As I lumbered off the train at Hamburg Hbf after a thirteen hour journey, I was thrilled to be met by Lea, a friend of Johanna who I’d met in Southampton last year. We quickly found ourselves in a Kneipe and waited for Johanna to join us after work.
I tried my best to slot into Johanna’s life, although I know she made some compromises for me such as taking me to one of the most popular hamburgian sights that was the Elbphilharmonie. An extremely popular building amongst locals and tourists, the concert hall is one of the tallest buildings in Hamburg and boasts impressive views over the city. Our visit there inspired us to drop into a string orchestra rehearsal at the Resonanzraum.
Wandering through streets we saw all sorts of spectacles including a man in a clown outfit sweeping hundreds of bottles caps as his peers jeered, drank and threw more caps. This is an old German tradition, particularly seen in the north. Whoever is unmarried on their thirtieth birthday must sweep the stairs of the town hall (or in front of it) until he receives a kiss or his family and friends grant him mercy.
I’m continuously interested in the differences between German and English culture and this weekend was a good opportunity to enquire into these differences. At a party on Saturday night two things jumped out at me: women/girls were clad in elegant, modest and relaxed outfits and the student flat was gorgeous.
So, number one, German girls. It’s well-known that if you don the role of flaneur in a British city from around 9pm you will witness the phenomenon that is the British party-girl. Rain or shine, she is often seen outside wearing very little to shelter herself from our infamous weather. This is an aspect of our culture that my German companions were well aware of. “But why do they dress so?”. I guess my theory is something along these lines: since school children in the UK have to wear uniforms, the weekend is their chance to express themselves, whereas the German students wear jeans, jumpers and the girls wear very minimal make-up so this becomes the norm.
I googled a bit and found that British women have one of the lowest self confidence levels in the world. Combined with the influence of social media, which diffuses images of what women should look like, this might explain why they wear what they do but why is their confidence so low?!
The other thing that struck me as different was the cosiness and Gemütlichkeit of the pretty much spotless student flats. Breakfast saw fresh brötchen from the bakery with an array of spreads and coffee which created a gorgeously hyggelig atmosphere. This is recreated in cafes and bars and on Sunday evening we went to watch Tatort (“crime scene”, very popular in Germany) in a cafe, where forty people snuggled on sofas, strangers slumped together, amongst kakao, chai and tea.
Final observation for the day … It’s very difficult to get tap water in a cafe, bar or restaurant and nearly everyone buys Sprudel (fizzy water) in bulk. Again, after reading a lot of frustrating forums explaining the reason as being because “it just is”, one person suggested the preference was that during and after wartime Germany water was so heavily contaminated to the point that they were forced to buy bottled water. It’s very cheap here and with the Pfand you can get roughly €0.25 back when you recycle a bottle. Although Sprudel is heavily ingrained in German nutrition, there are still those hoping to see tap water to take over. In my internet search I did find one very amusing comment:
“Hello everybody, we are a group of Germans who are discussing this topic in our English lesson. We think that German tap water is excellent quality. Research has found, that bottled water isn’t superior to tap water. In fact, tap water in Germany is better controlled than bottled. Taste it and save energy and the environment, not to mention money for the good German beer!”