Archive for the 'Travel' Category

In which our hero breaks his wife

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

So, there’s more to Cuba than a bunch of cities and beaches.

There’s adventure!

Cuba has a LOT of rough country and you can have a lot of fun in it.
Not a lot of it alone though.
Cuba is, rightly so, suspicious of people that go off into the wilderness. Why, only in 1956 a disgruntled lawyer got lost in the wilderness of Granma and 68 years later he’s still running the bleeding country.
On a more serious note I think we’ve proven we can’t be trusted to walk around in nature without seriously eroding it, leaving a forest of Mars wrappers behind, getting lost and requiring a week long search and rescue, or worse. So they don’t let people walk around in nature unattended a lot.

There is quite the guided tour activity potential though.

  • Hiking
  • Diving
  • Biking
  • Horse rides

There’s even the starts of a canyoning/active adventure kind of tours.

Anyway, we’re not the right kind of people for tour holidays.
It all started in Japan, where we were indoctrinated to tag along with great big busloads of people, taking in the sights, photographing them, being photographed in front of them, and moving on.

We like to do things on our own.
The problem is: We’re idiots.

Viñales

In Viñales we forwent the climbing option due to a recently acquired tendon injury of the hand. BUT we did rent bikes.

For those of you reading this who are interested in biking in Cuba, there are quite a few good options for it, there’s even a bunch of organizations that deal with people biking across the country.
These are mostly on roads though.

What we did, we took the bikes off-road.
We took regular, non-mountain bike kind of bikes, off-road.
We took regular bikes along an ox trail toward the fields
We took regular bikes along what was, at first, an ox trail and later turned into a donkey trail past fields and into backwater Cuba.

It was gorgeous



It was painful

[oops]
This was the first fall. Second came with blood (and I was busy doing stuff other than taking pictures at the time. Husband points, no photographer points)

Viñales is a place I highly recommend to visit if you are going to be in western Cuba. The climbing scene is (apparently, remember the injury) the best developed in the country, for bird watchers it offers some unique opportunities, it produces some excellent cigars and the way the highlands have eroded make for some truly stunning scenery.

But if you’re going to go off-road. . .
Take a tour.

Topes de Collantes

This place is a large natural reserve just north of Trinidad and for me easily the better part of my recommendation to go there.

If you do like hiking though, I recommend only using Trinidad as a staging point. The tours offered from Trinidad are always the same:

  • Go out early morning
  • Hike to a waterfall
  • Have lunch at this one restaurant
  • Visit the world of coffee
  • Go back to Trinidad

If you had a particularly short walk, the house of coffee would be before lunch and you could be on a beach by 2.

Combining two walks in one tour was not possible.

So we took a taxi to the town inside the park (Also called Topes de Collantes, I assume to keep tourists confused) and made our own ways to the hike sites. I am sure there is plenty of opportunity to explore widely off the beaten track, but there is no real need for first time visitors. There are a good 7 controlled hikes.
5 of those are easily accessible from the village.
One of them was an easy 10km walk away.

Well . . . easy-ish.

There was a clear hike indicated on the map that would lead us there.

Side note: Cuban maps SUCK. Read any travel advisory regarding renting a car in Cuba or doing a bicycle tour and it’ll be in the notes. Well, it isn’t much better for hiking maps.
And considering you will be walking with local trained guides, I guess there really isn’t a reason for good maps . . .

IMG_20150321_112415660_Blog

So you can see the yellow line with red outline that indicated a paved road which would take us halfway. Next to this there was a brown line (in between the first and second arrow from south->north) indicating a hiking trail.
Now, this uninterrupted brown line on the map had over 10 splits and joins in reality so a small alarm bell started ringing at the back of my head, but I expertly navigated us back to where the coloured line rejoined the other coloured line and sure enough we were on the paved road just shy of the bridge, exactly where the map said we’d be if we follow this track.
None of this with a single trail marker anywhere along the way btw.

Meeting a nice man searching for his cow on the way 😀

Now, for the next leg we had 2 options.

1. follow the paved road and then the 4*4 track. But the paved road went around the mountain and would be somewhere between double to triple the distance if we’d take option 2.
2. take the hiking trail over the mountain, but in an almost straight line to our destination. Considering how the previous leg went . . . probably not that hard.



Obviously we took option 2.

Also, option 2 made this blogpost.

Option 2 is the brown line starting just after the bridge off the paved road which the first coloured line just rejoined.
Sure enough, just after the bridge there was a footpath heading off in the right direction.
It was kinda slow turning right
OK, so first we gotta cross this little rivlet
We’ve still not turned
No, it certainly isn’t that path
Oh cool, an abandoned village
OK, maybe it was that path a bit back

It took a while to find the the path, but we did finally find one that was headed north.
It . . .
just . . .
kinda . . .
stopped

It kinda stopped halfway up the mountain. And this was after it had been getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller for a while.
We didn’t lose it though, it’s right over there.
No, over there.
Definitely still on the path.

By the time we had to admit to having actually lost the track we were up shit creek and not clear way down.
Just so we don’t come across as complete idiots we kept finding old campsites and empty bottles. It was definitely a path recently.
Jungles just grow fast, people.

Due to the nature of physical reality, despite being lost, if we would keep going north we would end up where we needed to go.
Sun was out, compass was working (mostly).

No problem.

So, I don’t know if you’ve ever been lost in the jungle, but it kinda looks like this:

That was north.
Full of thick stems and uphill. And a lot of the stems were tied together with vines. Thorny vines.

North was not working.
North-west kinda did though.
Mostly.

Except for that bit with the giant beehive.
Fuck that.

There’s a bit in the lonely planet where the writer says it’s a safe country due to there not being a lot of venomous animals or large predators.
Dude who wrote that obviously never ran into a beehive the size of a man halfway up a mountain. Bees will fucking kill you, man. And while running away from them normally isn’t terribly effective in the first case, in this case it would mean 2 seconds of running followed by plummeting head-first to your death down a 70 degree slope.
So yeah. Fuck that.

Climbing that mountain. 1 km on the map took us the better part of 2 hours.

Getting to the top of that mountain.
Man
Wow.

Not just the view either.
Look at that road! That’s a road right there.

Now, any experienced hiker will tell you that it isn’t going up the mountain that will kill you, it’s going down.
It’s the making of a mistake while going down and then the involuntary acceleration in vertical direction following it.
But the north side of this mountain was very gently sloped and very hikable.
Still not easy, there were still high density brush, but at a mere 20-30 degree slope it was a lot easier than trying to go back down the way we had come.

We didn’t go straight down, opting instead to head for a ridge and taking that down.

And on that ridge. . . .

