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The Happy Hamburgers

Brian Melican, a freelance translator and journalist living in Hamburg, is on the trail of Hans the high-spirited Hansa. And he finds that complete happiness does have a price tag attached.

German local radio stations have recently been handed just the kind of news story they need for feel-good music shows as the nights draw in: the nation may still be gloomier than most European countries (as we’ve reported in a previous blog), but Germans are nevertheless officially happier than they have been for a long time! Whether in Berlin or Bochum, Brandenburg or Bavaria, your average radio listener under the shower is singing along that bit more enthusiastically, soaping up that bit more insouciantly than he/she was just five years ago, back when Volkswagen was more famous for management junkets with prostitutes than award-winning ads with Darth Vader.

According to the Glücksatlas study by the German post office, out of all these jolly Germans, the very happiest are in Hamburg, with the study citing attractive average incomes, good overall job satisfaction, and the wide range of cultural activities on offer as the driving forces behind these Hanseatic high spirits.

As a Hamburg resident of three years’ standing, I can certainly confirm that life here is good. The large, busy harbour and the thriving service industries mean that there’s certainly money sloshing around the place, and there are plenty of people who move to the city precisely for the purposes of finding interesting, one-off jobs they couldn’t get anywhere else. Germany’s hospital for tropical illnesses and the University clinic attract the best and brightest medical students, whilst major publications such as Spiegel and Zeit are still produced up here.

There are some other factors in the happiness equation, too, like the expansive lake in the city centre and the (for Germany quite unusual) proximity to the coast; the range of architectural gems, the cosmopolitan restaurant scene, and the vibrant nightlife.

Beyond that, Hamburg has something that not many cities have, something it’s hard to put your finger on: the city is more than the sum of its parts. Just like Berlin or, on a wider scale, London, Barcelona and New York, Hamburg is a city people aspire to live in – especially the young, creative and well-qualified crowd.

But this has an impact on the one aspect of Hamburg life that doesn’t make for a high happiness quotient as far as I’m concerned: finding somewhere to live. Flat-hunting in Hamburg is one of those soul-destroying experiences in which you are made to feel your own inadequacies, as the best flats go either to people with very high salaries or those with connections to the arrogant coven of estate agents.

Yes, for those looking for even just mildly affordable, non-scabby accommodation, Hamburg is no cakewalk. Not that that seems to make anyone seriously consider moving: as the local radio presenters say every morning, we are, after all, in der schönsten Stadt der Welt – the most beautiful city in the world.


Brian’s Germany blog is called Lostindeutschland 

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