May 262011

Today we took possession of our new apartment!  Woohoo!

We met the landlord, did a walk through, signed paperwork, went shopping, and started painting!  Ok, that project will not be a quick one, and honestly I am now too tired and sore to blog much.  But folks asked for photos, so here are some pictures of our adventures from the last couple days:

Why we need to paint- apparently there was furniture there.

Bringing up the Big Bucket of Paint
Phew, Made it!
How not to get paint on your shirt according to DS
getting set up
She claims it will eventually look like a forest
I didn’t bring any scungy clothes, so the oompa-loompa look is sposed to keep my stuff clean

 A few other interesting tidbits from the last couple days.  DD says that “Germany is just generally pleasant”.  I think she may be right about that!

Cool Bug DS found
DD is still the bug whisperer, this damsel fly needed a hand out of the home supply store
View from our new kitchen window.  Could do worse than a corn field!
There is a lake 2 blocks from our current abode in Auenheim- who knew?
Hail- during 80 degree Fahrenheit weather…. in case you need some refreshing?
May 222011
This damsel fly tried to hitch a ride on David’s pants.

Saturday Recap

So, yesterday was all about shopping.  Since he works pretty standard hours,  Saturdays are really the only days when I can take advantage of David’s superior German abilities and show him the wonderful places that the kids and I researched during the week.  Yesterday, we went to a local furniture store “Möbel SB”, and down to Obi, an enormous Home-Depotish place that also carries auto supplies, art supplies and bicycles.  We bought paint and assorted paint-project-oriented goods then spent some time debating our respective ideas and assumptions about decorating the new apartment.  Oddly, I discovered that my husband believes that if you have beige walls you must also have beige furniture.  Also, until I showed him the price of colored paint, he thought painting one wall an accent color was “weird”.  Who knew?  The kids, on the other hand, really like bright/dark colors.  We talked them down from the most garish tones, but DD will have a bright green wall, and DS will have one in ocean tones.

Sunday Outing
With that debate under our belts, we thought today would be a great day for a family drive to further explore our area.  I printed up a quick map, we picked a direction, and away we went!  As we were leaving our house we happened to glance over at the space in front of our landlords’ house.  Check out the tractor!

Bearnt had mentioned owning a tractor, but I was surprised to see it here today.

Off to the Black Forest
Then it was off into the Black Forest (Schwartzwald).  In may ways, the area reminded me of some of the back roads in Santa Cruz- like driving up Highway 9.  Motorcyclists were plentiful, as were biergartens and the like catering to them.  The whole zone is sort of a Historic Drive through timber towns.  At one point our route took us up into a more hilly region, and the narrow winding road was a little less comfortable- but still aesthetically gorgeous.  I can see why the motorcyclists love it.

It was difficult to take photos while we drove, but, eventually we got to an even more picturesque burg  than most and we went ahead and got out of the car.  Oberharmersbach seems to be a pleasantly touristy town.  It has a large, lovely church called St. Gallus, some tasty and whimsical public art, and a couple historic museums.  There are also a lot of too-spendy-for-us gasthaus and biergarten establishments that were even open on Sunday.  Here are some photos from our explorations:  

(Reminder- photos can be enlarged by clicking on them)

Bears seem to be the mascots of the town.  I think this was a town information center of some sort, but I liked the statue.
We looped through about 1/2 of this region
Black Forest sites
May pole and civic organizations
There really were a ton of bikers around!
DD stopping to smell the flowers- these large blooms are common.
I enjoy all the flowers
This historic building had been transformed into a museum.
 Here is a labeled tree trunk with historic events on it.
Bringing history alive
Water wheel
The museum itself was closed, but many exhibit items were just outside with labels.  You could touch at will

I really loved this fountain 

No clue why the bears and man seem to be carrying cooking implements….

He seems to be holding a fork

Club or spatula, you decide…

 Here are some photos of the beautiful church:

Her inscription says: tut was er euch sagt.  Doesn’t seem to translate well, though. 
St Gallus from the street
St Gallus from the front
Alter area- vibrant!
Stained glass
Pipe organ

This little town (Zell Am Hammersbach I think?) fascinated me- it seemed filled with gingerbread houses, like San Fran:

Not sure the picture does it justice

On the way back home we made another discovery:

Hey, what is that up on the hill?
A castle!  I think I know where we will need to explore soon!

(We think this may be Schauenburg? stay tuned!)

May 202011

First things first: We got the apartment!  You remember, this one here with the cool Badenzimmer and the Küche:

David went down to sign the contracts yesterday, but since I have to sign as well, we will actually wind up completing them next Thursday.  We can move in on the 1st.  So, looks like we are moving again!