A trail!

Oh yes! A trail!
And on that trail

A cowpat!

Oh man, that cowpat. That glorious cowpat.

You see, I thought there was no such thing as wild cows in Cuba so this meant the path would lead to a farm.

Wrong I may have been about the absence of wild cattle in Cuba, the path lead us straight to some guy’s farm.
And not just any guy. A guy who also worked as driver for tourists on the side.

By this time we were way behind our schedule (time flies when you’re lost in the jungle) and gladly accepted a ride to our destination.
And then accepted a ride back, without having done the hike we hiked to get to. By the time we’d finish that hike all transport options would be gone and walking back (by option 1, of course) would get us back 3 hours after sun-down.

So this picture of the Parque Guanayara waterfall is brought to you by google.

Following is a picture from the Salto del Caburni, which was an easy hike from behind our hotel which I did the next day. There is no Raphaelle in this picture as she stayed back, reading a book and not taking any more chances with bees.

I have had to hand in all rights to lead her off clearly marked trails for the next 6 months. But in 2 months we’re headed to the somewhat milder wilds of the Harz where we will try to have a little bit lower adrenaline to enjoyment ratio.

Find the complete picture set of our visit to Cuba here.

Beaches of Cuba

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

I don’t want to ruin this one with too much text.
I’ll just mention where the beach in question is plus a link to google maps for each one in case you’re interested.
Also, no underwater camera to show the things we saw in the sea off these beaches sadly.

Other than that. Enjoy

Maria la Gorda

Off the western end of Cuba in the middle of a giant nature reserve. If you dive, this is worth a visit.



Bay of Pigs

There’s history here if you’re interested in it. If you’re not, there’s excellent diving, snorkelling, food and lazing here.

Playa Giron
More specifically, Playa Coco (the beach) in Playa Giron (the town). Came with palm tree leaves hut with enterprising local selling fresh coconuts and rum.




Punta Perdiz
Snorkel/dive here!
DO IT.

Playa Larga

We did a few more beaches

But we were busy being bums on them, so no pictures.

Sorry.

Cities of Cuba

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

It’s all very well going around complaining about everything, but there is plenty in life to enjoy.

You just have to find it.

Sometimes you have to look in unusual places.

Your heart. Perhaps in your past, or your soul. Unexpected places, maybe.

I chose to look in Cuba.

Not as philosophical, I’m afraid. But I’m not yet an old grump with time to waste on anything quite as garrulous as describing a search for happiness in my soul here.

No, this one is about the cities we found while looking.

We visited a few of them. Different parts of Cuba are very proud of different things, there’s a great East to West divide in pretty much anything. Music, Culture, Architecture, food, historic role, everything. And due to this there is certainly a great blogpost there in the Cuban Occident vs Orient debate.

Unfortunately, we underestimated the size of Cuba slightly. You see Cuba is 1200 km from end-to-end and we flew into the same end as we flew out of.
That, combined with the poor roads limiting connection speed meant we chose to stay in the Occidental part of Cuba.

But seriously, check this island out.

There’s another island comprising 2 countries that is smaller than this one.
It’s longer than Florida
There are countries in central America that are smaller. As a matter of fact, there aren’t any countries bigger between Mexico and Colombia.
That’s 400 km less than the length of the main island of Japan, and we took a year to see Japan.

Anyway, cities we visited were all in the western bit of this rather large island

La Habana

Capital city of Cuba and the city we flew in/out of. Spanish has this thing where b/v are like the same thing and it is “La Habana” not “Habana” because she is a precious lady?

It is a really special city. There are a lot of different aspects to it.
There’s the gorgeous colonial rose, wilted and all.
There’s the capital of a country very closely allied to the Soviets, with all the fantastic diverse architecture that comes with that.
There’s the city proud, very proud of its revolution.
There’s the city located in the middle of Caribbean perfection.

You might not think the last one is of much relevance to a big city, but the city has its places to hide out the siesta. And there’s a lot of requirement for hiding out the siesta in the Caribbean (for us poor white people seasoned in northern europe). The mid day sun was pretty gruelling at times in the heart of winter. If you find yourself in La Habana, take some time to sit in the little parks throughout the city or under some sort of shade looking out across the harbour/strait of Florida.

The city is subdivided in a number of parts hailing from different eras, and their character reflects that.

There’s old Havana, where this proud city started. And the colonial history is clearly visible in the architecture, and it has some gorgeous architecture. This is also where the impact of the economic realities of the last half-century are most visible. There are a lot of buildings here which, after standing proud for centuries, are in danger of collapse. Or just in serious disrepair.
Old Havana is lovely to stroll through and probably what you were picturing when you think of Havana.
There are a ton of museums, a bunch of small galleries and the focal point of all tourist activities.


There’s Central Havana, which is a bit more modern and where you might easier see the real life of the Cubans that live in Havana.
Also, this is the place you might find the house used in Fresa y Chocolate, which is, I’ll admit, my only exposure to Cuban cinema that I am aware off. This is also where the majority of Malecon runs, and I recommend driving down that on sundown.
And then there is pretty much everything on the Prado/Agramonte; The National capital building, Central park, the museum of the revolution and more.
This is also where you’d find the Cuban music scene that you might have been looking for. Actual social clubs that aren’t Buena Vista.

There’s Vededo, which looks like Miami in the ’50. Or as my lovely wife puts it: “A place you might run into Dexter”. That’s the Michael C. Hall Dexter, not the one with the sweet lab and annoying sister. This is also where you’d go for the night-life and the music the kids are dancing to.
This part is also freshly built just before the revolution and reportedly bankrolled by the Miami mafia. Looks pretty nice in a completely different way from old Habana.

And those are just the central parts. We enjoyed a really good seafood lunch in Marianao and had to cross the gorgeous Rio Almendares to get there.

Other than those Jinteros I mentioned in the Old Grump’s guide it really is a nice city.

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is the French colonial city in Cuba.
The Gallic heart, they called it. The city has an entirely different feel, architecturally speaking, than the rest of the country.

I think that is probably a major draw if you’re into architecture, but I’m afraid I can’t tell my ionic from a Corinthian column. Spanish colonial vs French colonial architecture.
Yeah, I’m stumped.
All I know is both really like their balconies.
UNESCO has decided it is special enough to protect though, there is a large swath of the old city center protected. And it is very pretty, well worth a day of strolling.

Next to the architecturally interesting center there’s also the outlook over Cienfuegos bay and the walk to Punta Gorda alongside it.

