daily life

Meg + Dan’s Weekend in Würzburg

Just a few days after my parents packed up for home, my sister and brother-in-law arrived!  Megan and Dan stayed with us in Würzburg for 4-days before setting off to Spain and England.  We had splendid weather for their visit and Würzburg was busy with weekend activity.  We showed them a few of the local sights:  the Residenz, Festung Marienberg, and the Rococo Gardens in Veitshöchheim.

We spent the weekend relaxing at the Stadtstrand “city beach”, biking, eating, drinking, and dancing ’til dawn. These two bring fun and lightheartedness wherever they go!

Below: The pedestrian bridge– Alte Mainbrücke ; Relaxing at Wurzburg city beach

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We ate at a few of our favorite places, including pizzas at Locanda.  Dan and Meg are beer aficionados and like to sample —  they ordered a Doppelbock from the Franconian brewery Keiler.

Yup, that is half of a pizza!

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We ate Würzburger bratwurst in the Marktplatz on Saturday morning and scoped out the weekend activity, a rubber duck river race for charity.

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We rented bikes for the day from the local bike shop and peddled along the Main river.  We passed through Veitshöchheima village not far from us where the Schönborn Bishop-Princes built their Summer Residenz and Rococo gardens in the 18th C.   Afterwards, a biergarten.

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… And a little bit of Eis.

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Late in the day we walked up to the fortress grounds to lookout over the city.  We brought one of the wines we enjoy from the vineyards around Würzburg,  Consilium Silvaner.

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We introduced Meg and Dan to the Döner kebab sandwich shop in our neighborhood.   Two more converts who are puzzled as to why savory Turkish-style street food has never made it to the USA Midwest. Someone please open a dang Döner shop!

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Back with our feet in the sand at the Stadtstrand – the city beach, followed by a delicious dinner at our preferred spot for Fränkisch regional cuisine, Alte Mainmühle. Mmm, lecker!

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What a great weekend! Thanks to Dan and Megan for spending a few days with us, wonderful memories, and for sharing many of these great photos!

One Year in Germany

We’ve reached our one-year mark of our time in Germany!  I’ve had so many ideas for this blog that have never actually made it to press.  So here are a few notes about day-to-day life in Deutschland:

 

How is the job? What does Kate do all day?

People are often curious about two things regarding the expat experience— what work is like for Derek, and also how I spend my time.

Derek enjoys the German office! He likes the work structure and feels his peers are focused and productive. One feature of the German branch is that engineering and testing are located in the same building as manufacturing. It makes for many busy days since any concerns during production come to the surface quickly. Since we moved to Würzburg last year he has played basketball on a city men’s league, and it is a nice balance to his work life.

All of which leaves me with a lot of solo time— And a chance to return to a healthier routine. In the past year the time to myself has allowed me to exercise and cook more, and to return to some creative mediums that I enjoy.  During our time abroad I haven’t driven a car, or even had a local phone number;  I spend part of each day walking because all of my daily errands are on foot. It is helpful that Würzburg is a busy place with a lot of activity.  I love the city and haven’t felt boredom or isolation.

 

What about the language?

We’ve received some sympathetic looks when we tell people that we speak kein Deutsch ‘no German’.

Surprisingly, language hasn’t been a noticeable barrier.  Knowing even the most basic phrases along with the right body language is important, so we focused on those first— Living in a new country without ever using the language would be a challenge. That said, we are grateful for the many Germans who speak fluent English, and for those who are willing to try.

One thing we now realize is how many German words sound like English.   We learned during our immersion that Old English descends from the Germanic language.

Derek has exposure to the language everyday at work and has picked up the essentials as a necessity; many of his meetings are entirely in German. His colleagues clarify when needed and their assistance cannot be understated— They have helped us make appointments, track down delayed mail, and even called tech support when we had a glitch with our internet.  (And they invite us to their festivals!)

In those instances and in others a more detailed use of language is necessary. Germany is a land of rules and written procedures. We were not able to find an interpreter at city hall while applying for residency, which made the process lengthy.  We also pre-translate all written communication for our landlady.

