laws

Word of advice… don’t call a German cop a “fascist”…

It’s another cold, grey, drizzly weekend in Germany. Christmas will arrive next weekend. I suppose I should be more into the spirit of celebrating the season, but I just can’t seem to find my mojo. I don’t really like going out in yucky weather even when there isn’t a pandemic. The spiking COVID numbers aren’t inspiring me to get out there and mingle with the masses.

But not everyone feels the way I do. My German friend, Susanne, shared with me some news out of Reutlingen. It seems there was a riot/protest there last night, consisting of Nazi sympathizers and COVID deniers, most of whom weren’t masked and ignored the rules against congregating. Things got pretty out of hand in some places, so the Stuttgart police showed up to maintain order.

Germans are usually pretty tolerant of peaceful protests and strikes. They’re usually scheduled ahead of time and announced, so people can choose not to be involved… or, if they’re into it, they can participate or observe. I believe one has to get a permit to protest legally. I have no idea if this group followed the rules. The protests I’ve seen are usually pretty chill… afterwards, everybody breaks up and has a beer or something. But every once in awhile, people do get their hackles up. Such was the case last night.

This video was shared on Facebook by Matthias Kipfer in the public group, 99,99 % (Filder) vs. R.E.S.T.. I’m not sure where this particular incident involving the man screaming about fascists took place. It might not have happened in Reutlingen, although I can see by the photos and videos in the group, there was plenty of action there last night. I see the guy screaming about fascists was originally posted on Twitter by Stadtrand Aktion. As you can see, the cops weren’t amused. This guy was promptly arrested. I suspect he will get a nice big fine, as outlined in the trusty 2022 Bussgeldkatalog. Edited to add: Susanne thinks the fascist cop incident might have happened in Berlin, since the cop has a B on his uniform.

More than once, I have written about how insulting people is illegal in Germany. It’s especially true that insulting the cops is a big no no. All I can think is that this guy took complete leave of his senses, forgot to whom he was speaking, and lost total control of himself. I know how that feels. It happened to me a time or two when I was a teenager. This fellow looks to be well beyond the teen years.

I think it’s funny that there’s a catalog of fines people can consult to find out about laws and fines. I especially get a kick out of the section on the fines for insulting people in traffic. When they are translated into English, they are both hilarious and nonsensical. Below is the list of fines as of 2022.

Some of these insults seem to have lost a little in their translations.

In all seriousness, these protests were pretty bad. Apparently, some people were using children as human shields against the water cannons cops tried to use to disperse the agitated crowds. I was impressed by how the cops managed to keep their cool. German police officers don’t seem to be as violent as American police officers often are. But then, they probably pay better and offer more training.

My German still sucks, but I do find myself picking up words and understanding more, especially when my friend shares interesting German articles with me that include juicy tidbits about current events. If I have gained anything from the past seven years, besides a massive beer gut, it’s a rudimentary understanding of basic German. My Armenian is still better, though. That isn’t saying much.

The above photo basically translates to “People who think vaccinations change their DNA should consider it an opportunity.” Who says Germans aren’t sharp witted? Not I!

In other news… I hope the new blog design is welcomed by the few regular readers who have been keeping up with me during these COVID times. I decided to play around with it a few days ago, and when I went to change it back to the theme I was using, I discovered that the “wandering” theme was retired. So now I have a new but similar theme, and a new color scheme. I think it’s easier to read.

Standard
advice, airlines, coronavirus, Europe

Yankee– stay home!

Yesterday, I read a travel column on The New York Times‘ Web site. Someone had asked for advice about travel to Europe this summer. The article was entitled, “Help! I Want to go to Europe in August. Is This a Pipe Dream?” Below is the letter in question:

My husband and I are currently planning a trip to Ireland, Portugal and Italy for August and September. We are only reserving hotels with free cancellation policies and our airline tickets can be changed to a future date. Knowing that much of Europe is closed right now to United States citizens because of the virus, is there much hope that our plans will materialize, or are we wasting our time? What should I watch for? 

Kathy

The author of the column, Sarah Firsheim, wasn’t as discouraging to Kathy as she probably should have been. She pointed out that some destinations in Europe are opening up for tourists. Greece and Iceland, for example, are starting to welcome tourists again, as long as they’re vaccinated and/or have negative COVID-19 tests. She points out that a lot of hotels and airlines are becoming more flexible about stays, too.

