Getting Married in Germany: Practically Speaking

Whoops, it’s been nearly seven months since my last post. Didn’t really intend that, started a 2020 recap post somewhere along the way that I never finished, and though this feels a little bit like tonal whiplash if someone stumbled across this blog and just scrolled through, oh well, I’m going with it.

It’s been nearly a year since we got married and I thought if anyone else was looking to go through the process, I’d give a little bit of insight into how it looked for us, as well as how much it cost. As with any post here that has to deal with the oh-so-romantic aspects of German bureaucracy, it’s important for me to say this:

Via: https://giphy.com/gifs/theoffice-the-office-tv-secret-santa-BXOEmFSzNkOObZhIA3

Disclaimer: This is how it worked here, in our corner of Franconia, in the year of our Lord, 2020, for a German citizen and an American who’s been here 10 years (9 at the time), with a well-established working permit (now permanent resident), and depending on where you are, your mileage may vary. There are differences on what might be required depending on what German Bundesland you’re in, which district, which official you’re dealing with, what moon phase you might be in, and how quickly Germany gets knocked out of whatever football championship is currently ongoing. Also, pandemics are apparently a thing now so already-terrible government office hours are, surprise!, even worse than before.

Ahem. Moving on.

As I mentioned in the first wedding post, we started looking at planning in February, visited some locations, and were pretty darn close to putting down money. Thankfully we didn’t go through with it, and then the world shut down and we started to regroup. Given the fact that we had all these documents that needed renewing in October/November, we decided pretty quickly that either way we’d do the civil ceremony in 2020, and play it by ear with how we celebrated at the time.

In mid-April, BV reached out to the local registrar to see what documents we’d need, and what the process would be. Within a few days we had our list, and paid a small fee of €25 for the privilege of the information.

We needed:

  1. A certified copy of BV’s birth certificate (ordered from the city of Nürnberg for ca. €13)
  2. A long-form certified original of my birth certificate, which must be issued no more than 6 months out from filing date (ordered online from the state of Wisconsin with postage for $33)
  3. A German translation of said birth certificate from a certified translator (€35.04, and translator found via the official portal http://www.justiz-dolmetscher.de)
  4. Both of our current valid passports (or BV’s ID card would do)
  5. My current work/residence permit
  6. A sworn affidavit of my current marital status and allowance to marry (done in front of registrar in the office)
  7. Express declaration of both of our domiciles*
  8. Proof of income for both of us (i.e. pay slips for the last 3 months)

*The domicile thing had us both a bit confused, but basically what it broke down to was your birthplace and where you live now. For me it was fairly uncomplicated as the only place I lived in the U.S. was in Wisconsin, and they really don’t care how often you moved within the state or where your last address was. So when we had our appointment I said yes I was born in Wisconsin, that’s where I lived, now I live here, done.

Another thing to note: Bavaria is a bit different, in that they only require the affidavit that you are free to marry. As far as I know, in the other German states, you do need official documentation of this from the U.S. Not mad about missing out on that one.

Edited to add: upon publication I was informed that as of 2021, swearing an affidavit is allowed in all areas of Germany without documentation. Again, if it’s 2022, Venus is in retrograde, or you live in Landkreis OberUnterDorfau, they may do things their own way so always speak to your friendly local Beamter*innen.

So we gathered up our documents, I ordered my birth certificate at the beginning of May and that arrived in about three weeks, I had it translated, and we submitted everything first via email/pdf. Then, we waited.

A couple of weeks went by and we got a call from the registrar that everything looked good, so the next step was for us to come in and have an appointment to go through everything, me to swear the affidavit, etc. She was very adamant that if I was not a native German speaker, we MUST have a translator as we were doing a Very Legal Proceeding, and BV was not allowed to translate for me when necessary. I appreciate her commitment to her job and not getting accidentally sold for a small herd of cattle or something, but I know from other people that they have gotten away with less than perfect German and no translator so again… variance.

The gal who had translated my birth certificate was unable to join us, so it was back to the portal and I was lucky to find a lovely woman who was a dual citizen born in the U.S. and normally worked at conferences, etc., but was free to join us for several hours one afternoon in July at our appointment. We were there for nearly three hours going through all the paperwork, and reading in great detail, because both the laws of Germany and Wisconsin (that domicile again), the laws that apply to Wisconsin/Germany that would or would not preclude us from marrying.

Fun fact! In the state of Wisconsin, you can legally marry your cousin IF either the bride is old enough that children are no longer a possibility or the groom is proven to be impotent.

You’re welcome for this knowledge. I paid the translator €271.44 to learn it. I accept both Paypal and snacks, if you’re so inclined. But again, the translator was really great, super helpful, and said afterwards that our registrar was, in her experience… unusually detailed.

