Bringing your dog to Germany? Here are a few vital tips for when you arrive…

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Since COVID-19 is ramping up again, the weather is icky, and we’re not really seeing the sights right now due to those factors and our new pooch, I thought today I’d offer a few handy tips for people who are planning to bring their dog(s) to Germany. This post isn’t about travel tips. I haven’t brought any dogs overseas to Germany since 2014, and the rules have changed since then. Even now, I look at our new family member, Noizy, and realize how huge he is. If we have to take him in an airplane, I’m pretty sure the process will be different than it was with the other four dogs we’ve flown with (three of whom are now at the Rainbow Bridge).

This post is more about encouraging Americans to do things they might not think is necessary. I’ve now spent a total of eight years living in Germany. I was here in Stuttgart from 07-09 and 14-18, and now in Wiesbaden from 18 until now. Having been in two different military communities, I’ve seen a lot of people expressing reluctance at doing things the German way. I’m here to tell you that if you’re one of those people who doesn’t think it’s necessary to get pet liability insurance or register your dog with TASSO, you may be making a big mistake.

The very first piece of advice I would offer any American moving to Germany with a dog is to get pet liability insurance. While you’re doing that, also get personal liability insurance. If your dog damages something or gets into trouble, the insurance is a great thing to have. I would highly recommend using a local broker to get the insurance, which is not very expensive at all. For two dogs, we pay about 80 euros a year. And that covers us if something awful happens, like one of the dogs runs away and causes a car accident, or the dog damages the house in some way. We got our insurance through a German broker who was hanging out in the local Facebook groups. Chances are, you can get it that way, too. Or ask around for a recommendation.

Personal liability insurance is good to have for when YOU have an accident of some sort. We have used ours. Most Germans have personal liability insurance, which also isn’t that expensive and can save you a lot of headaches, unless, of course, you’re dealing with someone who is greedy, entitled, and dishonest, which sadly, can also happen. But that’s a rant for another post. It’s good to have the insurance, though, because the insurance company will fight on your behalf if a person wants more money after an accident or mishap. Also, many Germans won’t expect you to have it.

The second piece of advice I would offer is registering your pet with TASSO.net. This organization is committed to helping you find your pet if he or she gets lost– kind of like an Amber Alert for pets. You send them photos and information about your pet(s), as well as their microchip number(s). They will send you tags to put on your pet’s collar and, should one get away from you, they’ll make flyers that can be posted and shared on social media. When our failed adoptee, Jonny, escaped his pet taxi last spring, TASSO sent us a helpful flyer with contact information. At that time, Jonny was still registered with the rescue he came from and when he was sadly found dead the day after he escaped, authorities were able to contact the rescue to let them know. Both of our dogs are now registered with TASSO, in case something should happen.

Jonny was also covered by the rescue’s pet liability insurance, because we hadn’t yet completed his adoption when he met his demise. If we had taken him in and not transferred his coverage to ours, we would have likely been on the hook for paying for the accident he caused when a driver hit him. Always make sure you have that coverage BEFORE an accident happens, especially if you’re adopting a dog while over here. Our new dog, Noizy, was on our pet insurance before we picked him up two weeks ago. That’s the way it should always be. Don’t forget to get the insurance in the excitement of adopting a new dog, especially since dogs who are new to your family might be more likely to panic and run away from home and you will be less likely to know what could trigger them to behave in unexpected ways.

Many people also look into getting pet health insurance. We haven’t done that ourselves, mainly because our original dogs, Zane and Arran, were too old for it. Veterinary care in Germany is very reasonably priced, especially compared to the United States. Some vets will even take the VAT form, which if you’re American, makes you exempt from paying German taxes on some goods and services. Not all businesses will take the VAT form and they are never required to, but the ones who cater to Americans often will. That can save you significant money, as long as the forms are filled our properly. Our former vet in Stuttgart had some issues with the VAT that resulted in money having to be paid. Fortunately for us, they were willing to pay because it was their mistake, and we didn’t even have to ask them to do it.

Arran getting a belly rub.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with Germany’s laws regarding pets, too. For example, it’s illegal to drive here with your animals loose in the car. They have to be in a crate or wearing a “seat belt”. You can purchase those items easily at any pet store.

Certain items that are legal in the USA are not legal here. Shock collars are not allowed, for example, and you can get in trouble for using them if you get caught. Likewise, you’re not allowed/supposed to leave your animals alone all day. This isn’t an issue for us, since I am at home most of the time, but if you’re in a dual career family with no one home during the day, you may need to hire a dog walker or use a doggy daycare. They do exist here. Germans are also very big on training dogs, so don’t be surprised if someone tells you to take your dog to the Hundschule. That happened to us a couple of times when we lived here the first time– back then, Germans weren’t as accustomed to beagles, who bay when they get on a scent. Beagles are becoming a lot more popular here now, but most German dogs are still very well trained.

If you’re here on SOFA status, make sure you register your pets with the vet on post. Otherwise, German tax collectors will expect you to license your dog(s) locally, and that can get very expensive. German dog taxes are more than what you’d expect to pay in the United States, and there are also fines for failing to register.

We don’t regret having our dogs with us in Germany. Germans love dogs and they can make great ambassadors in facilitating meeting people. It’s easier to travel with them here than at home, although we’ve found some excellent “Tierpensions” for when we can’t take them with us. I love having the dogs around for company, especially when Bill travels. There is a learning curve, though. Above all, I urge all Americans to please GET THE INSURANCE. And definitely register with TASSO! If your dog gets loose, you will want and need both of those protections.

New toy causes odd reaction in Arran…

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Since we’re stuck inside for the time being, Bill and I have been doing a lot of shopping. German businesses have predictably adapted to stay afloat during this challenging time. For some reason, Bill has been getting lots of ads on Facebook for meat. Pork, beef, and other butchered delights are being offered by local Metzgereien, complete with free delivery. He’s also getting ads for coffee. We’ve now fully stocked our liquor supply… which maybe we shouldn’t have done, but our mint plant has really taken off and maybe I’ll want to have a mojito or something.

I figured now was a good time to try new kitchen gadgets, so I decided to get us a pizza stone and an air fryer. The air fryer is an appliance I’d been wanting to purchase for a long time. I bought a Philips model, XXL, which is bigger than the basic, and one can also purchase baking and pizza attachments for it.

