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.
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.
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 HamburgStartups.net 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.
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.
- 12min.me 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.
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.
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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