While the city itself is nice, there’s a fair few things around it worth visiting as well. The botanical Gardens house the most species of palm (or so it is claimed) of anywhere in the world.
Laguna Guanaroca makes for a very cool visit, especially if you’ve never seen pelicans/flamingos before. A wetlands with a boat ride on a flamingo feeding ground and a trip into a mangrove river.
And as we understand it El Nicho and Castillo de Jagua are really nice visits as well, but we didn’t have the time to go there.
Thinking we were still on a tight schedule. HAH!






Trinidad

While Habana and Cienfuegos are large cities (relatively speaking) Trinidad is refreshingly compact. There’s only 50k people there and you can walk through it in an afternoon.
You’d be doing Trinidad (and Cuba) wrong though.
You walk a bit
You sit a bit
Have some rum
Listen to some music
walk a a bit
Repeat.

I found this style of touristing to be very well suited to Trinidad, better than the other cities we visited at least.
That’s a compliment btw.
This town is really nice to just chill in.
Go south btw, and you come to a decent beach (more on that soon)
Go north and you enter an un-touched-ish wilderness (more on that soon).

So it’s a nice all-round kind of place.
Unless you like history. I’m sure it has some, but I don’t remember it so it probably wasn’t spectacular.




This is where the big music scene is btw. Most of which is mostly really nice, although that one trumpetist mentioned by the old grump really did try to mess things up.

Stage for a big band and room to dance for locals and silly tourists alike.
Some of those silly tourists even had some moves.
Trinidad has little out of the way restaurants and gardens catered by 2-4 man groups with 2 guitars and some maracas and a big central music stage for 10-16 man big bands. You could do worse than spending a couple of evenings in this town.

That’s it where cities is concerned on our trip.
The rest was spent in town and on beaches.
More on that next time.

Old Grump’s guide to Cuba

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

So sometime before we got married we decided upon a a destination for our honeymoon.
Cuba
Somewhere warm, where it would be cold at home. Alright, I can get behind that.
Somewhere cultural. La-tih-fucking-da.
Somewhere with a different economic basis. Yeah, ploughing fields with cows. Whoopty-bleeding-do.
Somewhere 10 fucking hours away by plane. Great, I love sitting with my knees around my ears for 10 hours. Where do I sign up!

Not wanting to be an old grump, I agreed to this destination to celebrate our love and whatnot.

Well, if the holiday wasn’t just completely fucking perfect.

Food

All the food in Cuba can be eaten in 2 days.
The food we ate.
Every day
Twice a day
Consisted of a plate of rice and beans, a plate of cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce, fried bananas and a thing.
The thing could be quite interesting; squid, fish, lobster, chicken, pork or shrimp.
But no matter what.
There would be rice, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce and fried bananas
EVERY.
DAMN.
MEAL.

Oh sure, you can get lobster for $5 but if I have any rice OR beans in the next year I’m going to throw up.

Music

So, the music was described in the guidebook as:
“music seems to emanate out of every nook and cranny, much of it spontaneous and unrehearsed”
Which is code for: There’s a lot of it, and much of it is out of tune or out of synch.

The casa de la musica (house of music) in Trinidad has a nightly show of large salsa bands and in order of appearance I would have liked to forcibly remove:
– The trumpetist of the first band
– The 2nd pianist of the first band
– The trumpetist (again) of the second band
– The violinist of the third band
– The singer of the last band

I hope these guys were just jamming, because if these were practised performances Cuban music fucking sucks.

BUT. For all the disruption a trumpetist creates blowing a different time signature (and nothing quite stands out as much as a frigging trumpet) to the rest of the band at least they weren’t playing the Buena Vista god-damned Social club.
Walk anywhere in a major city in Cuba and there will be a band performing Guantana-bloody-mera. In the tourist quarters of Old Havana it can seem at times as if every Cuban with a guitar has come out to sing the songs that Buena Vista made famous [source].

Accommodation

Every one of our accommodations had a sign outside stating their capabilities.
Beds (No shit)
Aircon (Sometimes)
Laundry (Usually)
Television (With no volume control)
and a red and blue droplet of water side-by-side indicating . . .  I don’t know.
It sure as fuck didn’t mean what you’re thinking of. In the 9 places we’ve stayed at only the last 2 had consistent running hot water. And the last 2 were not the $55  or $75 resorts we have spent nights at.

But, at least if you are newly arrived at a new destination without a reservation there will be 30 Cubans outside of the bus’ door offering you their services.
Accept or not. It won’t matter, they won’t move to let you out of the damn thing regardless.

Jineteros

Or rondom-people-standing-around-on-the-street-for-no-good-god-damned-reason.

  • Would you like a hotel?
  • Are you looking for a hotel?
  • Cigar?
  • Are you looking for a room a room?
  • taxi?
  • Do you need a casa particular?
  • Come into my restaurant?
  • Allemagnia?
  • Amigo, cigar?
  • Come have a drink at my bar?
  • Allemagnia?
  • Do you need a taxi
    • To Viñales?
    • To the beach?
    • To Trinidad?
    • To Cienfuegos?
  • Do you want to get a cocktail?
  • Do you have a place to stay yet?
  • Cigar?
  • Amigo, do you need a taxi?
  • Hello my friend where are you from?
  • Best restaurant. Come in here and have the best food?
  • Stay at my casa particular. The most awesomest place?
  • Welcome to Cuba, is it your honeymoon?
  • Allemagnia?
  • Allemagnia?
  • Hollanda? RADIO VERONICA!
  • Do you need a taxi?
  • taxi?
  • taxi?
  • Allemagnia?
  • taxi?
  • Casa particular?
  • Hey amigo, where you from?
  • Cigar?
  • Excuse me, my friend. No I’m not trying to sell you something, but you are familiar with the music festival that will be going on at the Casa de musica tonight. It is the Buena Vista Social Club festival with special performances all night. Best place to go beforehand would be this little bar I know of, run by my brother. You can find it here. It serves the best little canchanchara cocktail, a local speciality. As a matter of fact let me show you. WAITER, 3 canchanchara please. Oh, you’re right 10 in the morning is too early for cocktails. WAITER, cancel those. The best restaurant to combine with that bar is only 2 blocks away from it, a special place I know of with a magnificent Ropa Vieja run by my cousin. No, no, no, I wouldn’t dream of asking money for this, but if you could help me out on a minor matter though, I could do with some milk for my kid, they only sell it at stores for foreigners though. Oh yes, you are very kind. No, I can’t tell you why they would put something so vital to young children behind a payment system like this. Yes, just this way. Full ration of milk please. That will be $30.

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHCK OOOOOOOOOOHHFF!

Croatia

Monday, April 29th, 2013

We went there.

The thing is that we both have time off from work and Raph had to plan hers at the start of the year because of stuff.
So we planned 2 weeks off in April.