A new toy… takes up a lot of counter space, so it must live downstairs in the basement.

We tried it out last night. Bill cooked chicken leg quarters. They turned out deliciously, but after we ate dinner, we noticed a strange adverse effect on our dog, Arran. As Bill was clearing the table, I noticed that Arran didn’t seem to be feeling very well. He looked almost like he was about to have a seizure. He has had a couple of seizure like “spells” in the past, although they have been years apart. It looked like he was going to have another one last night.

Poor Arran had a frightened, confused, and sickened look on his face, like he might vomit. His tail was tucked between his legs, and he moved very slowly, as if he was off balance and on the verge of collapse. He started trembling, which automatically made me think of awful reasons why dogs suddenly start to shake. A friend of mine recently lost her dog to kidney failure, and trembling was her dog’s most prominent symptom. I worried that maybe Arran was trying to tell us something awful… He’s ten years old and seems very healthy, but I know all too well that dogs can have silent diseases that suddenly take them. Our dog, Zane, was diagnosed with lymphoma and died a week later.

Then I wondered if maybe the air fryer had something toxic in it that had poisoned Arran. I even looked up xylitol, which is a sweetener that is deadly to dogs. I wondered if he’d somehow gotten ahold of some. We even considered calling the emergency vet, then wondered if they’d be open during this cursed coronavirus crisis. I was very worried that we might experience another tragic canine loss.

But then I went Googling, and I came across this fascinating Reddit thread. About a year or two ago, many people posted about their dogs’ strange reactions to air fryers. The behavior they were describing was very much like what Bill and I witnessed in Arran last night.

Evidently, what Arran experienced after dinner is not uncommon in dogs when their humans start using new appliances. The air fryer was very quiet to us, but as a dog, Arran can hear things that we can’t. After reading the Reddit thread, it occurred to me that the high, whirring, fan sound of the fryer must have disturbed Arran’s inner ear, which would have affected his balance and probably made him feel sick. For him, it must have been like he was trapped at a super loud disco or something, and it just took awhile for his ears to quit ringing. That would explain his odd behavior last night. Thankfully, about an hour after we were finished eating and after lots of hugs and reassurance from Bill, Arran was back to his normal self. He’s just fine this morning.

People commenting on the Reddit thread wrote about their dogs not liking the Instant Pot, smoke detectors that beep, or other appliances that make a high pitched noises. We do have an Instant Pot, and Arran doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. In fact, he loves it when Bill gets it out, since he uses it to make homemade dog food. But clearly the air fryer is a problem. Fortunately, we have a fenced backyard Arran can hang out in, as well as a large house with distant rooms we can take put him in when we use the fryer. Or, I can just take him for an extended walk… which he loves and I desperately need to do more of for my health’s sake. According to the Reddit thread, just getting the pet away from the appliance when it’s operating is enough to prevent this odd attack.

For more reading about how our latest technology drives pets insane, click here.

Life is standing still…

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Obviously, since we’re locked down, Bill and I aren’t traveling or eating in restaurants right now. But I did want to share this funny video a German friend posted on Facebook. It’s done by a group called Bohemian Browser Ballett, and it’s basically about the importance of being considerate while grocery shopping, and not “Hamsterkaufing”…

If you watch it on Facebook without clicking, you can read the subtitles in English. Otherwise, it’s in German. But I think you’ll get the gist of it by watching even if you don’t speak German.

Hee hee hee!

Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humor? After watching this video, I certainly don’t.

Hopefully, I’ll have more things to write about soon. This virus is really cramping everyone’s style. I continue to update the old posts so they’re readable, so I encourage anyone who actually misses my content to give them a second (or first) look. We hope to be back on the travel/food trail soon.

No, we’re NOT moving to Italy…

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Some readers who follow the official Facebook page for my Overeducated Housewife blogs have gotten the idea that Bill and I are considering a move to Italy. That is not the case.

The post that has people confused is one I wrote three years ago, when Bill’s first company lost its contract. Bill had applied for several Europe based jobs and got a tentative job offer for a government position in Italy. Back in 2017, we were strongly considering making the move to Italy and, in retrospect, maybe it would have turned out alright if we’d gone for it. At that time, I wrote a short post about that looming decision. Yesterday, I updated it, and it was automatically shared on the Facebook page by WordPress.

Although it was heartbreaking to turn down the job, especially since we both love Italy, Bill ultimately declined to make the move. He was then offered a position with his current company, which is much bigger and better than the first one was. The loss of the first company’s contract, while very stressful, turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise.

As it turned out, the move to Italy would have come with no support from the government, since Bill would have been considered a local hire. That would have meant we’d have to move ourselves down there. There would have also been no housing allowance and, while housing is less expensive in Italy, it would have really cramped our style. It often takes awhile for government employees to get onboarded, too, so that would have been a huge logistical hassle for us, since we would have probably had to go on tourist status until the onboarding process was done. We decided that even Italy’s wonderful wines and pastas weren’t enough to lure us into that rigamarole.

As some readers know, we just moved to Wiesbaden at the end of 2018, so neither of us is wanting to move again so soon. We may have to move this year, since Bill’s company’s contract is up for renegotiation; but even if that happens, he’d likely be hired by the subsequent company or reassigned. And, as we have found out, we may have to move in any given year, thanks to random stuff that happens in the military and with contracting companies. Contracting can be a frustrating roller coaster ride, which is why a lot of people prefer working for the government.

Anyway… for those of you who are following the Facebook page and noticing the old posts resurfacing, I do apologize if they’re annoying. Last year, when I switched my blogs from Blogger to WordPress, I had varying degrees of success in transferring old material. I wasn’t able to transfer my original blog at all, probably because it was too big of a file. The travel blog transferred, but I’m now left with posts that have screwy formatting and print that is too small to read. I suppose I could have just started the travel blog over, like I did my original blog, but some of those old posts are interesting and useful. I’d hate to throw that history away, especially since we mostly loved our time near Stuttgart.

I’m now in the process of updating those old posts so they can be more easily read. Every time I update the posts, WordPress posts them automatically on Facebook. I could change the settings so it doesn’t do that, but I think some of the old posts are interesting and contain useful information. Some of them really do deserve another look. If you see a batch of posts showing up on Facebook, be sure to check the date on them.