How do I feel about this?  Well, not surprisingly I am excited!  The apartment seems great.  The location, while less picturesque in the suburban way is much more convenient in a more urban way.  And, it means I get to go on a shopping spree.  So, that could be fun!

On the other hand, though, I was startled to discover how much anxiety I have over the move.  Doubtless, some was the result of the 13 pages of German legalese that David brought home for us to peruse, translate and generally check over between now and next week’s signing.  No matter how good Google Translate is, some of it just really doesn’t make any sense.  And some of the clauses are potentially troubling (for instance, does the fact that the buildings are “generally closed” after 8PM just mean we need our keys to get in or that we will be locked out if we have a late errand?  I never attended a college where the dorms would lock you out, don’t want to start now!)

But, I think more of my creeping dread is simply the fact that after living here for a month, I was beginning to get just slightly comfortable.  I know how to find my way around town.  There are two families on the block with whom we are neighborly (not “Freunds” yet, but certainly social progress had been made).  The kids had even been playing with our landlord’s sons and their friends.

DD and Lawrence, he is 2.5 and quite bright
DD & DS playing soccer with local kids, who do call it soccer- at least around us
DD walks a line in the back yard while Louis watches

Also, I have gotten better at using our current kitchen.  Latest triumph:  Challeh

Not quite as good as in the States, but pretty decent for off the top of my head with limited resources

Of course, we have only begun to meet some of the neighbors:

This guy is more impressive in RL, about 2 ” long and fuzzy

So, I guess the short story is that the idea of relinquishing the minor amount of settlement that we have achieved has me all askew inside.  But, the opportunity to start building a more permanent home for ourselves is pleasing.

Today I will take the kids to the local Home Depot/OSH stores in Offenburg (Bauhaus & Obi) and we will pick up paint chips so we can decide on colors for the new rooms.  We apparently have to paint the apartment either before we move in or after we move out, so we are choosing to do it now.  We are not fond of some of the garish red and orange walls anyways.  I am not looking forward to the painting project itself (my shoulders are still a little sore), but I do like being able to personalize our space!  

I am trying to plan out the rest of the furnishings, but it is hard without exact measurements on the livingroom.  I am going off the estimate that it is 4 meters by about 6 meters.  If I am significantly off, things that barely fit on paper will almost certainly swell beyond capacity in RL.

Interesting things I have learned this week:

  • When you order things online from Ikea in Germany, it is cash on delivery!  The drivers take your money, up to 8,000 €.  Cash transactions seem very common here.
  • Our apartment requires you to be quiet not only from 22-06 Uhr (10PM-6AM), but also from 12-15 Uhr (12-3PM).  No one seems to know why.
  • German mail carriers don’t care about apartment numbers, they just deliver to the Family Name.  We will technically be apartment 12, but that isn’t listed on our address.
  • 30 € per month of our rent is for the kitchen (great deal as far as we are concerned!)
  • Big stores don’t always look like big stores.  There is a place next to a local supermarket that I assumed was just a littler market (for some reason markets here often come in pairs.  Like Albertsons and Safeway sharing a parking lot).  But, on advice of our landlady, Zybella, we went inside.  It is a HUGE furniture store!  Sort of a low-end Ikea clone.  Boggle.  It is even two stories- one of which exists entirely over the supermarket next door!
  • Driving in France is even harder than driving in Germany.  I got lost both going To and From Ikea,  mostly, I think, because the streets seem to change names more often than Lady Gaga changes her wig.
  • Graffiti does exist in Germany.  After getting lost coming home from Ikea, we wound up driving up to Kehl from a different direction than we had been before.  Each town we passed, while otherwise typically German Clean, had patches of colorful graffiti along the main route.

More adventures soon!

May 142011

Today was Saturday.  Saturdays are a more significant day for us here than in the states.  This is because here, it is really the only weekend day that counts!  Sure, Sunday is a day of rest.  But, really, it is a day of forced rest.  Shops aren’t open.  Buses barely run.  Only a few pizzerias and ice cream parlors are even available for emergency food- oh, and McDonald’s.  This Saturday we had a long agenda.  First into Strasbourg to see the cathedral & town center, then over to Ikea, then down to Offenburg to check out that electronics store of the difficult directions.

Getting There:  The trip to Strasbourg was a little stressful, but eventually uneventful.  Our directions were filled with turns and street names that never really materialized.  Luckily, though, there were huge signs all over directing us (and the main flow of traffic) into the City Center and toward the great, Gothic, Strasbourg Cathedral de Notre-Dame which had dominated the local skyline for the better part of 1,000 years (the first version of the church on that site was started in 1015- in the place of a Roman temple).  

