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

Advertisements

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.

Another chore done…

Advertisements

This morning, Bill and I went to get my German driver’s license renewed. After five years, your license expires. We’ve been here since August 2014, so it was time to get this chore accomplished. Because we’re here on SOFA status, our driver’s license procedure is different than it would be if we were ordinary residents. We have to go to an office on an installation, in this case, Clay Kaserne, fill out paperwork, take an eye test, and pay $20. Technically, my stateside license is what makes me legal to drive here, but we have to have one issued by the military installation, too.

License renewal is pretty easy, since it doesn’t require taking a test. In 2007 and 2014, I had to take the driver’s license test. I was able to pass on the first try both times, although not everyone does. I think both times, I took a class directly before the exam was given, although the class is now available online. I don’t think it’s a hard test, but it does take time to get it done. I still have the first German license that was issued to me in 2007. I turned my license from 2014 in today and should get a new one in the mail in a few weeks.

The guy who helped me this morning was a delightful German fellow who was cracking jokes the whole time. I found him very amusing, and could tell that he shares a love of sweets with me. He had a jar of cookies, a candy jar full of gummi fish, and another box of cookies on his desk. When he noticed we’d moved up here from Stuttgart, he was extolling the virtues of Wiesbaden versus Stuttgart. To be honest, I think I like living up here more, although there are a few things I miss about Stuttgart. Stuttgart is a lot more familiar to me and I think the surrounding area is prettier… there’s a lot more nature and pretty buildings that weren’t destroyed in World War II. But the people up here seem more relaxed about almost everything, which makes life easier for me.

After we filled out my paperwork, the guy helpfully explained how I can get an international driver’s license. We’ve been here five years and I never bothered to get one. I don’t drive very often. Bill wants to get me one now, though, because they’re good to have in case something happens to him while we’re out of the country. Also, it’s a lot easier to get the international license up here. In Stuttgart, we had to go to a German government office to get one. It took a couple of hours because there were many people waiting and not enough people working. Up here, we can get the international license on post, and the same guy would be helping us. And… he even explained how we can expedite things even more. Very helpful guy… and very friendly! Edited to add: Bill says we still have to go to a government office to get the international license, but it’s a very large office, so it only takes a few minutes as opposed to hours.

I had occasion to use the restroom while we were renewing my license. I was amused by the wall o’ PSAs in the ladies room. There were instructions on everything from how to wash your hands to how to prevent the spread of flu. And there were tons of directives– turn off the lights, report all leaks, and dammit, wash your hands! The ladies room also had, not just a chair, but a full couch! I don’t know how many people hang out in the restroom, but if you wanted to on Clay Kaserne, you certainly could. Maybe the couch was intended for nursing moms, but I noticed they had a nursing room, too.

Seriously, you could spend ten minutes reading all of this crap on the walls. I get a kick out of military installations, because there is never a shortage of reading material. Every bulletin board is chock full of information, and the walls are full of instructions on what to do in any situation. They especially like to put stuff on the stall doors so you can read while you’re taking a dump.

As someone who could have been a public health practitioner, I do appreciate the pictorial on how to wash your hands properly… but somehow, I think those who need the sign the most probably would not take the time to read it. One would hope this would be a home taught skill, anyway. But, on the other hand, you’d likely be surprised by how many people don’t wash their hands after they go to the bathroom.

I’m just glad I didn’t see anything like this in the restroom…

I’m staying the hell away from Kansas City!

This post is proof positive that I can find something to write about every day, if I put my mind to it.

Two nights in Edinburgh… living life on the Fringe.

Advertisements

As I mentioned in the previous post, we arrived in Edinburgh just in time for the city’s annual Fringe Festival. When I booked our room at the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel back in early April, I had no idea this huge festival was going to be happening. If I had to do it over again, I think I would have avoided Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival, not because it isn’t a fantastic festival, but because I don’t enjoy crowds. Edinburgh was bursting at the seams during our two nights there.

Our flight to Edinburgh from Frankfurt occurred on August 2nd. I booked us in business class, not just because I like luxury, but also because we were bringing a lot of bags. During our last visit to Scotland in 2017, Bill had a kilt custom made expressly for gala nights on Hebridean Princess. He doesn’t own a tuxedo and doesn’t particularly want to purchase one. I kept bugging him to get a kilt, even though he’s more Irish than Scottish.

