Life in Hamburg

Described by many as "Germany’s most beautiful city," Hamburg combines a high quality of life with a strong economy and countless employment opportunities. Hamburg's success is due in no small part to having successfully united business and legal interests.

10 things to know about Hamburg


✔ 2nd largest city in Germany
✔ 3rd largest harbor in Europe
✔ More bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined
✔ Plenty of parks and waterways to use for outdoor activities
✔ Well-connected within Europe by air and railway
✔ Close to both North and Baltic Seas
✔ Vibrant and cosmopolitan cultural life
✔ Many different international communities
✔ Safe and high quality of life
✔ 24-hour public transit network, walkable and bike-friendly

Something for everyone

Hamburg has something to offer for everyone. Those who are interested in cultural activities will find Hamburg's many museums, opera and new philharmonic hall (Elbphilharmonie) stimulating. Those who are out to party the night away will find a new home in the Reeperbahn and Schanze districts. The ongoing expansion of the city towards the Elbe waterfront, known as the HafenCity project, will fascinate architecture buffs and casual oberservers alike.

Hamburg is also home to some 350,000 enterprises in all, from large stock companies to a thriving start-up scene, as well as legal institutions of national and global significance, including trial and appeals courts, the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law, and the International Tribunal for the Law

Hamburg is an open-minded and international city that many students don't want to leave at the end of their study programs.

Jenny
"There are things to do for everyone—my highlights were staying up with classmates to prep for a moot trial, watching a full house ballet at the Staatsoper, sitting by a beautiful lakeside cafe on a Sunday afternoon and bathing in the sun by Timmendorf beach."
Jenny, Canada, Summer Program Participant 2015

Hamburg: A safe and healthy place to be

As Germany's second largest city, Hamburg combines the hustle and bustle of a large cosmopolitan city with being a safe and healthy place to live. The city's many green areas encourage a healthy life style, the medical facilities are excellent and the city is safe as long as you follow a few simple rules.

Safety

Hamburg is a very safe city by international standards, especially if one knows and follows a few key rules:

  • Cross the street only when the signal is green. Germans are sticklers for obeying traffic lights.
  • As in any large city, be alert and try not to walk alone when out late at night or in dark, unpopulated areas. Be sure to be aware of your surroundings especially in crowded areas, like large train stations, as pick pockets and petty thieves have been known to target tourists here. 
  • Bike paths are for bikers. Pedestrians should take care to stay on their portion of the sidewalk and not stray into the bike lanes that are normally indicated by either a white line or a narrow path in red brick or black asphalt.
  • Bikers should be aware of their settings and the surrounding traffic. Pedestrians may unexpectedly dart into the bike lane and cars may not always stop for bicycles – even when bikers have the right of way. Bikers should remain vigilant and stay in the bike lanes riding in the direction of traffic.
  • Don’t swim in the Elbe River. While the water quality has improved over the years and people will wade in up to their knees at the city beaches, resist the urge to go for a swim. The large container ships that pass through the harbor at regular intervals create a strong undertow that even professional swimmers cannot compete with.

Health

Hamburg has an excellent health care system that includes numerous state-of-the-art hospitals, university clinics and research institutes as well as a tropical medicine institute. Doctors’ practices see patients with appointments and pharmacies have regular and special weekend hours to ensure that health services are available at all times. Health insurance is required to obtain an international student visa. Non-German residents should secure travel insurance or international health insurance from their home country or look into temporary German insurance plans for the duration of their stay. Bucerius staff members are well-versed in German health insurance requirements and are available to assist prospective students with recommendations, regulations and general information. 

Emergency numbers

The number to dial for medical and fire emergencies in Germany is 112. To reach the police department, dial 110.

German: one language, many dialects

Learning German is no easy task but with some time and dedication, the language opens windows into Germany's culture and history that remain mostly closed to those who rely on English alone.

Official Language

The official language of Hamburg and throughout Germany is German. English is widely spoken and especially younger Germans are eager to practice the English skills they have acquired in school or during their travels. However, knowing a few simple phrases in German goes a long way when it comes to day-to-day activities such as grocery shopping or ordering take out.

Different Dialects

Dialects vary throughout Germany and students who have learned some German may find some of them more challenging than others, depending on the dialect and accent they were taught. Bavarians in Southern Germany, for example, may use different greetings or phrases and may have accents that vary greatly from flatter Northern German intonation. But asking questions and talking through any difficulties will surely bring a rewarding cultural exchange. In parts of Northern Germany, Plattdeutsch is also spoken – a Northern German dialect that is related to Frisian, Dutch and English. Though considered by some to be a dying language, it has been revived in recent years and is now taught in some schools and can be heard on some radio and television programs.