First Impression:  My first glimpse of the cathedral itself threatened to send a chill down my spine.  Its ornate, dark spire is passingly reminiscent of some vampiric castle from those unsettling tales that predate the fluffy undead so popular with the teens of today.  My next impression (and many of those to follow) was of simple awe.  The structure is immense.  We read later that the spire reaches 142 meters, making it the tallest building in “the modern world” for 4 centuries after its completion in 1399!

Photos:  The rest of this part of the story is probably best told through pictures.  So, without further ado:

[reminder, enlarged photos can be viewed by clicking on them-they will open larger, and if you click on them again you can see more details]

A taste of Alsace on the way to the cathedral
First good look
The main doors
Some nice statues
DS learning the history of the saints- the other door had virgins being tempted by the devil!
66 meters to the panoramic view just beneath the main spire
First Balcony
View from the first balcony.  Already not too shabby!
This appears to be some OLD graffiti

A neighbor building
View from a bit higher
Dizzying Heights, but not at the top
The top is filled with carvings like these- we think they may have been patrons?
The kids & me in front of the main spire
See, there we are!
The main spire- close up!
Lovely city
Yeah, that is a 15€ view alright!
DS peeping out one of the many windows along the stairwells
This pigeon had built its nest on the stairs down- I suspect she built it during non-peak hours!

 A few interesting features:

Flying buttresses
Even the gutters are ornate

 Once we got down, my legs were actually shaking.  We stopped for lunch at a creperie and splurged on the usual 3.50€ sodas and waters for every parched one of us (that was more per drink than most of us spent per meal).  The fellows below played lively music throughout.  David and I managed to order our food in three languages- all of which the waiter spoke.  Upon pressing, he admitted to speaking a 4th: Greek!

French Mariachi?  They mostly played jazz standards, Dixieland and show tunes.
On our way out, we splurged one more time- on a few special cookies and a lollipop for DS

We didn’t go on the carousel, but we did admire it.
Cookie Trove (and a lollipop)

We hit the top of the spires just about at noon and got to enjoy not only the panoramic view, but also the pealing of bells from all around Strasbourg.  I have included a very brief video to give you just a taste of that experience.

Offenburg, briefly:

After the trip up the cathedral, we decided to cut our visit to Strasbourg short and head down to Offenburg instead of continuing on to Ikea.  It made sense at the time, but I am not really sure why.

For the record, the directions to the Media Markt were just a big a headache as we feared they might be!  In fact, things got SO bad, that we actually drove all the way back to Kehl (in the rain), printed out new maps, confirmed our orientation and went AGAIN.  In the end, we did find the store and a couple others that will be useful in the future (a Home Depot clone called Bauhaus with a built in backerei was of particular note).  We also found the correct path to our (looking likely, knock wood) potential new apartment.  So, despite the frustration of the drive, it did prove quite educational.

May 132011

It isn’t the cars climbing on the sidewalks that worry me- or even the folks dashing into oncoming traffic to avoid a too-large truck on the narrow, Roman-built roads.  No, those things are annoying, dangerous, and maybe just a little charming in their own way.  But, what is really going to set my brain spinning and keep it spinning is: the directions.

Germans like words.  And they like numbers.  And they seem to see no need to bother limiting their usage.  Signposts in Germany often read like the history of the area, with little authoritarian reminders thrown in. 

“This way to Mülhausen/Thüringen by way of Badfrankenhausen/Kyffhäuser, where the Battle of Frankenhausen was fought in 1525- Stay to the right, and make sure you go between 70-100 km/hour as you pass through town!” The “or else” is implied.  Go over 20 KPH over the speed limit and you can lose your license- instantly.

They also have narrow roads, bizarrely laid out to avoid crop lands and, presumably, to maximize the efficiency of Herr Johan getting to markt without running into his mortal enemy Herr Gertz who once stole wood from his meticulously stacked woodpile (or was it a dirty French guy who did that instead?).

Even that doesn’t really explain the roundabouts, though.  Ah, the roundabouts.   I actually rather like the roundabouts as a traffic construction.  There is something reassuring about knowing that even if you miss your turn, you can just grab it on the next trip around!  But, be that as it may, they really don’t make for simple directions.  “Take the 4th exit veering to the S/SW onto E35”

Today David told me about a larger electronics/appliance store in the next town.  They might have better prices on some of the items we will need to purchase.  So, I decided I might like to pay it a visit.  Here are the directions googlemaps gave me, verbatim:

Driving directions to Media Markt Offenburg
Gutenbergstraße 1
77694 Kehl, Germany
    1. Head south on Gutenbergstraße toward Neudorfstraße    59 m  
Easy enough start.