At that point all the t’s were crossed, all the i’s were dotted, and our paperwork was sent off to the Oberlandesgericht Nürnberg, or the Nürnberg High Court. Three weeks later in mid-August, our registrar got the okay from them, we submitted the final fee of €185, and were free to set our date for our civil ceremony. And that was it.

All told from first contact with the registrar to ceremony date, the whole thing took 5 months and one day, with a cost of about €557, give or take a Euro for whatever the dollar exchange rate was in May last year.

As far as the ease of the process goes, for me after 10 years here and the wealth of bureaucratic hoops I’ve had to jump through due to my own error or just life, this was SHOCKINGLY EASY. I know people have gone abroad specifically to avoid the pain of marrying in Germany, but if you’re not under an enormous time crunch, I really can’t say that any part of this was problematic for us. I’ve also never longed for a big, fancy wedding with all the trimmings, so keeping it just us was actually kind of perfect. Yes we still do want to celebrate at some point in the future with other people, but as it’s (checks watch) a year and a half into the pandemic and it’s just now maybe? a little bit? getting better here, we have no idea when that will be. For now, we’re married, and that’s what we wanted.

Bonus pic from our honeymoon. 🙂

Sound like fun? Sound like a nightmare? Leave a comment and let me know where you stand… ’til the next time (hopefully sooner than six months from now…)

And Just Like That, We Were Married

Well not quite. This being Germany, there was, of course, a healthy amount of paperwork that went along with the whole thing. I might do a post on that subject specifically (interest, anyone? Bueller?) at some point, but since it’s not the important part, let’s start with the good stuff.

Photos by Martina Strauß Fotografie

We started planning back in February/March, and I have to say that a global pandemic was really not a factor that I had ever figured into my very few ideas about how/when we might get married at some point. All things considered though, I’m glad we hadn’t gotten too far down the planning road. So many people lost so much time, money, energy, and hope, really, this year. Right before everything in Germany shut down, we were very close to putting down money on a location for a date at the end of October and I am so so so glad that we took a few days to think about it.

I wasn’t wild about October 31st (not a Halloween fan), and the weather possibilities, but the pro of that location was that they had the possibility of doing your standesamtliche Trauung, or civil ceremony, on-site. The civil ceremony is a must in Germany, and it’s rare to find a location that has permission to do those ceremonies outside of the local town hall.

Why the rush? Why not just wait until next year? Well, that particular location was already booked up for all the preferable (aka, summer) dates, and also surprise surprise bureaucracy!

In a nutshell: we wanted to do it this year because 1) my passport is up for renewal in November, 2) my residence permit (tied to passport validity length) is up in November, and also 3) BV’s passport is up for renewal in October.

I’m not worried about a new residency permit at all and should be eligible for permanent residency either way at this point as I’ve been here more than seven years, but we figured that if had to do all this paperwork this year, let’s not do it again next year for an additional spousal status change? Not to mention changing names on all that crap? Nein, danke. So this year it would be.

So as the months of pandemic wore on, we decided we’d just get our ducks in a row, and if everything got the green light, we’d do the civil ceremony as soon as we could, and hopefully have the party and some type of “free ceremony” next year.

In the end, our plan went off without a hitch. We submitted everything we needed to submit, got the ‘okay’ from the high court, and set the date for September 18th.

We went back and forth a bit on if we’d want to have anyone there or not, but with all the restrictions on how many people from how many households and who would or could or should attend, we decided that the best choice was no one besides ourselves and a photographer. We wanted at least a few decent pictures to show our families if they couldn’t be there, and luckily for us, Martina, a very lovely and talented local Fotographerin* was available that day.

She was the only one who joined us for the ceremony, which took place in a large room in our Rathaus, or town hall, and was officiated by the same registrar which had handled our paperwork. Where we live it would have either been one of two town registrars, or our mayor. Masks were necessary as we came in, but when we all sat down, with our registrar separated from us by a Plexiglass shield, we were welcome to take them off if we wanted. The registrar did a nice job, and tried to personalize it a bit, which was nice. My personal favorite part was when she talked a bit about how she was the type of person who likes things to be very neat and orderly and I’m just very happy that she found a career as a Beamtin which most definitely fits that personality type. Folks in Germany know what I mean. 😉

Photos by Martina Strauß Fotografie

The ceremony itself lasted about fifteen minutes, we said ‘ja‘ (seriously, that’s all you have to say), and of course signed more paperwork.

