India Week – talking to Anita Shukla

When I first started this blog, the plan was to do interviews just with non-German people, asking them why they came to Hamburg. Well not for the first time, I have decided to interview somebody from Germany: Anita Shukla.

This is because Anita Shukla is able to give a unique perspective from her own experience working with internationals, in particular Indians. And with India Week coming up (block your diary from 2nd to 8th November by the way), what better time to take a look at Hamburg’s ties to India?

What is it about India that makes it such a sought-after trading partner? Anita Shukla told me a bit about India, herself, and Hamburg’s relations with India.

Continue reading India Week – talking to Anita Shukla

Gute Leute – Hamburg’s first English language magazine

Sabela Garcia has already featured on this blog. At that time, she was working for a startup and told me how she came to Hamburg.

Now, she is starting a venture of her own – and as a permanent fixture within the startup scene, a Hamburgian with an international background, and a natural-born connector, she had the idea to start a print magazine about the international scene in Hamburg.

Continue reading Gute Leute – Hamburg’s first English language magazine

A warm welcome for refugees makes Hamburg more pleasant for us all.

This blog is about people who choose to come to Hamburg, and most people whom I have spoken to so far have been young professionals, often from within the startup scene. While some people I speak to have difficulty acquiring permission to live within Europe, many others are lucky enough – as I am – to enjoy freedom of movement within the European Economic Area.

In recent months, an increasing number of people have sought to gain access to fortress Europe. Many are fleeing civil wars, such as in Syria, and are seeking sanctuary within our borders.

Now is the time to remember that, however ill-defined the group of “internationals” we talk about is, anyone who comes from a different country is in. This has to be said because it is all to easy to think of the creative class as the designers, developers and creatives who have gone to western universities and cross borders in the priority lane.

Continue reading A warm welcome for refugees makes Hamburg more pleasant for us all.

Second “Why Hamburg?” meeting and UPload at Shhared (19th February)

Following our first meeting, it would be great to have another informal meeting to talk about ideas in a quieter but nevertheless informal atmosphere. I think we’re still at the “norming, forming and storming” phase so let’s keep it simple again this time.

Time and Date

Alex organises monthly UPload meetings at Shhared which are very informal networking events with a bit of beer and food so we can descend upon him. I have asked him, and he said yes. (Thanks Alex.) The event starts at 6pm, but it’s fine if you come from 7pm if you’re coming in from somewhere else.

It’s on Thursday 19th February.


The official part will start at 7pm:

Firstly: some news from Shhared and “Why Hamburg?”

Secondly: lightning talks (3 minute spontaneous talks) BUT strictly alternating between male and female speakers. If the supply of either gender dries up, then – too bad! – we move on to …

Thirdly: Informal chat, heated debate (as always at Shhared).

The last WH? meeting

At the last “Why Hamburg?” meeting we had people from Indonesia, Spain, Japan, France, UK and of course Germany. The aim of the community is to think (and ultimately act) about making Hamburg more international, for the benefit of both locals and expats. That’s why this is an invitation to everyone.

Getting to Shhared coworking space

Daimlerstraße 71c, Bahrenfeld, Altona.

Usually you can park in the car park next door (although strictly speaking, it’s not allowed so at your own risk).

By public transport, I find it’s best to get the M3 bus which takes roughly 10 minutes from Feldstraße and goes every 5 minutes. Or S-Bahn Bahrenfeld, served by the S1 and S11.

Use the HVV planner to find what’s easiest for you.

See you there!

Learning the language: someone’s got to give

Given the topic of this article, I should quickly explain the word play in the title. When you say “something’s got to give”, that can mean that there are two opposing interests or opinions and one person has to compromise, or just give in. Until yesterday, I thought this to be the case for the language issue.

The language issue?

Yes, the language issue. I mean this apparent paradox: people come to a foreign country, usually wanting to learn the language. But in order to survive here long enough to learn the language, they need to get up-and-running – getting a job, getting registered, finding a network of friends – without speaking German so that they can support themselves long enough to stay here and … learn the language.

So on the one hand, we shout at everyone here: “speak English!”

But everyone who has ever learnt a foreign language knows that you can’t learn a language without speaking it. So: “speak German to us!”.

I can imagine this gets confusing for the locals. They must think: “Can these people please make up their minds?”

German for beginners

Yesterday I interviewed Rebecca from the UK, who works near Johannes-Brahms-Platz (named after the world-famous composer who was born and lived a long time in Hamburg). The article will be appearing in the next couple of weeks – please be patient!

Rebecca came up with a great idea: how about events that are in German, but aimed at people who are non-native speakers? This makes expectations clear from the start of the event: everybody is there to speak German, including during the networking afterwards; it’s ok not to understand everything (and to say so); and you don’t have to worry that people will snap into English as soon as you look puzzled.