What I would like to tell Kathy is that she needs her head examined. I don’t think flying to Europe is a good idea right now, especially for tourist purposes. But even if COVID-19 weren’t an issue, I would never recommend coming to Europe in August. Why? Because August is typically when Europeans go on vacation. Many businesses close while people take vacations or, if they happen to be expats from another country, they go “home” to see family. August is also uncomfortably hot in many parts of Europe, and not everywhere has climate control, although it is getting more common every year.

But especially this year, I think Americans coming to Europe is a dumb idea. I said so in the comment section, with this comment:

Everything is locked down in Europe. I live here now. Save your plane fare.

I got an “angry” reaction from some lady in Sweden, who says I’m wrong because things are not locked down in Sweden. This was my response to her. I will admit, I was a bit annoyed, because I’m tired of random yahoos on the Internet shooting people down and insulting them simply for expressing their opinions.

Happy for you in Sweden. Where I live, it’s been locked down since November. Same seems to be the case in all the neighboring nations. If I were living in America wanting to come thousands of miles to Europe, enduring an overnight flight on a plane, donning a mask while being poked in the back by my neighbor’s knees, and having the person in front of me reclined in my lap, I would want to be sure the trip was well worth it.

Right now, living in Europe and LOCKED DOWN for months, I would say it’s definitely not. Your mileage may vary in Sweden. *shrug*

And then the Swedish lady came back and wrote this:

We have never had locked down and I am happy for that. But we can’t do much anyhow can’t see friends. I would not have come here from US either.

Seems to me this would be obvious. I mean, technically, one could say that Germany never locked down like France or Spain did. It’s never been to the point at which one literally can’t go anywhere. But shops are closed; people aren’t supposed to visit (although my neighbors break this rule); some places have curfews; museums and attractions are closed; hotels are not allowed to accept bookings for anything but business travel… Why in the HELL would an American want to come to Europe under those conditions, except maybe to see family? So I responded thusly:

Yes, and that was my point. I am American and I live in Germany. I love Europe, but I wouldn’t want to come here from America now. Not until more people have been vaccinated and things are more the way they were before. I can count on one hand the number of times I have left my neighborhood since the fall. My car’s battery has died twice because there’s nowhere to drive, where I would go for a reason other than just to drive to keep the battery charged. It’s a lot of money and precious time off for most Americans to vacation in Europe. I think they should wait until they don’t have to make an appointment to shop.

Vaccination rollout here has been excruciatingly slow. Even the U.S. military, which was supposed to be getting us our vaccines sometime before the end of May, is now delayed because the shots they got were the Johnson & Johnson ones, which have caused clots in some women. And, at least in Germany, citizens can’t get vaccinated because there aren’t enough shots available yet. It’s going to take time before people are able to get the shots and things will be less weird.

I’m not sure if the Swedish lady realizes that many Americans– even those with good jobs– have a very limited amount of vacation time available to them. And that’s if they’re lucky enough to work full time and have benefits. Our culture doesn’t value leisure time like European culture does. A lot of people get two weeks– tops– per year for vacation purposes. Consequently, not only is it costly and uncomfortable to come to Europe from the United States, but those days off are very precious. And truly, I think Americans who are wanting to come to Europe this year are nuts, although I might consider visiting a place where things aren’t quite so restricted.

If I hadn’t decided against flying for the time being, maybe I would consider visiting Iceland, for instance. I have never been there and I would love to go. But, to be honest, the idea of flying is very unappealing to me right now. I think flying is unpleasant under the best of circumstances. People seem to turn into majorly selfish assholes when they’re on an airplane. Now, add in the fact that everyone is supposed to stay masked the whole time they’re flying… and not only is that uncomfortable and annoying, but now everyone on the plane is paying super close attention to what other people are doing, which I find weird and creepy.

The New York Times ran another article entitled “How Safe Are You From COVID When You Fly?” It was a pretty interesting article, complete with a cool interactive feature showing how air flow works. But just looking at the interactive feature creeped me out…

A creepy screenshot from the interactive simulator of everyone crowded together while wearing masks. It just looks really uncomfortable. Who wants to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for that experience, unless it’s absolutely necessary?
You can’t even eat a snack or drink something without everyone watching your every move, silently judging you and seeing how long it takes you to replace the mask. Creepy! Who wants to pay for that?

