Lately, I’ve noticed I’ve been getting lots of hits from the United States on this blog. Many of the hits land on my posts about the differences between life in Germany with the US military versus military contractor life. There must be many recent retirees or other people who have left the military thinking about taking the European plunge.
In early August of this year, Bill and I celebrated our ninth year of military contractor life in Germany. A lot has happened since our arrival in 2014, and this blog is full of those stories. Over the years, I’ve added updates to my military vs contractor series. Those posts are easy to find on this blog, although please bear in mind that until 2019, this blog was hosted by Blogspot. I did move the old posts to this blog, but they are formatted somewhat differently. Moving the old posts was very labor intensive, and I’m not even sure I got everything fixed properly! The job took several weeks!
I moved the blog to WordPress in the summer of that year, due to a very bizarre situation that arose. I’m not sorry I moved the blog, but that weird situation did change the way I do things and significantly reduced my readership. I also learned a lot from that situation, which I’ll explain more about later in this post.
As I survey the past nine years, I realize that I’ve learned a lot of stuff. Some of what I’ve learned has been very practical, and it will probably serve me well for the rest of my life, no matter where I live. Some of it has been unfortunate and kind of disheartening. The rest of it is stuff I might have learned anywhere.
Since there are so many people hitting the soldier vs. contractor posts, I thought maybe I’d share some wisdom I’ve picked up over the past nine years. Maybe it help some people… or maybe some will be entertained or amused. I will issue a caveat that some of what I’ve learned is a little disturbing, but it’s part of our story… and I like to be straightforward as much as possible. So here goes.
- Citric acid is your friend
I’ll start with a relatively benign thing. Before I lived in Germany, I had no idea that citric acid would be something I’d want to keep in my house. Aside from when I was a kid in rural Virginia drinking well water, I didn’t have to deal with the insane hard water that Germany has. It was pretty bad when I lived in Stuttgart, but it’s even worse in Wiesbaden.
Citric acid is cheap, and it’s essential for getting rid of hard water stains and limescale. Vinegar is also good for cleaning glass and descaling things, but I’ve found citric acid to be much more effective. So now, I always keep it in the house… and I expect that won’t change if and when we move back to the States. Mix it with hot water and let it soak. It’ll really help get rid of that chalky stuff. Here’s a link to the brand I usually buy from Amazon.de, but you can also get it in local stores.
- Adequate insurance is a MUST
I’ve written about this a few times, but I’m going to write about it again. Get insured. If you’re coming here as a contractor and could be here awhile, I highly recommend buying German insurance policies, rather than relying on USAA or another US based company.
Chances are good you won’t need your German policies, and I do understand not wanting to get into German contracts, which can be hard to break without sufficient notice. BUT… I’m here to tell you, German insurance policies are usually fairly cheap, and they can save your ass.
I recommend having a liability policy, at the very least. This is a policy that covers situations like when when you accidentally break another person’s property. If you have pets, you should definitely get pet liability insurance, which covers any damage or accidents caused by your pets (accidents caused by them will not be covered by personal liability insurance). You may also want to consider purchasing legal insurance, though that’s not as essential. All three of these products have been useful to us.
My husband and I had an unfortunate incident involving an awning at our rental house when we lived in Stuttgart. It was an old awning, and in poor repair. One windy day, it collapsed. Our landlady insisted that it was my fault that the wind blew down the awning. She wanted us to buy her a brand new one. We happened to have a German liability insurance policy, which gave her a very low settlement. She wasn’t happy about the settlement, but it was good that we had it, even though she still tried to rip off our security deposit to pay for a new awning. Which leads me to my next point…
- Join the Mieterverein!!!!!
This is the German tenants union, and it can be very useful if you have a dispute with your landlord/landlady. It’s very inexpensive to join. We are members, although in our situation with our former landlady, we ended up using our German legal insurance policy instead of the Mieterverein. Still, I highly recommend that anyone renting a home on the German economy become a member of the Mieterverein at the very least. The above link will take you to the general site, where you can find the Mieterbund in the area where you will live.
I mentioned above that when we moved out of our last house, our former landlady tried to illegally seize our “Kaution” (security deposit), because she was upset about the low settlement she got for her awning. She didn’t directly charge us for the awning, since she had accepted a settlement for it. But she did make up lots of little charges that would amount to what she said she would pay for a new awning.
We used our German legal insurance to get advice from German lawyers, and we ultimately ended up suing her. It turned out she did a lot of things wrong, to include never doing an “protocol” when we moved in and out of her house, and never reconciling the Nebenkosten (other costs paid for things like trash). In Germany, it is the law that landlords reconcile the Nebenkosten every year. She didn’t do it for the four years we were in her rental house. Consequently, we had the right to ask her to return ALL of the Nebenkosten we paid for the whole four years we were in her house. It totaled thousands of euros.