"Hamburgish" - Hamburg's local dialect

Those students who speak some German they may notice a few colorful words and phrases around Hamburg that they would not usually hear in the classroom. For example, rather than the standard, Guten Tag, literally “Good Day” or Hello, Hamburgers say, Moin, Moin! Similarly, a girl is not a Mädchen but a Deern; a child is not a Kind but a Gör and some words bear similarities to their English translations, as a door is not a Tür but a Dör, a cat is not a Katze but a Katt and a mouth is not a Mund but a Snuut. If you are crazy, you are not verrückt but rather tüdelig and if you are a bit tipsy you are angetüdelt, perhaps because you drank too much Kööm, or Schnaps. You will surely be told to put on your Puschen or Hausschuhe, because Germans always take off their shoes at the door and put on these slippers. If it is dark, it’s not dunkel but duster and if you are scared, you are not ängstlich but bang. And some words are just plain fun to say – like Quiddje, the word for newcomers to Hamburg, which international students may hear frequently. 

Did you know?

Did you know that Bucerius Law School students receive a discount at Colon Language Center if they book a German course before participating in any of the summer programs? Please contact the Colon Language Center directly if you would like to book a course.

German food

German food is arguably one of the most underrated and under-appreciated of all world cuisines. With an open mind and some curiosity, you'll see that German cuisine offers more than just cooked potatoes.

Food in Hamburg

Given Hamburg’s proximity to the North and Baltic Seas as well as its proud maritime traditions, it is only natural that fish is a staple in the Hanseatic city. Whether the ubiquitous Fischbrötchen, a fried or pickled fish sandwich, Matjes, a northern style pickled herring or Labskaus, a hearty sailors’ hash consisting of preserved ingredients suitable for long sea voyages without refrigeration like potatoes, corned beef, salt-cured herring, fried eggs and pickled beets, fish is a staple on Hamburg tables.

Seasonal specialties

German cuisine also celebrates seasonal produce with traditional dishes that are prevalent during particular times of the year. As many of these traditional dishes are more on the hearty side, they are mostly eaten in the colder months.

Spring and summer are dominated by Spargel and many different kinds of fruits. Spargel, or white asparagus, even has its own season, referred to as Spargelzeit. The first asparagus are usually found in the market in late March or mid April and will be served, alongside cured ham and boiled potatoes and covered in hollandaise sauce or melted butter, until mid-June. In summer and early fall, supermarkets and farmer's markets are flooded with produce from the Altes Land, an area with many orchards just outside of Hamburg. Favorites at the height of summer are strawberries, cherries and plums, while apples and pears start coming to market in August. Fruit growers in the Altes Land are dedicated to saving older breeds of apples that only grow in this particular region, so students should make sure to try as many different kinds as possible.

The colder seasons are dominated by hearty, warming soups and stews as well as Christmas favorites like Glühwein and Feuerzangenbowle, two kinds of hot mulled wine, various cookies or Plätzchen and Stollen, or German fruitcake, as well as traditional meals like Gans mit Rotkohl und Klößen, or roasted goose with braised red cabbage and dumplings.

Regional dishes

Every region in Germany has its own specialties. While it would make sense that Hamburg specializes in Hamburgers, and while some accounts do claim that the beef patty has origins in the city, burgers, originally known as Rundstück, are not as prevalent as one might think. In the southern region of Baden-Württemberg, specialties include a cheesy egg noodle dish called Spätzle. Bavarians love their Weißwurst, a white sausage with Süßer Senf, or sweet mustard, for breakfast. In Frankfurt and the state of Hessen, Grüne Soße, a creamy sauce made with seven different herbs covers hard-boiled eggs and vegetables; and in Berlin, people line up to eat Currywurst. Berlin even has a museum dedicated to these hot dogs covered in spicy ketchup. The fast food of choice is the Döner Kebab, introduced by Turkish immigrants and now ubiquitous throughout Germany.

International Cuisines

In addition to a wealth of regional German dishes, Germany - and especially a large city like Hamburg - is home to many immigrant communities who brought their local dishes with them. Hamburg offers a wide range of different restaurants that are waiting to be explored - either with classmates or with an organized tour.

Money matter in Germany: Cash is king

The currency used in Germany as well as in most of the European Union is the Euro. Contrary to many other countries, Germany has not fully embraced the cashless economy yet and cash still reigns supreme.

Currency

The currency used in Germany is the Euro. As monetary values fluctuate, currency exchange rates may change daily. It is best to consult a bank or designated websites for the most up-to-date rates of exchange. Currency exchange is possible upon arrival at the airport; it should be noted however that it is not possible at all banks. Many banks charge an extra fee if the customer does not have an account with that particular bank. A better way to obtain Euros in cash would be to use a debit card or major credit card (Master Card, Visa) at one of the numerous automated bank machines throughout the city. Students may want to inquire with their home bank if they can withdraw cash for free with their cards at any banks in Germany.