We’re in this together: someone’s got to give

Hence the word play in the title. Not “something’s got to give” because we’re all in this together. In return for help learning the language, we can provide immersive environments for non-native speakers. This is a big advantage for people who do business internationally. It’s also just nice.

By having events for English learners and German learners, and making expectations clear, I think we can make Hamburg a better place for international people, and do our bit to make our city more successful internationally. We’ve all got to give – and can only benefit by doing so.

First WH? meeting. What did you think?

Yesterday (22nd January) was the first ever WH? meeting, and I was impressed that so many people came along. I think there were about 12 of us in total from Indonesia, Spain, Japan, France, UK and of course Germany.

The meeting showed that there are enough of us to move on to bigger things, and now we’ve got to know each other we can think about other formats and topics that we want to address.


From the conversations I had, the topics we talked about were:

  • Attracting highly-skilled people that work in technical professions is important, but what about the rest? (In my opinion, this is a topic we need to discuss more)
  • How Hamburg Marketing can engage the community of international people in Hamburg to help convey a positive image of Hamburg abroad
  • Visa restrictions for people coming from outside Europe – there’s a lot of bureaucracy which makes it difficult for companies to recruit
  • Non-Europeans have different issues from Europeans. E.g. they can’t move around Europe as easily.
  • Related to the previous point, people coming in from abroad have lots of different issues meaning that they may need advice from a range of people – so as well as European / non-Europan, issues like whether they speak German already, or whether they are looking for full-time employment, freelance, or setting up a business make a difference.
  • What common interests/problems do we have? How can we make progress on these? How can we have a stronger voice within Hamburg? How can we convince the city that they need us?
  • On the previous point: how can we reach out and help projects and organisations within Hamburg? Just one example would be to encourage international applications for dpa’s new media accelerator. We could also encourage friends and connections from abroad with specialist skills to work for Hamburg companies that need them.
  • … and much more.

Showing the world that Hamburg is where international people can succeed

I want us to become a strong community who can help each other be successful, and thus show the world that Hamburg is a place where people from all over the world can succeed and enjoy life.

Specifically, a big priority should be helping Alex make Shhared a success because this is a huge example of someone rocking up in Hamburg, setting up a business and making a big contribution to our city. I think Shhared is also an important resource for our community – as a meeting place, a place to share ideas and make Hamburg the place we want it to be. No, Alex isn’t paying me to say this 😉

Feedback and next steps

Feedback from yesterday was that the next event should be somewhere a bit quieter where the drinks are cheaper and we can also get some planning done. As Brian said, we should bring our notebooks next time!

So what did you think of the meeting, and what should we do next? Answers on a postcard, or in the comments on this post.


After publishing this article, I got this response from Sabela on Twitter:

“Why Hamburg?” meeting on 22nd January 2015, 7pm – Paddy’s Irish Pub

Recently I have been speaking to a lot of people regarding “Why Hamburg?” and all things related to the lives of international people in Hamburg, how Hamburg can attract more of us, and what we can do to fly the flag for our city.

Anyway, I’d love to get a small group of people together to talk very informally about topics such as Hamburg’s international image, startups, and attracting not only tourists but also skilled workers to Hamburg. You don’t need to be an expert to come along and have your say. It’s more about getting to know each other and talking about next steps.

So if you’re up for it, drop me a short email on john [at] and come to:

  • Paddy’s Bar (Schauenburgerstraße 40, 20095 Hamburg)
  • at 7pm
  • on 22nd January

I look forward to seeing you there!

Why do people move to a city? What Richard Florida says and whether it applies to Hamburg

My aim when starting this project was to find out why people move to Hamburgand to shed a bit of light on whether conventional wisdom – that cities are in competition with each other and need to do all they can to attract mobile, talented people who can move at the drop of a hat – applies to Hamburg. I’m also interested in what cities have to do to attract people.

This is especially relevant as Germany and other countries increasingly find themselves in need of highly-skilled workers, the so-called Fachkräftemangel.

Richard Florida and the Creative Class

One of the major thinkers and writers on this topic is Richard Florida, author of the 2002 book “The rise of the creative class”. A while ago, I got hold of the Revisited version.

From page 183 onwards, you can read the story of a graduate who was recruited from a Pittsburg university by an Austin company. Florida suggests that the real reasons people choose a city. It’s not about impressive buildings:

The physical attractions that most cities focus on building – sports stadiums, freeways, urban malls, and tourism-and-entertainment districts that resemble theme parks – are irrelevant, insufficient, or actually unattractive to them.

As it happens, I was having a chat to friends the other night about whether Hamburg’s hugely expensive world-class concert hall complex, the Elbphilharmonie, will do anything to make Hamburg more visible internationally. According to Florida, it will not. (For more on this, see below.)

What is it that attracts these people? Florida says its more about other people like them, but not too like them – diversity is very important.