Check all ze papers! Photos by Martina Strauß Fotografie

Then the deed was done, we accepted the registrar’s congratulations and headed out. Afterwards, we planned to go over to the local castle garden and take some more pictures. However, we had to delay that just a little bit as we rounded the corner of the Rathaus and saw that a few people had turned up to surprise us with mostly-distanced Sekt, bubbles, and a few hugs if they were feeling risky (not pictured, don’t want to incur the wrath of the Antirisikoamt).

Photos by Martina Strauß Fotografie
Photos by Martina Strauß Fotografie

The surprises were lovely and we all had a good laugh at their having bumped into each other outside (three separate parties) and their debates over just which door we’d emerge from. But then, toasted and congratulated, and with the next wedding guests and bride arriving (most Standesamt ceremonies are on Fridays), we said goodbye to the surprise crew and went over to the castle garden.

Surprise! Informational signage!

We had a gorgeous day, and even better, there was nearly no one around so we had the gardens all to ourselves. I’ve always loved the Fachwerk, warm sandstone tones, and dramatic archways to our friendly local castle, and we really couldn’t be happier as to how these came out.

Photos by Martina Strauß Fotografie

After we finished with the photos, we bid Tschüss to Martina and went back home to drop off gifts, etc. Then it was back in the car (we had a rental for the day), and to the bakery to pick up some cake to take over to BV’s dad’s place. The rest of the afternoon was spent having coffee and cake with his parents, before dropping off the car and hopping onto the U-Bahn for a very overdressed ride to Nürnberg.

We had invited a few people to join us for dinner, and between pandemic and babysitters, it wound up being just six of us. It was a lovely, small round, and nice for the Villagers to be able to finally meet some of our more local friends. We also managed to eat a truly impressive amount of food at da Gallo, one of our favorite Nbg spots. Some less professional pictures…

The Villagers gifted us with a Nürnberg Bridal Cup, so that’s what is happening in that first picture. Technically the groom should probably take the larger part but… oh well. It was a nice red wine though, so I really do not recommend trying this at home.

The party broke up when they closed the restaurant, and L. saved us a trip on the train by chauffeuring us home. And that was it.

As I said before, we are hoping to do some sort of larger celebration in the future. I’m hoping that can still happen but I’ve also been hoping the US can get their shit together for months and… well, you’ve probably all seen how that’s gone. If we could do it on our first anniversary it would be rather nice and neat, but at the end of the day, I’m not a Beamtin and it’s not the most important thing in the world. It would be nice to celebrate with the other people who couldn’t make it, and we’ll make that happen whenever we can.

To the next chapter…

20/52

*linked in the photo captions

Ten.

On the night of January 7th, I tossed and turned, unable to fall asleep. The previous day had been my first day back to work after the Christmas break and it had also been the first day of getting into my new job. It was a rather fragmented day, and my mind was spinning.

I needed to sleep… the 8th would be my first really full day. I would leave the house at 7:30am and not get home until 8pm. I had several meetings scheduled, and a mental to-do list to get through in between them. I would start a new class in the evening and was running through my list of introductory activities, trying to decide which one I wanted to use on a new class that I had hardly any information about. What to do? Not sleep, that was for sure.

Alternating with these thoughts was another theme… 10 years ago on this same night, I was also not sleeping much. I was on a plane, and sleeping on planes is not one of my strong points. That was the night I flew from Chicago to Prague with plans to do a TEFL course and… not much else.

10 years ago. My god.

Since I wasn’t sleeping, I mentally drafted all sorts of brilliant things to say in this blog post that would wrap up the last decade. But because I wasn’t sleeping, I also spent the next few days alternately running around, learning way too many new names, trying my best to absorb piles of new information, and failing miserably at getting my body back into some sort of normal rhythm. Needless to say, whatever I mentally drafted has been lost, which is probably for the best… 2:30am brilliance can be pretty weird in the light of day.

My second original plan for this post was to have a picture from my first day in Prague, and one from now. Then, the Facebook “challenge” hit.

Via Giphy

Okay, number 1: posting a picture of yourself from ten years ago and now is not a challenge. It’s clicking things on a computer, not performing surgery while blindfolded. Secondly, posting multiple versions of this “challenge” in an attempt to maximize the ‘ooooh, you haven’t aged a day’ comments is incredibly obnoxious.

It was, however, a neat comparison for me personally on how I have and have not changed. Clearly I haven’t changed much when it comes to saltiness/judgement.

Via Giphy

Not the most flattering self-assessment in the world, but I strive for honesty here. *shrug*

On the other hand, all these years in Germany among people with a healthy distrust of social media immediately made me reach for my tinfoil hat, particularly after reading things like this Wired article. Ten years ago, I probably would’ve been all “fun! Why not?” Now? Hard pass. At least, not on FB. Or Twitter. Or the ‘gram.