Thanks to everyone for your patience! I hope to be finished with this tedious process in a few weeks or so.

Tips and traps: how to get the most out of a Germany tour…

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It’s high time to think about making the most of your time abroad!

Every once in awhile, especially if the weather is grim, I like to offer tips based on my experiences living abroad.  Bill and I have lived in Germany together twice.  The first time we were here, we PCS’d with the Army and stayed for two years.  The second time, Bill took a job with a government contractor.  This time, we’re going on four years living near Stuttgart, although Bill did change companies last year.  Besides living in Germany twice, I’ve also been an Air Force brat in England and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia.  At this point, I’ve spent a good portion of my life abroad, and I’ve learned a lot.

Many of my readers are in the United States, finding my posts about what it’s like to work in Germany as a government contractor.  I know some of my readers are contemplating a voluntary move to Europe and wanting to know if they can hack it.  I also know there are many excited readers who will be moving to Germany with the military and want to know how to prepare.  Today’s post is more or less for those people who are going to be moving to Germany to work for the U.S. government.  It’s just a little wisdom I’ve gleaned after living in this community for awhile.

Tip #1– Do join a couple of Facebook groups.

Facebook can be an excellent tool when you’re abroad.  When Bill and I moved to Germany with the Army in 2007, Facebook was just becoming popular.  I didn’t join until we’d lived here a year.  The people I interacted with back then were mostly in the United States.  We lived in a town well away from the military installations, so I didn’t really know any Americans, other than a couple of people who had found things I’d written online.  It was kind of isolating living far away from Americans, although in some ways, it was more peaceful.  We had to figure a lot of things out for ourselves.

In 2014, I found several useful Facebook groups started by people in Stuttgart.  They were a wealth of information, especially when we first decided to move.  For instance, the rules regarding pet travel changed from 2009 to 2014.  If I hadn’t joined Stuttgart Friends, I would not have known that and it might have complicated our travel plans.  Another great group for newcomers is Moving to Stuttgart. I recommend joining one or both of those groups if you’re going to be new to Stuttgart.  You might also join a group related to your hobbies or interests.  They can help you make new friends and gain valuable information.

Trap #1- Don’t join too many Facebook groups.

I made the mistake of joining way too many Facebook groups when I moved here in 2014.  I stayed in a few groups for much too long.  It wasn’t until last year that I started dropping out of a lot of the groups.  I’m much happier for having left most of them.  Why?  Because when you’re in too many Facebook groups, you are more likely to either be annoyed by or annoying to other people.  With every group you join, the potential for getting involved in stupid dramas increases exponentially.  Trust me; I know.  I fully admit that I was involved in way too much of it myself for way too long.

At one point, I was probably in as many as ten groups.  Some weren’t a problem because they either weren’t that active or they focused on subjects that weren’t controversial.  Other groups were problematic because there was a lot of drama, gossip, and petty behavior that ultimately led to hard feelings and precious time stolen.  Living in Germany should be a pleasure.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to see and do new things, try new foods, and make new friends.  Being involved in too many Facebook groups can lead to a lot of wasted time online when you should be enjoying Europe.  My advice is to pick maybe three or four groups at the most and, when they are no longer useful, drop out of them.

Tip #2- Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

This is another Facebook groups related tip.  Most of the available groups were created with the goal of offering help and support.  There is a learning curve to living in another country, even a place like Germany.  We’ve all been through it.  So if you have a question about something, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Before you ask, be sure to search the group and see if your question has already been answered.  That will help prevent people from getting snarky and causing unnecessary drama.

Trap #2- Don’t be too dependent on others for help.

One thing I admire about our first Germany tour was that we had to be self-reliant.  I learned that I didn’t need social media to get my needs met here.  Think about it.  Americans have been living in Germany since after World War II and social media has only been around for maybe fifteen years or so.  You don’t always have to rely on social media to get an answer.  Sometimes, it’s awesome to find your own answers.  It helps you become more resilient and a better traveler.

Tip #3- Do get out and see things on the weekends.

There are so many things to do in the Stuttgart area.  Really… just take a few minutes and look at this blog.  I have written a couple of posts solely dedicated to things to do on Sundays.  You can fill many of your weekends with things to do and not even do the same thing twice for a good long while.  This area is beautiful and very accessible, even if you don’t have a car.  Take full advantage of being here.

Trap #3- Don’t sit at home on the weekends and watch TV or hang out on the installations.

During our first tour of Germany, Bill and I focused on seeing major European cities.  We flew to a lot of countries and mostly ignored what was in and around Stuttgart.  When we didn’t have a trip planned, it wasn’t unusual for us to either park our asses at home and watch Netflix, or go to either AAFES or the commissary and shop.  Please don’t make that mistake!  The first time we were here, we had to move after barely two years in Germany.  Although we did see a lot of great European cities, we really missed out on local stuff.  Since we are lucky enough to be here a second time, I’ve made it a goal to see more of what the Stuttgart area has to offer.  Not everyone gets to come back to Germany, so I highly recommend making it a mission to get out there and explore.  This might be your once in a lifetime chance.  Don’t blow it!

Tip #4- If you are going to look for information online, consider looking in places other than Facebook or official military sources.

Yesterday, Bill and I visited the beautiful Burgbach Wasserfall.  Although we ran into a couple of Americans during our visit, I have never seen anyone in the local groups write about that waterfall.  I found out about it by myself.  After we visited nearby Glaswaldsee, I searched the community’s official Web site and found out about other things to do in Bad Rippoldsau on my own.

Also, sometimes interacting with people who aren’t part of the American community can point you in unexpected directions that will enrich your time here.  When we lived here the first time, we had no local Facebook groups, so I haunted Toytown Germany, which was a great forum for English speakers living in Germany.  It was a fascinating place, since it was populated by people from different areas who were in Germany for different reasons.  I gained  insight into German culture that I wouldn’t otherwise have.  For instance, it was on Toytown Germany that I learned that many German men sit down to pee.  Suddenly, the funny postcard that was posted by my landlord in his downstairs WC made perfect sense.  Since many people on that forum are not here strictly to work for the United States, you get a different perspective about life as an expat.  It can also be a valuable resource for finding certain items you might be missing, especially if you don’t have access to the facilities on post.

