Some observations from my first 5 days in Hamburg:
1. Sprechen Sie Deutsche? Before I got here, I was given the general impression that it is breezy to get by in Germany knowing just English because the Germans speak excellent English. This may not be entirely true because from time to time you will be faced with situations where you encounter a person who does not speak English, and this may pose challenges. At a grocery store in a train station, I ended up buying sparkling water instead of still water because I didn’t understand the German word for gas, when the shopkeeper told me I was buying “wasser mit gasse”. While this may seem like a first world problem (particularly because this particular misunderstanding would never arise in the third world), it may – for example - become challenging to go grocery shopping without the aide of Google Translate.
2. Cash is king. If you don’t have cash or a German-issued card, be prepared to face problems.
3. Doors on the metro trains do not open automatically – you must press a button! At times, I found myself waiting for the button to open as a train halted at a station – usually intercepted by some kindly German person who sensed my ignorance and pressed the button for me.
4. It does not appear at any point that you need to show a valid ticket to use the metro/underground. The risk of being checked and fined for travelling ticketless exists, however. Buses are different because you need to show your ticket to the driver immediately upon entry.
5. Sunday is rest day. Everything can be expected to be shut, and you may be hard pressed to find food. The exception to this is an infrequent phenomenon known as Verkaufstsonntag, when shops remain open to do business. I was lucky that my first Sunday in the city was a Verkaufstsonntag.
6. With a sizeable Turkish population in the city, doner kebabs exist alongside German sausages and schnitzel.
7. Many cycles, and cyclists of all ages and with and without helmets, are to be found in Hamburg. The city does its part by providing special lights at certain traffic signals for cyclists, along with those for pedestrians.
8. There is a heartening abundance of coffee. If you are lucky you may find it priced at one Euro or less. But there are also fancier places where you will find it priced at 10 Euros or more (a case in point is the Kopi Luwak at Spiecherstadt Kafferosterei, near the Miniatur Wunderland museum).
9. Rain. So much rain. I remind myself everyday to buy an umbrella, but forget and remember only when I get drenched.
10. You get what you pay for. Beer mugs often come with a marking of 300ml/500ml/1 litre. Wine glasses often come with a marking of 100ml. This is to ensure some degree of standardization, and so that you are not being cheated of the quantity you are paying for.
11. There is often fun graffiti to be found on random walls in the city. So far, my favourites have been “Fck G20” and “Pussy Funk”. Also, a dustbin with “Godot kommt nicht” (Godot is not coming) painted over.
12. There are some city buses where you must pay a surcharge. These premium buses cost more, without any ostensible difference in quality or comfort (but perhaps they have fewer stops).
13. Unlike in many cities, not all the entrances to an underground station lead to all the platforms of the station. You must be conscious of the direction in which your train is going, to be able to access the correct platform – or you could end up at the wrong platform without any way to get to the correct platform without exiting the station and finding your way back into the right platform.