Expat Voices: James Powell on living in Hamburg
Hamburg has a creative spirit and is extremely enterprising in certain directions, which really does make you feel that it is the ‘Gateway to the World’, says British expat James Powell.
Name: James Powell
City of residence: Hanseatic Hamburg
Date of birth: 03 April 1979
Civil status: Engaged
Occupation: Shamanic Counsellor (www.soul-response-ability.eu)
Reason for moving to Germany: My fiancée was head-hunted for a research position in HH.
Lived in Germany: nine months
What was your first impression of Germany?
Before I moved here, I had visited Germany a few times before, without any of the different places I had visited leaving a particularly strong impression on me – with the possible exception of Berlin, because it is so iconic and steeped in many different histories. In coming to live in northern Germany, I would say something that impressed itself on me quite strongly and quickly was how alive regionalism and regional identities are and how many diverse cultures exist within one country – as such, even now I find it very hard to generalize about Germany or Germans as a whole.
What do you think of the food?
As in many places across Europe now, main of the high-street/mainstream cafes, restaurants and take-away joints serve exceptionally mediocre food, which is fine if you just want to fill a hole, but not so great if you are looking for taste and sensory pleasure! Fortunately, in Hamburg there is also a wealth of places that do serve delicious, lovingly-prepared food; one only needs to be a little adventurous and willing to experiment in order to discover some of the culinary gems that exist. Also, we are fortunate to live very close to a weekly farmer’s market that sells fruit and vegetables of astounding freshness and quality from the Altes Land, as well as from other nearby farming areas.
Hamburg Street Dance
What do you think of the shopping in Germany?
Certain stores – in districts like Schanze or the Karolinenviertel – keep alive the spirit of independent and unique goods, and one can certainly find some funky clothes and fashion items in such areas. Personally, I have a very keen eye for fashion and I think there is a huge need for more innovation and independence in this domain, in terms of both design and presentation. As it is, at the moment, many of the more standard places in Hamburg – at least for menswear – sell very formulaic, made-in-China clothing, constructed from uninspiring textiles, sold in unimaginative settings. The city would massively benefit--both economically and socially--from making available more cultural space to independent artists, crafts-people and designers.
What do you appreciate about living in Germany?
In many ways Hamburg is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever lived in, and there have been many to compare it to! In addition, Hamburg has a creative spirit and is extremely enterprising in certain directions, which really does make you feel that it is the ‘Gateway to the World’. It enlivens the spirit to be a part of a very cosmopolitan and international setting, connected to the large international community, and you feel that that pluralism and worldliness is something that Germany is very receptive to, and encouraging of. At the same time, Germany is also encouraging of ‘localism’ – that is, it provides, in my experience, very good services to assist cultural and linguistic integration. As such, one of the great things about living here – as well as about living outside of one’s native culture – is that one can be British, international and also still deeply involved in Germany life and society – and, because to a certain extent one is always a ‘foreigner’, you can live without being bound by the cultural and social beliefs, expectations and limitations that every society consciously and unconsciously projects on to its natives. These circumstances, paradoxically, leave me feeling both very connected and very free.
Red-blue-brown in hamburg town
What do you find most frustrating about living in Germany?
If you go in to a supermarket here, it can be very difficult to physically get out again without buying something, as there are a wealth of barriers and obstacles to getting out empty-handed! In some ways that is a microcosm of what I find most challenging – frustrating would be too strong – about being here. That is, Germany – actually, I can only speak for Hamburg – and a significant number of its inhabitants to a large extent derive a sense of safety, security and order from contracts, degrees, regulations, rules and social ‘control’ – all of which are great and extremely valuable, but only to a point. Any social system also has to be able to accommodate and integrate fluidity, individualism, innovation, personality and personal responsibility. If a society is not holistic in this regard, then some of the (undesirable) consequences can be that people are afraid to express who they really are and what is important to them. They define themselves predominantly by their achievements and put blind faith in regulations and rules. In such a scenario, the passion, the rawness of life that is a necessary part to make you feel so alive is stifled. I really noticed this recently when I returned to Hamburg after two weeks in South Africa.
What puzzles you about Germany and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
Something I find curious about this country is that no-one has yet started a TV channel, or at least a show, in English and/or other foreign languages. There must be a huge market for German-focused news and programmes in the English language. What I miss most, or at least what is most missing, is a good English country pub!
How does the quality of life in Germany compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
I find life in Hamburg to be more dynamic than it was in Zürich, although in the latter, society was slightly more clean and efficient – not, though, that it is at all bad in Germany. Hamburg is one of the more international places I have lived in, and with that comes many benefits, although I think it has a way to go in providing services and the like in English too – as the international language. One thing I really feel here in Hamburg, which I did not necessarily feel elsewhere, is a real sense of opportunity to create, and to take life and society ‘forward’ – that is, it seems to me that many possibilities exist to create a business or provide a service that contributes to the social good, and that there is also a hunger on the recipient side for that.
If you could change anything about Germany, what would it be?
To catalyze the process whereby there is more freedom, and more freedom of expression, for the German soul and spirit, for personal expression – so as to balance the generally strong social cohesion here with more individualism and innovation. That process, which is gradually happening, will eventually bring massive benefits for the health and prosperity of both the individual and the collective – and it is extremely exciting to both participate in, and be witness to, these developments.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Take it slowly, especially if you do not speak the language before you arrive. Obviously, the most important first step is to become connected to, and only then eventually integrated into, your local German culture(s). That can, in my experience, certainly be potentially daunting and emotionally overwhelming if one tries too hard, too quickly to connect – be open, be curious and take life at your own pace and it will work out …
Hamburg: alter Elbtunnel (old Elbe tunnel)
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