Trap #4- But don’t rely on unofficial sources when it comes to your work or any other official business…

This probably goes without saying.  Obviously, you’re going to want official information for anything pertaining to the U.S. military or government, or whomever is your employer.  I mention it because some people really are that dumb.  Of course, they probably aren’t reading this post.

Tip #5- Consider making friends with a local, even if it’s only online.

It’s probably obvious, but I spend a lot of time online in different communities around the Web.  I had the good fortune to make friends with a couple of native Germans before we moved here the second time.  One friend is someone I met when we adopted our dog, Arran.  She was married to an American who was in the Army.  She lives in the States, but was very helpful when moved back to Germany.

Another friend is someone I met on a messageboard.  I have never met her in person, but she lives in the area and has been extremely helpful to me since we’ve lived here.  She answers questions about the culture, suggests places to visit, and even encourages me to learn German.  I don’t even know what she looks like because she’s a very private person, but she has definitely made our second stint here a lot more constructive.  And she gets a kick out of reading my blogs, too, sometimes clearing things up when I misunderstand something.

We’ve also gotten friendly with our neighbors, which makes living here a lot easier.  We were lucky enough to find a really nice neighborhood where people are laid back.  More on that in a minute.

Trap #5- But don’t forget OPSEC.

This, too, should go without saying.  Make friends, but be careful about what you say and do.  Loose lips sink ships, as the old saying goes.

Tip #6- If you are allowed to live off post, consider living further away from the installations.

Traffic in Stuttgart can be absolutely hellish.  However, if you choose to live a bit further out, you might get more out of your stay in Germany.  Why?  Because you won’t be surrounded by Americans or the drama that can come from being around the installations.  You will learn to be more self-reliant, getting the hang of things like shopping in German grocery stores, paying bills, eating in restaurants, and seeing things you wouldn’t ordinarily see.

You can typically get more house for your money away from the installations and, with some exceptions, people tend to be friendlier away from the built up areas.  We lived in a friendly neighborhood when we lived here the first time, but it took a really long time before people would talk to us.  I think we may have been the first Americans in that neighborhood.  Since we’ve been back, we’ve run into our old neighbors, who were actually happy to see us.  The neighborhood where we live now is even friendlier than the first one was.  Last year, we even had a neighborhood party.  Many neighborhoods outside of the military hotbeds have train stations or offer bus service, which can take some of the pain out of the traffic.

Trap #6- But definitely consider your lifestyle.

Living in Unterjettingen works fine for Bill and me.  We brought two cars with us, so not having a nearby train station is okay.  We also don’t have children and we like quiet.  Obviously, some people prefer to be closer to the city for whatever reason.  If that’s you, carefully consider your lifestyle before deciding to live way out in the boonies.  It may not work out for you and moving is an expensive pain in the butt.

Tip #7- Consider buying personal liability insurance.

Trust me, it’s not a scam.  You may also want to consider pet liability insurance, legal insurance, ADAC (or another auto club), and joining your local “Mietverein”.  Bill and I have all of these resources at our disposal.  They don’t cost much and provide great peace of mind.  Our liability insurance has already paid for itself.

Trap #7- Don’t rely on American insurance to cover your needs.

I’m being very serious.  Germans can be very litigious.  Chances are good that if you have a mishap while you’re here, whatever USAA offers is not going to be enough coverage.  Talk to Gerhard Koch. He’s in a lot of the local Facebook groups and he can hook you up.  His English is perfect, too.

Tip #8- Do consider bringing your pets.

Pets can be wonderful companions when you’re a long way from home.  During our first tour, our dog Flea was singlehandedly responsible for getting our neighbors to talk to us.  Our current dogs, Zane and Arran, have helped me make friends with people in our neighborhood and provide incentive for me to get off my ass and take walks in the nature park near where we live.  They also make good watchdogs and discourage people from breaking into your home.  Most of the burglars in these parts don’t want to hassle with houses where dogs live because they make too much noise.

Trap #8- But again, consider your lifestyle.

It is becoming more difficult to travel abroad with pets (Lufthansa for the win, if you’re allowed to fly with them).  Some German landlords don’t like to rent to people with pets because they can make messes and too much noise.  And, when you want to travel, it can be a pain to either find someone to take care of them or travel with them.  However, while we did often use a dog pension the first time we lived here, this time, we have learned to travel with Zane and Arran.  It’s very doable in Europe because Europe is very dog friendly.  I think it’s best to bring pets if there will be someone available to be with them during the day.  Germans don’t like it when you leave your pets home alone for too long.  Also, indoor cats are not really a thing here.

One of our neighborhood cats, just hanging around…

Tip #9- Look at real estate ads to get a feel for what houses are like here.

German houses are different than American houses.  While the military provides a fairly generous housing allowance, not all contractors do.  The contractor that initially hired Bill only gave us enough money to ship 5000 pounds of household goods.  We already knew from the last time here that we wouldn’t necessarily end up in a tiny house.  On the other hand, we also knew that we could end up in a place unlike our first house (and we did).  So look at pictures to get a sense of what you should bring with you and what could be left in storage or disposed of in some way.

Trap #9- Don’t try too hard to househunt from the United States.

The real estate market here is CRAZY.  While I understand how tempting it is to househunt from the States, whatever you find while you’re there will probably be long gone before you get to Germany.  German landlords are allowed to be more discriminatory, since it’s fairly hard to evict people here.  They’ll want to meet you and your family and any pets before they turn over the keys to your home.  Most people end up in temporary housing when they get to Germany.  It sucks, but it’s part of life.  So embrace the suck and don’t waste time trying to find a house before you move here.  Chances are good that you won’t succeed, unless you have a lot of help from someone who is already here.

Tip #10- Consider staying in a long term apartment instead of a hotel room when you first get here.

The first time we lived in Germany, we lived in a very simple German hotel for about six weeks.  Living in a hotel room with two dogs gets very old.  Since our return, a number of short term apartments have become available and there’s also Booking.com and Airbnb.  This time, we spent a week in a hotel and then moved to an apartment, which wasn’t ideal, but was a lot better and more cost effective than the hotel was.  Check Stuttgart Bookoo for leads, although be aware that the site is closed on Sundays.