    2. Turn left onto Neudorfstraße    230 m
    3. Turn right onto Freiburger Str./K5373 I am sorry, K-what?
            Continue to follow K5373   2.4 km Got it, thanks.
    4. Slight left to stay on K5373    8 m Yeah, thanks again.
    5. Turn right onto B36    700 m 
    6. Keep left at the fork, follow signs for B28/A5/Karlsruhe/Basel/Freudenstadt/Offenburg and merge onto B28 9.4 km  ??!!?
    7. Take the exit onto A5 toward Offenburg/Basel   7.3 km
    8. Take exit 55-Offenburg toward Villingen-Schwenningen/Gengenbach/Kinzigtal 270 m  Whatever you say….
    9. Turn right toward B33a    75 m
    10. Slight left toward B33a (signs for Villingen-Schwenningen/B33/Gengenbach/Kinzigtal/Offenburg/B33a/Basel/A5)      400 m  Ah crud.
    11. Keep right at the fork      1.8 km 
    12. Continue onto B3/B33 (signs for Offenburg/Zentrum)   600 m B3 AND B33?
    13. Make a U-turn at Freiburger Str.   170 m Of course.  Should have seen that coming.
    14. Take the exit toward Neuried/Schutterwald    150 m
    15. Slight right onto Marlener Str.    120 m
    16. Enter the roundabout.Yay!
          Destination will be on the right.   34 m Um, wait guys.  We are still in the roundabout.  Did you forget a step?  EVERYTHING is on the right!  Nothing has its address *on* a roundabout, does it?  Does it?  Wouldn’t that break some law of physics?  Won’t we be stuck forever in some sort of roundabout time space continuum wormhole singularity or something?  Guys?  guys?

Ach… Well, at least we will be stuck forever in:

Media Markt Offenburg
Heinrich-Hertz-Straße 6
77656 Offenburg, Deutschland

What does that look like on a map, by the way?  Lots easier, actually!  Maybe I will try this out tomorrow…..  If you don’t hear from me again, send an away team into the Roundabout!

May 072011

Another step forward.  

I will ask David to tell this part of the story, since he is the main character:

Car Buying

1998 VW Golf TDI in “Lego Brick Blue”

Today’s goal was to acquire a family car.  More specifically – a reasonably priced, large enough for the whole family, automatic transmission (turns out to be a rare thing in Germany), diesel (gas is very expensive) car.  Having hunted the German used car websites, local paper, etc… the best I had found was a ’98 VW Golf 1.9 TDI.  Unfortunately it was fairly significantly far away – about 65km.  That meant a bus ride and three train connections and I’d need to get there before 2pm when they closed.

I called them up on Friday one more time to ask in German if they still had the car (they did) and arranged to meet up with one of the guys from work (Vladimir) to go with me on my car buying adventure.  Vladimir is kind of a um.. zany adventure sort of guy so it seemed like a good fit.  We agreed to meet at the train station at 9:15am to catch the 9:30 train.

I took the only bus to town that would arrive in time.  It arrived at 8:00am and so I spent the next hour wandering around looking at stuff.  I considered snacking, but had just had breakfast so mostly just wandered around a bit and waited for Vladimir.  He showed up on time, which was more impressive after he revealed he had been out carousing until 3:00am the night before with my boss (his housemate).  A little bleary but basically functional, Vladimir showed me how to print out our train schedule – a good trick since I had only been able to write them down before now.

We easily hopped on our first train and got underway.  The schedule had us changing trains for the first time in Appenweier but Vladimir said that approach led to too much walking around and suggested we instead ride it to Offenburg and change there. I also had my standard experience that seems to occur on every train trip I take, where someone came and asked me for directions in English.  A small Japanese girl traveling with her dad approached me to confirm how she could get to Offenburg.  Easy enough.  I guess I don’t look scary or something.

We switched trains in Offenburg and headed on our way.  While riding the next train and chatting about some Beer advertisement in English, a nearby guy jumped into our conversation with a thick Scottish accent and told us the history of the beer making facility in question (Vladimir had been impressed that it boasted operation since 1238).  He also told us that he preferred good Scottish whiskey, which did not surprise me at all 😉 and discussed where best to get it locally.  Pretty random but friendly anyways.

