Since Mary Claire and her family have lived in Germany and I currently live there, the country is near and dear to our hearts. We also find the differences between Germany and the USA fascinating and frustrating, often at the same time. We thought it would be fun and interesting to do a short series of posts about what life is like in Germany and how it compares to Texas, where Mary Claire lives now. The series will just be a little snapshot of home life, topics that relate to our blog.
I remember when I first came to Germany, everything seemed different, strange yet oddly familiar. Jeromy picked Joshua and me up from the airport and as we drove home to our temporary furnished apartment, I really couldn’t tell if the buildings we were passing were businesses or apartment buildings. Generally speaking, in Germany, new construction is modern, very modern looking in a way that you typically only see in commercial buildings in the States. If a building in Germany looks old, it is old. They don’t really build new to look old.
Apartment buildings and houses in Germany are solidly built, concrete top to bottom.
These buildings aren’t going to burn down and they won’t blow away in a hurricane. It didn’t take long to notice there aren’t fire sprinklers or smoke detectors. Weird, but I guess there is some German logic to it. If the building isn’t going to burn down, the fire sprinklers aren’t necessary. Only your belongings will go up in smoke. These concrete walls also make it interesting trying to hang up artwork, a drill with cement bits required! The same goes for hanging light fixtures, which oddly enough, will be missing from your apartment when you move in. If you’re lucky, there will be one light bulb hanging from the ceiling of the darkest room in your abode. You have to head to Obi (Germany’s version of Home Depot) and get new light fixtures and hang them yourself.
Just opening a door is slightly different.
Germans don’t like knobs. It seems that all door handles are the lever type, which is nice for seniors with arthritis or people with greasy hands from recently applied hand lotion. Oh and every room must have a door that can close and lock. Security and privacy is very important to 82 million people living in a country the size of Montana. The interior doors of our apartment actually have keys and keyholes! Yes, the key holes are different for different doors, so you have to use the right key!
Light switches are different too. None of those little flippy switches (yes that is the official term used by Remember Wren), big toggle switches are the way to go. You can just slap them with your hand or bump them with your elbow. Y’all know the voltage is different in Europe, so the outlets look different. I like that they put outlets by light switches. It’s handy when I’m vacuuming. However, they are pretty stingy with the placement, a maximum of one outlet per wall in my brand new apartment.
Germans are also very concerned about the environment, God bless ‘em, so that means they are very conservative with heating in the winter. Most homes and apartments I’ve been in use radiators that get filled with hot water that comes from a boiler in the basement. Landlords like to put these systems on timers, so you won’t necessarily get the heat you want when you want it. Multiple layers of socks and sweaters are required in the winter. Our radiators have a device attached that keeps track of the amount of energy we use. The information is sent by radio signal to our landlords who will audit our energy bill at the end of the year. We get money back if we use less than the average that is included in our rent. We owe them more money if we use more than that average.
No air conditioning, but Germany has a fairly mild climate in the summer, so it is manageable if you get the airflow going with open windows and control the sun beating into your apartment with the unsightly, yet so useful rouladen. Rouladen are shades that roll down over the exterior of the windows.
At first, I found them absolutely hideous. It made me feel like I was living in jail with these shades rolling down over the windows. Were they to keep me in or keep people out? The vamps on True Blood should have these suckers on their windows! Now I love them because my son will go to sleep in his dark room when it’s still light out at 9pm on a summer night.
The other interesting thing about windows is they usually open two ways, tilt in and swing in, like a door.
This is pretty cool since our apartment has a wraparound terrace. We can walk outside from nearly every room in our place.
But, guess what, if you can walk out your windows, there sure as heck aren’t any screens on those windows! Flies, bees, mosquitoes, birds are welcome to come and go as they please. I’ve found from personal experience that once they get in, they have a hard time getting out. (We haven’t ever had a bird get in our apartment, but it’s a fear I have.)
Well, that is enough for one post. I didn’t realize I had so much to say about such mundane things as door knobs and light switches! In future posts we’ll talk about bathrooms, kitchens, storage and parking. Oh so interesting!