Trap #10- Don’t be too picky about housing, but also don’t be too quick to lease.

Remember, you’re hiring a landlord.  Some landlords are awesome and some are nightmares.  Bill and I tend to be too eager to sign leases.  While I do like our neighborhood, I don’t necessarily love our house.  Sometimes, I wish we’d held out a little longer.  But then I remember that real estate is CRAZY in Stuttgart and thank God that we did find a place that has most of what we need.  Some people look for months.

In conclusion…

I could probably go on with more tips and traps, but I think this post is long enough for today.  I may write a follow up at a later time, depending on how well this post is received.  I do hope that if you’re reading this, you find this information helpful.  And if you’re thinking of taking a contractor job, allow me to offer some encouragement.  Bill and I have loved most every minute of our time in Germany during both tours.  We see the opportunity to live here as a tremendous gift.  And even if we didn’t like it here, we know that living here might make us appreciate the United States more.  At the very least, it’s really broadened our perspectives in so many ways.  So try it… you might like it!

Six tips on finding interesting restaurants while traveling…

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Last week, when Bill and I were in Annecy, France, we were sitting in a very cool Irish pub.  Bill said, “You really have a knack for finding unique places to eat when we travel.”  He looked around at the dark, wooded bar, where the interesting music had me Shazaming more than once.  It was like an oasis of calm, away from the crazy throngs of people buying produce at the market outside.

A large Kwak at a very cool Irish pub in Annecy, France.

It’s true.  I am pretty good at finding restaurants.  I don’t usually do a lot of research before I go looking for them, either.  A lot of times, I just follow my nose and end up at a place that turns out to be somehow memorable.  But then, I also tend to look for stories in places I visit.  I observe people, listen to music and sounds, and yes, when it comes to food, I do actually follow my nose.

While we were enjoying our lunches, Bill said, “Maybe you should write a post about how to find interesting places to eat.”

Since it’s a rainy holiday and I’m sure my neighbors would prefer that I not make music (which is what I usually do when it rains), today’s post is about finding good places to eat when you travel.  Some of the tips will be no brainers and/or obvious, but others might be a surprise.  If anything, writing this keeps me out of trouble for awhile.  So here goes.

Tip #1– Follow your nose.

I found this restaurant by following my nose.

I have already mentioned following your nose twice.  Now I’m mentioning it again, because I think it’s very important.  A lot of times, your nose can tell you if you’re going to like the food.  Sometimes, it will lead you to places you never thought you’d be.  For example, in May 2014, Bill and I took our third Space A hop to Germany to celebrate his impending retirement from the Army.  We then took a train to the Champagne region of France, where we booked a hotel in Reims.  We stayed two nights at an Ibis by the train station, which was selling my favorite bubbly in its lobby.

On our second night in Reims, we went looking for dinner.  At lunchtime, we happened to pass by a non-descript building with its front door left open.  A heavenly aroma wafted from the inside of the place.  I made a note of where the restaurant was.  Then, when it came time for dinner, I literally followed my nose inside the restaurant and soon found myself in what was once an old bomb shelter.  It turned out it was a Belgian owned eatery called L’Alambic.

Although I didn’t review it on Trip Advisor, I see that other people had the same delightful experience Bill and I did.  It really had a very interesting atmosphere.  I probably would have passed right by it if I hadn’t taken a moment to smell the aromas emanating from the restaurant.  So tip #1 is to take a moment to stop and smell the air… then, if you like what your nose tells you, follow it into the restaurant.

Tip #2– Avoid the main drags and restaurant rows.

 

This was a “main drag” restaurant that soon became very crowded and annoying.  It was mediocre and expensive, although I did observe a man swiping Grand Marnier…

Although there are certainly exceptions to this rule, I’ve found that restaurants on main thoroughfares tend to be mediocre.  They often capitalize on their convenient and visible locations to attract diners.  Many people won’t necessarily have a problem with dining at these places on the main drags because they’re easy to find and convenient.  A lot of times, the easiest restaurants to find also offer menus in many languages, which is also a sure sign that the food will likely be both overpriced and mediocre.

Of course, there are times when Bill and I give into the pressure and eat at a tourist hotspot.  We usually regret it, though again, there are always exceptions.

So tip #2 is to consider looking away from the main drag for places to eat.  You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Tip #3- Mind the alcoves and alleys.

One of my favorite alley finds!

My next suggestion comes from a memory from Labor Day weekend, 2008.  Bill and I visited Brussels, Belgium and enjoyed a splendid three days of drinking Belgian beers and eating frites.  On a Sunday afternoon, we went looking for lunch.  Brussels has a particularly obnoxious “restaurant row”, with barkers aggressively trying to lure diners in for their set menu deals.  By Sunday, we’d learned to avoid the vortex of that street.

But then, I happened to look down an alley and noticed an interesting looking sign for what turned out to be an awesome pub.  Upon walking through a small, but tranquil outdoor courtyard, we walked into a marionette theater.  And then, we were in the theater’s amazing cafe, which offered an outstanding array of Belgian beers and was playing excellent music.  It would have been very easy to miss Theatre Royal De Toone had I not been paying attention to the nooks and crannies that often get overlooked by tourists.

So tip #3 is to take a moment to explore alleys (as long as it’s safe) and alcoves.  Sometimes, the best local haunts are located in obscure places.

Tip #4- If all else fails, consult OpenTable or a similar application.

Reiskorn in Stuttgart is one unique place I found on OpenTable.

I have found a number of good restaurants in different cities via OpenTable.  You will find reviews there, which can help you determine if a place is worth a visit.  It’s also easy to make a reservation, which is very handy if you don’t speak the local language.  Granted, a lot of the restaurants that are on OpenTable aren’t necessarily local gems.  I wouldn’t want to encourage people to rely on OpenTable or similar services to find places to eat.  But it can be a good place to find interesting restaurants and a convenient means of scoring a table.

So tip #4 is to not be afraid to use reservation apps.  Sometimes, they will direct you to some excellent places.

Tip #5- See the forest for the trees.

A most excellent Biergarten in Linz, Austria.  We almost walked right by it.