Another oddity about this train was that it was absolutely packed with attractive young women.  I have no idea why.  When I made a comment about this to Vladimir, I discovered that the poor guy is not able to see well. He needs glasses, but has never ventured into German healthcare to solve this.   After the trip I explained what he had missed and encouraged him to take advantage of the full healthcare that comes with our work and just get some glasses.  For a wild adventurer (which he is… Vladimir has biked from Belarus to the west coast of France, visited a ton of countries, traveled to America, etc…) he has some weird fears too.

Unfortunately our trip to Offenburg did get us to the next stop early which meant we had lots of waiting to do.  We walked around Rastatt to see the local sights and decided there distinctly weren’t any.  There weren’t any earlier trains either since our final destination was a dinky little town with only a small commuter train rather than the big regular ones, so the one option was all there was.

Finally arriving in Malsch we’ve got two hours to go before the car dealer closes. So, we waste no time and start right off looking for it.  We find a map of the town and I take my best guess on where the dealer should be.  We walk over where we think that is, a large but unmarked street, and tromp across the highway to the other side.  We pass another used car dealer at the start which seems promising (though its full of small overpriced cars) but then pass a sign that tells us we are leaving Malsch (oops).  We continue to trudge a long ways across the highway, and find ourselves staring at farmland that does not look like there’s going to be any more civilization ahead.  Doh.  Well its got to be ahead or behind us, and we start to consider turning around, but Vladimir suggests calling a friend with google maps, and failing that I’ll flag down one of the locals and ask them.  Borrowing my phone, he calls Rolf, who staggers with his hangover out of bed at past noon and google checks where we should be.  We’re on the right path he says, just keep going.  Thanks Rolf!

Ok, so we keep heading off into the country and eventually come to some buildings that look a bit more promising.  There is also a sign indicating that we are now entering “Neumalsch” (New Malsch).  Just past these we can see a large barn-like building surrounded by a lot of cars and some people in the lot.  Success at last!  We walk up and look around and easily spot the car in question – bright Lego Brick blue.  I talk to one of the dealers and ask if he speaks English.  No, but his associate does he says.  Ok, said associate actually doesn’t speak English at all, and we ditch him and I just deal with the original guy who seems to be the manager anyways.  I ask him a couple questions in German and then ask to test drive it.  How long do you want to drive it he asks?  Um, I dunno.. a couple minutes.  He tells me I can drive it for no more than 5 kilometers and 15 minutes and.. hands me the keys.

Clean Interior

Vladimir and I hop in the car (with no attendant!) and just drive away.  How totally weird.  We drive around a little bit, accelerate up to a reasonable speed to listen to it, then pull off and open everything to check inside.  We look at the engine (mostly covered with a single really obvious oil dipstick in the middle), check the seams for signs of bending or repainting, pop the trunk, check the gas cap, try various settings, etc…  It largely seems to be in order except for the key only unlocks the car from the passenger side, not the driver side.  As defects go not too bad.

We head back and say ok, I’m interested.  At this point Vladimir says “You know, I bet these guys all speak Russian”, and a moment later he and the sales guy are deep into it.  The rest of the purchase is conducted almost entirely in Russian, with the sales guy being quite pleased to chat the whole time with Vladimir.  He is really tickled that Vladimir (young guy, 27ish or so) is a manager, although Vladimir loses some credit by lacking a driver’s license and a car.  We quiz them about the car (apparently it was owned by the daughter of one of the dealership guys), coverage, etc.. and what it’ll take to drive off with it.

Apparently I can’t drive it away without having insurance and plates for it first, so I’ll need to go get these before I can take possession of the vehicle.  I see, well no, I’m not paying for a car I can’t drive away in, so how do we solve that?  Lots more Russian follows but its clear the guy wants the money so he’s motivated to provide a solution.  There’s some sort of 5 day insurance you can get that might work, but no, its a weekend so you can only do that on weekdays.  I am annoyed by that, asking once again, how the hell does anyone do business in this country if they have an actual job? 

Finally the guy provides a solution that works for me.  He let’s us drive it back to Kehl with the dealer plates on it, as long as we can get someone to drive the plates back to him right away.  Quick gotcha here.. I ask what happens if the car is sitting in front of my house with no plates… yes, the police ticket you for that.  Uh huh, but Vladimir suggests we can just drop it off in the work parking lot and that’ll let me get it properly registered on my lunch break from there.  He also calls one of the guys who works for him, who agrees to drive the plates back with us so it looks like we’re good to go!

I fill out some paperwork, cough up my pile of paper money (you can actually carry a staggering amount of Euros quite easily because they come in 200 EU and 500 EU denominations) and we’re set.  He gives us some temporary insurance paperwork to go with the dealer plates (which we also have to return), and we’re off.  We drive back easily, drop the car off at work, and meet our co-worker who drives us back and forth one more time.  Mission accomplished!  Well mostly, just a bit more of the usual German paperwork to go and we will have a little used car to drive around in.

