Happy Anniversary to Us: One Year in Germany!

by Rebecca A. Watson on July 29, 2014

in Germany, life, travel

I’m taking a break from the Monday Morning Pages this week because we’re celebrating our one year anniversary of living in Germany! Normally I’d pull some quotes out of my journal about what I experienced this week last year, but I thought it’d be nice to hear from my other half, Sante!

I’m delighted to feature his writing, not only because he’s my hubby but also because I think he’s pretty good for an engineer 😉

Now that Rebecca and I have lived in Freiburg for a year, I thought I would share a bit on how we are getting along. We didn’t have a whole lot of expectations when we came and were definitely rolling the dice a bit by moving.

We told ourselves we would ride it out for two years and, worst case, we would be able to travel around Europe easily and do some cool things that wouldn’t really be feasible if we were  still living in the U.S. Read on to find out how it is working out.

Internal Combustion Not Required

I think the single biggest improvement to my life has been not needing a car everyday. This is the longest I have gone without having a car since I first had one. It’s not so much the lack of a car that has been great (although we are saving money by not owning one) but not being a slave to a car.

My previous commute was only 15 minutes each way, but it was an adrenaline-fueled race to get around as many fast-lane dawdlers and trucks as possible before my exit.

It is ingrained in German culture to keep right except for passing. Same number of lanes — infinitely better traffic flow. A perfect example of when American self-righteousness goes wrong (and truthfully, doesn’t it always?).

Happily, I have barely had to deal with German highways as it is. I have a glorious five-minute bike ride to work or a 15 minute walk. Being able to ride a bike to work everyday, and not requiring a shower when I get there, is Nirvana.

And if I decide to walk to work, people don’t stare at me like I’m a peasant. Rebecca made it almost the entire year without being cat-called once! In Santa Cruz it was pretty much a daily occurrence for her.

commute

Sometimes I still have to deal with traffic on my commute.

It’s not just the proximity to work that has allowed us to go without a car for so long; it is the infrastructure of Freiburg. There is a nice bike path that runs along the river East-West though the city, so it is quick and safe.

Most of the rest of the town has clearly marked bike paths, the town is nestled in the flat space between mountains and the drivers actually watch out for cyclists!  How novel!

The last reason we haven’t needed a car is that there is good public transit, and we don’t feel dirty or scared when we use it. Most of the people on board are *GASP* normal.

In fact, I can count the number of crazies I’ve seen (in a city of over 300,000) since we moved here on one hand. In Santa Cruz, I couldn’t do that for one day. I have no idea why this is, but it is awesome.

Working to Live, Healthily

The new job. I suppose a lot of people I know will want to know about if I am happy that I switched jobs. Without going into detail, the answer is yes.

Kind of related to the job is healthcare/sick days/vacation. Health insurance is not cheap here, but it is cheaper than I was paying before. And it is better. I have yet to pay anything for going to the doctor here, and I’ve already been milking the system.

I had a pinched nerve in my back which resulted in an emergency room visit, X-ray, and MRI; a broken knuckle (another E.R. visit with X-ray); saw an allergist; saw someone about an injured knee, and I’ve paid nothing.

Physical therapy was about 25 Euro for 6 sessions, and drugs seem to cost roughly the same as the U.S., but otherwise it seems to be free.

cast

I’ve been taking advantage of the public healthcare.

Then there are the sick days. They aren’t limited. They aren’t vacation days. If you are really sick, you should stay home. You get about three days before you need a doctor’s note.

If you get a doctor’s note, you are actually REQUIRED to stay home and rest. The employer must pay full salary for 6 weeks, then the insurance will pay up to 2,835 Euro/month up to 78 weeks. As I understand it, medical fees are covered, so there is no having to worry about dying from being too poor.

I’m not really clear what happens after that … hopefully we won’t every need to find out. I started this job with a week more vacation than I had before, but then I don’t need to use my sick days when I’m sick, working out to a few days more, plus the fact that I get to stay home and rest when I’m sick. Brilliant!

