Checking in

Last week I w(h)ined a little about … everything. It’s occurred to me why people don’t just pick up and do international moves despite the many people who told us, “We would love an opportunity like that!” Let’s just say that once we’ve set up shop, I’ll be hoping to milk that for all it’s worth.

Here are some photos from our move. It was a quick 3-4 hour affair with four men moving us in. At the end of the day, our overwhelmed selves looked at each other and laughed because we realized they’d been speaking Russian the whole time. The language thing is so overwhelming that it took me a full hour before thinking, “Wait a minute. They’re totally not speaking German.” So, Yes. The Russians moved us in. They were good workers.

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So, what have we been doing all week? Brian has been researching cars. Our awesome friend Delia got us registered with tax IDs. We’re almost all insured for health beginning August 1. We now own a microwave, vacuum, drill and a power transformer so that our appliances work with double-the-strength German electricity. Today, I sent my first letter. (You’re welcome, USPS, for the hand-written change of address form. Crazy policies.) Brian spent all of today making an amazing light fixture out of beautiful birchwood and rope… because he’s amazing.

Dinning Room Light

Oh yeah. In Germany, you get zero light fixtures. When you move in, there’s literally wire hanging from the ceiling. We have no fewer than 14 light fixtures to buy and install. That’s not a small amount of work. (Thankfully, Brian’s a pro.)

But, the light (har har her) at the end of the tunnel is coming. We spent a morning being kid-focused and enjoyed a park as a family. It was smooth sailing interactions and fun for everyone. That was a big deal.

Parks

Work and school for the kiddos starts one week from today… but we’ll work a bit part time in order to attend Kita with the kids as they begin and adjust to full-immersion German preschool. Today I made bread, granola bars, and dinner. I went shopping with Rowan and finally bought conditioner! (Apparently most German women use only shampoo or 2-in-1 because conditioner is super hard to find… ACK.)

I’m learning all sorts of shopping tidbits like sandwich ziplock bags are a no-go. I can’t find them. Also, Germans must shop all the time… When I check out I feel rude because every other person has 2-5 items and my 40 items take up almost the whole check out belt. And baggers? They don’t exist. Try checking out in German, keeping a toddler happy and bagging your items with no space after the payment counter (because why have a place for 3 items to sit after they’ve been paid for if the Germans just whisk them quickly away?)… It’s a feat. Oh! And I found peanut butter! And another type of salsa–we’ll see if this one is any good–because the last one wasn’t. And soy sauce that’s not as small as a travel tabasco sauce bottle- win win win.

In other news, I love having a kids’ playroom on a different level of the house just as much as I suspected I would. And we have a door between the kitchen and the stairwell! My new goal is to teach the kids to clean it at the end of every day. This photo was taken several days ago and it’s been a danger zone ever since. (Yes, this photo represents the “clean” side of the spectrum!)

Play room

The big battle is continue to learn the language. I can now apologize in German, say I want a kaffee, and say, “Do you have ______”. This is progress! But, I’ve got a long way to go.

Thanks for tuning in! Start planning your trip–we’re getting our home all ready to host you! Tschüss!

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The Beginning

German Row Houses

It’s a very good place to start. We’ve begun repeating a phrase in our family: Everything in Germany is hard. Our internet is installed and it felt like a very long 3 days without internet. Oh, and furniture. So, I give you a bit of … venting? that I composed after 72 hours in Germany. I wrote this on Saturday evening and it’s certainly all with a grain of salt… oder ein bier. Take your pick. 🙂

[The photo above can be seen from our upstairs windows in our home. I’m really falling in love with the exterior look of German housing. Side note, though, we looked at houses like these and the insides were often dark and not appealing. But isn’t the outside absolutely charming?!?]

We’ve been here 72 hours. But who’s counting. It felt like for three days nothing went our way or went smoothly. Today I went to the bank and successfully pulled out all the cash I needed. The machine didn’t beep or yell at me and I understood what I was supposed to do. After 48 hours in Hamburg, this was the first thing that seemed to go smoothly and I shed a couple of tears on the way home… I was so happy. Like—exhausted happy. (Not to mention it was my first car ride alone, which was slightly like therapy.)

Why did we need cash? Well, when you go to another country, it’s not just a change in currency… it’s a change in customs. Germans buy almost everything with cash. “You won’t get far with a card” our friend Delia said. And she was right. (She said this after covering 1/2 of our lunch costs… because we didn’t have enough cash.)

