Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ich bin ein Hamburger

This past week I've been in Hamburg attending this year's edition of the Digital Humanities conference. In fact this is the first time I have actually spent any length of time in a German city, with all my previous visits to Germany ending up in a field drinking beer and listening to loud music. Well except for the three week stint in a summer camp in the middle of nowhere as a teenager but that's a story for another time.
While wandering around the Free and Hanseatic City, to give Hamburg it's full title, I couldn't help starting to compare what I saw with Dublin. Now as a short term visitor I can't comment on health care, taxation, employment opportunities or any of those sort of longer term issues. However, a couple of things really struck me, mainly on the transportation front.
Firstly, Hamburg is yet another continental city where public transport just works. There's no fuss, it just operates as expected. In fact, if I had been brave enough I could have travelled on the trains all week without buying a ticket as there are no barriers and I have never been stopped by an inspector. But people still buy tickets at the vending machines before boarding. Good luck getting that to work in Dublin. But it's not just the public transport. My hotel is opposite the Hertz Tower which is maybe 2km from the very centre of the city and on a major inbound artery past Dammtor. At no stage during my visit did I ever see a traffic jam, and there have been two very wet mornings which would have seen bumper to bumper back home, even during the school holidays.
Cycling is another thing that is massively different here. It is acceptable, almost encouraged, to cycle on the footpaths. Pedestrians and cyclists have realized that the motor vehicle is the common enemy, not each other. So pedestrians move over when they see an approaching bike or hear a bell from behind. Cyclists for their part don't pretend like they're in a Tour de France time trial and somehow manage to stop at red lights without turning in to pumpkins. It's all very civilized and people seem the better for it.
Hamburg is also spotless. I went for a stroll from my hotel down to the water front and then back up through St Pauli. Every street was litter free. The waterfront itself was actually terribly pleasant with decking right down at river level. Despite the expensive food stalls and tacky merchandise stands the stroll by the river is very enjoyable, right up until the heavens open and you end up having to dive into a bar for a beer to stay dry - such are the trials in life!
So would I live here? Maybe, but not until I had learned more than "ein bier bitte" and "wo ist der bahnhof" and based on my recent language acquisition trend that isn't likely to be any time soon. I'll be hanging out in dirty, dysfunctional Dublin for a little while yet. 

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