It’s a Beautiful Thing

There is no denying that Santa Cruz is a beautiful town, but Freiburg is no slouch. There are no breathtaking ocean views here, but if you get up in the mountains, there are some pretty amazing views of green mountains and valleys, and charming villages.

And if we’re talking architecture, Freiburg blows Santa Cruz away. Within the city there are many more pretty things to look at in Freiburg than Santa Cruz. And in the summer, some of those pretty things are topless by the river 😉

Honestly, I can’t really decide which place is prettier. They are both beautiful in different ways.

Schlössle viewCool graffiti

Lovely view

Plenty to look at in Freiburg.

The other nice thing is that if you go outside Freiburg, it just gets more beautiful. In Santa Cruz, it pretty much only stays pretty if you go North or South. East can be a bit of a bummer.

Here, there are beautiful, green foothills in all directions, or if you go a little farther south or southeast, the epic-ness that is the Alps. Driving through the Alps is incredible.

Drive in Alps
See what I mean?

In Germany, the Weather is Wetter

Something that is a bit of a surprise to me is how much I enjoy the weather. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword (you know, because of that whole winter thing), but when the weather is nice, it is NICE.

No cold breezes that come in at 5pm; a nice day stays a nice day well into the night. And the sun here is intense. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 degrees C. If the sun is out, it feels glorious.

I also rather enjoy having a real spring. It’s hard to appreciate spring if you don’t have much of a winter. There is a bit of a magical transformation when the leaves return, flowers bloom, and birds are singing. And the birds here sing a nice relaxing siren-song as opposed to the squawking of sea-birds in Santa Cruz. It’s a nice touch.

And the summer is a real summer! None of this June gloom b.s. June here is sunny and warm, with some rain. The rain can be a drag, but it also keeps the trail conditions good, and everything around a luscious green.

And who doesn’t love a nice thunderstorm in the summer? Well, I guess bums probably don’t, but it seems like most everyone else does. Thunder and pattering rain are making the soundtrack as I write this.

rainbow

Rain isn’t always bad.

Thar’s Gold in them Hills

Now to the important part: the mountain biking. I’ll start by saying that the trails in Freiburg are not as fun as Santa Cruz. Many are just converted hiking trails, and they end up being very straight, very fast, with embedded rocks, and tight switchbacks.

So it goes: sprint up to warp-speed, brake hard for the tight switchback, sprint up to warp-speed, etc. Not exactly what I would call flow. And the prospect of crashing here is downright scary.

However, there are more places to ride in every direction just outside the city. Les Vosges, home of Jerome Clementz, is about 40 minutes away, Lac Blanc (a nice bike park with real dirt, not moon-dust) is an hour away, and the Alps are about two hours away (with foothills to ride in all along the way).

I have barely begun to explore but am really looking forward to having access to new trails a small car ride away. Santa Cruz has Skeggs and Los Gatos, but not much else to ride within an hour of driving. And if you are into snow sports, Freiburg has you covered. You can even get to a small mountain nearby on public transit.

Alpen ride

Plenty of places to ride nearby, like this little diddy in Austria

You know the feeling of climbing 1000 meters and your buddies want to do a bonus descent, but you are starting to cramp, you are nearly out of food and water, but you go ahead and drop in on the side of the mountain opposite home anyway?

Germany has a solution to that, and it is a restaurant at the summit. They are everywhere. I’m still baffled that they can survive, but every time I stop in one, they are packed. Even when it’s cold out. There is nothing greater than climbing to the snow line, toes like icicles, popping into a warm restaurant, ordering some soup, then shredding back down.

Germans have really figured out being outside. Even on some of the coldest days, I’ll get to the top of a climb to find entire families that have hiked up from the bottom. I’m trying to picture a typical American child hiking up a mountain while it’s snowing, but it’s just making me laugh.

thirsty

Are you running out of water in the middle of nowhere? No worries in Germany!

Home

Then there is our amazing flat. Not only is it close to work, but it’s close to shopping and restaurants. We have free reign of the entire first floor (that would be ssecond floor in the U.S). This means windows on all sides, and tons of light.

