Mein Haus in Germany: Part III, The Kitchen

Kitchens in Germany are challenging (that is the most diplomatic descriptive word I can use). Most of the kitchens I’ve seen here remind me of what was in most American homes in the 1950’s. They are small and typically closed off from the rest of the house. Many are galley style, just big enough to walk through. I’m super lucky because my kitchen is in a new apartment building and my apartment has a fairly open floor plan. Here’s my kitchen:

I get lots of morning sunshine, which is wonderful for helping me to wakeup, but it also shows the dust (I’m not so good at cleaning). I was standing in the dining area when I took this picture. The whole area opens up to our living room, which is unusual.

Another view:

I love the range hood and the glass front cabinets. I wish I had something like this in my house in South Carolina. I’m not crazy about the gray laminate backsplash, but I can’t complain too much. We’re lucky there was even a kitchen in this apartment. When most Germans move into a new apartment, they have to put in a new kitchen. Really! No cabinets, counters, appliances or lights. Imagine that, just a shell of a room!

Another view:

We put up the wall shelves. All the produce is on the counter because it won’t fit in our fridge. The two lower cabinets by the dishtowel are our “pantry” . So maybe you can guess where my refridgerator is?

And here is the inside:

Ha! Fooled you! We were fooled too when Jeromy first looked at the apartment. He thought the freezer was on the bottom. Nope. The freezer is in the fridge compartment and really isn’t much bigger than a shoe box, maybe for boots. No room for soda, so we’ve pretty much given that up unless we go out to eat. If we entertain guests, we put a cooler with ice out on the porch for extra drinks. In this picture there are three beers on the shelf. If you take one out, you have to put one in and hope that the fridge cools at the same pace that you drink the beer. In the winter, we just leave the crates of beer outside.

Oh, that shoebox of a freezer! So this is why we grocery shop multiple times a week. I do one large trip to the commissary on the American army post to stock up on pantry items and we fill in the blanks throughout the week at the German market. I’d like to say that we waste less food since we don’t have much room to store it, but I still think too much gets thrown out. But, probably less than we wasted in the States.

Just like there isn’t much room in my fridge, there isn’t much room in my oven. Forget hosting Thanksgiving dinner. I can barely fit a cookie sheet in my oven and there is only one shelf that isn’t a tray. If I have to use the tray as another shelf, it cuts down on the heat circulating in the oven and food doesn’t bake evenly. (Don’t look at this picture too closely, because my oven still doesn’t look clean even though I just cleaned it. Did I mention I’m not good at cleaning?)

 If I remember correctly, I could fit two cookie sheets side by side on the same shelf in my oven in the U.S. I don’t bake much anymore, but there is a bakery on every block, so I’ve been well supplied with pastries. So keeping with our small theme, here is my kitchen sink:

My largest pot is almost as big as the single basin I have in my sink. To wash dishes I have to start with a little bit of water and soap in the basin and the basin fills up with water as I rinse off the clean dishes. I do have a dishwasher and there isn’t much to complain about there. Here’s what is under my sink:

Germans really like to separate recycling and food scraps and other bio matter from their trash, which is something I wish more people would do in the States.

So that is my kitchen. Have you noticed what is missing?

I don’t have a microwave and I don’t miss it one bit! In South Carolina I really only used it to microwave popcorn and heat up water for tea or hot chocolate. However, I do sometimes miss my average, builder basic kitchen in my house in South Carolina. It was big and bigger:

But, we have adjusted. Now I’m not sure what I’d put in that giant fridge. We don’t drink soda anymore. I guess we’d put lots of beer in there and fill it with produce, maybe a couple of pizzas and some ice cream in the freezer.

Have any of you had experiences with non-American kitchens? Have you ever been amazed by what you can live without or adapt to?

Mein haus in Germany: Badezimmer

Bathrooms in Germany are an experience, especially public restrooms, but that is a whole ‘nother post. This one is about the bathroom in my apartment. We have a three bedroom apartment, but there is only one bathroom with a shower and tub. It is located on the opposite side of the apartment from the master bedroom, which means a long, cold walk in the middle of the night. We also have a half bath, which is hardly worth writing about. It is about four feet away from the main bathroom and doesn’t even have hot water hooked up to the tap.

Our main bathroom is actually very nice and easily the largest bathroom I’ve ever had in any of the apartments or houses I’ve lived in. The first major difference between a German bathroom and an American bathroom are the vanities.

The bathroom on the left is mine and the bathroom on the right is a guest bathroom in Mary Claire’s house in Texas. There are never, ever vanities in a German bathroom. The sinks usually just hang on the wall and you are left to wonder where you are suppose to put anything. We had to buy the two IKEA cabinets hanging on the walls because there is absolutely no storage in our bathroom. We also had to buy the mirrors and install the light fixtures. German bathrooms don’t come with storage, mirrors or light fixtures. I really miss counter space and cabinets!

My toilet hangs on the wall, which made me nervous at first. I don’t know why because I don’t weigh THAT much. Now I think it is so awesome that the toilet is not sitting on the floor. When I actually do clean the floors, it is so much easier to get around the toilet area. You might wonder how to flush the toilet since there isn’t a visible tank and lever. The buttons to flush are a little ways up the wall. The small button is for . . . small deposits and the large button is for large deposits. Our water meter is also displayed on this wall, which includes a radio transmitter to inform our landlords of our water usage.

I love my German bathtub. This bathroom is so nice, I can hardly believe it’s in an apartment. I’ve never lived in an apartment where the tile goes about 6 feet up each wall and there is nice glass mosaic tile. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever lived in an apartment that actually had tile on the floor, walls and tub surround. This bathroom is built to last. However, we did have to buy and install the towel rack. The bathroom in my South Carolina house is more like Mary Claire’s, which is pictured on the right. The good old shower/tub combo. Although it looks like Mary Claire’s is actually tiled, mine in SC is a giant acrylic form (I’d love to replace it if we ever move back into our house).

I really like our shower too, mostly because of the nice decorative tile. However, my hubby had to negotiate with the landlord to have the shower doors installed. I guess we were expected to shower in the open or somehow string up a makeshift curtain. Glad you fought for this one, babe! I would have taken a closer picture of the shower, but then you’d see how bad I am at cleaning. You’ll just have to take my word for it when I say there is no shelf or way to store bottles and soap in the shower.

Storage, or lack thereof, is a repeating theme when it comes to discussing German apartments. Since I don’t have cabinets in my bathroom, I had to set up everything in my linen closet.

Yup, that is my “linen closet”, a dresser in the hallway next to our bathroom. That dresser is a vintage Ethan Allen piece Jeromy purchased from my mom. I think it is the only piece of furniture that has been with us for our entire marriage. It has made the trek from Iowa to Alaska, up and down the East Coast and all the way to Germany.

Well, that was my German bathroom and Mary Claire’s Texan guest bathroom. It makes me thankful for American cabinets and vanities, but when I get back to the States, I’d definitely like to upgrade the bathroom in my house. Anything less than tile just won’t do. Has anyone else had interesting bathroom experiences in foreign countries? I’ve heard Japanese bathrooms are an adventure.

Mein haus in Germany

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!