Thankfully, technology has made many things accessible that would otherwise not be: (1) Google translate is a lifesaver when we need to make sense of our bills and mail  (2) We would be lost without English navigation on our GPS  (3) We can stream radio stations, late night shows, and read the news online. It has also allowed us to live in a bit of cultural limbo.

From daily practice I’ve learned the simplest German phrases (conversationally–still a long way to go!).  A German man once pointed out that I know as much Deutsch as his infant grandson. Yes, I imagine that is true. A trip to the grocery store is like a vocabulary lesson; I have mastered all of the fruits, vegetables, and clothing words that one would ever need to know.

It can be an outsider’s perspective. Knowing so little German has improved my awareness of non-lingual sounds. Even the chatter on trains or in restaurants, which at times would be interesting to overhear is something we interpret as white noise and focus on our own experience.

 

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Living on the Euro

The German cost of living is comparable to the USA.  However, for us— Americans living on the Euro— an unfavorable exchange rate can be a little rough. Ultimately we re-adjust everything to USD.  When we first arrived, we were paying 35% more for our day-to-day expenses and also getting used to a single income. (The exchange rate has since improved).

One thing that makes a positive difference is that some items in Germany are priced lower than in the USA. There are a handful of Aldi-style grocery stores, and in general a high availability of quality, low-priced, fresh food.  (And beer. And chocolate.) Fuel is expensive. Clothing and restaurants are about the same.

 

Here are a few things that we especially like:

Sundays. Throughout Germany, everything is closed on Sundays except for restaurants.  So what does everyone do all day?  They spend time outdoors, catch up with friends and pursue hobbies, eat ice cream and sip coffee, or go for walks and bike rides. Sometimes museums are also open. In Bavaria, there is a long-standing rule that you are not allowed to wash a car on a Sunday or cut the lawn.  It is a quiet day, and we look forward to it each week.

 

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European Butter. This is the real thing.  The first time I made something sweet in our tiny German kitchenette, I marveled at the results.  Then realized: It’s the butter.  The fat content of European butter is a tad higher, but if you are baking it is a miraculous adjustment.

Bread. Germany is a bread-centric country and the bakeries live up to the hype. There are times, and from no apparent direction, when the aroma of fresh bread will linger in the air.  We have embraced the consumption of bread in all of it’s glory.

 

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Gummy Land.  Thank you Mr Haribo for creating gummy treats in every shape size and color. I first tried the Süsse Mäuse which is a bit like a gummy marshmallow and gained maybe 10lbs. Derek likes the Pasta Frutta.  We have reached a middle ground on Color-rado, a mix of gummies and licorice.

 

Markets.  One of my favorite places in the city is the market square, which is a central meeting point for many people.  It is a larger farmer’s market on Friday and Saturday with seasonal harvests, flowers, cheese, sausage and honey, it is all so good.   During festivals, it expands to an even bigger market.

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Our small fridge, Our small apartment.

Our Würzburg apartment has a tiny dorm-size fridge without a freezer.  We’ve found that it motivates us to cook fresh and since nothing can get ‘lost’ we are becoming better at using what we have on hand. Produce and dry goods are sold in small standard increments of 250g-1000g, which means that items are replaced more often but need a lot less storage space.  It has led to energy savings and a noticeable reduction in food waste.

One benefit to this scenario is that there are several small grocery stores within a 10-minute walk from our Würzburg apartment.  I’ve gotten into the habit of picking up a few things every couple of days and that it reminded me that we live the same distance from two grocery stores in our neighborhood in St Paul.

Most Germans live in multi-unit concrete dwellings with comparatively fewer frills.  In Würzburg, many of the buildings have the same structure but each is painted a different pastel, sherbert-colored hue.

We aren’t strangers to apartment living, but have learned useful tips on how to live smarter in a smaller space (550 sq ft), and with fewer belongings.  We shipped just a fraction of our ‘stuff’ when we moved and had the realization that we miss very little of what is packed up in storage. Minimalism is something that is attractive to me, though I am always trying to be more successful at it.  I am looking forward to restructuring when we return to the States.