Come March we decided we really should come up with a plan.
Somewhere warm (because), not too far away, somewhere not too expensive, somewhere with good fresh food (because Raph and just . . . you can’t get cheap, fresh produce that’s not cabbage in this town) and Croatia was it because . . . .
Well, we found a cheap flight and didn’t want to look further to be honest.

Some 2 days before leaving we picked up a Lonely Planet and found out Croatia is kind of a nice place on paper.

I love preparing my travel. Those trips fully planned out are always best.

So with a booked hostel and a grand total of 10 minutes looking at destinations we set off.

Turns out Zagreb is a nice place, Croatia takes a longer time to travel through due to all the mountains and there’s a perfectly good airport at the other end of the country that flies to Hamburg directly.
Point 1 of that list was quite nice, point 2 we’d soon find out and point 3 wasn’t going to help us seeing as we’d already bought tickets without looking to see if Croatia had more than just the one city/airport.

Seriously, when I had this in school it was fucking Yugoslavia and the capital wasn’t Zagreb. And when studying maps on far and exotic places, Europe wasn’t where my focus was. Czechoslovakia split up the year after my European geography test in primary school and forced us to re-do that shit. Yugoslavia at least had the decency to wait till I didn’t have to re-do that test. But yeah, as a result, before this trip, I knew there was a Croatia and a Serbia and like two other bits . . . . but yeah.

Anyway, Zagreb is a lovely little city. There’s more to Zagreb than the lovely little city, but that’s the only bit we saw.
It’s a town that seems to live on the street, there’s cafés and restaurants everywhere and it is pretty sweet.



The little theme continued with a curious Lego roof

And . . . toast

Seriously, it’s images like this that make me think there’s point to all your whining that it’s not you that are short but me that’s tall.
That’s pretty average toast then.

We managed to see pretty much everything except the extra special viewpoint on the hill. We couldn’t find that one.
You know . . .
This one.
MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

After Zagreb we went to the Plitvice National Park
Which is a lovely park full of waterfalls in the Karst mountains that looked a bit like this.







Now, it’s a bit early in the season as you can tell by the lack of foliage on the trees. This meant that we could see the waterfalls better, but the photos didn’t really come out as nicely.
The other thing is that this is the time when a bit additional water comes down from the melting snow.

Couldn’t really reach all the areas without wellingtons which meant we missed the big waterfall which was safely hidden after 2 km of trail 30 cm below water-level.

After that we went on to Zadar.
Zadar is a nice town that has a nice middle-aged center which, before reading about all the other things in Croatia we thought was kind of special.
It also featured a sea organ and a sun thing that was being fixed seeing as it wasn’t the main season and all 🙁



From Zadar we did a nice little day trip to Paklenica National Park and walked up a mpuntain.
I suppose this is a good point to mention I’m suffering from some health issues and the doctor said I should be walking a lot.
Not sure this is what he meant though.



And after that we went to Split

First though, we took a day of sitting on our ass (some of that on the sea organ)

Split is a lovely little town with not just a middle-ages centre. It actually has a Roman Palace into which they built their lovely middle-age labyrinth.






Split was another town that offered great butt-sitting, reading and hiking opportunities but also offered the chance of going to several lovely islands just off the coast.

Not sure why people go there though. They were awful.
Seriously, don’t go there.

On the way back (because we weren’t flying from the city on the side of the country we were on now due to being idiots) we took in Krka National Park.

“That’s a nice place, it’s where we started our trip”
“Really? Most people start in big cities with airports”
” . . . Yes . . . . Krakau is a big city and has an airport”

Pronouncing Krka is tricky.

Krka, like Plitvice, is a waterfall park.

BUT, Krka has better management. You see Krka is the waterfall park that charges extra for the use of the bathroom.




After Krka we were kind of unsure where to go and ended up here

Where we knew we couldn’t afford the only hotel in town. But in Krka we met some people that said we should use the private option.

Interestingly, it turned out that all those people that had been approaching us at bus stations while we waddled to our youth hostel were offering us really nice deals.
At least if our experience in Sibenik was anything to go by.
This was, after checking, ALSO in the lonely planet. Really, prepping a little bit can apparently help.

The apartment was so nice (and less than the price of two beds at a youth hostel) we decided to stay there till we had to fly back despite that the main attracting for tourists in that town was yet another middle-age labyrinth town.

It was an interesting trip.
I’d left feeling harassed about having to take a holiday because it would put my already late projects at work even later and now I’m writing this ready for our next trip.

Our next trip, which is an agonizing 12 days away.

Life is hard

Full pictures here as always.

So, you got a job with Airbus, Hamburg

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

I made a newer version of this here

——————————

So, you’ve scored a job with Airbus, in Hamburg. Excellent.

Well, let me be the first random voice on the internet to congratulate you. This is a collection of information I wish I had known upon learning of my future home. Plus a collection of random musings.

Oh, btw. You should probably get a more specific location indicator. We have a giant area around Finkenwerder airport , but then we also have a presence on Fuhlsbuttel airport and then there’s the Stade site. Stade will most likely be referred to as Stade, but I’ve heard it referred to as part of Hamburg before and it would probably not do to have you think you’ll end up in Hamburg and then have to travel 60 km to the west everyday for work.
For simplicity’s sake I’ll assume you will work in Finkenwerden.
Could be worse, I suppose. Airbus has 6 locations that are referred to as “Toulouse”.

This will document all the things I wish I’d known when I first heard I would be moving to Hamburg.

  •  Location.

You will want to know where Finkenwerder is, although before you got here I’m pretty sure you’ve managed to at least google it. You want to know where Finkenwerder is just because you want to know where you can live.
Now pay attention because this is the important bit: The public transport map of Hamburg does NOT include a little dotted line from Teufelsbruck to Airbus.

When looking at the map you will wonder how 14 thousand people can stand to work at a place which is, at first glance, in such an undesirable place from a public transportation point of view. Heck, I don’t have a car, but that glance told me I’d be living south of the Elbe.
You don’t want to live south of the Elbe unless you like your peace and quiet (and fresher fruit). For every other motivation North is pretty much better.
But, as mentioned there is a ferry connection from Teufelsbruck that is not indicated as a dotted line (in the picture above with the red line though). You CAN live on the north shore and come to work quite easily, as a matter of fact most of my colleagues do this. I do this.
So, to see what areas in Hamburg you want to live in you should calculate travel distance from either Teufelsbruck, or Hamburg, Finkenwerder. If you have a car and plan to use it: Use whatever planning software you are used to and you should be fine. For public transport: hvv.de.
During rush hour any travel time with bus/car will take longer. Having a car capable 200 km/h may be awesome for touring the autobahn on weekends (it’s actually rather mediocre, go 250 and we’ll talk about it) but on Monday morning you will be passed by me on my little bicycle.