Credit cards

It is important to note that while it is possible to use debit or credit cards to withdraw cash at most bank machines, credit cards are not always accepted as a form of payment at many restaurants, shops, agencies, etc. It is always good to have some cash (Bargeld) on hand for those stores that do not accept credit cards.

As the German saying goes, Nur Bares ist Wahres. Translation: Cash is King.

 

Where to live in Hamburg: the different neighborhoods

Bucerius Law School actively helps students find accommodation in Hamburg. However students are encouraged to do some research on housing as well, especially if they would like to share an apartment with Germans to gain a deeper insight into German culture and to practice their German.

The following neighborhoods are recommended to students due to their proximity to our campus, their accessibility to public transportation and their various charms.

Young and hip, diverse and trendy – Altona and its cool sidekick Ottensen have it all – riverfront beaches and fish restaurants, theaters, nightclubs, cafés, street fairs and shopping. Though a bit further from the city center, Altona is well connected by public transportation and for the sporty, a 20-minute bike ride downtown.

St. Pauli residents may argue that their neighborhood is the best: the best football/soccer team (St. Pauli); the best nightlife in the bars, cafés and clubs in the Schanze; the best protests organized by activists at the Rote Flora. And while this is open to debate, there is no denying that St. Pauli is one of the most colorful, diverse, youthful and vibrant neighborhoods in Hamburg.

Hoheluft is the University Quarter, which is lively with students rushing to class or filing into cafés. The Abaton Kino movie theater shows foreign films in their original languages and is a great place to connect with the international crowd in Hamburg.

Eppendorf is an idyllic residential neighborhood. Beautiful turn-of-the-century architecture, cobbled streets, well manicured parks and vibrant markets (Isemarkt) make this neighborhood a pleasure to stroll through and to live in.

Eimsbüttel was a traditional blue-collar, working class neighborhood and it retains its down-to-earth roots. Locally owned shops and restaurants, diverse age groups and background and easily accessible public transportation make Eimsbüttel a popular neighborhood. 

Rothenbaum and Harvestehude are neighborhoods situated close to the outer Alster Lake. This upscale, residential area is marked by representative villas and leafy avenues a stone’s throw from the Alster, perhaps Hamburgers’ favorite place for a jog or a stroll. 

St. Georg is adjacent to Hamburg’s central train station, which makes it easy to get to from anywhere – inside or outside the city. From Thai supermarkets to döner kebabs, from posh brunch spots to raunchy clubs, St. Georg can go from prim and proper to loose and wild simply by turning a corner.

While these centrally located neighborhoods are the most convenient, they can also be the most expensive. There are more affordable options that are well connected to Bucerius via public transportation. A few of these alternatives include:

Hamm and Borgfelde are just northeast of the downtown area and campus and are less than 20 minutes away on the U Bahn (U2, red line). They are residential and more affordable while still being a short commute from the Law School and city center.

Barmbek Nord und Süd are slightly further north and east of the Alster Lake in the city center. Bus and train transportation is available and the bike paths along the lake make for a scenic commute.

Lokstedt is a bit further west of the university but still on major bus lines and has a connection to the U2 subway line. Several new apartment developments have gone up in the last few years with new shops going into the area as well.

Sights and activities

Hamburg is a city dominated by water. Its two main waterways, the River Elbe (which flows throught the harbor) and the River Alster (which forms a lake in the center of town) offer many leisure time activities. But Hamburg has something to offer for everyone: from concert halls, museums and fine dining to "the best night out in the world" according to a study conducted by HostelWorld.

"A haven for architecture and design"

The New York Times has called Hamburg a “haven for architecture and design” and put the Hanseatic city on its top 10 places to visit in 2017. Also referred to as a “Gateway to the World,” Germany’s second largest city is home to the second largest shipping port in Europe. On the banks of the Elbe River, container ships are loaded to capacity and sent down the Elbe and around the world. These same riverbanks are also home to the brand new Elbphilharmonie, the long-anticipated concert hall whose billowing windows and imposing foundation have made the iconic structure an emblem of the city. It sits on an island shared by the HafenCity, Hamburg’s newest neighborhood and urban regeneration project situated directly across from the Speicherstadt, the beautiful old warehouse district that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A city on the water

The influence of the harbor is felt far beyond its shores as the tributaries and canals weave their way through the city and prompt some visitors to refer to Hamburg as the “Venice of the North”. And like most port cities, the numerous sailors passing through have given rise to a bustling red-light district. The Reeperbahnsees fewer sailors these days but still teems with tourists who come for the concerts and clubs – some of which have launched the careers of legendary bands like the Beatles.