The exterior walls are over a foot thick of solid concrete, so together with the amazing German windows, the insulation is the best I have ever experienced. Truly impressive.

The area we live in is also very quiet with very little traffic. It’s the perfect compromise of being close to shopping, but being away from the noise.  And if there is noise, we can shut our windows and the insulation does its thing.

There are views of the green mountains out the front and back windows, I have a garage plus a basement, we have a small yard/garden area (albeit shared with two other families), and our living space is huge! We have an extra bedroom that we don’t really use, so come visit!

Little Misc. Things

Another nice thing has been learning German … Admittedly, very slowly. But, eventually I will be a trilingual American. Rebecca has definitely been doing better than me in this department, which has also been cool. I’m so proud of her!

Here’s one that I never thought would matter much to me; you can drink in public, and it’s not a big deal. There is a square where many people picnic at night when the weather is nice, and it’s like being at an outdoor bar where you don’t get shafted for the price of drinks.

And people here have been drinking since they were 16 or younger, so you don’t get a lot of douchebags that can’t handle their alcohol. Talk about freedom.

Augustinerplatz

Are you thirsty in the city center? No worries in Germany!

Of course, there is also the novelty of being somewhere new. Things are different here. People are different. Food is different. We can ride bikes to go watch the Tour de France. It’s fun learning about everything, and especially sharing the experience with Rebecca. Having lived in a foreign country before, I can say that it is a much more rewarding experience with someone you love.

Le Tour

I never thought I would watch Le Tour live, let alone ride my bike from my house to watch it.

Freiburg is in the very southwest of Germany, so France and Switzerland are a short jaunt away, so when we get sick of Germany, we can take refuge pretty easily.

Basel

Taking refuge from Germany in Switzerland. Nothing will make you appreciate Germany more.

Der nicht zehr gut

I’m not going to pretend like everything is better there; there are definitely some things I miss about home. Mexican food, for one. There is a distinct lack of it here.

Luckily Rebecca has figured out how to find the ingredients for delicious tacos, but we have had to hand-carry the Tapatio from home. There is one store at the edge of town that carries Cholula, but it doesn’t quite do it for us.

Lack of familiar things can be exhausting. I never really thought I’d have to think about which underwear, socks or deodorant to buy again. I knew what worked, so why bother? Now it’s back to square-one with all those little things.

Then there’s the 19 percent sales tax on pretty much anything you buy. Does it seem like the infrastructure is 19 percent better than in the U.S.? Well, to be honest, it kinda does. But it still sucks to pay 19 percent. Can’t we tax the rich or something?

If I really had to pick one reason I don’t like living here it would be just the general difficulty of figuring out how to do everything while not really speaking the language.

Things like getting a phone, apartment, driver’s license, car, insurance, etc, are labor-intensive, frustrating, and exhausting. Just making a phone call can be a chore when you are unsure if you are going to understand the person on the other end of the line or vice-versa.

Can I say the rain is a bad thing if I already said it is a good thing? My coworker Timo said it best: Wouldn’t it be nice if it only rained during the night? A day of rain here and there is nice and calming, but a week of rain during the summer is a drag.

Germany is a bit of a crappy place to rent a home. We paid about two month’s rent for a realtor fee, which seems quite unfair. Shouldn’t the person making the money on the place pay the realtor? (To be fair, they recently passed a law to resolve this.)

We are also required to pay to fix anything less than 100 Euro. And if there is something more than 100 Euro, typically our landlord will ask us if we know anyone to fix it, then say it is too hard to find someone to fix it, and do nothing.

I would love to own a rental property here. They are basically money-printers.

Then there is the whole kitchen thing. For some ungodly reason, Germans take their kitchen with them when they move.

And I don’t mean they take the appliances and furniture; they take those, the counters, the cabinets… everything but the kitchen sink… Actually, they take that too! As if their counters and cabinets are going to fit in their new house? Whatever, weirdos.

Luckily we were able to purchase our kitchen from the previous tenant, the downside being that she installed something easy and I can’t say I’m impressed by the craftsmanship of our sink counter. But at the same time, we don’t want to invest in a rental, so I try to ignore it.