Here is the ad for our new car:

May 072011

The step back

Having started the process of applying for an apartment, it occurred to us that we should check in with our moving company and find out what the ETA on our stuff was.  So, I sent out a chipper letter to our move coordinator (the one who mailed me wrong and said we were going to India) explaining that we were in the process of finding a place to live and asking how far things had progressed on their end.  Her response was, er, shocking.

She was glad we were getting settled, but she wondered why I had never responded to either of her email messages: one on April 21 and one on the 23.  Our credit card had been denied and none of our items could be moved until the bill was settled!!!  Also she was going on maternity leave and passing us off to yet another move coordinator.  Um, WHAT?

First off, I checked my mail.  No letters from her were in there or in my junk folder.  Second, our Visa is tied to our main bank account, which had plenty of money to cover the bill.  I was boggled, David was, er, loudly annoyed.  Honestly, I was more than a little annoyed, too, but there really wasn’t time to holler, we needed to get this resolved.

Long story short, apparently our Visa had a built in daily limit that the bill to the movers exceeded.  I guess we had never tried to charge that much on it before?  We had to make a few phone calls, but eventually we got our bank to clear things up on our end.  The local Santa Clarita branch manager went the extra mile and got everything cleared to go during business hours on Friday.  I notified our move coordinator, who sweetly told me that it was late in Germany and I should go to bed.  She would deal with things on Monday.  Eye-Roll.

She also (as I requested) sent me estimates on how long it would take to get our stuff.  I hope to heck she was padding them because if her numbers are right we are not going to get things in the 5-6 weeks that we were quoted originally.  It will take a full 2 months!  No one ever figured out how the email never made it to me.  Nor was any mention made of why she didn’t try to contact David or my mom, both of whom were listed as alternate contacts.  Not meaning to be catty (well, maybe a little), but I hope Jessica is a better mom than she is a move coordinator!

The silver lining, I guess, is that we actually weren’t bringing that much!  Furniture-wise, there are really only the three beds to worry about.  Otherwise it is just all personal items, clothes, computers, toys, kitchenware and books.  It will be inconvenient to be without them for that long, but, really, we had planned to replace so many things that once we do, the inconvenience will be greatly diminished.  I may have to invest in some cheap cooking pans and we may need to borrow a few more items from David’s co-workers. But I think we will make it work, knock wood.  Cause, really, isn’t that what this whole trip is all about?

Next up- Another step forward and David Speaks!

May 072011

First, one of the steps forward:

We went house hunting!  First we searched ads and newspapers.  Honestly, there are *very* few 3 bedroom apartments (or houses) in this area.  There are even fewer in our price range.  We wanted to find a place somewhere in the general area of Offenburg/Kehl as David’s work will be moving from Kehl to Offenburg (next city down) in October.  But, as we looked, we found ourselves considering places further and further afield.  One otherwise promising duplex fell through because it had a hefty finders fee for the agent (3 month’s rent!) and it had very poor internet.  We might have been able to stomach the fee with pain, but the internet deficit was a deal-breaker!

Luckily, though, David’s incredibly helpful co-worker Sanja was on the case.  She had volunteered to call places for us as her German is infinitely better than ours (so, by the way, is her Croation, French, her Spanish, and possibly even her English!  What can I say, the lady is impressive!)  Sanja found a 3 bedroom apartment in Offenburg.  It is at the northern edge, nearest Kehl, a little too close to the railroad, but surrounded by farmlands.  The place had been occupied until recently by the owners of the building who, apparently, *really* liked their bathrooms!  Check out this tub:

Jets, bubbles, rotating head rests.  Even a heated towel rack!

And these sinks:

Note the toilet in the bathroom.  Unusual, here, but convenient!

And then there is the shower.  It has radio, multiple jets, and even a steam setting!

Also a shower seat and an overhead rain shower.

The guest toilet is also fun:

These folks clearly liked modern fixtures.

The apartment itself is small compared to what we are accustomed- 97 sq. meters, or about 1050 sq ft.  But it has a large enough livingroom that leads out onto a functional balcony:

Would need rugs for that floor!

The piece de resistance for us, though is that it comes with a fully installed kitchen!!!  Most of the apartments in Germany are completely barren.  And I mean completely.  No appliances, certainly, but also no counters, no cabinets, and no sink!  You are expected to bring your own or contract Ikea or similar to make one for you at considerable extra cost.  This place has everything- even a dishwasher and a small dining/cooking counter at one end!  Sadly, the fridge is Europe-sized, but we were still duly impressed.