But luckily, my blog is none of those places… it’s my own little space, and I still want to do it here. Not because of some viral bs challenge, but because these last ten years have been  A CHALLENGE. Like, a real one.

January 9th, 2009 (no photos from the 8th… which given the long travel day is probably for the best). I was 25. I was in Europe with people I’d never met before, wandering through a city covered in snow.

Petrin Hill with magnificent people.

The next ten years of challenges meant making friends and losing them. They meant missing births and deaths and feeling insanely guilty for my life choices. They meant plane tickets and trips to the foreign police and screwing up on insurances and asking for help and muddling my way through the bureaucratic maze that leads you to start considering yourself an immigrant.

They meant learning to appreciate red wine,  and to celebrate any excuse to see somewhere new. They meant visitors and book exchanges and thousands of pictures that spread across continents. They meant abandoning the flared jean and embracing the legging (at least, in the comfort of my home… I still have limits).

January 8th, 2019. I am 35. I usually wear glasses now and I may still have one pair of flared jeans but those are regulated to garden work.

See? Here I am, enjoying Tchibo’s finest leggings and a hoodie (forever a hoodie person), in a very odd couch pose at the end of an incredibly long day.

The celebration consisted of leftover pasta, Sekt, and a very nice bottle of red from South Tyrol’s Elena Walch. BV even stopped at a bakery on the way home and got us two slices of Sachertorte to mark the occasion. Naturally the only classy viewing option for all of these delicious goodies was the season premier of The Bachelor. Because frankly, some things shouldn’t change.

Ten. Wild.

31-Day Challenge: Day 3

I was sitting in my hairdresser’s chair today, enjoying my cup of cappuccino, when I heard her make a familiar phone call. I very often make an appointment for the late morning, or early afternoon, which means that she normally times her lunch to coincide with the thirty minutes or so that it takes for my hair color to process.

No, she doesn’t use an app to order a burger or pizza, she doesn’t even use the newly-popular Foodora to order from various restaurants around town, instead she calls a little place up the street and asks for the daily specials. Then usually right around the time she’s finishing with the foils (or the cut, in today’s case), a waiter from the restaurant comes through the door laden with a dish or two containing her order.

What’s so unusual about this, you may think? To an American who is shocked that people are allowed to drink with glass bottles in public without adult supervision around here, so much.

When I say a dish is delivered, I mean an actual dish. A restaurant plate, sometimes even with a snazzy domed lid, is delivered to her salon. The waiter also collects the plates from the day before, before wishing us both a good afternoon and skipping back up the street. It’s so goddamned civilized I can’t stand it.

Okay, so she has a preexisting relationship with this restaurant, right? They’re both local businesses, she’s a loyal customer, so she gets special treatment. Perhaps. But it’s not the first time I’ve seen such a thing.

Cut to a few years ago, at the fantastically amazing Arezzo antique market. We were wandering through stalls of treasures around lunchtime, when we noticed a curious sight. The vendors at one stand appeared to be getting ready for lunch, but instead of them unpacking wrapped sandwiches, or even pulling paper-wrapped burgers from fast food bags, there was a waiter coming over from a nearby restaurant. But he wasn’t just delivering food. He was delivering plates, cutlery, wine glasses, a tablecloth, napkins (cloth as well, of course)… you get the idea. And in a few minutes, there was a full table setting from the restaurant on this little card table in the midst of the market. Because why take a lunch break when you have treasures to sell?

These things just amaze me, even after all these years. Coming from a place when damn near everything is now served in plastic, where people can’t be trusted with real knives on an airplane or at a picnic table, the fact that people here can act like adults is just so. Nice.

It’s also worth noting that this same principle applies even in motion. Now that fest season here is coming up, I expect to see the usual groups of people in Tracht riding the trains on their way to whatever festival is happening that day. Very often these groups also take the train ride as their opportunity to do some pre-gaming, and once again, they often do it responsibly. Even teenagers can be seen quaffing from wine glasses and sparkling wine flutes in the train. When their stop arrives, the glasses are packed back up into backpacks and handbags, and off they go to their next adventure. Cases of beer are carried on and off trains, stashed in lockers and retrieved (I assume they remember) for the trip home. I’m not saying I never see garbage in the trains, but I ride A LOT of trains, and their cleanliness, and the personal responsibility taken by the passengers never ceases to amaze me.

When Germans laugh that I find this so impressive, I always like to trot out this little anecdote.