You can read more about German housing here.

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Recycling + Pfand  Germany has a detailed recycling system and places to sort and divide all forms of trash. All of the plastic bottles have a .25 deposit (Pfand), the glass goes into public receptacles, and all of the other random plastics go into the Gelber sack, which is on a two-week pick-up schedule.  It took me almost 3 months to figure out what goes where, but I’ve got it down now.

The country has a focus on renewables and Germans are generally regarded as eco-conscious. Their recycling practices also stem from pragmatism, there isn’t space for growing landfills.

 

Trains, Buses and the Autobahn.

Like their cars, German highways are sleek and shiny and have features like perfectly spaced rest stops and emergency phones. Drivers take the rules of the Autobahn seriously and it’s rare to see distracted driving.   We have also learned that many areas of the autobahn do have a speed limit, the average being about 120 km/h (75 mph).

Germany’s rail network, the DB Bahn is our preferred mode of travel.  We appreciate it’s efficiency– especially for regional travel, cleanliness, and sound design. The Bayern Länder-Ticket is an all-day-pass that allows the two of us to travel anywhere in Bavaria for €23.  Though we are train enthusiasts, we also like the long-distance bus service FlixBus/MeinFernbus, which is the most inexpensive way to travel between German cities, and is also clean, comfortable, and widely used.

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Walkability. City-dwelling Europeans rely on cars much less and they walk, bike and use public transportation more (Even in an automobile-centric country like Germany). Weather doesn’t seem to have a noticeable effect, there are few empty streets.

 

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Image credit: Hipstery.com

The Germans, their traditions and their courtesies  

We’ve enjoyed living among the Germans for the past year.  Their cities have a charmingly disproportionate number of bakeries, shoe stores, eye-glass shops and yarnerys— Clearly the core elements of the German lifestyle!

The country has low street crime, no widespread slums or dangerous neighborhoods, and minimal homelessness.   And though it is regarded with mixed opinions, as of last year university tuition became free for all citizens.

Germans are known for paying for purchases large-and-small in cash, and it is often the only accepted form of payment.  Large international chains will usually accept credit cards that use an embedded chip and pin, and secure bank transfers are the standard payment method for rent and utilities.   After many inquires, cash has become our default.

Buildings in Germany are constructed with thick concrete walls, and use radiator heat.  In the USA Midwest we would freeze with this type of construction, but it works well in Germany’s temperate climate.  However, because the concrete traps moisture, it is every German’s duty to open the windows each day; some rental contracts even require it.  It is very different than our wood-framed home with insulation, drywall, and forced air in the USA.

Inside the home, Germans like straight-forward bedding.  The standard set-up in homes and hotels is a mattress with a fitted sheet, and small separate duvet for each sleeper (no layering or messy sheets to contend with). Appliances are smaller, and fit compactly within the living space.  Many German apartments come with a ‘bare’ kitchen, and renters will typically install the kitchen cabinets and appliances.  We were happy to find a furnished apartment for our short stay!

For breakfast, yogurt and muesli is common, paired with a hardboiled egg or a hardroll with meat and cheese. Jam or cheese filled pastries, and Kuchen are eaten outside of the home as a mid-day coffee break, or on special occasions.  Americans are used to eating the largest meal in the evening. Typically in Germany, a warm prepared meal is eaten midday, and dinner is often Abendbrot, evening bread.   It is a simple slice of bread eaten with toppings of meat, cheese, vegetables or spread.

It is well-known that Germans enjoy letting loose at a good Festival and have strong traditions that nearly everyone partakes in.  And one never knows where they will run into a German on the road; They always seem to have a little extra tucked away to fulfill their Wanderlust.

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Wanderlust

One of the most famous German words is Wanderlust, and deservedly so–  Germans are known for taking long vacations to far corners of the globe. Many of these trips are planned well in advance (sometimes a year or more) in order to take advantage of holiday time off, travel deals, and thorough preparation.

