Moving Days: See Ya Later, Stuttgart

I meant to write this post before I left Germany and post it on the day I was crossing the pond, but I just ran out of time. Perhaps that was for the best because had I written it in Stuttgart, I think I would have gone through an entire box of tissues. Forgive my self indulgence. This post may get a little syrupy sweet.

When we moved to Germany, I most looked forward to all the opportunities we’d have to travel Europe. I’d finally get to see Venice, Prague and all the other destinations that are commonly on people’s bucket list. I couldn’t possibly predict that when we left, the thing I’d miss most were the fantastic friends we made.

As you know, our family moves around a lot, but we’re basically loner homebodies. There are some places we’ve lived that we didn’t even leave behind anyone we wanted to keep in touch with. Our family had been a very self contained little unit. I suppose I didn’t think Germany would be any different. But, there were some persistent souls who knocked down our walls, like my friend and Remember Wren guest blogger, Beth. She was the first person to reach out to our family when she invited us over for Easter our first year in Stuttgart.

It seems that making that first friend snowballed into a community of ISS Girlfriends (International School of Stuttgart moms). Beth introduced me to Marlene, who introduced me to Chanrey. I met Christy and Mary Claire. Chanrey had a party and I met Souji, Cindy, Dolly, Jackie and Laura. Luna and Jaime’s kids were in my son’s class and we hit it off chatting on the playground after school. Then came Jill, Courtney, the Andreas, Sara, Lori, Gwen and Lisa. I met a lot of other wonderful people that way, a whole gaggle of ladies whose company and conversation I really enjoy. We had many coffees and birthday lunches together. If you are reading this, you are probably one of my favorite people. I think you are the bee’s knees!

I recently read a book by Mark Greenside titled I’ll Never Be French No Matter What I DoHe recounts his experience when he moved to France with his girlfriend. He broke up with that girlfriend, yet he stayed in France and bought a house! Here’s an excerpt:

All my life, I’ve disdained the connectedness, closeness, visibility, complicity–the busybodiness and dependence of small-town and suburban life, and here in Brittany, in this village of five hundred people, I find I desire it: the coziness of it, the togetherness, the neighborliness, knowing there’s a place where, whoever you are, you are known. I don’t know why I feel this, but I do, and I know I’m going to miss this life and these people when I leave.

Yup, that is pretty much how I feel. I have to add how much my international friends mean to me. You all taught me that this introverted loner really does know how to make friends and that I actually like people! I’m so grateful to know you. I don’t think our parting is ‘good-bye,’ but really a ‘see ya later!’

In Stuttgart I learned we should all take a cue from a couple of first grade boys. The first day of first grade, Mary Claire’s son Caleb asked my son,”will you be my friend?” The answer, of course, was “yes!”

See ya later, Stuttgart!

Moving Days: What is the Deal With Movers?

I have had wide ranging experiences with moving companies over the years. Some were so frustrating, it’s almost comical. The best experiences have been when someone else was paying the bill! That really makes a stressful situation much less stressful, but thanks to the state of the economy, those all expenses paid relocations are becoming rare, at least for us.

I don’t even remember the first move when a moving company actually came and packed and loaded our stuff. Jeromy was in the Air Force and we were getting sent home. Someone made all the arrangements and I just had to be there.

Our first apartment in Alaska

What I do remember from that day is when we went out to free up room for the moving truck, my car wouldn’t start! We were going to ship the car, but we took it as a sign and once Jeromy got the car started, we drove it into town and sold it to a used car dealership. So long Dodge Neon! We moved ourselves on what we’d call local moves for a few years in the DC area. When we moved to New Hampshire, that move was paid by the new employer. So was our move to South Carolina. Those moves went pretty well, but I think that was because we weren’t coughing up the change. Relocation counselors are awesome!

Things got really interesting and complicated when we decided to move to Germany. The human resources person who handled Jeromy’s hire quit right in the middle of our move. I guess our information just sat on a desk and no one else picked up the ball. I’d say we had no help, only the promise of being reimbursed for our expenses after we submitted receipts. I had no advice on how or who to hire for moving our household goods. Thank goodness for the internet, or maybe not.

The company that I hired sent two guys and a truck down to South Carolina from New Jersey. After seeing these guys, had the cast from Jersey Shore shown up, I would have thought, “what nice, clean cut boys.” Instead, I got the original cast of Jersey Swamp. I don’t know where these two crawled out of and I had to let them in my house. Jeromy was already gone to Germany, so it was just Josh and me. To add to the good times, the one who looked like Gimli from Lord of the Rings, you know – short, stocky, hairy, but add gold teeth and chains, he made a mess in my bathroom. I normally get by with natural, non-toxic cleaners in my house, but I went for the toxic, industrial strength stuff to clean up after him. Ick! The two of them managed to cram all of our stuff into this small truck, everything except the cat’s scratching post.

Nice, new and clean cat scratch post.

