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?

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.