Once you’ve figured out how the commute to Airbus will go from this place you have in mind you will want to know what kind of neighbours you will end up with. Hamburgers (You’ll have to get used to this not being the plural of Hamburger, and speaking of which you’ll have to get used to Hamburger being a possessive noun) don’t see eye-to-eye about a lot of stuff. Like any great city there’s a great diversity in the population and some parts of Hamburgers’ souls can be gleaned through where they live. And what better way to introduce these places than by giving you the stereotypical view of the neighbourhood of which not a single word is exaggerated. For example, I live in Blankenese and am absolutely Fabulous.
I won’t cover every single borough, but I’ll cover the few I’ve come to know. I don’t have kids, I don’t know the first thing about good international schools or whatever.

Click me!

Blankenese, this is where the rich and the fabulous live (well, the rich anyway). House prices are higher, people are less tolerant of loud parties and there is a distinct lack of graffiti. You’re also on the west end of Hamburg, if you live near the station this isn’t too bad, but if it takes you a bus to get to the station you’ll have a fairly decent travel time for most social events. Also, has the highest density of tennis clubs in Hamburg.
Othmarschen, the slightly less wealthy of Hamburg live here. Closer to the action and dead close to Teufelsbruck for rapid Airbus-commute. Lots of Airbus personnel lives here. Next to the Elbe tunnel for car access to the rest of the world. Also home to the only cricket club I know.
Bahrenfeld, close to Altona for excitement but definitely a suburb for other things. Good connections to get pretty much anywhere in Hamburg IF you are close to a bus/S-bahn station.
Ottensen, See Bahrenfeld, except that you have flats instead of houses and you are closer to the Elbe.
Altona, the western end of the city. Everything beyond this is the suburbs (such as the four described above). This used to be a poor place to live with run-down houses, but then the artists came and made this in to a happening place. House prices have been on the rise for a decade and it is hard to find a place to rent here. Lots of bars and restaurants, a weekly market and a shopping center in the middle of it. A transport hub and departure point of the every-5-minute E86 shuttle to Teufelsbruck, this shuttle will be packed, wear deodorant.
The Schanze, where you will find the communists, anarchist, artists, students, counter-culture-ists and stuff. Especially now that they can’t afford Altona anymore. Really nice place, lots of action but can be loud and you will not want your car on the street on May 1st, because apparently labour day is all about blowing up other people’s cars and stuff. High number of bars, restaurants and the like. Good connections to public transport.
St. Pauli, the reeperbahn is here. If this doesn’t mean anything to you . . . don’t ask your father, you may not want to know what he did that one time on leave from the military. Lots of bars, clubs and “entertainment” venues (lets just assume I mean karaoke bars with that). Good connections to public transport. And if you don’t live in/next to a street with bars it is not that loud, though spillage of drunks may occur. Next to the Elbe, close to lots of good transport options.
Eimsbuttel, the student housing. Not entirely true of course, but it may seem like that, there’s certainly enough of them around. This may mean your neighbours are exactly as obnoxious as you used to be, how dare they! Lovely century old housing, big shopping streets cross through this area, it depends on where within the area you end up if you have everything you need close by. Lots of bus routes and U-bahn stations. S-bahn less so.
St. Georg, oh boy. I have a colleague living here. He lives in the dodgy end, didn’t feel safe late at night, had to carry groceries home 15 minutes. . . He left the country. There’s the dodgy end and the not-so dodgy end. The closer to the Alster you are, the better off. Next to the Alster end it’s really quite nice.
Finkenwerder, it is certainly close. Finkenwerder used to be a fishing village close to Hamburg, that says it all tbh. It is really nice, quiet and you can get most basics here. It is also closer to Airbus than anywhere else in Hamburg. It is, on the other hand, a very, very long way away from the rest of the city. To take the road you need to go through the Elbe tunnel, which is a ways away (and usually congested) and the other option is the ferry (which is kinda cool btw). There are no bars and unless you like football your sporting options are rather slim as well. Also: No free wifi anywhere and no launderettes. Great place for a family though.
Harburg, that’s an “r” there. Until recently not part of Hamburg and connected to it by S-bahn and autobahn only. Separated by large fields of Industrial harbor. It therefore has everything on its own. Bars, restaurants, theatre, movies etc. It has it all. Yet, I know very few people that wouldn’t want to leave it for some of the active centers north of the Elbe. Direct bus connection to Airbus, 30 minutes..

  • Taxation

Your moving costs are tax-deductible. Keep your airplane ticket, the receipt of the moving company and the cost of the vet for your dog. At the end of the year you’ll . . . . well, I don’t know how tax-deductible works here, but that will certainly happen.
Anyway, tax. You’ll pay a lot of it. Considering the current state of America, I’d say paying high tax over low tax would seem preferable. Considering the state of Dubai there’s probably something to be said for no tax at all. Perhaps both are poor comparisons. Some of the tax you’ll feel justified in, others perhaps not so much. On your registration you will be asked to indicate your religious affiliation. Germany will automatically tax you to support your church. I can only assume this law led to an enormous boost in atheist numbers here.

Notable tax:
GEZ, this is a sort of tax on electronic appliances done by a private organization which possibly acts for the government. If you own a TV/Radio/Laptop (or other stuff) you will be asked to pay this. Apparently they sometimes inspect whether your declaration is truthful, but they are not allowed inside your house unless you invite them. So there is a private institution asking you to pay money for something they are apparently not allowed to enforce which pays for something I’m not entirely sure of. And on top of that it seems to tax on top of other taxes already done by the government in the first place. I find the entire thing extremely dodgy and have been advised repeatedly not to pay.

There are three main ways of doing your yearly income taxes:
a. Do It Yourself. German tax code is written in German (bank German actually, see glossary) and most of the resources to help you with this are in German. Also, the German taxation services are prohibited to help you. They can answer yes/no questions on validity, but are not allowed to give you further hints/tips/tricks/advice.
b. Tax hobby clubs, because nothing spells hobby like taxes. Like-minded people helping each other and trying to minimize taxation. These clubs are more likely to have someone that actually understands this than your family does and if you end up doing something illegal you can at least share the blame.
c. Hire a professional, it may just be worth it if you’re not going to be here all that long.
There’s a program by the taxation services to fill out your taxes, but there’s also a 3rd party program called WISO that gives tips and tricks. Also, it explains what the different fields mean, if you’ve ever filled out anything government related you will see the value in this. This program is tax deductable.