OOOOOO!  Ahhhhhhh!

The place also has a laundry room.  Now, this is not like a laundry room in the states with big coin-operated washers and dryers.  This is a room in the basement with a number of water hook-ups and electricity outlets.  You purchase your own washer and/or dryer and set it up in your designated spot attached to a meter that tells the landlord how much water/energy you used.  There is also space in the room to set up portable clothes lines.  We only saw one dryer in the room, but there were, I think, 3 active clotheslines on the day we visited.  The basement area also has storage for the unit, and even a bicycle room to store your bikes!  There are garages outside for the cars.

The capper was that the building gets 16 times better internet speeds than the house we are in currently!  I wouldn’t say we were in love, but we definitely liked the place.

We asked Sanja to start the process of helping us apply for it.  This involves more here than in the US.  We have to get attestation from David’s employer that we can afford the place, for instance.  We have no idea if we will get it.  But even if we have to look some more, I definitely count this as a step forward because the process has definitely begun!

Next up, A step back

May 042011

We should have some more interesting stories to relay quite soon.  Progress is being made, but it is always slower than desired. In the mean time, here are some photos of things that caught my eye around the little village where we are currently living.  This is Auenheim- which is sort of a bedroom village to a small town next to a big city located along a small river that runs into a big river.

A local gasthaus with a decorated tree on the top- is this common?

The bottom part

Their menu

About 2 houses down from the gasthaus

Apparently been there a while, the placard claims 1773?
Google translate fails with the rest, though:
I respect your halls the same as the rain Waller
the mending of the roofs and that you envy me already
  Müllen but you suffer dak God is my helper
As best I can read it should you care to take a stab at it:
Ich achte dein haller gleich wie das Regenwaller
das von den Dachern flickt und ob Sie mich schon neiden
 so müllen Sie doch leiden dak Gott mein helfer ist
People around here are serious about laying away wood for the winter!

Is this person laying away coal for the winter?

House under construction.  Very different than CA.  Are the bricks some sort of ins ulation?
House on the edge of Auenheim.  Made to look like a log cabin… with solar?  Lincoln would have been amazed!

What is next to the log cabin

I KNEW there had to be a bakery somewhere in the neighborhood!

Poor flat gnome!

These little red beetles LOVE the tree by the church.

A back door on the church. 
May 012011

Several people have asked me recently if we “like” it here.  The answer is that I am really not sure!  There are definitely things I like as well as frustrations.  But, most of our energies are still being spent just engaging in activities like Trying To Get Food, Trying To Communicate, Trying To Do Laundry, Trying To Get Anywhere, and, for David, of course Work.  In other words, we are basically in Survival Mode.  Since we are still in temporary housing without a car it is very difficult to know what our actual lifestyle here will be like.  Still, I can tell you there are some things that I really like and a few that I am less fond of:

Blast Shields Down
  • LIKE- German Houses: They are both charming and practical.  Everyone seems to have pleasant gardens.  The architecture appeals to me far more than the faux adobe that litters the CA landscape.  There are big flat light switches located in intelligent places (in the doorway AND near the couch or bed).  The use of doors and radiators makes heating the house reasonable.  And, everyone has these nifty built-in blast shields that you lower at night to keep out the light or provide you with privacy.
  • LIKE- Bakeries: They are the Starbucks of Germany, only, you know…not.  You can’t walk 2 blocks without hitting one, they are open when other stores are closed.  And, they have breads and pastries!  What isn’t to love?
  • DISLIKE- Store hours:  Most stores are closed Sundays.  Many stores are closed at lunch.  Most stores are closed after work hours.  As David notes, How the Heck are you supposed to shop if you actually have a job?
  • DISLIKE- Tiny Refrigerators: When combined with the above mentioned limited store hours these make it very difficult to keep a well-stocked kitchen.
  • DISLIKE- German toilet paper: Ouch!  ‘Nuff said…
  • LIKE- 85 Gazillian kinds of ham and other pork products!  Who knew there were so many ways to cure a swine?
  • DISLIKE- Lack of other kinds of meats.  Beef is particularly hard to find, chicken and turkey are often available- but not always.  Haven’t braved the fish, yet, but that may be a good option.
Going Native- our lunch of fruit, a pretzel and cheese

Catching Up

So, what have we been up to since last I wrote?  As stated before, most of our efforts are still going to survival.