Being from Wisconsin, one of the things that I miss the most about the summers is Milwaukee’s Summerfest. It’s a huge festival, sprawling along the lakefront for about two weeks every summer. There are about ten stages and hundreds of acts to see, for only the price of admission. On a warm summer night, there’s nothing better than heading downtown for a show of a one-hit wonder, some festival food, and, (it being Milwaukee), a couple of beers. Those beers are served in plastic cups, and Wisconsinites are world class beer drinkers. That, plus a combination of sheer laziness, hard-to-locate garbage cans, not wanting to lose your seat/standing place, not wanting to lose your friends in the crowd, and American entitlement means that where do those cups go? Wherever you drop them.

USA! USA! USA!

After the last chord sounds, when the police start herding the crowd towards the parking lot, one sound fills the air over the laughter, chatter, and occasional “wooooooo!”

*crunch crunch crunch*

The sounds of thousands upon thousands of feet walking over a carpet of plastic.

Since pulling out my phone to take a picture of the faces of my German students when I finished the story would be weird, here’s a fairly accurate approximation of the usual reaction.

You win this one Germany. And don’t worry about the Americans coming for you, they’re only armed with plastic knives.*

 

*Also, guns. Lots and lots of guns.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

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An Unexpectedly Awkward Monday Afternoon.

-0r-

What Happens When You Dive in and Totally Smoke the Bottom of the Pool With Your Head

*Spoiler Alert*: It hurts.

In the last few months I’ve become increasingly irritated with what I’m doing here. Not Germany as a whole, and not my life in Germany, but what is paying for me to be here. Teaching English is absolutely a great way to go abroad and see a bit of the world. I have no arguments there. My issue is what happens when you’ve decided that you want to stick around somewhere for a while. Or forever… it remains to be seen.

Some people have a love and a passion for teaching. That is a wonderful thing, God bless you, and the world needs more of you. I am not one of those people. There are some things that I have considered teaching on a more permanent basis, but English is not one of them. Some days it’s fun, and some days it makes me want to tear my hair out. Students hate grammar, I hate grammar, everyone hates grammar. It’s a necessary evil but I’m damn sick and tired of it.

A few weeks ago I had a mini-meltdown over all of this when I was deep into procrastination mode over lesson plans. It happens every 6-8 weeks like clockwork, but I never seem to learn not to put them all off until the last minute, aka right before I have to go in for a meeting with the bosses. It’s not just the paperwork though, it’s a lot of things that I don’t really want to get into at this point in time. Suffice it to say, I’m realizing that if Germany is where I want to be for the foreseeable future, it’s time to look into other options.

This is easier said than done though. Even here in the Nürnberg area, home to Siemens, Adidas, and Puma, there aren’t that many options for me. If I had a better grasp of a second language, or more business-related education I would have a better shot at a job in one of those companies. But I don’t, and I have never wanted to be an office bee. I tolerate going in and out of offices now, but it’s just not something I ever saw for myself. Additionally, if you haven’t gone through the German system of schoolings, trainings, apprenticeships, etc., it’s hard to get your foot in the door (their school system is fairly different from ours, and a topic for another day).

So what to do?

Back when I had the mini-meltdown, I started trolling German job websites looking for something, anything that I might have a shot at. Even better, I found something. I found something that lined up with what I studied, and what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I debated for a week or so, checking the listing every day to see if it was still there, and then I sat down and wrote one of the more earnest letters that I’ve ever written. I enlisted BV, who was kind enough to translate it into “nice” German for me. Nice German meaning German that didn’t sound like it was written by a 5-year old; “Das Auto ist blau,” etc. We did put a disclaimer on the bottom stating that I had significant help writing it, since my German is a work in progress. We sent it off and I waited.

Waiting sucks, incidentally. It should probably be banned.

I heard back from them eventually, and they requested a sample of work. They also asked if I would be interested in doing a two month internship, as I’ve never actually worked in the field.  I spent the weekend analyzing, over-analyzing, and trying to put something acceptable together. I sent it off and waited again. Waiting still sucked, and this time was even worse, as anyone who is being judged on their creative work could tell you.

A week or two later, I got a response, and they asked if I would still be interested in an internship. I responded that I most certainly would be interested, and we scheduled an interview for two weeks time. That was yesterday.

To be honest, I don’t know what I was expecting as far this interview went, but it was a very confusing experience for me. Not only was it my first interview for a job abroad that was not conducted entirely in English, but it was just kind of odd overall.