In June 2008, Bill took me to Passau, Germany for my birthday.  While we were on that trip, we took a day trip to Linz, Austria, which is one of the cities I stopped in during my month-long train tour after my Peace Corps assignment back in the summer of 1997.  We wandered around the city, which I had remembered as very pretty, but kind of boring.  Suddenly, as we were walking near the center, I noticed an area canopied with many trees.  I looked to my right and noticed an excellent Biergarten where we spent a couple of fun hours watching business suit clad Austrian students getting loaded.  I see on TripAdvisor that the Klosterhof gets mixed reviews, but we have good memories of our afternoon there.   

So tip #5 is to explore the wooded areas.  Sometimes, you’ll uncover hidden gems there.

Tip #6- Above all, observe!

Don’t look now, but there’s a famous monk over your shoulder…

I think this is actually the most important tip.  Even if you land in a tourist trap, as we did last weekend, you will get a more interesting experience if you open your eyes and look around.  Observe your surroundings.  You might catch someone swiping Grand Marnier… or you could see a famous Buddhist monk who’s going around the world, spreading his message of world peace.  I find that observing my surroundings and watching other people makes dining more fun.  It definitely helps me form stories for my writing, which makes posts more engaging for my readers and for myself.  As I have mentioned before, I mostly write these blogs for the time when we’re no longer traveling so much.  I will want to remember and savor the memories… and the flavors.

So tip #6 is to open your eyes, your mind, and your other senses.  You might come away from your meal with a good story to tell.

I probably could add to this list of tips… and I may one day write a sequel.  For now, I’ll leave you with these few suggestions as I retreat to the futon to watch Little House on the Prairie.

Mail order goodies…

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Living abroad can present a person with certain first world problems.  When you live in a country that isn’t your own, you tend to miss certain food items from home.  The same is true when you adopt another country, even just temporarily, and then go back to where you came from.  Wherever you are, you learn to like certain things.  Then, when you move, you miss them.

Like a lot of Americans in Germany, there are a few things I miss from home.  For instance, I miss things like really good barbecue, American style burgers, American style pizza (yeah, I know), and certain southern delicacies.  Since my husband has access to the commissary through his job, I can get some things I miss, although a lot of what I can get at the commissary are not necessarily things I can’t live without.  I can do without Cheetos and Dr. Pepper, even if I like having them once in awhile.

Likewise, when we moved back to the States in 2009, I came to miss certain German products.  It was bad enough that I would try to find them online and order them for a taste of Europe.  I expect I will do that again when we finally give up this globetrotting existence… if we ever do.

Anyway, today’s post is about things I miss when I’m in Germany and things I miss when I’m in America.  I’m sure a few people can relate.  By the way, I realize that these things are definitely luxury items that aren’t particularly good for me.  But what the hell… you gotta take your joys where you can find them!

A few favorite American goodies…

Coffee

Yes, it can be expensive and annoying to have American coffee sent to you “legally”… 

Although one can easily get Starbucks in Germany and lots of people have told me about the “wonderful” German and Italian coffees I can get here, I do have a favorite American brand.  And I like it enough that I go to great lengths to get it here in Germany.  I’ve even gone as far as paying an exorbitant duty on coffee, just so I can get my beloved Peets.  When we lived in Germany the first time, somehow I missed the memo that it’s forbidden to have coffee sent to Germany through the APO.  I used to order it all the time.  When we moved back here in 2014, I heard that the post office was cracking down on coffee contraband.  So I got used to drinking Starbucks.  A couple of years ago, I decided I had to have my Peets.  So now, I have it delivered, high costs be damned.  And, by the way, I don’t agree that German or Italian brands are better.  Tastes differ, though.

This is a consistently excellent brand, available through Amazon.

Grits

Although some people disagree that Virginia is a southern state, I grew up there and consider myself a southerner.  Even if Virginia weren’t a southern state, I still married a guy from the South who grew up in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas, which are definitely southern states.  We love good grits.  When I say, “good grits”, I mean the kind that have to be boiled for a half an hour.  Consequently, we order grits from South Carolina.  I buy several bags at a time and we enjoy them every Saturday morning.  They are so good!

Best peanuts I have ever had.

Peanuts and peanut butter

Yeah, I know I can buy peanuts and peanut butter at the commissary.  I am very picky about my peanuts, though, and love to get them from a vendor from my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia (near Williamsburg).  I order them from Whitley’s Peanut, which not only sells peanuts and peanut butter, but also stocks the best cashews and pecans I’ve ever tried.  They also sell sinful chocolate peanut clusters that are too fabulous for my ass.  I like their peanut butter, not so much for myself, but more for my dogs.  Whitley’s makes peanut butter that consists solely of crushed peanuts.  It’s excellent for pilling my dogs because not only does it not contain sugar or xylitol, which can be poisonous to canines, it’s also not sticky.  It’s easy to put a pill in the peanut butter, roll it into a neat ball, and feed it to Zane and Arran without making a mess.

Chile sauce

I actually started enjoying Tio Frank’s Chile Sauce after we moved here when a guy from New Mexico mentioned it.  I’ve never actually been to New Mexico, but I do like this chile sauce, which is great for adding zing to favorite snacks or even a batch of chili.  I have to admit, though, it’s been too long since my latest order.  You can find it on Amazon or through Tio Frank’s official Web site.  Their official site is down now, but you can check out their Facebook page.

Beer

When we first moved back here, I used to regularly order American craft beers from Saveur-Biere in Belgium.  Recently, I have gotten out of the habit of doing that, although I have to admit missing certain American favorites, like Deschutes and Prairie Artisan Ales.  Sometimes I find them locally and other times, I order them and spend a lot of money.  What can I say?  Sometimes I need more than a garden variety German wheat beer.

And now for a few of my favorite European goodies.

I haven’t actually tried this flavor (though I’m ordering it today!)…

Drinking chocolate and other chocolate

When Bill and I lived in Germany the first time, I picked up a canister of Dolfin drinking chocolate from Belgium.  This stuff was unlike any chocolate I’d ever had.  It comes in flakes that melt in hot milk.  I loved it so much that when we were in the USA, I ordered some from a retailer that specializes in importing chocolate.  I don’t drink a lot of hot chocolate now, although every once in awhile, I get the urge… and when I do, I have some of this at the ready.  I will admit that I also bought special Ritter Sports that weren’t available in the States.  For awhile, you couldn’t find coconut Ritter Sports, which were my favorite when we lived here last time.  Now, they’re available again and I don’t love them as much as I used to.  I also love certain British brands, like McVittie’s Club Bars and Penguins.