We have *almost* managed to get our bank account set up and usable.  It takes longer than you might expect!  Thursday the kids and I went into town to go shopping and meet David for lunch and a trip to the bank.  Unfortunately, the bank, like many shops, is closed during the lunch hour!  So, David’s lunch went longer than anticipated.  But, after waiting for the best English speaker at the branch to arrive, we did manage to get me added to the account.  Friday we finally got David’s ATM cards (one for checking, one for savings!) in the mail, and the passwords and TAN numbers (extra security) for online banking.  But, we need to wait a few more days to get his ATM passwords. I think he opened the account 2 weeks ago, now! After his stuff arrives,  my ATM cards should appear and eventually my ATM passwords.  Wheee!

Of course, the next step is to get money into it from our US account.  We tried calling for an international wire transfer today, but the customer service rep said we couldn’t do it over the phone and would have to come into a branch.  Not really an option at this point!  Our branch had told us that we *could* do it before we left, so not sure what happened.  The customer service rep told us we could write a check to ourselves and access money that way.  David will go to the Deutsche Bank tomorrow and see what solution we can come up with.  We really need access to the money if we are going to buy a car or rent an apartment/house!

Friday was a particularly frustrating day.  We awoke in the morning to discover that the internet was down and a couple of rooms had no power.  What we didn’t realize at the time was that the Fridge was on the powerless circuit- as were the phones.  Oof.  Being in a foreign country without access to the internet or phones while your hubby is away can bring your sense of isolation into perspective. 

The landlord was out and his wife didn’t know how to fix this issue.  I looked for a circuit breaker box, but couldn’t find one.  David headed off to work early for a meeting, and the kids and I were essentially stuck.  Also, the forecast was for rain, so I didn’t want to take everyone out to town and get caught in a downpour!  My plan had been to kick back at home, and it seemed that was what we were to do regardless.

This was especially poor timing for the outage as there were some problems with the rats back in the States and I was busy trying to track down options.  But, with the internet down, that was not possible.  So, we settled in a little uncomfortably, and kicked back.  I started the day by keeping up my international cultural credentials and watched the British Royal Wedding in German.  Germans, it seems, have an annoying habit of dubbing everything instead of using subtitles.  The exception would be celebrity endorsements- wouldn’t want to dub George Clooney or Cindy Crawford when they were hawking product!  Heidi Klum, of course, needs no dubbing and sells a wide variety of things.  In any case, I found it sort of distracting to hear the future King of England give his vows to his beloved Kate with the voice of an elderly German man, but otherwise it was a lovely diversionary spectacle-
                      -for me.  The kids couldn’t have cared less.

The neighborhood

The nicest part of the day was that after the wedding we went out for a walk around the neighborhood and did some exploring.  We found a German phone booth:

The local swimming pool:

Don’t wear the wrong trunks!

A couple of local pubs, a dog groomer, 2 schools, and some agricultural fields tucked away:

That is another thing I LIKE about Germany- lots of open spaces and greenery.

In any case, long day short, David was an hour late from work, but knowing the bus schedules I wasn’t too worried.  Still.  No phone.  No internet.  No way to contact him.  Once he got home David tracked down the landlord’s wife and she called him and he talked her through finding and using the circuit breaker (in the cellar!  Duh!  Should have looked there, but I am a CA girl- “cellar” isn’t in my housing vocab, yet).  After the net was up, I logged in and found out that the crisis with the rats was at least temporarily under control (knock wood! Go Tabitha!  Go Ratsos!).  And, a quick inventory of the fridge found that really all we lost with the prolonged outage was some of David’s milk and a pork tenderloin.  Alls Well that Ends Well!

Saturday we went into town as a family and did more food shopping.  We tried to figure out the bus passes, but failed.  Then we came home for another walk.  David and I searched used auto ads for much of the afternoon.  Then, after I managed a dinner of Teriyaki Turkey Supremes, Broccoli, & Bread (I was so proud to get a balanced meal cooked with just the items at hand),  I fell asleep right after the kids.  Still haven’t adjusted, I guess.  But, I have lost a kilo or so!

DS Wanted to go out and romp in one of the thundershowers
DD “See, Mom, I can be picturesque sometimes” (Note: I never doubted it!)

Today I have spent mostly writing this up for your viewing pleasure :-)  Oh- Also today, we tried a local (in Auenheim) pizza joint.  Not bad!  Decent price and, notice, Open on Sunday!  Woohoo!  “Pizzeria Bella Italia” for the win!

Post Script: Having given it further thought, we have decided that the “blast shields” shown at the top of the page would likely be a fairly effective tool in staving off the zombie apocalypse.  I envision headlines like “Europe Stops Zombie Invasion with common household Shutters”.  What do you think?