For us, Germany has been a rich country to explore and the location within Europe has allowed us to visit places previously out of our reach.  Proximity is a huge factor, Paris to Prague is 200 miles shorter than the distance across one large US state (I recently saw this infographic: The Size Of Texas Compared To The Size Of Europe)

This was not our first time abroad, but it has been our most impactful.  International living has done good things for cultivating, or perhaps securing, a strong global perspective in both of us. In all likelihood we will never have the ability to spend this much time abroad again, but anyone who does should embrace it.

 

 How to Move Abroad 

People are generally curious about moving abroad.  We are by no means experts on this topic.   There are many good expat blogs that go into far greater detail on the process of relocating. If it is something you are interested in, This post shares ways to pursue it, and suggests:  Work for an international company, teach, study, or work in global service.  If you are earning an income, you may need to pay taxes at home and abroad.  Germany has a detailed tax system (and we worked part of the year in the USA) so we used an international tax service to help us file both returns.

 

 Things we Miss…

We miss spring thunderstorms, tumble drying our clothes, pleasant tasting tap water, good drip coffee, IPA’s, Chipotle burritos and American diner breakfasts.

Our enthusiasm for Germany hasn’t waned, and though our days seem to go by faster and more routinely we have tried to remain mindful of our remaining time here!

See you all in August! 🙂

 

Links

Book: How to Be German in 50 Steps    A humorous approach from Adam Fletcher and C.H.Beck

9 Ways to Make Living Abroad A Reality   (from Margo, an American expat in Heidelberg)

How We Afford to Live in Europe   (from Katie,  an American expat in Berlin)

Why Germans Pay Cash for Almost Everything

Subsidies that Work; or, Why is Good Food So Cheap in Germany(…)

(from Tom Pepinsky, Associate Professor of Government, Cornell University)

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A Guide to German Housing The German Way

The Complete Guide to Working in Germany (pdf)

German Taxes ABC’s (pdf)

A Late-Summer Update

Hello!  It feels like a long time since I have written a blog post. We’ve been back in Würzburg for a little over a week after a trip to the states to celebrate with my sister on her wedding day!

 

JULY

Summer lured me away from blogging, and thankfully it did.  It is a nice season in Germany, with even more open-air markets, festivals, and every cafe is full.  I’ve mentioned before how leisurely this region is, the pace of those around me reminds me to slow down and enjoy the details. The students have two separate school breaks during this time and many businesses close for the month of August.  It is the most common time to take vacation, and nearly everyone does.  So, now on to my two month update! July. Okay, let’s see where I left off.

In early July we prepped for our second visitors, Derek’s parents!

July in Bavaria tends to be warm and humid, with most days in the mid-to-upper 80s.   But the first week of July was an oddball. Damp cool weather and overcast skies.  Derek’s parents flew in after the 4th. On their first night in town, we went to a busy place that we have wanted to try – Alte Mainmühle – “Old Mill on the Main” a restaurant on the pedestrian bridge that crosses into the Altstadt “Old Town”.  The restaurant has terrace seating over the river, amazing food, and endless Franconian wine.  The best part: They have a street walk-up window where you can order wine from 9am til 10pm and stand on the bridge among tourists and locals, drinking wine, watching people, and listening to musicians who set up and play.  It is my favorite kind of happy hour 🙂

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We drove to Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a few days mid-week to see the Bavarian Alps and to visit one of Germany’s most famous landmarks, Neuschwanstein: the Fairytale Castle of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Wow to both. read more here

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Weltmeisters! World Champs!

Germany won the World Cup in July!!!!! This is the fourth time they have won.  The Germans were subtly content.

Fans decorated the city with hints of enthusiasm. It was TOTALLY an exciting time to be in the country as nearly every game is televised and crowds cheers (or groans) could be heard through the night.

