Livvi-Zen McDonald, second year trainee, Ince & Co
1 April 2010
Hamburg is full of surprises - not least of all the fact that I wanted to stay after six months. I never thought that it could overtake my, as yet, unrivalled favourite city of London. How wrong I was.
The quick turn around between decision and move left little time to develop preconceptions: I arrived after 24 hrs packing up in London, my complimentary BA roll in my bag and headed straight to the docks. Ince & Co’s office is situated in the heart of Hamburg’s harbour, an area called the Fischmarkt, along the River Elbe. You can really feel the heartbeat of the city. I am very lucky to have a desk enjoying a perfect vantage point to view the jetties, waves, tugs and gigantic container ships that pass by my window. As the second largest port in Europe (to Rotterdam) and ninth biggest in the world, the energy in the port is infectious. The only trade off of this is that the office is on the “endangered building” list meaning that, if a tanker goes too hard astern, I might be taking an unexpected dip in the Elbe.
One of the most enjoyable things about living in Hamburg is the relaxed approach to life. The ‘free and hanseatic town of Hamburg’ is the city’s official title. Perhaps it is this history that makes it relaxed, or the fact that there are few skyscrapers, rendering the landscape less oppressive, or the combination of water from the river below and “water from above” (the Alster lakes) creating a city that is green and luxuriant.
Such an unfettered environment has morphed into a lifestyle. Unlike other cities I have lived in, it is rather taboo to eat at your desk in Hamburg. Instead, the restaurants halve their menu price, creating a ‘Mittagsmenu’, and everyone evacuates the office for a full hour lunch, eating with colleagues. Fish is served in almost every restaurant in the docks and a standard lunch would be pan-fried fish with Bratkartoffeln (pan-fried potato with bacon) and a Frikadelle (the original hamburger consisting of a pan-fried beef patty), washed down with Apfelschorle. Whilst an expanding waist line and shrinking wallet are the down side, this is greatly outweighed by the close relationships developed with colleagues. Such friendships have been an unexpected gem in my experience.
Despite being the red-light district, the ‘Reeperbahn’ is the centre of Hamburg’s nightlife. There is everything from a great gig scene, hanging out in a converted war bunker to theatres and clubs. When the weather plays along, people hit the beach clubs along the Elbe. The city’s opening hours are very liberal, with most Hamburgers staying out until early morning at weekends.
As one of the global centres for shipping and with business thriving, Hamburg is a fertile learning ground for a budding shipping lawyer. I have benefitted from a firm that has made great efforts to train me in the language and the exposure to a wide range of international trade, yacht and maritime disputes has enabled me to develop my legal skills. Whilst there are many wine and canapé client evenings, it is refreshing that, in Hamburg, you may also meet clients who gather in the harbour side huts, catching up over a Fischbrötchen and a beer.
Martin Buber said that “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware” and that was never more true of my experience in Hamburg. I have not experienced a city where you can leave work and sail on the lake in the evenings, where it is standard to roll out of a club at 6am on a Sunday and head down to the market to pick up fresh fish and vegetables whilst dancing to jazz with a beer, where you can hang out at the beach clubs in the summer on the banks of the river in the sand, where you can ditch the can-of-sardines-in–the-oven approach of the London tube in favour of a journey to work characterised by the airy, uncrowded trains with no ticket turnstiles, followed by the ferry along the Elbe River, or where the local football team - Sankt Pauli - is characterised by a strip of black with a white skull and cross bones, and a fan base of left-wing punk rockers who play ACDC when they score.
After six months living in Hamburg, I look forward to a summer of kayaking along the city’s pulsating arteries, lounging in the many riverside beach clubs and tripping over to the North Frisian Islands to watch the kite surfing and walk along the sand dunes. Hamburg remains a thriving hotspot for a maritime solicitor and the exposure to great work and collegiate relationships have made it a wonderful experience. It is a bonus that “experience and travel, are an education in themselves”: Euripides.
Livvi-Zen McDonald is a second year trainee at Ince & Co.