On prior cruises, Bill wore his Army dress blues, but he’s now five years retired and it’s not so easy to fit into the old uniform anymore. Moreover, technically he’s not supposed to wear the uniform at non-military sponsored events, since he’s no longer on active duty. Now, that doesn’t mean he’d get “busted” on Hebridean Princess. In fact, when he’s worn the uniform, he’s mostly been well-received by the other passengers. Most of them have been from Britain and on every cruise we’ve done so far, Bill has met at least a couple of people who have served in Britain’s armed forces. Fellow Americans tend to be scarce on Hebridean cruises. The ones we have met had nothing to do with the military. Still, it was time for a change in wardrobe. The uniform serves as a great conversation piece, but it’s cumbersome and requires crash dieting.

We had to transport the kilt and all that comes with it, as well as a few nice dresses for yours truly. In business class on most airlines, passengers get a generous luggage allowance. On Lufthansa, we each got two free bags. We only checked three bags, which was way more than enough! I really need to learn to pack less!

Our flight to Edinburgh was to commence at 4:15pm. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, although we couldn’t find any luggage carts near where Bill parked. The one machine we found was broken, so we ended up hauling the bags well into the airport before we finally found someone’s mercifully abandoned cart. My mood was rapidly turning to irritation as we searched for a place to check our bags. Although we had just flown out of Frankfurt in late June when we went to Sweden, the check in desk we’d used was moved.

Complicating matters was the fact that the check in desks were on a lower floor and there was no elevator nearby. Somehow, we managed to wrangle the bags onto the escalator without major injury. Then, instead of searching for a proper full service check in, we headed for the self-service luggage drop. That was a bad idea, and didn’t turn out to be self-service, since we ended up requiring assistance. I don’t know what we were thinking. I don’t even like using the self-service checkout at the grocery store. As we were trying to figure out how to get the luggage tags, I remarked to Bill that since we paid for business class, we should have enjoyed all of its perks… like someone who knows what they’re doing and can efficiently get our luggage sorted. Hindsight is 20/20.

Fortunately, there were a couple of Lufthansa staffers on hand to help us get our bags checked. Then, after a somewhat painless trip through security, we headed to passport control, which is always an interesting experience when you’re on “SOFA” status. For those who don’t know, SOFA stands for Status of Forces Agreement. It’s what allows Bill and me to live in Germany and not be legal residents or pay German taxes. We’ve found that the passport officials don’t always know about SOFA, particularly in countries where U.S. forces aren’t typically based.

Even in Germany, which has a long history of hosting U.S. military folks, the passport officials sometimes have to be reminded to check for the blue card. We usually only deal with passport control when we’re headed out of the Schengen zone, like when we go to Britain or the United States. Bill, of course, has dealt with them more than I have on his trips to Africa.

We cleared passport control, then headed to Lufthansa’s business class lounge. Access to the lounge is another reason I usually book business class within Europe. I don’t like crowds and, although the lounge can get crowded, it’s never as crowded as the general areas are in most airports. Lufthansa’s lounges are nice, since they offer relatively quiet places to plug in electronics, comfortable seating, clean toilets, food, and beverages. The ones at Frankfurt Airport also have showers available, which I’m sure are great for people who are on long haul flights.

At about 3:30pm, we headed for our gate, where many people were already congregated. Boarding time was 3:45pm, but it came and went. Our flight was delayed due to weather problems and a computer glitch. I was pretty impatient to get out of Germany. I do love living here, but I also love getting away for a few days. I longed to get to Scotland, where I knew I’d see and hear inappropriate things that would make me laugh. For instance, in Germany, it’s technically against the law to flip someone off, particularly in traffic. I’ve never actually done that myself, but I’ve read that people who get caught doing it can be levied heavy fines. Scotland has no such oppressive laws, as we found out soon after landing in Edinburgh.

Lufthansa’s cuisine in business class. It wasn’t bad. Bill actually liked the green sauce, which is a Frankfurt specialty.

Our flight was okay, except there was a child sitting behind me who kept kicking my seat. Her brother sat in the aisle seat and kept whining for his mom, who was sitting nearby and looked really tired. I couldn’t blame her. Her kids were at a very energetic age, which they were sharing with everyone. The drama escalated when “mama”, apparently from Italy, took her son’s tablet away, causing him to protest rather loudly. I’m glad there was wine.

Somewhere over Scotland!

Edinburgh’s airport is pretty decent, especially compared to Glasgow’s, which we experienced yesterday. When we landed, we had a super quick, painless entrance. It was fully automated and took seconds. I put my passport on a scanner, was deemed “okay”, waited to have my picture taken, then scooted straight through to baggage claim. We had no trouble finding a luggage cart, and after a brief walk to the taxi stand, were soon experiencing our first taste of Scottish hospitality. The hilarious cab driver loaded our bags in the back of his van. As he was packing us up, the cab driver behind him honked. Our cabbie straightened up, smiled pretty, and shot the bird at the guy behind him! I howled with laughter! It felt like I’d come home!