Careful… these are addictive!

Peanut “Flips”

My German friend, Susi, who lives in North Carolina, introduced me to this German snack food when I visited her house one time.  Basically, it’s like our Cheetos, only it’s peanut flavored instead of cheese flavored.  Totally not something I should be eating, but I do admit to loving it… and buying it when I’m in the States.

The Italians do tuna right.

 
 
Italian or Spanish tuna
 
This ain’t no “Chicken of the Sea”.  I don’t know how or why, but Italian and Spanish tuna is absolutely fabulous.  It’s a real treat to find it and something I miss when I’m back in the States.

Speaking of Italy…  

Bucatini noodles
Bucatini noodles are available in the USA, but they aren’t necessarily stocked at every grocery store.  I love these fat noodles that are hollow on the inside.  I think they appeal to the kid in me, who has fond memories of eating Franco-American Macaroni and Cheese.  Of course, I can now make my own version that is vastly superior to the canned stuff I used to eat all the time.

Believe it or not, we used to have this in the States.

 

Ice cream

Ice cream is a big deal in Europe, especially in Germany and Italy.  Even the stuff you buy at the grocery store looks fancy and comes in yummy adult flavors like Black Forest or bourbon vanilla.  Back in the 1980s, you could purchase Viennetta ice cream desserts in the States.  Those have gone away there, but they’re still available in Europe.  I miss them when I’m stateside, but it’s hard to ship ice cream without it melting.

Potato croquettes

 

I’m sure I could get these in the USA, but they’re more like tater tots than what we have in Europe.  I love these little potato nuggets.  I’ve encountered them often in the Czech Republic, but Germans also have them.  I may have to learn how to make them myself.

Certain wines and liquors

 

Lately, I’ve been ordering Armenian wines from vendors in Europe.  That’s a thrill for me, since I lived in Armenia for two years and it’s not easy to find Armenian wines in the United States.  Europe is closer to Armenia, so I can get them here, mostly through a Belgian supplier.  Ditto for certain European liquors like Isle of Harris Gin, which is an up and coming brand that hasn’t gotten international coverage yet.  I also buy a lot from Master of Malt, which also ships to the United States.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Bill and me.  For one thing, I don’t know when we’ll be finished in Germany.  For another, I don’t know if we’ll be heading back to the States after we’re finished here or moving on to yet another European country.  Either way, I’m sure to expand my palate wherever we go… and probably my waistline, too.

The high price of giving someone the finger in Germany… part two

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In May 2015, I wrote a piece on this blog called “The high price of giving someone the finger in Germany”.  That particular post has proven to be somewhat “evergreen”.  I still get a lot of hits on it, even though it’s over two years old.  I suspect people find it when they hear about Germany’s rules about not insulting people when driving and not cussing out the cops.

Lately, the weather over here has been pretty depressing.  I think it’s starting to get to people.  Over the weekend, there was a very long thread in one of our local Facebook groups about how “rude” Germans are, especially in the Stuttgart area.  A lot of Americans chimed in, agreeing with the original poster that people here can be cold, insulting, and unpleasant.  Quite a few Germans from other parts of the country have also written that this part of the country isn’t like the rest of Germany.  Some have even said that people here… well… they can be assholes.

While I have been yelled at more than a couple of times by locals, I personally don’t agree that people here are any more unpleasant than in other parts of the world.  What I have found is that Germans, as a whole, can seem uncommonly blunt and/or assertive about some things.  The Stuttgart area is part of Swabia, which is apparently considered “different” somehow than other parts of Germany.  Indeed, there is a dialect here that even native German speakers say can be hard to understand.  Swabians, as a whole, have a reputation for being very tight with their money and uptight in general.  However, reputations are really just stereotypes and not everyone lives up to stereotypes.

Trixi demonstrates how different German dialects can sound, even to native speakers.

When Bill and I moved back here in August 2014, I befriended a local on Facebook.  I still haven’t met her in person, but she follows my blog and often gives me useful tips.  One very helpful piece of advice she gave me was to read Your Swabian Neighbors.  Written by American Bob Larson, who once served as a military liaison between German government officials and American military officials, this handy book is all about the idiosyncrasies of life in Baden-Württemberg for those who aren’t actually from this area.  Larson, who married a Swabian woman and lived in Germany for many years, published his book in the early 80s.  Though some parts of the book are dated, a lot of the information still holds true today.  I’m thinking it may even be time to re-read that book as, after three years, I am starting to miss my homeland a little.  At this point, there’s no telling how much longer we’ll be here.

Sometimes Americans in Germany advise others to “flip the bird” to people who piss them off in some way.  I know this is not a good idea when driving or dealing with police officers.  Nowadays, most everyone has a camera on their phones and if it can be proven that you used an obscene gesture, you can be fined up to 4000 euros (although my local friend says this isn’t the usual fine).  It’s probably not a good idea to flip people off even if you’re not driving, though.  Germans like their fines.

I see the original list of insults I included in my first post about this has been updated.  Here’s the translated list for your amusement.  Some of the insults are pretty funny.

I know it’s tempting to fire back at people who yell at you, but you might want to hold back from using obscene gestures or engaging in namecalling… 

 

It’s not always easy living in another country, even when it’s Germany, which has some things in common with the United States.  I know people get frustrated.  I get frustrated, too.  And I will even agree that sometimes dealing with locals can be infuriating.

On the other hand, there have been times when I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the kindness of locals.  In fact, on Saturday, Bill and I went to a grocery store and picked up just one item.  The lady ahead of us saw that we had a small order and enthusiastically invited us to go ahead of her.  In my neighborhood, my neighbors threw a block party and invited Bill and me to attend.  Every morning when I walk my dogs, I am sure to hear at least one “Guten Morgen” from other dog walkers or my neighbors.  They usually sound like they mean it, too.  Sometimes they even smile!

Even the vet where we take our dogs has taken a shine to us.  I’ve been having some problems wearing my contact lenses lately.  I’ll wear them for a few days with no problem, then one or both of my eyes will suddenly get really irritated.  Last week, I took Zane in to his vet for an allergy shot and she asked me if I was okay.  It was probably because I was wearing my glasses and hating it.  But she noticed I wasn’t myself and genuinely wanted to know if I was alright.  That’s a far cry from the usual “How you doin'” you get in the States where the person doesn’t actually care how you are and doesn’t expect a truthful response.

