Admittedly, after six years I felt pretty savvy with the whole expat thing. I had lived in two major German cities (Dusseldorf, Hamburg), spent two years living near Zurich, Switzerland, and had travelled to ten other European countries. I even felt comfortable go at it alone, having hiked nearly twenty Swiss Alpine peaks, solo. I offered newbies advice on how to adapt and stay safe, and had loads of tips and tricks for them, requested or not. I even wrote about expat life here on this blog. Oh yeah, I was a real pro.
And then, it happened. I was ultimately humbled in the most direct, even cliché-like, manner. Like some common tourist, I was pickpocketed on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg.
My first trip to Hamburg’s famous Reeperbahn was a bit of shock. I think I can more accurately call it culture shock now though, as I look back at my reaction to the “sinful mile”. Having only been in Hamburg for a few days, after spending the summer in Canada and living the previous two years in Switzerland, the large German city certainly took some getting used to. Specifically the Reeperbahn, with its boldly lit sex shops and strip clubs, mixed in with typical touristy pubs, theaters, and a cop shop; at first glance it was all both amusing, but also confusing. Amusing were the map wielding, walking-shoe adorned tourists, departing from their musical matinee, gasping at the sight of shop windows decked out with ball-gagging manikins. Confusing were the young women lining the side street across from the police station, each placed perfectly six feet from each other, dressed in hot pink and sporting fanny-packs. “Promo girls?” I asked my husband, assuming they were part of some street marketing team. “Not quite” he replied. No, they weren’t in fact selling any products, they were selling themselves. “Hookers” he explained, “sorry, prostitutes.”