Life in Hamburg is pretty sweet. I’ve paid my rent for the month. Have groceries (of course, this makes it on top of my list of things going well! The convenience of being able to go to the kitchen and grab something to eat? So underrated). Classes have started up again and I’m generally in good health (sigh, sans foot issues). So what’s there to write about, in the new year of studying abroad?
Since it’s pretty easy to talk about things I do on a daily basis, I’ll share some tips I’ve learned about commuting in Hamburg. One can drive, use public transportation, or ride a bike. Since I don’t have a car, I’ll focus on the latter two options.
Public Transportation in Hamburg (S-Bahn, Bus, U-Bahn…Straßenbahn [those still exist?])
The S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems are really quite similar. Similar enough to not spend time describing both individually. The main difference is that the U-Bahn is designed to be underground (hence, untergrund Bahn) and the S-Bahn (Schnellbahn) is often designed to get you further distances slightly more quickly than the U-Bahn. I live half a mile from an s-Bahn station, which is pretty good considering that some people live up to two miles from a station even if they’re in the city. My university is five sub-way stops and one change away from where I live, so I’d say I’m in an excellent location!
My first experience with the S-Bahn was on my first trip from the university to my dorm on the first night. Since I’ve been in other major German cities and in the world, I know the standard layout of a subway system: there’s stops connected by railway lines and these lines, while not always overlapping or allowing for a three stop missed stop (i.e. woops, I should have gotten off three stops ago), will get you where you need to go. There’s usually a network, represented with colored lines on a background and a lot of foreign sounding names. There are copies of this network in nice large, I don’t need my reading glasses print at every station.
So as I mentioned before, I took on this network at 7 PM on my first day in Hamburg after not having slept for 40 hours. But I knew which stop I was heading towards and the name of the line that would get me there. There are signs at the front and back of each entrance to the platform showing the line that come and go at the platform, what stops are on those lines, and how long it will take to get from the current location to that stop. I relied on these signs to makes sure I was about to step in the right train. I still find these very helpful when I am unsure if I am heading in the right direction (which happens a lot).
There’s also a sign overhead saying the final destination of the Bahn that is coming and how soon it will be there.
These tools are enough to help most people navigate around the city if they know the name of the stop they want to get to. For those hopelessly lost, there’s info-call boxes at every station as well. And finally, if one can stand the embarrassment, there’s almost always a Hamburger who is more than happy to help, or throw a few words at you over their shoulder while they run to catch the next train.
A few things I learned as I used the system more is that some lines run at certain times while other don’t. Just like I only later discovered that at some stops, trains will coordinate their rides by waiting for another train to come in or, rather than having the opposite track be for the train going in the opposite direction from whence you just came, there will be connecting lines just across the track. This is especially convenient if you happen to be changing trains. I also realized that trains come at scheduled times (no randomness here!) throughout the day and I can avoid the feeling of a missed train if I time my exit from my dorm properly.
As I mentioned before, the U-bahn is similar in theory to the S-Bahn. A bus is a bus pretty much anywhere you go, except in Hamburg, they aren’t associated with the similar stigma there is in the US. They are just as clean and well organized (with electronic signs at stops telling you when the next buses are arriving) as all other public transportation in Hamburg (and Germany) and it really is a shame that the US never caught on to this trend of public transportation properly. There’s a lot of catching up to do!
hvv.de is a nifty site that allows to me to put a stop name or an address and it will give me the names and times of the quickest and least complicated routes, whether it be bus, trail, U-bahn, s-bahn, or tram (which is nothing like the old-school tram image I had in my head. It’s just an electric vehicle that goes on the street).
Oh no. I spent so much time on public transportation, I’ve run out of steam (and you’ve probably run out of patience). But I’ll comment all the same about all the reasons it’s great to bike to commute in Hamburg:
- Bike lanes are for bikes only. And they’re most usually off the street.
- Bike riders often have their own crossing lights. These lights come equipped with a yellow, start-up light that tells you when the light is about to turn green and you better get those feet on the pedals, because the little kid behind you is going to run you over.
- You don’t have to wear a helmet (on second thought, that’s a negative aspect about riding in Hamburg, people here should take their brain bucket more seriously. I wear mine with pride).
- It’s absolutely normal to ride through the city dressed in a suit.
- It’s law to have functioning lights for nighttime riding. Most bikes have it and you can see other riders at all times- and be seen by cars.
- The weather here is often fine enough to ride. And even if it’s raining, there’s a lot of fashionable rain pants/jackets to wear over clothes to protect them.
- Cars here must yield to bike riders and are usually well-behaved enough to do so.
Need I say more? Bike riding in Hamburg is much more convenient and normal than it is in Florida or many places in the US. Plus, it’s a way to get out some much needed energy when, say, you can’t run.
So, tell me, how would you chose to commute?