and functions I could all remember. I liked the new job, but the number of colleagues just seemed too large and I really wondered whether I had made the right decision accepting this job offer, as maybe the ‘big company thing’ just wasn’t my cup of tea. But in 2.5 months I’ve grown really fond of some of my new colleagues, and although I still don’t remember everyone’s name in my department I feel so much more happy at work than I did in my first month. The number of people does no longer scare me, but excites me: so many new and interesting people I still have to meet.

I still don’t consider Hamburg a very beautiful city, but I start appreciating it more and more. There are certainly a few spots that I really like, such as the Alster and the harbour. And parts of Eppendorf, Eimsbüttel and Altona are really nice too. And the more awesome people I meet, the more I start feeling at home. It has taken a while, but I can really say that I’m good here for now.

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