So… the moral of this post is, assholes are everywhere.  I don’t think there are any more assholes in Swabia than there are in other parts of the world.  It may just seem that way, especially to Americans, due to cultural differences, the occasionally harsh sounds of the German language, and, maybe, even the gloomy weather we’ve had lately.

If you ever feel tempted to flip someone off or call them names, take a minute to consider all of the awesome vacation destinations in and around Germany.  Wouldn’t you rather spend 4000 euros on a cruise somewhere or a first class flight?  I know I would.

Kenn dein Limit… and lunch at Krumme Brücke in Tübingen

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I saw this poster today and was rather proud that I managed to decipher it in under five minutes.

My eyes are finally back to normal and we had very pleasant weather today, so Bill and I decided to take a trip to Tübingen for lunch.  Actually, we started off and halfway there, I got paranoid about my curling iron.  I wasn’t sure if I turned it off.  So we turned around and came back.  I unplugged the iron, whizzed, and we started off again.  Then Bill got paranoid that the front door wasn’t locked.  Fortunately, we weren’t yet out of the neighborhood before he decided to turn around and check the lock.  All was fine, so off we went.  We reached Tübingen at about 2:00pm, which is when some restaurants stop for a pause in service.

The sign out front…

 

Nice…

Because we had arrived at the witching hour, we decided not to be too choosy about where we had lunch.  I noticed a pleasant aroma coming from Krumme Brücke, a little eatery I’ve passed a hundred times all five years we’ve lived in this area.  Although we have passed this restaurant many times and I have been curious about it, today was the first time we ever stopped in for food.

At 2:00pm, the place was pretty busy.  Most of the tables were full, though we managed to find a two top by the masonry heater across from the bar.  I saw some steps and wondered if maybe there was an upstairs dining room, but there wasn’t.  The short flight of steps led to the kitchen the the tiny bathrooms.  Krumme Brücke is truly a hole in the wall kind of place with not a lot of seating, especially as the weather cools down and everyone eats indoors.

The menu at Krumme Brücke is fairly eclectic.  Not only do they not take a pause between lunch and dinner, they also have a menu that is full of different stuff.  I think it’s mainly a German/steak restaurant, but I saw pasta, fish, and even a few “international” dishes.  I had gyros, for instance.  Bill had cevapcici, which is a Balkan dish.  I also noticed soups and salads.

Bill checks out the vitals on the victuals.

I wasn’t actually that hungry when we entered the restaurant, which was a blessing, because it took awhile before the wait staff got to us.  As we were waiting, the last three normal sized tables filled up, with only one tiny table facing the kitchen remaining open.  It had three chairs around it and appeared to be suitable only for drinks.  Speaking of drinks, it took awhile before we got ours.  But we both settled on Urtyp by Schwaben Brau, which was on draft.  We could have also chosen a bottled beer, wine, or any number of non alcoholic drinks.  It appeared that they had a full bar.

We tried not to be too conspicuous as we sat there waiting, but I couldn’t help but notice the young balding guy sitting at the large table next to us.  He kept staring at us.  I’m not sure why he was staring or why this often seems to happen to us in Tübingen area restaurants.  He wasn’t as obvious about it as the lady at Lustnauer Mühle was, but he was definitely noticeable in his noseyness.  Maybe it was my blue sweater.  I was wearing the same one today as I was during the last time we were assailed by a “looky lou”.

The other thing I noticed about this restaurant was that they were playing some really good American rock and soul from the 60s and 70s.  I was enjoying the music when I could hear it.  That’s actually one thing I note when I’m in a restaurant or a store.  If they play annoying Muzak, I probably won’t be back, especially if it’s a restaurant.  I have no complaints about the music in Krumme Brücke.

Bill’s Cevapcici, little sausages with ajvar sauce (mild red pepper sauce), fries, and onions.  It was pretty good and reasonably priced.  

My “German style” gyros.  I’m pretty sure this was once a schnitzel that was cut into strips and served with a rather watery tzatziki sauce.  I did enjoy the fries, though, which were nice and crisp.  The gyros tasted okay, but they weren’t really Greek style.  I probably wouldn’t order this again, although the German dishes I saw coming out looked really good.

  

Today’s offerings.

Once we finished up, Bill called for the check.  It was just over 26 euros.  After we paid, we headed over to Vinum.  We weren’t really planning to go there; I think I was just lured there out of habit.  We dashed in for a quick look, grabbed their last bottle of Georgian wine, and picked up a few cheap everyday bottles they were featuring on their tasting table.

We walked back toward the car a different way and I stumbled upon a do it yourself ceramic place.  We didn’t go in there, but I took note of it, because I figured some local American readers might be interested.  It appears to be a place where you can book an apartment to paint your own ceramics.

A couple of pics of Al Farbrica for the curious.  Like I said, I know next to nothing about this place, but am noting it for those who enjoy such activities.  We saw several women in there with girls and they appeared to be having a good time painting ceramics.  I also picked up a brochure, though it might be better to simply load the Web site in Google Chrome and get the low down.

 

We pressed on until we got to Die Kelter, which has sort of our go to spot for a final pee before we make the drive home.  We stopped in for a glass of primitivo for me and a double espresso for Bill.

They have The New Yorker in English and funky music to go with their beverages.

A parting shot before we made our way home.  I love Die Kelter.

One thing I noticed in the bathroom was a sign (at the top of this post) warning people not to drink too much.  It was in the bathroom stall, where many people have probably suffered the worst effects of being drunk.  It’s funny, because Die Kelter’s toilets are on the third floor and it’s a bit of a hike to get to them.  I would imagine it would be especially bad if one was very inebriated trying to get to them.  You have to climb several flights.  But anyway, I tickled myself by understanding the sign.  Basically it said that man can’t walk on one leg, nor on all four legs.  So know your limit or suffer the consequences!  They even have a Web site!

Alas, I don’t always…

So… that about does it for today’s blog post.  We’ll see what I come up with tomorrow.  Next week, we’re headed back to Ribeauville, so there will be France posts.