The banks of the Elbe also provide a brief respite from the city along its sandy beaches. Strand Pauli beach club and numerous city beaches fill to capacity during sunny summer days as Hamburgers settle back and watch the parade of ships entering the container terminal. To learn more about the history of the harbor and the people who have come and gone through its waters, a visit to the BallinStadt Emigration Museum is a must. Hamburg’s answer to Ellis Island, BallinStadt covers four eras and the journeys of generations of migrants seeking to establish new lives in new lands.

A city of mulled wine and cookies

In December, Germany puts on arguably the best Christmas show in the world with the numerous Weihnachtsmärkte, or Christmas markets, that spring up around the town centers and outskirts. At the Hamburger Rathausmarkt, or Town Hall Square, a beautiful, bustling Christmas market is filled with an international crowd who line up for a mug of Glühwein, a Bratwurst and many different Christmas treats while enjoying the lights, music and occasionally, a visit from Old Saint Nick. Smaller Christmas markets fill the pedestrian areas, public squares and line streets at various points throughout the city center and in residential neighborhoods.

Well-connected within Germany and Europe

Hamburg, and most of Germany in fact, can be easily explored using only public transportation. Hamburg's public transportation system is outstanding and the city is well-connected to the rest of Germany and Europe via trains and planes. A car is only necessary in the rarest of circumstances.

Public transport

Getting into and getting around Hamburg are both relatively easy and straightforward. Hamburg has an excellent public transport system. The U-Bahn and S-Bahn system of under and above ground subway trains, as well as the city buses, cover the city center extensively and the outlying areas quite thoroughly as well. The public transportation system includes boats that take commuters to the large Airbus plant just south of the Elbe as well as to numerous other points of interest and neighborhoods on the river and canals.

It may be worth getting a monthly season ticket for the public transport system in Hamburg. The so-called HVV ticket includes transport by metro, bus, night bus and ferries.

Biking

Perhaps the easiest way to get from one place to another is by bike. Since Hamburg is a relatively flat city, they are quick and efficient, especially in the summer when the weather is much better than during other seasons. 

The City Bike rental system allows riders to rent a bike to get from point A to point B and then return the bike to one of the numerous stations around the city. If the trip takes 30 minutes or less, the trip is free.

Planes, trains and automobiles

Hamburg’s main train station, or Hauptbahnhof, is centrally located downtown. Regional, national and international trains depart the main station continuously.  While rain travel can be pricey, it is not recommendable for students who stay in Germany for only a couple of weeks to buy the widely adversized BahnCard as it does not expire automatically but must be actively cancelled or will be automatically renewed for another year. Bus companies also offer less expensive alternatives for travel throughout Germany and Europe.

Hamburg’s International Airport is located in the city’s northeast and has several transportation options into town including public transportation options like the S-Bahn and city buses. Taxis are also readily available. Uber and other ride sharing companies are not legally allowed to operate in Germany. With so many feasible transportation options in and out of the city, an extensive public transportation system and flat, bikeable terrain, it is not necessary or even advisable to bring or rent a car. 

And on the rare occasion that one really can't get by without a car, cars and scooters are also available for at low rates through phone apps like Car2Go, DriveNow and emmy (scooters).

Embracing the "onion look": weather in Hamburg

Contrary to popular belief, Hamburg actually has less rainy days in a year - 144 on average to be exact - than Munich, for example. Even so, in all honesty, the weather is not what brings people to Hamburg.

The city’s northern position and maritime climate means that the winters are cold and wet, the summers are mild and wet with occasional bouts of warmth and sunshine, and everything in between is a variation on these themes. This type of weather is referred to as Schietwetter in the Hamburg dialect, which is not quite as crude as its obvious English translation.

Hamburgers know to dress in layers (a.k.a. "the onion look") and carry a pair of sunglasses in addition to a compact umbrella. Just because it’s cloudy, however, doesn’t mean it will still be in 20 minutes. Strong maritime winds mean that the weather changes continually. Sporting events, school recess and other outdoor activities often take place rain or shine in Hamburg. Determined to not let the weather stand in their way, Northern Germans suit up, shrug it off and say, “There is no bad weather, there is only bad clothing.” 

Taking long walks, particularly on Sundays when all shops are closed, is a beloved tradition in Hamburg – in any weather. And ducking into a warm café for a hot coffee and a slice of cake, the favored afternoon pastime also referred to as Kaffee und Kuchen, makes the cold, rainy weather tolerable and even, gemütlich, or cozy. Many cafés even provide blankets for those customers who want to soak up the rare ray of sunshine in spite of low temperatures.

A true Hamburger heads outside at the first glimpse of the sun, regardless of the temperatures.

Hamburg