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Speaking of Delia… DELIA. This kind and wonderful lady has helped us in so many ways in three days. She is our relocation company agent and I love her. We met her in person for the first time at 9 a.m. on Thursday at our new home. We’re renting a brand new townhouse near our school and Delia was here to communicate with the landlord. In fact, she deemed our shower water pressure to be too soft, and communicated that it was not acceptable and they needed to fix it. BAM. It was done. I love her. (You should visit us just to enjoy our shower water pressure, by the way.)

Townhouses

When the landlord left, we had four sets of keys and a beautiful home—but no time to drool! No! Delia had more paperwork ready to go. She had us sign for registration with the government and then we drove over to the registration office. (Side note: almost every business here has a play table for children. It’s stunning.) She communicated with the government official and got us all registered. BAM. I love Delia. (Another side note: our town has a market twice per week! I’m ecstatic!)

We took a lunch break (see story above regarding cash) at the mall in our town (we have a Mall! And it has TKMax! Hah. Yes. Same company—I think.) Then, we drove to the bank. Delia communicated with the banker and got us all set up with a bank account. BAM. Delia’s awesome.

At this point, we’re like spaghetti noodles. Overcooked ones. We have no brain energy left. The toddlers have been barely tolerable all day while we did administration jobs and we crawled home. The end of the first (exhausting) day.

For our second day, we drove over to the new house and tried to think clearly about what we needed in order to camp in our home for three nights without our stuff. In short:

  • Bedding of some kind
  • Cutting board and knives
  • Egg pan and spatula
  • Coffee mugs for our awesome new espresso machine
  • Scissors—You know, to open the knife packaging.
  • Towels for showering
  • Chairs would be nice.

And then there was the grocery store list:

  • Trash bags
  • Dish soap and sponge
  • Hand soaps for the bathrooms
  • Paper towel
  • Toilet Paper
  • FOOD

We also replaced our electronics for the new type of electricity:

  • Toaster
  • Hair dryer
  • Heating pad
  • (Still need new baby monitor and sound machines)

But really, forget the lists. This is what’s amazing about being in a new country that speaks a different language… Let me count the ways. You want to park? Go figure out how to use a parking machine… In German. You want to use a credit card in a store? They ask about three questions in German before swiping with a huff and puff because you don’t know what they’re asking you. You don’t have any Euro coins, so you schlepp a hand-held basket while trying to grocery shop for 4 people because the carts are coin-dispensed. You go to check out in IKEA and your card is rejected. And no one speaks English. And you stand there for 30 minutes while they call the credit card system company to fix it. You want to buy meat but all they have is sauerkraut… and brats. You have one working phone. ONE. When our party separates—one of us is left in the early 1990s. There is no way to communicate, no assistance to call and ask an opinion and no way to make sure you find each other at the end of the night. And the men all have man-bags. It’s amazing.

It’s a firehose and I’m drinkin’ from it. My mouth is sore from being open-wide. We pulled into our driveway tonight and I thought, “It’d be nice to meet one neighbor on our way to our door tonight.” But then I thought, “Nevermind. Not unless they speak English. I’m tired.”

So, day two was IKEA (see household list above) and signing up for our TV/Internet/Cell Phones. The end of the second (exhausting) day.

Day three had a different pace. We moved out of our Airbnb, which I was very happy about. The best thing about that stay—and this was so very important: they had toys. The kids were ecstatic and left us alone to play independently, which is a gift we haven’t seen much of in a while. But, it was more on the Harvard graduate housing level of comfort than it was our first family home level of comfort. I think that stung a little more after seeing our beautiful home. I got itchy to move on. And it’s the end of day three—and we’ve moved on. We’re sleeping on mattress pads from Schulenburg (a furniture store) with blankets and pillows from IKEA. And our home is beautiful. You guys. BEAUTIFUL. 

Our Kitchen

I can’t wait for you all to come visit! The cabinets and drawers in the kitchen have that cool slow closing feature. The bathrooms are gorgeous. The top floor has a skylight in the hallway. The windows have this pop-open feature at the top which is so very normal in Germany (though I’ve never seen it!) The third floor has a balcony and our living room window wall faces South. Oh the green thumb joys! (Side note: if our original contract hadn’t fallen through, we’d be facing West—a much less desirable direction! That’s a blessing.) We are also a short walk  from the Lidl- an Aldi-like grocery market—which is wonderful.

The real icing on the cake was getting to go to the ISC Welcome Event at the end of our third day. We met countless people who were unbelievably kind and open. The community around this school was like a tall glass of water in the desert of transitioning our family. People who can speak English, who have recommendations on where to find bedding and meat. It was so nice to break into the community at ISC so early in our stay.