I do love to travel. I miss it, although I haven’t been as deprived as a lot of people have over the past year. But I don’t want to fly anywhere until the COVID-19 situation is more under control. I’ll fly if I MUST– like, if Germany kicks us out and we have to go back to the States. But I won’t be volunteering for the above experience anytime soon. I get the masks are important for now, but this whole coronavirus experience has made me dislike people even more than I ever did. And the idea of being mashed into a seat next to a bunch of cranky, hyper-vigilant people, right on the edge of making a scene over COVID-19 regulations, just makes me think flying is extremely unappealing right now. I would much rather drive, and not have to worry about fellow passengers and flight attendants observing my every move, fighting over armrests or seat recliners, getting through security, worrying about getting sick, using disgusting airplane lavatories, or any of the other many inconveniences and annoyances associated with flying.

And again… I think if you’re American and you’re looking for a vacation destination in Europe for this year, you need a reality check. Now is not the best time to be here. COVID-19 numbers are up, and things are very iffy in terms of border closures and lockdowns. I say, save your plane fare and go somewhere in North America.

Standard
advice, dogs

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

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.

Standard
anecdotes, housekeeping tips

New toy causes odd reaction in Arran…

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 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.

Standard
advice, Germany

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

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!

Standard
Uncategorized

The quest for housing in Stuttgart…

One hopes to find decent housing upon arrival in Germany… Stairwell living is like going to the dogs… (just kidding!)

 

I always get tickled when I see newcomers posting in our local Facebook groups, looking for housing ahead of time.  I definitely understand why they do what they do.  The prospect of looking for housing in a foreign country is daunting.  No one wants to live in a hotel for weeks on end, especially if there are kids or pets in the mix.  Bill and I have now moved to Germany twice and, both times, we spent weeks living in temporary quarters with two beagles (different ones each time).  I know how much that can suck.

In the fall of 2007, we lived at the Vaihinger Hof for about six weeks.  I’m not sure if the Vaihinger Hof is still operating.  The one thing it had going for it, besides extreme pet friendliness and tolerance, was that it was very close to Patch.  I also liked the people who were running it, although it was a very no frills hotel and not very clean.  The reason we were at the Vaihinger Hof and not a military hotel is that they were all booked solid.  This was before the Panzer Hotel existed; it was being built as we were leaving.  There were three smaller hotels on Robinson, Patch, and Kelley and all three were full.  We might have preferred the Marriott in Sindelfingen and, in fact, we spent our first night there.  But all they had available were the executive rooms, which were way more expensive than what we could afford.

In 2007, many of the housing units on the four installations in Stuttgart were being renovated.  There was absolutely no prayer that we would be living in a “stairwell apartment”.  So we started looking for a home to rent.  We put our faith in the housing office, which at the time, had a rather bad reputation.  I will stress that we were helped by the housing office and did find our first home in Germany through them– actually very quickly, if I recall correctly.  What kept us in the hotel for weeks was waiting for the landlord to get it ready for us.  He and his ex wife had gotten divorced, so he had many years of memories to sort through and relocate.  He also had to repaint the house before we could move in.  So we lived in the hotel and tried many of the restaurants in downtown Vaihingen, because we had no kitchen facilities to speak of at the Vaihinger Hof.

Still, the Vaihinger Hof was a lot better than this place…

 

When we finally did move into our home in Pfäffingen, it was pretty far away from all the installations.  It turned out to be great for us, though, because we don’t have kids and my husband doesn’t mind commuting.  I’m sure for other people who come to the Stuttgart area, the prospect of trying to find affordable housing close to work and school and with all the things Americans love in housing seems very difficult.  So they try to get a jump on it before they get here.  I won’t lie.  Finding a good house within your budget can be difficult and worrisome.  It’s a rite of passage we all go through.

I just want to say “I get it” to those in America who are stressing over housing in Germany and trying to house hunt from the States.  I did the same thing both times.  Both times, we ended up living in rather obscure towns well outside of the American hot spots.  The first time, my husband ended up paying slightly more than the housing allowance he got from the Army.  The second time, in 2014, we found a less expensive place.  What we pay is well under what his company gives him for housing.  But again, we don’t have kids and we don’t live close to the American action.  Actually, I kind of like it that way.