I do not own a car, but I’ve been advised by others to go against the recommendations of home countries. These state to de-register in your home country, get a temp license plate and then register in Germany. Unless you’ve just had an extra strict check done on your car it will fail the initial check to register it here(You are not worzy of a German engineering stamp), your temp license plate will expire and you will be car-less for a bit. Up to you and your next scheduled trip back home on if you want to register in Germany first and de-register in your country instead.

 

  • Paperwork.

Have you read Kafka’s The trial?
Never mind, not important.
Paperwork is a big thing here. Everything is registered here, same as where you came from I assume, they just do it . . . better.
Registration
– In order to register with the state you will need an address, a contract, a passport and about an hour out of your way to visit the einwohnermeldambt of your city district. Fill out a form, answer questions about why you filled it out incorrectly, pay €10,- processing fee and you’re done.
– Then, you have to register yourself with the financial authorities, for this you require an address, a signed contract, a bank account and (depending on where you are) some more time to go to a different place and you are done. As of 01-01-2012 you don’t have to do this step anymore as you will automatically get registered after doing the previous step. On 30-01-2012 I did step 1, and then 3 days later I did step 2 anyway because the automated system for step 2 was not online yet. So . . . that.
If you are not an EU-citizen, there may be more.

Importing your stuff
Depending on where you come from this can be an enormous pain in the ass. If you come from somewhere in (Schengen) Europe, just pack shit in a car and drive it (or have it driven). If you’re having stuff flown/shipped . . . paperwork.
Question:
Does this mean anything to you?

No? Have a professional do this. Really, you don’t want to figure this out. You can save a bit of money doing this yourself, but it will take you hours finding out what you need to bring, who to give it to, what to do beforehand, etc. Then you have to spend the hours actually doing it. Oh, and if you could translate all relevant paperwork to German please.
Just google “International relocation services”, possibly including your current country of residence.

Yes? OK, good. Have fun.
Just as a side note: I was asked for proof that I had lived in the EU before . . . because . . . because . . . I’m not entirely sure why actually, certainly it must be possible for non-EU citizens to bring in personal property tax free? The passport I carry, signed by the mayor of the European town I was living in at the time, was not valid.
Read the customs website (zoll.de) for more details, they have an English option.

Some of it. You may want to mix and match. My girlfriend worked in shipping so the sending of stuff was easy. Hiring an agent from the company receiving the goods (They generally have/know/employ people like that) to take care of all the paperwork and deliver it home would have been the optimal solution. Of course, we didn’t do that second step. Spent a good 2 hours in a zoll office filling out paperwork in triplicate instead.

You must be prepared to show receipts to prove the age of all your imported personal goods are over 6 months old regardless of your chosen method. If your personal effects are younger than this you will have to pay import tax. This rule does not apply to your new socks.

And then there is everything else. Like I had to indicate my salary to register for a pre-paid sim card (I lied).

  • Insurance.

Germany requires you to be insured. And insurance may envelop more than what you initially think.
First off, there is health insurance. You can get this through government sponsored programs, or private health insurance. I’ll let you google this for yourself for greater detail, but unless you are fabulously wealthy and single the government plan is better. And if you are not wealthy (independant of fabulousness) and earn less than EUR 48,600.- gross per year you can’t even choose private insurance. Airbus, or your LAK provider will recommend one, otherwise feel free to browse the list at the bottom of this paragraph.
Haftplichtversiecherung, this one is mandatory for your car. It is recommended for yourself (plus partner) and you will raise eyebrows if you delay and mention living in Germany without it. They are about 35 euros per year and if you accidentally scratch anyone’s car/vase/carpet in the next 10 years you will probably consider this well spent.
I can’t remember the last time I fucked someone’s stuff up for more than €20,- but then again, I was a student until recently and my friends’ stuff was 3rd hand IKEA. Now, my friends own houses worth over €250.000,-
Also, dog haftplichtversiecherung. It’s a thing.
Go here for a list of other popular insurances
And here for a list of providers. Some are regional.

 

  • Housing.

So, you know where you want to live, you know what you’re willing to pay. . . . now what.
First off, let me go in to the different kinds of housing you may find. There is a Wohngemeinshaft (WG), a sort of student living. 1 house, multiple people have a personal room but share bathroom, kitchen etc. Affordable, sometimes temporary and of course very dependent on your housemates for living pleasure. Additional pro/con is that it could be furnished. If you come to Hamburg without baggage it may be preferable to have this for a few months while you save up for the IKEA trip that will furnish 2.5 rooms.
Miete, the German for rent. This comes in two main subdivisions. Private and not-private. There is more of the latter, just because renting out housing is a company thing, not a personal thing anymore. Problem with this is these companies seem to think it is OK to ask for 2.38 months (yes, that specific) of rent for their trouble. You will pay €2k+ for their listing the house on a website and showing you around. Plus side is that you’re unlikely to get strange landlords (although one that is utterly uninterested in anything but your money is possible of course).
With Privates you get more chance at quirky landlords (which doesn’t have to be a bad thing) and the number of private listings that are scams is quite numerous (If the listing sounds too good to be true, it is. If they mention living abroad and an escrow-esque service, you are being scammed) but you have a chance to have a more personal relationship with your neighbours/landlord and save 2k while you’re at it.
Buying, yeah that’s well beyond my knowledge base. Find some other poor blogger to help you out with that. I’m assuming it involves bank German and more money than I will make in the next 3 years.
Others, there are other options of course.
Hotels, hardly sustainable in the long run, but certainly an option for a bit.
Pensions, a bit more sustainable.
Friends. Pffffff, like you have friends . . .
Couch surfing, hardly a long term plan, but who knows.

Where to find:

  1. There is an in-Airbus e-bay/craigslist sort of thing where people offer pets, golfclubs and houses called annoncen. You’ll need an Airbus ip for access to it unfortunately, but maybe your future colleagues can help you.
  2. We also have someone working here that puts all housing offers communicated to Airbus in an excel sheet, ask for this person and the excel sheet to those same future colleagues, if they do not know who this person is, leave an email in the comments and I might provide the name. I am NOT putting this person’s name on the internet.
  3. The internet. The internet includes such sites as:
    http://www.immobilienscout24.de
    http://www.wg-gesucht.de/
    http://www.essex-gruppe.de/
    http://www.immozentral.com/wohnungaction.cfm?city=Hamburg
    http://www.wohngemeinschaft.de/Immobilien/ImmoSucheDetail.aspx?GeoID=108020&EType=16
    http://www.vermietung-online.de/
    http://www.saga-gwg.de/opencms/opencms/saga/pages/index.html
    http://www.zwischenmiete.de/post.php?postnr=2&auswahl[]=1359179&PHPSESSID=c953496ed9481d43aa20fddc1a5f6828
    For my first pension:
    http://www.ewetel.net/~friedhelm.freund/Beschreibunge.html
    Other pensions:
    http://www.fair-wohnen.de/
    http://www.zimmervermietung-esteblick.de/
    http://www.pension-schmidt.eu/

Some additional notes:
You can change your electricity supplier, the standard one is among the most expensive options. Check check24.de for other suppliers. Check out different options here, also their standard plans seem to think you keep a 1200 W home entertainment system on full blast the entire day, you may want to lowball your estimated use. Also: If you’re keeping your current amount of electricity-using-thingies, get a readout of what your current use is. If things continue as they are I will use some 25% of what I’m paying for (my plan allows me to get the difference back, if you are very certain of your use you can get a fixed amount plan for a reduced price, but you will pay a lot extra if you overshoot your allowance).