Part 3

One year of contractor life…

Advertisements

About a year ago, I wrote what has turned out to be a very popular post about the difference between Army life and contractor life in Germany.  Today, I have decided to update everyone on how our first year has gone.

First off, Bill is doing really great work in his job.  His employers are very happy with him and he’s managed to get a raise in his housing allowance as well as a cash bonus.  He also just received a retention bonus which, as long as we stay for another year, he gets to keep.  Don’t throw us in the briar patch!  We still love living in Germany, so staying another year is not a problem for us.  Bill has also gotten to do some interesting travel during our first year.  I even got to go with him one time.

We ended up with a decent house in a nice neighborhood.  Although our house is a duplex and I was originally concerned about noise (both from us and from other people), it hasn’t been a big issue.  Our neighbors seem to have gotten used to our dogs and everyone is respectful.  I’ve also gotten more used to driving in Germany.

Bill tells me his office still needs qualified people, but apparently there has been a problem with German authorities issuing SOFA status to contractors.  We were very lucky because we got here before this became an issue.  Currently, a lot of people are only able to do 90 day stints (as long as the tourist visa lasts) before they have to either go back to the States or work somewhere else where this isn’t a problem.  I am told that the issue is being addressed, but there is no telling when or if it will be permanently resolved.  Also, I don’t know if this issue is affecting everyone or just some people in certain jobs.

Bill has also told me that adjusting from being an Army officer with clout and decision making authority to being a contractor (aka “hired help”) has been somewhat hard at times.  I often remind him that as frustrating as it is not to have any real power, it’s not his ass on the line if something goes wrong.  He says it helps to remember that, though I’m pretty sure he still gets stressed out a lot.

I was a member of the local Facebook groups Stuttgart Friends and Moving to Stuttgart for most of this first year.  I ultimately left both groups, but definitely recommend them for anyone planning to move to Stuttgart.  They are great resources for finding out how living in Germany, especially while on SOFA status, works.  You will know when it’s time to abandon the groups.  Also, Stuttgart Bookoo is a great site for finding housing or used items people tend to discard on their way out of Germany like air conditioners, furniture, washers, dryers, fridges, or transformers.  Toytown Germany is a good source of information for English speaking residents of Germany.  It also offers a non-military/US government perspective.

Duolingo offers a good basic place to practice your German skills.  I used it for about eight months, until I finished all the lessons.  Then I fell off the wagon.  I am thinking about restarting/reviewing Duolingo, since it has helped me understand more German.  I probably should take a class and maybe I will at some point, but for now I think it’s helpful… especially for those who have trouble getting out of the house.

Panzer Kaserne is going through massive building projects right now.  A new commissary is slated to open there in a couple of years and the high school is now located there.  In the midst of all of this construction, there is also a road widening project going on that has been in progress since the summer.  It makes getting to and leaving Panzer a bit of a pain.  Since a lot of in processing is done at Panzer, I’m forewarning newcomers.

Last year, there was some hullabaloo over German authorities cracking down on expired American driver’s licenses.  As you might know, if you have SOFA status, you get a special “license”.  But really, what makes you legal to drive is your US license.  German police were stopping Americans with expired licenses and forcing them to get them renewed (and they were not allowed to drive once they were caught).  This issue has since been rectified.  Still, if you think you might be in Germany for any length of time, you will want to renew your license before getting here if you can.

Worth coming back for…

This time around, I have been using Amazon.de a lot, as well as regular Amazon for shopping.  The APO mail system has been really slow lately, so it often makes more sense to buy stuff locally.  I still buy clothes and some other items from American Amazon, but use Amazon.de for appliances and stuff I need right away.  Amazon.de is pretty great about quick delivery, though unlike in the United States, you will have to sign for all of your packages.  Fortunately, Germans seem quite willing to accept packages for neighbors.  I have done it for my neighbors and they have done it for me.  Last time we lived here, I didn’t use local Web sites for anything!

I don’t know how long we’ll be here.  At this point, we are willing to stay for as long as we’re allowed to.  I can’t say I miss Texas much, even though some things about living in Germany can be a bit of a pain sometimes.  But you get used to it…  and really, some of the things that seem annoying at first can turn out to be blessings.  For instance, not shopping on Sundays…  you end up finding fun stuff to do instead.

So, that’s my update so far.  We’re making it just fine.