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The remainder of the month, we kicked-back in Würzburg.   We biked to Würzburg’s public city pool a mile or two away.  This place could be a model for what cities should aim to create with their public spaces.  Dallenbergbad is nice. A spacious park, picnic area and pool. The pools were surrounded by grassy spaces, sand volleyball courts, and enough open space to kick around a Fußball.  Carryins allowed! so a social BYOB is totally cool.

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A Driver’s License

Unabashedly, a big part of our summer has been… duh duh duh da… the Führerschein. So here is how it works: there is grace period for US drivers licenses, meaning Derek was able to drive with his MN license on German roads for 6-months from time of arrival.  We knew his license would be expiring in early August, so in JUNE, he began preparing for a German translation of his license and the subsequent driver’s test. The process was postponed for 3 weeks because there is one person that completes foreign translations for Bavaria, and that person was on holiday most of July. The translation came after the cutoff date, and his test was two weeks away. He turned in his keys and started carpooling with a very nice coworker who lives nearby.

He studied his butt off for this test, taking notes, using their online practice questions and simulations.  There are close to 1000 possible questions, tricky backwards questions, and only 30 on the test.

And he failed by one point.  ONE POINT.

So he rescheduled the test, and studied again. He took it again this week and PASSED!! Whooo!  This man is as happy as a 16-year old.

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AUGUST

In early August, we celebrated Derek’s birthday with a long weekend in the northern Hanseatic cities of Hamburg and Bremen–  more coming soon.

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USA 

My flight to Atlanta departed at 11am on Friday 8.15.  Seems like a pretty easy morning, as far as flights are concerned, right?  Sorta. The fast ICE trains to Frankfurt begin after 6am. I ended up taking one of the sporadic late night 2.5hr regional trains to the airport departing at 4:20 am. I don’t usually go to the Bahnhof at this time so I thought it would be pretty quiet. Well, I was pleasantly surprised to have company–  There were quite a few other travelers and lots of highschoolers heading home from the clubs.

Actually, This is one example of what I love about Germany, even in the middle of the night, most of the train stations are profoundly safe. I must have appeared determined (or weary?) with my 75 lbs of luggage in tow (essentials!)- because two early morning commuters offered to help me with my bags.  Germans are quite good-natured.

 

It was nice to be in America! My first hour in the Atlanta airport was amazing, I could hear what people where saying and interact with language for the first time in 6 months. I ordered a crispy Chick-fil-a and a lemonade and soaked it all in until my flight to Milwaukee.  On Thursday Derek arrived and most of the wedding fun began. I went biking with my dad and this is a photo he took of me at the harbor of my hometown on Lake Michigan. It’s a cheesy shot, but check out those amazing colors.

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After the wedding we stayed a few days with my sister in Northeast Minneapolis.  I went for a run around Lake Calhoun and took in some Uptown, we made a stop at Bun & Isles bakery, Spyhouse Coffee and ate lunch at Colossal Cafe.  We drove by our house in Saint Paul and enjoyed a cookout with some pals.  With a fresh perspective, we immediately noticed how outdated our infrastructure seemed compared to German cities and the impeccably maintained autobahn.  If you were new to the area you would be surprised that the Twin Cities is a prosperous area and a nice place to visit if you only drove along it’s crumbling roads and sidewalks.

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To wrap up our trip, we spent a day with Derek’s parents in Door County Wisconsin before heading toward Milwaukee.  Our flight home was together- which was awesome! We have flown separately the handful of times we’ve been abroad.

 

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With the arrival of September, we are savoring experiences that we will have only once.  Just one ‘Fall’ in Germany and looking ahead we have a few fun excursions planned. In a couple of weeks we will be taking part in a grape harvest at a friend’s family vineyard.  I am sooooo excited!  For future travelers to Lower Franconia, this week has been absolutely gorgeous. We now have 11 months left in Germany, less than a year! Can you believe it? The kids here go back to school in a week (we live next to a school), my day always involves a direct hit of school letting out en masse.

Planning to blog more in the coming months with bits of daily life, hope this will be interesting. So much to share.