I arrived about ten minutes before my appointment time, and was directed to take a seat at a table in the studio. At the table was a jug of water, some Easter chocolates, and seven places neatly set with water glasses, blank sheets of paper, and pens. My mind immediately jumped back to the first days in drawing class in university, where we were directed to draw the people sitting across from us, and then we all got to critique together. What fun, am I right? I sat down very gingerly, and tried to not break the skirt that I had repaired for the occasion. Over the next ten minutes, four other girls trickled in. The oldest was 28, and the others were all in the 21-24 range. They were dressed fairly casually, three in jeans and one in black outdoor pants of some kind. My American self was feeling very over-dressed, out-of-place, and out of my damn mind already. I briefly considered just leaving then and there, but sucked it up.

The studio owner came in, greeted us all, and first asked me (in German) if I understood her. I said yes, and she continued on. She said that we were the last five chosen out of 18 applicants. Or 80. I was a little fuzzy on that. Damn numbers. Either way though, that felt pretty good. She first introduced herself, and explained that she liked to have these little sort of “meetings” in interviews, to ease people’s nerves, and also keep her from having to repeat herself multiple times. That’s understandable, right? She then asked us to introduce ourselves.

Fuck. Me.

Two of the girls went before me, giving the usual information: names, ages, school/training, experience, and why they were there. Then it was my turn.

I’m pretty sure I blacked out at this point. Whatever German I know completely left my brain and I muddled through an introduction in a shitstorm of grammatical chaos. Wonderful.

The next two girls went, and I couldn’t tell you anything they said because I was having an internal meltdown and wondering just how purple my face was. I’m guessing it was somewhere between Barney the Dinosaur and those grapes on the Fruit of the Loom logo.

Thankfully, the introductions were over then, and the owner started talking again. She kept talking for at least the next hour, with my either understanding everything perfectly, or being very confused. Some things were perfectly clear, and others were much fuzzier. For example: I thought the position I was there about was a 2-month internship, which was what had been discussed via email. However, she was talking at one point about a 3-year position, with three weeks of the month in the studio, and one week in school studying various subject. I know that is a normal step in the German school system that a lot of students do, but I didn’t really think that was on the table in this case. I’m still not sure if that is an option that we could take, or what the deal was there. Like I said, there was a lot of confusion, especially compounded by the fact that you miss so much when you’re trying to puzzle out what someone just said.

After she wrapped up her talk, she asked each of the girls a few questions. each time telling me that she’d talk to me on my own later. Fiiiiiine with me. When they had finished with all the questions, she asked me and another girl to stay. She thanked the others for coming, and told them that if they got the position, they’d hear something from the studio in the next few days. If they didn’t hear anything, no dice. I was confused again here, as I thought at the beginning she said that she’d be speaking to each of us individually, but apparently that wasn’t the case.

The other girl was invited into the second part of the studio, and the owner gave me a book to look though. I flipped somewhat absentmindedly, trying to decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing that I was still there. After a few minutes she came back in, and invited me into the other room.

Now, on their website it says that she spent some time in the States, and they do have English-speaking clients. A lot of people don’t get the chance to use English in their daily lives and get really excited to break it out. This was not one of those times. Again, I can’t be upset about this because obviously if I want to work in Germany at an actual company that is not a language school, it’s not unreasonable to want me to speak German, and for a foreigner, this was a test as much as anything else in an interview. So yes, the remainder of the interview was conducted in German.

To be clear, at no point was she rude to me. She was just very direct, one of the things I appreciate the most here. She told me that I was in the same boat as the other girl, and we were really both being let down easy. She said that some of my work was good, but for their purposes, it was not where it needed to be. She also said my German was not up to par to work there. This was not a surprise to me, or anyone else I daresay. I tried to explain that for my work now, it’s not necessary, so I understand that it’s not where you might expect it to be, especially after three years. However, when I came here I spoke about five words; now I can make myself understood (albeit awkwardly), have a conversation, read and understand fairly well. I consider that pretty darn good for not having had a single lesson. For this situation? No, not good enough.

She told me that I should work on what I need to work on, if I’m serious about this, and I can always try again next year. I did appreciate the constructive criticism, and I’m afraid that I came off badly because I couldn’t really express that to her. I also tried to explain that I just wanted to take the chance, even if it seemed silly with my current language level, because this is something I really want to do. Not sure if I got that one across either… plus her baby farted really loudly and that distracted both of us. This may be a ‘thank-you’ note situation. We shall see.

I went back out into the sunlight, and took a long walk to the Bio-market to buy fancy cheese and a decent wine; two things scientifically proven to dull humiliation. Was it as bad as it could have been? Definitely not. But it was the most foreign situation I’ve found myself in for a looooong while. It’s horribly uncomfortable to not be able to put together a coherent thought in an interview, when normally selling yourself is something you are darn good at.