In hindsight, I don’t know why I let them do this. They strapped the post to the bumper of the truck and drove like that all the way back to New Jersey! It was a funny sight as they pulled out of the driveway, but at the time I was too tired to laugh. That post was very dirty by the time it arrived in Germany!

Now we’re making arrangements with a German moving company. They are well experienced in dealing with Americans and moves back to the USA because they do a lot of moving for the military. I decided to go with this company because the other one I asked for a quote ssssuuuuuuuuuuuucked at giving us a proper estimate.

Company F (not company B, company F for failing) first gave us a quote that estimated 40 cubic meters of household goods to go in a 40 foot container and our car would go in a 20 foot container. I questioned this because we just don’t have that much stuff. I asked them to revise the quote with two options; 1 – car in the 40 ft. container with our household goods, 2 – a 20 ft. container for just our household goods in case we decided to sell the car. Company F quoted what I asked for, but then said a 40 ft. container can only hold 30cbm if you place a car in the container too and a 20 ft. container can only hold 30cbm. The car apparently would take up 20 feet of a container. Well, fine, but I know there is no way in hell we have 40cbm of household goods. I looked at the invoice for how much we shipped to Germany and it converted to 17cbm. We did not acquire more than double what we brought from the States! No way! I know I didn’t buy that much at IKEA.

So, Company F sent out a different person to do another survey. Two days later I received a quote saying that yes, we do indeed have 40cbm of household goods, but this time it WILL fit in a 40 ft. container with the car. How is this possible? Did they figure out how to install some sort of black hole in the container? Would Scotty from Star Trek beam our household goods to South Carolina? The kicker, there is always a kicker, is that this time the 40 ft. container cost €1600 more than the quote when they said it wouldn’t fit. What?! Do these frickin’ frackers think I’m stupid? Do I look stupid?

Me and a pretzel at Oktoberfest in Munich. Silly, but not stupid.

So to Company F I say, “Nein! Nein! Nein! No soup for you!”

Sorry for the rant, but these guys really got me goin’. When I’m shelling out the big bucks, I take this stuff personally and I was offended by their outrageous ineptitude. Anyway, here’s hoping Company A sends their best and brightest to deal with me, I mean help me.

Have any of you had interesting experiences with movers?

Life in Germany: Moving Days

My family and I are getting ready for our big move from Germany back to the USA! So, no more posts about my German apartment. Darn! Since I don’t have much time for decorating or craft projects right now, I’m going to unload about the frustrations of moving. 

I just couldn’t title this post “Moving Day”. Who accomplishes a move in one day? Even a local move takes days of preparation and then unpacking. An international move takes months. Really! So where should I start with the trials of moving from Germany?

I guess my biggest irritation with domiciles in Germany is how darn expensive it is to move in and then how long you have to wait to get your money back when you move out. First, let me tell you about the money we had to fork over to move into our apartment. In the States maybe you pay a small application fee and a deposit of one month’s rent. In Germany, we had to pay a deposit of two months’ rent plus, here’s the kicker, a non-refundable realtor fee of two months’ rent! So we paid €2380 to the realtor and €2380 to our landlord. At the time, the exchange rate was about $1.45 to every €1. That totals $6,902 just to move into a rental apartment! Then, if you remember from an earlier post, we had to purchase and install all of the light fixtures ourselves. Rub salt in the wound, why don’t ya!

Sunrise over Boeblingen

Now that we’re leaving, we had to give 90 days notice to our landlord. Ninety days notice! The only things my husband and I have done with 90 days or more notice is get married and have a baby! It takes less time to buy a house in the States for crying out loud! So the way it works out, we’ll be paying June and July rent for an apartment we aren’t living in. I know! That is our own damn fault. Who signs a lease with 90 days notice? My hubby, that’s who. Oh well. Next question: when do we get our deposit back? Ninety days after the last day we pay rent for, so we won’t get our deposit back until November!

The other thing we have to wait for is an energy audit. In Germany there is cold rent and warm rent. Warm rent includes an estimated charge for the heat and water you use. Our deposit and realtor fee was determined using cold rent, which is the warm rent minus the monthly estimate of your heat and water usage. Since energy use is estimated to determine warm rent, after the calendar year is over, an audit is done to determine if you used more or less than what you already paid for. For the year 2010 we received a refund of €838! We used that amount to fund a trip to Paris. Nice, huh?  I’d like to get more money back, so of course I asked my landlord when the energy audit for 2011 will be complete. Well, they aren’t going to jump through any hoops to see if they owe me money. That audit and the audit for 2012 will take place when they normally occur, meaning I won’t get all of my potential refund until the summer of 2013, even though they’ll know my final energy usage numbers the day we move out on 23 May 2012. Have I mentioned that the only thing that goes fast in Germany is a car on the autobahn?

Sunset Over Boeblingen

So, for us in Germany, from the time we signed a lease to the time we move out and get back the money that is owed to us, well it is a very long and expensive process. You can be sure that I have marked a reminder on my calendar for when to expect my money back.

Have any of you had interesting experiences renting property in a foreign country?