Next on my list? Learn more German. Simple things like:

  • “How do you say _____?”
  • “Where is the _______?”
  • “How are you?”

I said my first sentence in German this week: “Do you accept credit cards?” and the cashier lady looked at me like I had 8 heads… so you know. It’s going great. I also ordered three of something when I meant to order two. Hah. Everywhere I go I try to use Spanish. So unhelpful. And I’m not even partially fluent in Spanish! Ack.

I can’t wait to share more with you. It’s been such a wild ride. My admiration and respect for anyone who has moved to a new country that doesn’t speak their native language has SKYROCKETED. It is so isolating. I’m crossing my fingers that tortillas, peanut butter, and raisins are in some store. Somewhere. We live on this stuff and I’m not sure sauerkraut and brats will easily replace them! In the meantime, the cappuccinos are really helping our mornings, our home is beautiful, and our stuff will be moved in today! (And the washer and dryer on Thursday!!) As soon as some of our stuff is in our home, I’ll post some photos!

Tschüss!

Couch von Rot does Spain

We did it! A beautiful vacation in the middle of Spain… And when I say middle, I mean… of no where. In Berzocana. We drove three hours west of Madrid through beautiful mountains to be greeted with this view from our porch:

Berzocana

Our little cabin was perfect! We made good food, the kids played with the dog, Duc, they watched television in Spanish, we swam in a beautiful (and chilly) pool, and we drank good wine.

Dinner

On food (because I love food): milk is mostly dried or has a shelf life here. I’m not exactly sure what “shelf life” means… except you can buy it not from the fridge in liquid form and it seems to be fine. In other news, when in Spain, the manchego is ridiculously cheap. This was 10 Euro (and we had already eaten half of it at the time of this photo):

Manchego

We’ve eaten fresh baked bread, cured jamon serrano, fresh fruit, salad, and one pasta meal. The chicken comes really thinly sliced (think pounded chicken prepared for chicken parmesan) and the bacon was actually pancetta–and I didn’t care for it much. OH! And the egg yolk is gloriously orange… Like it came from a local chicken this week. So good. Also, the stove top espresso maker was awesome. I didn’t perfect the process in 5 mornings, but that was ok. It was all better than from a coffee pot. (I used these instructions.)

We went on one “out of town” excursion to Guadalupe on Sunday. I took some photos before realizing that I shouldn’t have been taking them (somehow I missed the BIG sign with a slash through the camera symbol… Oops):

Guadalupe

It was a cute town where we enjoyed brunch in the town square, took a walk, and I attempted to follow the flow of a Catholic Mass in Spanish. I thought our kids were pretty well behaved, but we noted afterwards that we actually have no idea what the norm is. Maybe we offended someone by pulling out coloring books? Hah. We’ll never know. I can say that everyone was smiling at them… so there’s that.

Guadalupe Center

It was a good day, though the heat did finally get to me. I think we’ve discovered in the past week that we get tired very quickly. Maybe it’s the being away from home for over a month, maybe it’s the jet lag, maybe it’s the need for more “normalcy”. But, it all kind of sums up with trying to adjust to the new time zone. Our normal wake-up time due to jet lag has been hilariously in sync with the Spanish way… waking after 9 am, siesta around 2 pm and dinner around 7:30. Also, the sun isn’t fully down here until about 11, so it’s no wonder they enjoy a later schedule. Last night we went out to dinner at 8 p.m. and returned home at 10:30. This is not how I’m wired and I’ve done fine. I’ve been amazed.

The other fun adventure we enjoyed was going to the Cork Forest, where I finally learned where cork comes from–TREES. (I really had no idea, which I guess is kind of embarrassing.)

Cork Forest.jpg

So, I’m here to say that I hope we make it to Spain again. We’ve had a lovely time and we’ve finished our time with 12 hours in Madrid–a very different place than our rural town of Berzocana. We enjoyed an amazing visit to El Mercado de San Miguel and saw the Royal Palace of Madrid before melting into a puddle of exhaustion in our hotel. It’s been wonderful.

Palace

Tomorrow we board a plane to our final destination, which seemed so dang far away a month ago. We have been here and there and in 36 hours we’ll be closing on our rental home in Hamburg, Germany. I’m eager to be settling in, but so grateful to have seen so much of our family and the world before beginning our adventure in Germany. Thanks for taking a little ride with us!

Ciao!

