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Hamburg for Creatives

It’s interesting, really. Hamburg—up in the north of Germany—is one of those cities that you’re not really sure what to expect. It’s one of Germany’s largest cities, but it also doesn’t necessarily show up in the media too often. Certainly Hamburg doesn’t make as many headlines as Germany’s capital, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting. In fact, Hamburg has a really unique history—and maybe even a more interesting present day.

Hamburg is a large port city, on the coast where large ships come and go, delivering things to and from northern Europe. Spices once came and went through the port city, now it’s also Airbus airplanes and other big products. But it’s also a bustling metropolis with a strong culture of rebellion. The Beatles famously came here in the early 1960s to practice their music. The St. Pauli neighborhood in Hamburg has a flag with a skull and crossbones on it. That’s not the type of thing you normally find in a big, modern city. And yet, for Hamburgers (yes, that’s the people from Hamburg), it’s no big deal.

Craft Beer Hamburg brewery

Craft brewery in Hamburg — where there are craft beers, there is innovation

This alternative culture and mishmash of new money in a one-time working class city makes Hamburg an attractive place for freelancers, startups and those looking for creativity in unusual places. Hamburg’s got it. Even Hamburg’s Hafen City neighborhood—a massive investment of “urban regeneration”—is a strange and surreal place with contemporary, clean architecture. Though that urban newness might seem stale in Hafen City, in my opinion, it actually fuels a sort of creativity. It’s an urban space that sort of feels like a blank slate, ready to be molded by the new inhabitants. That seems to ultimately by the idea behind the project—a socially responsible, sustainable city development. You can even take free educational tours of the area.

Yes, there’s the famous Elbe Philharmonie (a bit of a disaster of urban planning, it’s a project overrun with excessive costs and delays). But there’s also smaller brands, smaller companies that are doing bigger things. Hamburg has this strange mix of big business, but it’s also a city where the little guy sometimes has more success than the big one. That’s where I want to be.

Social Travel - Hamburg

At a social meetup of travel bloggers in Hamburg

Hamburg for Freelancers

Thanks to Hamburg’s one-time role as a publishing and advertising mecca in Germany, the city has begun to attract a fair amount of creative professionals—freelancers, graphic designers, artists, writers, fashion designers. There are a number of startups opening up in Hamburg and the useful website is a useful guide for networking and finding out about both German and English-language startup events.

The city’s Schanzenviertel neighborhood, in particular, seems to attract a lot of cool events. I’ve spent most of this week in the Sternschanze (or Schanzenviertel) area attending various panels and seminars from this year’s Social Media Week. The annual event brings together both established and startup companies interested in social media and the evolution of tech. I even spoke on a panel about travel blogging and the changes affecting travel journalism. Cafés were crowded with #SMWHH attendees and evening mixers made it easy to meet others working in the same industry.

Social Travel Media Hamburg Event

At the Betahaus Hamburg for a bit of coworking. Renting tablespace for a day costs upwards from 10€

Really, Hamburg seems ripe for creativity. There are a handful of locations and resources actively working to make the city a better place for freelancers. And more than a few events make it a good city for networking, as well. In the past few days, my own explorations of the tech scene has led to finding a few hotspots. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Betahaus The Betahaus co-working space, located in the Sternschanze area, offers desk spaces for those without their own office space. The building (part of a larger organization across other European cities) also hosts regular events throughout the year and is a popular location for meetup groups.
  • Shhared A new co-working space, Shhared offers up a smaller space that might appeal to more international people. Check their website for various English-language events and meetups.
  • Schanzen-höfe A one-time cattle market, the buildings have been converted into renovated spaces including a super cool café, Elbgold, popular for their coffee roasts (and great for meetings!). Local craft brewery, Ratsherrn, also has a shop in the space, along with other startups and independent stores.
  • Why Hamburg? Blog — An English-language blog featuring local expats and their stories of success in the city. Many of the features include people with their own startup ideas or heavily involved with the local startup community.
  • Meetup — A monthly meetup where speakers are given just 12 minutes to present “what’s going on in Hamburg or elsewhere: startups, technology, going lean, ideas, innovation etc.” Every third month the event is hosted entirely in English.
Superbude Hamburg

The Superbude hotel and hostel in St. Pauli has a cool space and is located in the center of the Schanzeviertel—making it a good place to base yourself for an exploration of Hamburg’s hipster neighborhood

From speaking with a handful of Hamburg locals, the sense is that the city may not have as much hype for its internationalism and creative culture as other cities (looking at you, Berlin), but the events that do happen in Hamburg are of such high quality, it doesn’t really matter. The city has been actively working to attract creative professionals which may seem at odds with the city’s industrious past, but in practice, actually generates a new type of industry: entrepreneurialism.