On the topic of renting, most places don’t have closets built into the structure, so you have to buy wardrobes too. Moving in Germany is a major PITA, so we are happy we found a good place.

I knew this before we came here, but the public bathroom situation in Germany is dismal. For example, along the Dreisam River that runs through the city, on a nice day it is chock-full of people grilling. There are families and young adults alike. Drinking beer, and hanging out ALL DAY. Where do they do their business?

All I can say is I am scared to walk off the beaten path near the Dreisam. To be fair, I’ve never explored, and I’m not 100 percent sure people are crapping in the woods, but if it looks like a duck …

Dreisam

Hanging out by the Dreisam without a bathroom in sight.

Finally, Germany has these amazing windows that either swing open, or pivot from the bottom to open just a little. They are all double-pane, and extremely well-sealed. They are engineering marvels, and they are ubiquitous.

But for some reason, Germany has not figured out that if you install screens in your windows, bugs stay outside. So you end up living with bugs in your house. And bats. We have definitely gotten used to the bugs, but WHY? WHY NOT JUST HAVE SCREENS?

Windows-1windows-2

The windows are feats of engineering, but if they are open all bets are off.

bat

Don’t worry, the bats are harmless. They definitely DON’T CARRY RABIES AND CHASE YOU AROUND YOUR HOME WITH THEIR GIANT FANGS!

So, is it perfect here? No. Are we happy here? Without a doubt, we are happier here than we were in Santa Cruz. We are on an awesome adventure, and it has only just begun!

And seriously, we are paying for a bigger place than we need so that people can come visit. Don’t make us waste our money. Come visit!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Bridget July 29, 2014 at 7:34 pm

I really enjoyed reading this Sante and Rebecca!

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Rebecca A. Watson July 30, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Glad you liked it Bridget 🙂

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Ken Butler July 29, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Congrats to you both! (I must have been reading this blog a year, then.) Living overseas takes guts, and living overseas where they speak a different language takes extra.

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Rebecca A. Watson July 30, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Very cool Ken 🙂 glad to have you as a reader. Thanks for the comment!

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Chris Haugen July 31, 2014 at 7:39 am

Great post. Fun to read.

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Rebecca A. Watson July 31, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Thanks Chris 🙂

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Maryn August 9, 2014 at 12:40 am

Sante’s a hoot! Enjoyed reading about your new home…I would definitely freak out about the bats, but they do keep the insects at bay.

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Rebecca A. Watson August 11, 2014 at 6:21 pm

I know, right?!? And they pollinate the plants. But I still don’t’ want them in my house!

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TITA PELOT August 23, 2014 at 6:33 am

Hi Loves!!!
Sante,,, I really enjoyed your share on living in Germany. I was cracking-up on a few points! I am sooo happy that life is good! I am living in Humboldt and landed a nice place in “Shelther Cove” It is a place onto itself on the Ocean 22 miles from Garberville.
Love you both soooo much!! let’s skype soon!!

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Rebecca A. Watson August 27, 2014 at 9:53 pm

Hey mom! Hooray for you! Happy you’ve found a good place. Hope you had a nice birthday. Send us a Whatsapp message or email and we’ll set up a Skype date 🙂

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Anita March 22, 2015 at 7:40 am

hey, the thing with the kitchen is pretty easy:) Germans like buying good stuff. And buying furniture in general shouldn´t be a flat-related purchase! We stroll through Ikea &Co to find a great kitchen. A place which is the most important place in a house or apartment – because normally our kitchens are big and the normal dinner takes place in our kitchen – and a lot of the rest of our all-day-life!. We love our “landhausküche”! so, WHY should we leave that behind when we move out?? There is absolutely no reason for that. And: Yes, a kitchen (as it consists of several cabinets and is never one peace) is adaptable to a new room measurement! You only need a carpenter! the only thing you will never use again is the worktop – but thats a cheap thing!
By the way, in small apartments it´s pretty common to have a “Einbauküche”. That means the kitchen belongs to the flat and is part of the rent. But then you have to live with an ugly kitchen…that this kitchen suits your taste is rather unlikely:)

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