 

  • Electronics.

By which I mean telephone, internet etc.
First off, Germany is in Europe, therefore: European plugs. 220-240V 50-60 Hz. Grounding done by way of the two clampy-thingies on the side, not the 3rd plug inverted like the French have.

Convert/adapt where appropriate.

Telephone, same thing as pretty much everywhere. There are pre-paid phones/SIMs available and for a plan you need to show you actually live here. Price optimalisation depends heavily on your usage, of course. Do not call abroad with a pre-paid and do not call too little with a plan and you should be good. As with most other countries you have the main brands (T-mobile, O2, whatnot) which are expensive, but (presumably) reliable, and the price-fighters. Price-fighters are the little cheap companies which have a primary presence on the internet. You’ll get what they’re offering, so be sure to read the fine print. That big €20,-/month thing comes with a data/call limit and you will pay through your nose beyond that. Flat rate internet, see glossary, often comes in a separate package. Hell, phone and plan often come in separate packages. The reason I’m not carrying the Samsung Galaxy III is because I’m a cheapskate, not because my doctor recommends I stay away from reddit at least 8 hours every waking day.
Useful websites include:
http://www.smartchecker.de/
http://www.handytarife-rechner.de/
http://www.guenstiger.de/
http://www.tchibo.de/
And of course all the normal providers .de

Oh, and there’s like land lines and stuff. I got mine for free with my internet (I’d rather have gotten internet cheaper). They have funny plugs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TAE_connector), so if your plug is non-exchangeable on your handset you’re kind of screwed (although I assume there’s adapters somewhere). For plugs, locate a Max Bahr/Praktiker (Hardware stores).

Internet, backstory required. In 2004 (or smthg) I moved on campus. I had a 1 Gbit/s connection. After that I’ve lived in Korea and Japan, both countries known for not being behind on technology and both featuring kids that refuse to leave their rooms and/or internet. Germany has 2!, count them two!, 100 mbit/s Internet Service Providers (ISP). 1 of them offers its services in Hamburg. It was like moving back among savages. Don’t get me wrong, 16 mbit/sec is high speed for “normal” people. I am normal, in many, many respects I am a completely normal human being. But 16 mbit/sec . . . are you FUCKING KIDDING ME? And don’t give me that “poor children in Africa line”, they should be happy just to get fed!
Anyway, if you need connected internet I recommend checking the different offers out at: http://www.toptarif.de/ or any of the other comparison sites I’ve mentioned so far that include Internet option. Some speeds require a specific connection, if you live in Hamburg this should not be a problem, if you live in the surrounding villages you may be limited in your choice. Most websites come with a check to see if that connection is installed. As with the telephone providers: read the fine print. This is good advice for anything that has fine print, btw.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself at your current location temporarily, you may want to check out the internet sticks. These are USB sticks you connect to your computer that will let you utilize the 3G system much as smart phones do (if you have a smart phone and internet plan, connect it to your computer via USB key and use that). All of them will get you internet functionality. Don’t look for more, you can’t stream TV on this, or download your regular allowance of porn. E-mail, facebook and housing websites, that is all you will get from this. Flatrate, see glossary.
These come within a plan (do NOT get these, they are NOT worth it unless you truly will be without a home for decent internet for 24 months) or on a month-by-month pre-paid thing. Also, don’t get the day-by-day plans, it will not come out cheaper. If you are a heavy user, multiple internet sticks/internet-SIMs are recommended over the high volume ones.
Internet-stick providers:
Side note: Some German ISPs will tell the governing body if you download/upload something questionable. Alternatively there are private detectives that “freelance” for the music companies if your ISP does not report pirating. Not everyone will get in trouble, but there’s a far higher percentage of people here who get in trouble over this than in other countries I’ve lived. As in “I know of 2 people that have had to deal with this”, instead of: “I know of 3 people that have this friend whose brother’s mother got in trouble”.

TV, it’s in German. All of it. All of it is in German. They go through some effort with this, having the same voice actor portray the same actor to have continuity, but at the end of the day half the jokes don’t translate and it feels really, really weird. There’s some satellite options of course (please note that the GEZ will never buy you not owning a TV if you have a dish on your roof) and there is Sky. I’ve yet to hear people be happy with Sky, or any Rupert Murdock product for that matter.
Yipie Yah Yei Schweinebacke!

 

  • Bank account

You will need one. But it comes with something of note. When you have a certain bank and you want to access your money, but don’t have access to an ATM of that bank you will have to pay a fee.
Now, I don’t know how this worked when you grew up, but we had this. Every time you went to bank A, while belonging to bank B you paid 25-50 cents (depending on year) for the transaction fee. This was phased out about a decade ago.
In Germany highest I’ve ever been asked to pay here is €5.95.
FUCK!
THAT!
Lowest I’ve ever been asked to pay is €1.50
I had to pay €4.99 at an ATM that explicitly stated they would not charge addition fees.
Basically, German banks are enormous assholes and I’ve had to fight down the urge to inflict physical damage to bank directors repeatedly.
Then again, these fees may be the only reason Greece is still around.

You will want to pick your bank carefully.
You can choose based on physical proximity, I live next to a HypoVerein bank and a Haspa. Haspa is the bank with the most numerous outlets in Hamburg, Haspa stands for Hamburger Sparkasse, so it’s not surprising. What will also not surprise you is that outside of Hamburg the Hamburger Sparkasse has a less active role. If you plan to leave the city at any point, this may present a problem.
Although you can always travel with great big wads of cash.
Btw, most banks are open ‘till 4 three days a week and half of ‘em don’t open at all on saturdays. Just sayin’, unless you come with a stay-at-home spouse, proximity may not be the best variable to choose by.