And like most cities, there are also countless Facebook groups for freelancers, creative professionals and networking which just requires a bit of searching for. Facebook is personally one of my favorite tools for finding cool things to do—it’s just a matter of tracking down the right types of events and groups. In Berlin, it’s been an incredibly useful resource for networking with other creative professionals and finding meetups. And in Hamburg, the same could probably be said. For those looking to stay long-term in Hamburg, the city even (might I add—amazingly) has a welcome center for new immigrants and expats. New residents can ask questions and get the information they need to settle in Hamburg, to add to the culture and the innovation that’s already begun to take place.

creative Hamburg

Hamburg – a colorful city with an industrial history

Hamburg, at first glance, might just seem like a moderately cool city. There’s the legendary nightlife of the Reeperbahn area, some decent fashion shopping and a history with music that adds to a creative allure. But there’s also this feeling that the city is trying to move forward. A sense that Hamburg wants to be more and to do more. I suspect that comes from the city’s longstanding history as a port-town. It’s been on the fringe between cultures for a long time; no wonder that the city is still changing today.

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Thank you to Hamburg Tourism and #SMWHH for supporting my stay and for giving me a novel view of the city. Read more travel stories about Hamburg here.

  1. Really interesting post, Adam. I’m really considering moving to Berlin, but I’m happy to learn there’s another city with opportunities for creatives to consider.
    The Social Media Week event sounds really cool, I’m going to watch your video now!

    • Adam says:

      Thanks for commenting Christine. Berlin is obviously a great city but Hamburg makes a close second. There’s a really great atmosphere in the city and you can tell that it’s becoming a better and better place for creative professionals.

  2. I heart Hamburg. It was my first homes in Germany and still one of my favorite cities ever. One thing I love is how devoted the Hamburger are to their city — from their point of view, Hamburg is the best city in the world and they wouldn’t give it up for anything! And I can say from personal experience that the Welcome Center kicks ass and takes all of the scariness out of the Ausländerbehörde. :) It’s something I wish other cities in Germany would adopt!

    • Adam says:

      Hi Mandi! I Heart Hamburg too ;) It does seem that the Hamburger are pretty passionate about their city. It’s funny, though, that I don’t often hear of many rivalries between Hamburg and other cities…except Berlin. I know they both claim currywurst as their own. (Personally, I feel Hamburg can keep it!)

      Oh – and when I heard about the Welcome Center, I was totally jealous and surprised! As far as I know, that kind of thing does not exist in Berlin.

  3. Natalie says:

    Very interesting to see my home town from your perspective :-). Hamburg is water, beauty, intellectuality, subculture and open minded people, who like to push things forward. I like it especially, when they do that for a good cause like for example the association “clubkinder”.

    • Adam says:

      Hi Natalie – thanks. It seems like all the words you’re using to describe Hamburg are some of the same I’d choose to use too. The Clubkinder association sounds really interesting – going to look it up now!

  4. Julie says:

    I absolutely love Hamburg. I have sent a year living there, first time in Germany, and now I really want to go back there and settle if possible.
    I love how large is the city, but how green and clean it is at the same time. The history there is amazing, so many things and places to see and visit! That’s a city you cannot be bored to live in.

    And I heard that it is a well developed city, economically, and that there are plenty of opportunities there. Either for Germans or Internationals; very open city.

    Your post is very interesting, thanks for all the insight :) Always love to read about Hamburg!


  5. Damon and Jo says:

    YES. Coworking spaces! We’re starting our EuRail trip in mid-May and we most likely be stopping in multiple cities in Germany, and we will always be in need of some decent WiFi (which is often hard to come by when traveling)!

    Thanks for the recommendations – now we don’t have to go searching on Facebook!


    Damon and Jo

    • Adam says:

      Hey kids! I think you’ll find wifi is pretty easy to come by these days in Europe – most cafés offer it for free, but the coworking spaces are definitely useful! Add Hamburg to your itinerary – it’s such a cool city.

  6. Collin says:

    I am so glad to have found this! I am about to move to Hamburg for a year to teach English. I picked Hamburg with no real idea of what I was getting in to, but I am so glad to see ways to get integrated into the city!

    • Adam says:

      Glad to hear it Collin! Good luck with the move. Make sure you do a bit of travel around Germany while you’re there :)

  7. Jenny says:

    Ahh I am so excited that I found this. I recently moved to Hamburg from STL in the USA and I have had a lot of trouble finding my feet here. Once you get to know Hamburg, the city is absolutely wonderful. Some of the places you described here I haven’t seen yet. I better get on that. I actually decided to start my own blog to try and help encourage Americans that are thinking about moving to Europe to go for it. Do you have any advice.

    I can’t wait to read more. Thank you!

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