What creatives look for are abundant high-quality amenities and experiences, an openness to diversity of all kinds, and above all else the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people. […]

A big part of [the] success [of places where creatives live] stems from that fact that they are places wher creative people want to live.

Does this tally up with my experience? Yes and no

Firstly, “Why Hamburg?” isn’t just about the creative class that Florida describes, but there is a big overlap.

All in all, I very much agree with Florida in terms of what makes a city attractive to internationals: in simple terms, it’s the people. Spouses, friends, recommendations from friends – usually there is somebody who has given the person a nudge to move to Hamburg. Diversity, too, is often mentioned by participants.

However lots of people come here because of work, which Florida says the creative class aren’t so bothered by.

It’s also slightly different with Hamburg, because although other people generally cause someone to come here, it’s usually individuals giving them that nudge for a wide range of reasons. That’s much different from a community radiating an image about a place that attracts more members.

Most interviewees love Hamburg also because of its amenities like parks, lakes, greenness, public transport, night-life etc., which contradicts what Florida says. But I think the group of friends and acquaintances, even a network of like-minded people to do business with, is the most important factor in making people stay.

So was the Elbphilharmonie a big mistake?

The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, pictured in 2011.

I mentioned above that Florida says amenities such as big prestige projects aren’t the way to attract members of the creative class. (At one point he says it can even be a turn-off.)

I’m not an expert on this, but I think the Elbphilharmonie can – possibly – play an important role in attracting tourists and creating a buzz about Hamburg. But I’m sceptical about its power to do so on its own, and also think that for attracting long-term new residents Hamburg needs to have people and processes in place to assist people in setting up in Hamburg. (More on that another time.)

However, don’t forget that the Elbphilharmonie is part of the HafenCity, Europe’s largest urban development in terms of size. The HafenCity will only be completely finished around 2025 – and if they do it right it could combine affordable housing, offices, collaboration spaces and more to foster open innovation in a walkable neighbourhood. Until now, it has had a reputation as an extremely expensive ghost town, but it is gradually coming to life as more people move in and the Hafencity University moved its campus there in 2014. I don’t know enough about it yet, but there is a possibility that by 2025 it will be very different and will be home to a community that will be attractive to talented people from overseas.

Possibly more on this topic in a later post.

Could, and should, Hamburg host the 2024 Olympics?

[UPDATE 2: On 29th November 2015, there will be a referendum to decide whether Hamburg should continue its bid to host the Olympics. Non-Germans aren’t allowed to vote, as explained in my article.]

[UPDATE: On 21st March, the DOSB confirmed Hamburg as the candidate city for Germany.]

Imagine the scene as a flotilla carries olympians and paralympians from all corners of the world along the Elbe to the opening ceremony of the 2024 Hamburg Olympics. The cheers from the crowds of Hamburg residents and their international guests assembled along the Landungsbrücken, the craning of necks to see the athletes from our home countries and – oh my God! – people off the telly. Binoculars at the ready.

Across the world, Hamburg would be the centre of attention with the international press and heads of state here in the city we call home. You probably wouldn’t bump into Barack Obama at Jungfernstieg, but you might catch a glimpse of the odd familiar face off national TV and your sporting heroes from times past and present.

Hamburg has a mountain as large as Olympus itself to climb if it wants to host the Olympics and Paralympics in 2024, but it’s surely achievable. And the view from the top would be supreme.

Timeline: it could be all over by 21st March 2015

[UPDATE] – At the end of February, Forsa took a survey amongst 1,500 residents in Berlin and Hamburg, respectively. The DOSB had said that they would take into the account the results of this survey on whether residents were in favour or against. Hamburg “won” – residents were 64% in favour; in Berlin 55% were in favour.

One thing we know for sure: Germany will almost certainly apply to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic games. Either Berlin or Hamburg will be the proposed host city, and the DOSB (Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund or German Olympic Sports Confederation) will decide on 21st March 2015 which city it will be. Even if Berlin is chosen over Hamburg, there will surely be implications for our city because Berlin is a mere 90-minute train ride away from Hamburg and it would be feasible for major sports teams to have their bases here.

As outlined on the City of Hamburg website, there are many steps to be taken before the final decision. The German city that applies will hopefully be amongst the final candidates, which will be decided in May 2016. After that, the final decision will be taken in autumn 2017.

Could this catapult Hamburg onto the international stage?

On this blog, I have recently been arguing that Hamburg is not one of those “gone viral” cities (in the sense that we say something has “gone viral” on social media), and that it is unlikely to change.

Although I’m by no means certain that it would, the Olympics is one of the few single events that stands a chance of massively increasing Hamburg’s visibility internationally. With seven years’ anticipation (from the time of the selection) and four years’ intense anticipation (following the Olympics in Tokyo), Hamburg would be constantly in the international media. This would be a huge opportunity to build the international brand that Hamburg is, in my opinion, currently lacking.

