Looking back on my childhood, I honestly wasn’t too fond of growing up in American suburbia. But if there was one thing that always brought me joy or at least made me feel more motivated was nature. Where I grew up, summers were spent swimming in the pool or canoeing in the lake, and winters were spent sledding down the giant hill near my house. While Philadelphia is a great city, I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss the green spaces and fresh air found away from the city.
When I first started my study abroad journey, I had no idea what to expect in terms of nature with Hamburg. Sure, in my opinion, German cities are generally a bit more green when compared to their American counterparts, but at the end of the day, they too are just cities.
And then I went to Hamburg. If you didn’t know, Hamburg is Germany’s largest, greenest city, something I didn’t know but now really appreciate as the seasons change and the weather grows warmer. You wouldn’t really pin Hamburg for being a green city, considering its gray and gloomy winters along with the industrial-looking port, but throughout the city are pockets of green and lush environments that feel as if you don’t actually live in a city.
One of my favorite places is Hamburg’s Stadtpark or city park. The Stadtpark comprises a huge plot of green space that is almost always occupied by picnics, runners, grills, and couples when it starts getting warm. While also being home to Hamburg’s planetarium, the Stadtpark also has long walking and biking trails, different types of flora and fauna, and borders large bodies of water where people take a swim during the summer. If you were placed randomly in the park, I highly doubt you would realize that you were also in a large city.
Likewise, Hamburg’s very own botanical garden, Platen un Blomen, which also happens to be directly located near the inner city as well as the university, takes one out of the everyday, busy city life and into that of calm, peace, serenity, and tranquility. Though I have not actively explored the garden enough, I appreciate city planners for placing the gardens where they are and for taking care of plants and flowers that blossom there so well. Though Hamburg’s inner-city does border the Alster, the giant lake, there really is little room for green spaces, which is what makes Platen un Blomen so special.
Besides the park, Hamburg’s Winterhude neighborhood is a posh but nature-filled district that is full of not only beautiful houses but lots of water. The Alterkanal, or Alster canal, runs quietly throughout the area. Not only can you enjoy the beauty of the canals, but you can even rent a boat or canoe on the Alster shore. So, come summertime, don’t be surprised if you see people paddleboarding through the water or soaking up the sun.
Finally, Hamburg’s most interesting natural characteristic has to be the beach. Yes, you read that correctly. Hamburg’s very own Elbstrand, which can be reached by other bus or ferry, has to be one of my new favorite spots. Located in the Blankenesee area, the Elbstrand is Hamburg’s own little beach that provides a beautiful view of the water while also allowing beach-goers to examine and admire the container and passenger ships that float by. Besides the actual beach, long-winding walking trails lined with trees and rocks make you feel as if you never left the city.
What I really appreciate about Hamburg, now after living here for a few months, is how city planners actively made the choice to incorporate the city’s natural landscape into the city itself instead of bulldozing over it. Though I love what big city life has to offer, seeing Hamburg come to life with spring has reminded me of how important it is to keep green spaces alive. I think if there was one thing I wish more American cities would do, it is to not only incorporate such spaces into their city planning but also to maintain them for everyone to enjoy. We are, after all, just another part of nature.