If I want to be here in the long run, and I want a job here that falls more into line with how I want my life to be, this had to happen. I had to take a leap into the pool, and yes this time I definitely thwonked my head on the bottom. It sucked, but now it’s out of the way. I got some decent advice on what I need to work on, and I have every intention of following through on that.

Has anyone else braved the German job market? Got any tips for the rest of us?

That was a lot of words, so here's a mountain.

That was a lot of words, so here’s a mountain.

A Quick Walk Around Thalia

Who doesn’t love a good bookstore, right? I’m not picky, I’ll take a cozy indie bookstore, or a big chain with a Starbucks, it makes no difference. If I can browse books and waste a couple of hours, I’m a happy camper. One of the biggest bookstores in Germany is called Thalia, and I have been a frequent shopper of theirs since I arrived here (see this post on Chillin’ Mit Jesus).

A few weeks ago I was wandering the store, when I saw a few things that I thought were entertaining enough to share with the blog world so… here we go!

ImageThanks to the interwebz, even child-free people like myself know what ‘Helicopter Parenting’ is. Personally, I’m of the school that says, “do whatever you think is best” when it comes to your kids, so I don’t really want to get into any debates about it. But I cracked up when I saw this cover. I’m 30 and could still use a protective bubble some days. Helmets for everyone!

ImageAh yes, now a gender-specific boy toy about cooking. Leave little Sally/Sophie to her kitchen set while little Johnny/Johannes can learn to man the grill like a big boy.

Kidding.

Again, do what you want with your kids. Personally, I thought this was adorable and promptly whipped out this picture in class the following week when one of my students proclaimed that he didn’t cook anything but meat on his grill. He didn’t believe me that 1) this was an option or 2) that it would come with little plastic vegetables. Because vegetables do not go on the grill. Ever.

Image

Image

Oh, this one. This may have surpassed the “black” music section in electronics stores as my new favorite. I just love that the American dictionary offers not one, not two, but three languages! Amazing! Not to mention a quick flip through the book had me wondering just how many people have actually tried out some of the phrases offered in the sections on “our barrio, our hood,” or “Fiesta sin bebidas?” Oh good lord. I think you’d find better accents and pronunciation in the average Taco Bell order. Maybe that’s in the section on “TexMex-Küche.” Is this any different from the phrases offered in the average Lonely Planet phrasebook? No, not really. But I was still fairly dismayed that there were options. What do you think, is it weird, or is it just me?

5 Things I’ve Learned In 5 Years Abroad

On January 8th, 2009, I touched down in Prague. It seems like a minute ago and a thousand years ago, all at the same time. I think it’s been magnified as well, because my sister is actually in Prague right now. She’s doing the same TEFL course that I did, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the first weeks here in Euro-land. There have been major ups, MAJOR downs, and a lot of nights on the couch watching bad TV. Through all of it, I’d like to think that I’ve learned at least a couple of things and I’d like to share some of them with you wonderful internet people. As a disclaimer: of course these are my opinion only, and others may have totally different experiences. And I might ramble. That’s why we blog… to share our experiences. This is what I think, and you can feel free to disagree.Disclaimers aside though… here we go: five things I’ve learned in the last five years…. at least, I hope so.

1. Drop the “plan.”
I’ve done so many things, met so many people (not that they were all good), that I wouldn’t have ever met if I had done what is “normal.” If I had graduated college, got some job, met some guy, etc., etc., none of these things would have happened. Gott sei Dank. That’s “Thank God,” for all of you playing the home game.

Via

Let go of the fact that some people think you “have to do” this, or “must do” that. Do what you want to do. Go where you want to go, say what you want to say. There is no script for life… it’s what you want it to be. And to be honest, I have been feeling a little too comfortable these days. It’s true, my life hasn’t been too crazy, I have no major plans at the moment, but it’s okay. I’m much more settled than I was in Prague for example, but I don’t remember the last time I said, “I’m bored.” I’m looking for new things to see and do, but I’m not bored with what I have now. It’s not a life I ever could have imagined, but I think that’s the beauty of it. 
 

Anything is possible with giant strudel.

2. The only obstacles are the ones you make for yourself. 
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about being afraid to do the strangest things. Some I can agree with; for example, I never risked a haircut when I lived in Prague because I didn’t want to sport a mullet, or purple hair, and both of those are pretty popular in that city. To me, that wasn’t a risk worth taking. But some of the stories I’ve heard about supermarket anxiety for example, just baffle me. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You buy the wrong kind of vanilla?