You may want to pick based on alliance.
To increase people’s access to money all the banks of Germany work together in Alliances. Just not with everyone else. So depending on your bank you will need to memorize a list of, say, 5 banks where withdrawing money will not cost you the equivalent of those 2 coffees you were going to buy with the cash. This list gets longer if you plan to go abroad.
Alliances are (probably amongst others)
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bankcard-Servicenetz
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cash_Group
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CashPool
and anything that ends in Sparkasse

You may want to pick on interest rates.
In which case you should just check all the banks’ websites and compare, I don’t have a list for you. Special disclaimer, most of my German colleagues have trouble understanding “Bank German” (See glossary), browsing these websites is not a pleasant experience for native speakers, it will be worse for you.
If you have large savings or plan to get large savings you should look into this though, the differences are substantial.

You can pick on convenience
Get a bank account with a VISA credit card (No, not mastercard). With a VISA card you can withdraw money from pretty much every ATM without cost. NOTE: Only other banks, you will pay a fee for using your bank’s credit card at your bank’s ATMs with some banks.
Every konto comes with an EC card with which you can pay in pretty much any German store and use the ATM of any bank in their alliance. Next to that you get a VISA (debit) card which you can use on pretty much all other ATMs with no extra charge. So: Screw alliances, use any bank you want (as I understand it there are 1.5% of ATMs in Germany where the combination of the two cards still won’t work compared with 40% of the ATMS you can use for any given alliance).

Now, almost every bank offers a credit card, and most of those allow you to withdraw money from most other banks, but for most you have to “upgrade” your bank membership (by which I mean, you have to pay more per month) or just simply pay for the privilege. Haspa, for instance, requires 6 euro per month membership, 30 euro a year to upgrade to silver and then another 20 euros per year for the credit card.

You can pick on national pride
Sure, why not. There’s a couple of foreign banks here. They suffer from all the things discussed above, but the service is likely to be in a language you understand. Then again, ING is originally Dutch and that didn’t happen.

Using your (Non-credit) card abroad has the same limitations as any other country. You’ll likely pay a minimum fee to use it and there is a % cost based on exchange rates. The specific numbers may be different than your home country.
Interesting note: It is often cheaper to withdraw money using an EC card abroad (but in the EU) than it is to use it in a non-Alliance bank within Germany. It’s ridiculous.

OK, that was kind of rant-y. Here’s a table showing how much it would cost at a bunch of popular banks here. Every bank has at least 3 options for you to choose from, but I’ve taken the cheapest option that gives you access to a credit-card so you won’t have to go bank hunting when you need to withdraw cash. Please excuse my html table code-fu.

Bank Haspa Hypovereinbank Hamburger Volksbank Commerzbank Deutsche Bank ING-Diba
Monthy Fee €9.70 / month €5.90 / month Free Free € 9.90 / month Free
Creditcard cost €20 / year €30 / year VISA € 25 / year €7.50 / year Free Free

Cash/card culture. This isn’t so much the cash culture as, for instance, Japan used to be. Your EC-karte will be accepted in almost any store (although some stores require a minimum spending). Restaurants and bars, however, don’t nearly have complete coverage.
On the other side I’ve been able to take a bill home from my dog sitter and wire him the money instead of paying cash on pickup.
You should probably some small amount of cash with you anywhere.

  • Social Interaction

If you want to do this through a hobby you are free to google “Football club Hamburg”, where Football is replaced by cricket(we have this), Frisbee, chess, or the hobby of your choice. Certainly the fastest way to make some friends with whom you share at least one interest. There are a number of meetup groups for foreigners outside of that. Internation, E-tisch, toytown, meetup.com and probably many others all have opportunities to meet up. And I think there’s a fair few country specific groups as well. Your colleagues will come from all over, they’ll help.

Ask after YoungEADS. Unless you’re not young of course.

 

  • Food

There’s a whole variety of restaurants for you to visit, some of them even run by nationals of the nations whose cuisine they claim to represent. German cuisine, in the meantime, loves its kartoffeln, bread and meat. Seriously, if you come from a rice country like I did you will gain 5 kg before you know it just from all the starch.
Hamburg is a harbor town and you can tell, there’s a lot of fish restaurants. Oddly enough, there’s hardly any places that sell fish for you to buy.
Wurst. Germany loves its wursts. Imprtant note, you are above the weisswurstequator so your sausages will be red, unlike the Bavarian white sausages. The Hamburger sausage of choice is the currywurst. The currywurst, it is said, was invented by a young hamburger fraulein who hid a downed American bomber pilot in her basement during (and after, because one wouldn’t want ones prisoner/guest to leave just because the war ended, does one?) the war. Without being allowed to get foodstamps for her guest she had to improvise, and one fatefull fall down stairs mixed ketchup and curry to the now-famous sauce in which one bathes curry-wurst. This story is told by Uwe Timm, the same Uwe Timm who confesses to having made the entire thing up. The curry-wurst finds its roots in Berlin.
The beer thing, well I’ve done wurst and kartoffeln so I should mention this. I’m afraid this is the wrong region. They make beer, but it’s not a local passion. Local beers are OK. Holsten brewerie does have an annual festival to make up for it though. My favourite widely available beer is Duckstein.
For vegetarians: BratKartoffeln means fried potatoes, and this is ALWAYS (well, not always) done with onions and bacon. I thought I’d mention it.
There’s a fair amount of veggie friendly options, all the bigger supermarkets carry fake-meats and pretty much all the kebab places (and there’s a lot of them) make falafel too.

  • Glossary:

Bank German, this is the kind of German used in official documents by banks, the government and a few other players. This kind of German relates to whatever your home country uses when it wants to give you a headache with paperwork. Unless you are Japanese, because I imagine 敬語 is a lot worse. My colleagues certainly have had to pool resources to interpret my bank application. And my colleagues are rocket scientists, as will yours be. Lawyers as colleagues would probably have been more useful.

EC karte, this stand for Electronic cash (originally EuroCheck) and is the German version of the debit card. All of them have the magnetic stripe, but most of them have been fitted with the chip as well. While there is cooperation with Maestro etc. there are places where they won’t accept your card if it doesn’t say EC (or has the logo). Considering it is neigh impossible to get a bank account here and not get an EC card this is probably not the most important entry here.

Flat rate: You will pay this per month, no exceptions. This also means: Go beyond X MegaByte per month and we will throttle your connection to 64 kbit/sec (Where X depends on your ISP, and so will 64 kbit/s. I know of one provider where 64kbit/s is being generous).
XXXMbit/s or kbit/s this always means “up to XXX Mbit/s”, never “exactly XXX Mbit/s all the time”. Just imagine what that means for when you are throttled.