Renting in Germany

We will be in Germany in 7 days! As of today we’ve been on the road for a month and tomorrow we fly to Spain before hitting the ground in Hamburg! Stay tuned on Instagram! (link on the right)

But, I promised to tell you about finding a house in Hamburg! And now we have one! But that’s the punchline… Here’s a bit about the process…

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So, when it comes to figuring out housing internationally, we have been working with a relocation company. However, I suspect that we will appreciate their help with setting up utilities and internet (all in German) more than in our house hunting adventures. No hard feelings, it’s just that my husband is THE best at research. He has found almost all of the houses we’ve wanted to view and we’ve had a fair amount of fun in the process. (It’s hard not to feast your eyes after 1960’s grad school housing! Never truer words were spoken when someone said, “I almost expect Jason Bourne to come climbing from the roof onto the balconies.” … The outside had the cold, hard-lined European complex feel. Charmed. Or not.)

So, Brian began researching the housing market almost immediately after we started seriously considering Germany. (This is his favorite game–housing research.) That means we’ve spent months deciphering “the German way” with housing. To name a few:

  • Rentals turn over quickly and often. A house listed today may be gone tomorrow. You shake a hand, write a check, and can be in your house in a week or less. Very efficient. (This also makes it hard to search for a house in advance.)
  • Rental properties are owned by people. There is no company. When you rent, it is a personal business relationship. Germans don’t like renting to people they can’t see in person. They want to be able to trust you. This is difficult when you live… across the ocean.
  • When listing a property, there is no such thing as “staging”. You need to imagine all of their stuff gone. Their paper towel holder, toaster, and bedding selection are there for all to see.
  • Every house has a listed number of “zimmers” (rooms). Each apartment’s number of zimmers may or may not be bedrooms only, or may include the kitchen, or may include the living room… So, it’s not an easy search filter.
  • There are doors on every room. The kitchen is often totally enclosed with a door. Kind of wild.
  • When you rent an apartment, it comes bare. No lights. And no light fixtures. Nothing. There aren’t usually closets, and almost everyone buys wardrobes from Ikea.

At this point it’s almost (but not quite) funny how many glitches our international move has had. The housing situation was certainly not excluded from “the fun”. We saw about 5 apartments/houses by Skype with our nice relocation helper. She was kind and did a good job.

The decision tree for housing in Hamburg is very similar to any other city: more money to be closer to the city, likely in an older apartment and with less space. Further out of the city, the options you can afford increase, you might get some yard space, and the restaurants are fewer. And yes, I need to go watch House Hunters International because everyone says that I should be on it when I tell them of our adventures.

We had many conversations on what we want… The parking spot? Laundry hookups? A newer apartment? A place for laundry? A cool part of the city? A laundry room. The Portuguese district–which we loved? Near our school? Ok ok. It’s all about the laundry. And we got it!

We settled on a newly built townhouse an 11 minute drive to school and a 30 minute drive to the center of Hamburg. It has 1600 sq ft and 5 (smaller) bedrooms. We got all the way through the contract process and the owner backed out. Thankfully, 5 days later, we were offered an almost identical unit a few doors down. The only bummer? The kitchen is grey–not white. Boo hoo. (sarcasm–it’s beautiful). We are so very grateful after our Jason Bourne apartment and are excited to arrive and get possession of it on July 15! (Fun fact: that is one day shy of one year ago when we got possession of our Cambridge apartment. Life is an adventure!)

Without further ado, here are some photos sent to us by the realtor. More later when we get settled–I promise!

We’re looking at the front entryway: You walk in the front door and that first door (on your right as you walk in, but on the left of the photo) is a guest bath and a coat closet. The last door (first on the left) is storage under the stairs. We will be buying the fridge. (We’ll also be buying our washer and dryer, like most Germans.)

Kitchen.jpg

Kitchen Sink

View of Kitchen from LR

Bathroom

Above the tub are towel heaters/dryers. They are very typical. So is the bidet… Yes, we’ll have one.

Bathroom 2

Bathroom Shower

Things I’m excited about are laundry on the third floor (where our bedroom will be), a balcony also on the third floor, a patio for eating outside and a common green space between rows of townhouses. The kids can play outside, the parking is free, and we get to rent a brand new apartment. We’re very blessed. Oh, and there’s room for you to stay! Come visit. We’ll even cook for you!

I’m tempted to be so excited for Germany that I want to rush through our  vacation in Spain… but that would be foolish! Bring on the cured meats, red wine and in-ground pool! Ciao!