public transportation

A touch of Hamburg on a spring day

I scored my first goal for my soccer team today! It was a swooping sensation that I’ve been feeling sporadically throughout the past weeks since being back in Hamburg. I can’t say whether it’s only because I am relieved of thesis stress, but I’m convinced that it’s also part of being in a space that I’m slowly turning into a home.

Sure, people can say that six and a half interrupted months are not nearly enough to claim identity, but if I feel like the person I am now is because of being here, then why can’t I say that it’s become part of my identity? And if I’m at home with myself, then I am home here.

Quite possibly I could not be more honored if others were to agree with me.

There are moments here that speak to me in ways that I guess are not as unique as I originally thought. I was surprised to see my thoughts written on the walls of Hamburg Airport with other names ascribed to them.

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The other day, I had to head towards the hub-hub surrounding the main train station and was struck by the straight edges of the buildings juxtaposed against the softer lines of s-bahn trains crawling into the station like caterpillars.

2015-04-13 12.29.47My intention was to receive a refund for the public transportation ticket I had to buy before receiving my official student pass in the mail. After the short exchange with the Beamtin who happily told me her name was the same as mine, I spent a contented hour wandering around the library, much more connected to the city than the university library. The building had two sculptures in front whose meaning I still haven’t figured out.

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That was Wednesday and in the meantime, I’ve been to Portugal and back (I seem like such the world traveler, but I’m not… it was the first trip I took outside of Germany since being here) and now I’m siting in my room, watching the sun enjoy one last glorious hour to end a rather perfect day. I was intoxicated by the sun today, as I think the rest of Hamburg was. Despite the intense soccer game this morning (did I mention, I scored a goal?) and reading I still need to do, I went for a bike ride along the dry streets and paths of south west Hamburg, enjoying the sight of families and couples who had come out into the sun to play games and enjoy time together. I think if there’s anything endearing about the Germans, it’s their urge to enjoy the sun and let it dance on their skin when the weather is good.

Small sprays of spring blossoms floated into my room through the open window, bringing their pastel colors and promise of trees with heady crowns (don’t get me wrong, they can still be a nuisance to clean up. I’m glad I don’t have a garden here).

I have good things planned for this week. I’m skipping soccer practice tomorrow to go to a slam poetry event some of the soccer gals told me about, visiting courses Tuesday through Thursday, visiting a race expo on Friday, and running a marathon on Sunday. If I feel tired this week, who knows what I’ll feel like in 172 hours. But I’m sure if the trend continues, I’ll be just as happy then as I am right now, maybe even more so.

Hope you’re having a good weekend, letting the sun dance on your skin, and finding moments to reflect and be grateful.

Commuting in German

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!

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common S-Bahn sign

Hamburg U-Bahn S-Bahn map

said colorful lines

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).

Bike 

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:

  1. Bike lanes are for bikes only. And they’re most usually off the street.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. It’s absolutely normal to ride through the city dressed in a suit.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?