Now, we didn’t end up demanding that she return the Nebenkosten, but it did help us build our successful case against her. There were other issues, too. Like, she also falsely accused us of theft, and charged us ridiculous fees, for things she couldn’t prove we did, on old stuff that needed to be replaced, anyway. She ended up having to return most of the Kaution she illegally withheld, plus she had to pay for court costs, her lawyer, and our lawyer… though I’m sure she had German legal insurance, too.
Moral of the story is… Make sure you are insured adequately! And if there is the slightest hint that there will be an issue when you move out, get the legal insurance ASAP. It won’t cover pre-existing issues, and there’s also a waiting period before you can use it. But… if you don’t want to get German legal insurance, you should at least join the Mieterverein. Sometimes, the memberships even include legal insurance for landlord issues. Also… don’t be afraid to use the German legal system to fight for your rights. It’s not that hard, especially if you have legal insurance. Unfortunately, there are landlords here who WILL prey on the fact that you aren’t a local.
- Don’t be too quick to accept a house
I actually had a bad feeling about our ex landlady when I met her. I wish I’d listened to my gut. It might have spared us some grief. But, I did enjoy living where we lived, and dealing with ex landlady was educational on many levels. I wouldn’t recommend learning lessons the way I did, though. It’s very stressful.
When we moved back to Stuttgart in 2014, we were dealing with some pretty major life issues that made us want to settle into a house quickly. We also had memories of the housing shortage that existed in 2007, during our first Germany stint. Finding housing isn’t as hard as it was in 2007, though; so learn from us, and take the time to find a decent place that you’ll like, with a landlord/landlady who doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
- Don’t get too involved in the Facebook group dramas
This was an unfortunate mistake I made in 2014. I joined a ton of local groups in Stuttgart, and got too sucked into the dramas of the groups. I’m not saying you can’t make good friends that way, or that being in the groups isn’t useful, informative, or entertaining. But those groups can lead to bizarre situations that can make your time in Germany more stressful and stupid than it needs to be. I could write about several of those that personally affected me, but that would make this post even longer than it already is.
I learned from our Stuttgart experience regarding Facebook groups. When we moved to Wiesbaden, I only joined the local pets group and continued to maintain the wine and food group I started when we lived in Stuttgart. I didn’t join any other groups. My life has been much more peaceful as a result, and I’ve gotten to know more locals. Your mileage may vary, of course. I’ve just seen a lot of drama erupt over social media, and was involved in way too much of it, especially in Stuttgart. So I recommend proceeding with caution and limiting the number of groups you join. Besides, those groups can eat up precious time that you could be spending on exploring Europe.
- If you bring a car, consider joining ADAC or another auto club
Both times we’ve spent in Germany, we’ve had occasion to use our ADAC policy. One time, we went on a Baltic cruise and came back to find our battery dead. We called ADAC and they sent us a guy with a battery. He fixed our car on the spot, and we were on our way.
Another time, we were in France and some jackass deliberately popped our tire, hopping to rob us. He didn’t succeed, but he caused quite an issue for us. ADAC was a lifesaver there, too, helping us to get new tires and report the crime to the French police. There are other auto clubs besides ADAC, so do some research and choose one that works best for your budget and lifestyle.
I know not everyone likes living outside of the United States. We’ve seen a lot of people come and go, and some people are happy to go when their time over here is finished. Unfortunately, being a military contractor can be stressful, because contracts are won and lost all the time. When we lived in Stuttgart, Bill’s first company lost its contract. The new company hired him, but the next year, his job was turned into a GS position. In fact, that’s why we moved to Wiesbaden. Wiesbaden, by the way, seems to be much friendlier to contractors than Stuttgart was, at least when we were there.
Having now lived in both places for a total of nine years, I can honestly say that both have their pluses and minuses, and you really can’t go wrong moving to either place, as long as you manage your expectations and keep your eyes open. One thing that we have tried to focus on is ENJOYING our time here, and seeing places. And when you see places, don’t forget to explore locally. We missed a lot of really awesome local stuff when we lived in Stuttgart the first time, because we were so focused on seeing the rest of Europe. We also had to leave a year early, which sucked.
If you care at all about living in Europe for the experience, rather than just the job, then I urge you to make the most of your weekends and holidays. Go see Paris and Rome, but don’t forget about Stuttgart and Wiesbaden… and Mainz, Frankfurt, Tübingen, the Black Forest, the Rheingau… and any of the other really cool little places near where you live. Nagold is one town we completely missed the first time we were in Stuttgart and ended up loving when we came back. So I recommend going out to explore locally, and soaking up the culture. You may not have another chance… On the other hand, you may end up like me, and seem destined for European life indefinitely.
If there’s any interest in more posts like this, I’ll be happy to write them. Feel free to leave a comment or a question, because there’s definitely more I could share.
Now… time to write something for the main blog. See you next post!