When we moved back here in 2014, we spent one week in a German hotel and then found a temporary apartment, where we stayed for three weeks until we could move into our current home.  We found both our house in Jettingen and the temporary apartment on Stuttgart Bookoo.  But, once you get here, you find that houses can be found in a variety of places.  In some ways, it’s a lot easier finding a home now than it was in 2007.  Facebook is a huge help.

When newcomers post in the local Facebook groups about finding housing, there’s often a tinge of eagerness, nervousness, and/or even a little bit of panic.  Although I know this advice is hard to hear and even harder to heed, I would NOT recommend trying to find a house before you get here.  The reason for that is that most decent houses get scarfed up very quickly.  This is a place where people are constantly coming and going, so rental housing availability varies on a daily basis.  There’s no sense in whetting your appetite for food you may never get to taste, right?  Also, if you’re military, there is a very real chance that you won’t get to live on the economy anyway, although again, the availability of government housing changes daily.

The most I would do is look for neighborhoods and communities you would be interested in seeing.  Don’t look at specific houses with a mind to rent them, though you might check out what they look like as a means of deciding what to bring with you.  Study the area and decide what you must have in order to be happy.  But, even as you do that, realize that you may very well end up somewhere else.  We did both times, and both times it turned out better than fine.

Don’t worry… your new home, whether on base or on the economy, will look better than this.

 

When people tell you that you might not be able to live off the installations, understand that they really are telling the truth.  If you are here with the military and housing is available, you’ll have to take it, make a very convincing case for why you can’t take it, or pay out of pocket for your housing off base.  Of course, some of the people telling you about this requirement may simply be slightly embittered because they live in stairwell housing and don’t like it.  On the other hand, other people actually seek housing in stairwells or move there against their will and end up loving it anyway.

Really, our community is mostly very friendly!  The people telling you not to get your hopes up about living on the economy are not “crushing your head” by telling you that you might have to live in a stairwell!

There are some advantages to stairwell living.  It’s close and convenient to all things American.  The commute is fairly easy.  It may be easier to make local friends.  You don’t have to worry about idiosyncrasies of German life, like dealing with landlords and neighbors who don’t speak English.  Of course, living in stairwells also means sharing walls, losing privacy, and communal living among people who may not share your sense of community pride.  But you can take heart in remembering that nothing is forever.  Even if your housing situation sucks, it’s only temporary.

The advice I would give to newcomers is to try not to stress too much about housing.  You really can’t control it too much from afar.  German landlords are usually fairly choosy and they will want to meet you and your family before they rent to you.  Also, even if you look from afar, as we tend to do in the United States, you won’t get the best idea of what the neighborhood is like.  Bill and I made the mistake of looking from afar when we moved from Fort Bragg to Fort Sam Houston.  We visited the neighborhood, but weren’t able to see inside the house ahead of time and, instead, relied on pictures.  We were too eager to get out of the hotel and spent a year in a house we hated.  Fortunately, it was only for a year.  I will not make that mistake again (and hopefully I won’t have to, now that Bill is retired).

Instead of focusing on the house hunt, focus more on what you’ll be bringing and leaving behind.  Consider that German houses often lack closets and do not have open floor plans.  Kitchens tend to be small and the electric current is 220 rather than 110.  I would recommend stocking up on dual voltage electronics and consider leaving 110 appliances in the States.  Ditto to bulky furniture.  Rooms in German homes are usually smaller and may not accommodate your big couch or television.  We do have two king sized beds in our house.  In fact, king beds may even be easier than queens, since they have split box springs.  Bear in mind that your staircase may be spiral and your doorways could be narrow.  And don’t forget to bring your seasonal stuff if that’s important to you.  The first time we lived here, we forgot our Christmas decorations.  I now have two trees and decorations for both.  When we leave, I suspect one or both of our fake trees will be left behind.

Well, that’s about it for my take on looking for a home in Germany.  Don’t worry.  You’ll find somewhere to live and chances are good that it’ll end up being just great.  Or, at least it will be habitable for as long as you’re enjoying STAUgart!  Welcome to the community and enjoy Germany!

*The photos above were taken when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia from 1995-97.  The buildings pictured were in the city of Gyumri, which was hit by a terrible earthquake on December 7, 1988.  As you can see, the buildings were still in a shambles in 1996 and ’97, when those photos were taken.  I have not been back to Armenia yet, but I’m thinking it’s looking better now.  You can read more about the photos and the earthquake here.

Standard