It would be interesting to see what effect previous Olympic games have had on the image of other international cities, especially ones that weren’t previously well known internationally.

Do we want this? Hamburgians apparently do

There are definitely some people who are against the Olympic games taking place in Hamburg, not least the (n)Olympia group. Some would argue that quality of life suffers when cities become extremely popular because of the “churn” factor I dealt with previously, and the strain on resources. Others fear that it could lead to an acceleration in the gentrification process that is already a very hot topic in Hamburg. And of course there’s the cost of the whole thing, which can potentially run into billions, see below.

I, if I’m honest, have yet to make up my mind. My instinct says “yes” because the city authorities appear to be well aware of the criticisms of previous Olympics – especially where sustainability is concerned. I think it would be good for Germany to host the Olympics following its success with the World Cup in 2006 , and it would say a lot about Germany as a decentralised nation if it were to let it go to Hamburg.

According to a poll reported in the Abendblatt (Hamburg’s local broadsheet), Hamburgians are in favour of hosting the Olympics here: in September, 53% were in favour and 44% were against. Berlin citizens are against hosting it there: 49% were against, 48% were in favour.

On the other hand, Germans as a whole would apparently rather see the Olympics held in Berlin: again reported in the Abendblatt, 40% think that Berlin would have better chances of winning, whereas only 17% think Hamburg has a better chance.

But, as mentioned above, Berliners don’t want it.

Treading carefully following failed Munich referendum

In 2013,  Munich’s bid for the Winter Olympics 2022 fell at the very first hurdle: with a majority 52%, a the proposal was rejected in a referendum. This will no doubt play on the minds of the DOBC and the officials within both cities. Coupled with the aforementioned ongoing debate around gentrification and costs, dissatisfied citizens could cause problems if they feel they are being ignored. I suspect this could play in Hamburg’s favour, because the city is not quite as rebellious as Berlin.

Indeed, following the DOSC’s decision there will be a referendum in Hamburg to allow citizens to decide whether to proceed with the bid.

Sustainability and IOC reform

A big factor in keeping the people on board – whichever city is put forward – will be addressing concerns about the sustainability of the Olympics. We have all seen the listicles with photos of derelict Olympic sites. The logo and campaign CI for the previous Hamburg bid has been rolled out again for this campaign. Whether intentional or not, resources are being reused from the word go.

Sustainability partly means having a lasting effect, and as discussed above, in Hamburg’s case it could be argued that the additional publicity for the city would make a longer lasting change than it would for Berlin.

Where environmental sustainability is concerned, the city claims – probably much like any other city – that it will use existing facilities where feasible, and, where new ones are built, consider the future use of them. Hamburg, and Germany as a whole, are world leaders in sustainability practices so generally I think you can take them at their word.

In recent years, scepticism surrounding large – massive – sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup has grown. Corruption, or alleged corruption, amongst officials is often in the media. Hamburg has made its bid conditional on IOC reform from the word go.

In early December 2014, the Sport Senator (Michael Neumann) made a point of welcoming the IOC’s 40 reforms.

The practicalities

In the pre-application stage, Hamburg had to answer a whole host of questions about plans for the location of the Olympic village, transport arrangements, the Olympic stadium, and of course events such as sailing that cannot be hosted within Hamburg itself.

You can see a map of the plans in this unwieldy PDF. The main area including the Olympic village and Olympic stadium would be on an island in the Elbe between the northern and southern part of Hamburg. As I detailed in my article about Ana, the southern part of Hamburg is often forgotten. Part of the overall strategy with regards to the Olympics is to bridge that gap further.

In terms of transport, it seems that Hamburg considers itself to be up to the challenge without the necessity for any permanent extension to the transport system. We will see Olympic bike lanes, but other than that extra busses and subways will be put on to make up capacity. The StadtRad, a system that enables people to borrow bikes easily for a short time (think of Boris Bikes in London), will be extended, and Hamburg is a green and walkable city.

How much would it cost?

As far as I can see, nobody knows. In an answer to the (n)Olympia group, Sport Senator Michael Neumann said that overall the London Olympics in 2012 made a profit of £30 million. However, the (n)Olympia organisers say the initial projected budget of £3.07bn rose by a factor of almost four. So in terms of costs, we’re looking at possibly upwards of €10bn; but if the Senator is right, then the costs will be at least to some degree offset by income.

For or against?

I’m still not 100% certain whether I’m for the Olympics in Hamburg. My experience in London (where I ended up in the city during the Olympics almost pretty much by accident) biases me a little towards “yes”. Despite scepticism right from the day the logo was announced, people were generally in favour when it actually took place and look back on it, as I do, with fond memories.

Are you for or against? I’d be interested to hear what you think.