If you build these things up as impossible tasks in your mind… then sure, you’ll have problems. I got a little anxious just this evening trying to figure out how I was going to climb over people to get off of the crowded train. But when the pivotal moment came, I high-stepped over a backpack and got myself out the door. That’s small potatoes, but it’s the same principle. If you decide that you can do something, you’ll do it. Done and done. 

3. Just because we’re from the same country, doesn’t mean we have to be friends.

I’m not sure, but I think RZ took this picture. If so, thanks RZ.

This one is harsh, but it’s true. And guess what? Not everyone is going to like you either. Expats tend to bond over their shared love of Tex-Mex, and their longing for Target; we are all in the same boat on that one. But, just like in college when there were “bar friends” vs. “everyday friends,” when you’re abroad you have to find the line. A pompous asshat in the States becomes a pompous asshat with a scarf and a stamp in their passport abroad. Again, I know this sounds harsh, and I also know that I’m not always the easiest person to get to know, but I’m at the point in my life where I want to be friends with someone because of their redeeming qualities, and not because of a geographic similarity. Wild, I know.

While I don’t feel the need to trip over myself to befriend every American I meet now… I do feel incredibly lucky to have met some truly amazing people in the last five years. Today they are literally all over the globe, which only means more places to visit in my mind. And that’s pretty sweet. 

4. People will never stop asking when you’re coming (or going) home.
I do want to check this point with some people who’ve been abroad longer (and feel free to weigh in with a comment), but I still get this question a fair amount. Thankfully, my family has never been the badgering type (though we are Badgers – sorry, bad joke), and have never been on the “get married, have babies, etc.” train, and they don’t ask this question very much. Other people abroad ask, like we’re all on some sort of kitchen timer. Students ask, and they seem surprised that I don’t have a timeline. But like I said before, no plan. If this is working for me, I’ll keep doing it. Do I want to teach English forever? No, probably not. It’s working for now though, so we’ll stick with it.

In my mind the question shouldn’t be, “when are you coming home?” because where is home? Home has so many different definitions to me, it’s crazy. Wisconsin will always be home to me, but at the same time, I feel like I am home here. Instead, I should really be asking, “when are you coming to visit?” And hey, we even have a light fixture in the bedroom now. Come on over and check it out!

5. Always carry an umbrella in Europe.
Practical advice is always good, right? If you don’t have an umbrella with you, it’s guaranteed to rain. And that means that your train/tram/bus will have some sort of a problem, forcing you to stand outside and/or walk much further than you had initially planned. You will spend the rest of the day damp, smelling like a wet dog, and annoyed. Also, umbrellas are a good defense against bears, both real and wooden. Although wooden is probably better. 

Bear fighting, Cesky Krumlov, 2009

When you read this, you might agree and you might disagree. You might think I sound like an ass, which I’m sure I do at points. But again, that’s the beauty of the expat experience. We all have a slightly different one, and they’re all equally valid. This is what I have learned, and that’s all I can say for it. I’ll raise my glass of champagne, and celebrate the fact that I’ve done something that seems crazy to so many people, and here’s hoping I can make it another five years. Scratch that, because it’s not a hope. If that’s what I want to do, that’s what will happen. If that’s what you want to do, then remove the obstacles and make it happen. To quote from the fantastic movie Empire Records, “In this life, there are nothing but possibilities.”

Cheers. 

This Old German House: Vol. 1

Perhaps the “Volume 1” title is premature, but I’m just trying to cover my bases here.

As you might recall, last month I moved over to BV’s place. This meant I went from living in a semi-modern (about 1950’s) apartment, to a house that was built in 1928. The house has been added on to quite a few times over the years, but it seems that it will need a bit more work than the last place. Considering my previous incidents in a modern apartment*, and after the two months we’ve had over here, I’m a little scared.

Let’s do a little run-down of everything that’s happened in the last couple months:
1. Water damage in the bathroom from a washing machine-related brain fart. (Not my brain!)
2. Living room heater rusted through, staining the carpet and necessitating replacement.
3. New carpet installed in the extra room. (that was voluntary)
4. Painting in the bedroom. (also voluntary)
5. Purchasing of heating oil – holy shit, that’s expensive.
6. Purchasing and installation of enormous new wardrobe.

The question is, do any of those developments answer the questions of the mystery pictures? Well…. sort of. And thanks to those of you who commented… and you got parts of it right (virtual high-five)! Here’s what’s actually going on…

Here are some alternate views from Picture Eins:

I’ve been calling this thing ‘Big Blue’ for the last two weeks, because I have absolutely no idea what it’s called in English, much less in German. I have never seen one of these before and would really prefer to never see it again, honestly. It’s been living in our bathroom and hallway and running day and night in order to dry out the floor and walls. As mentioned above, back in August we had some water on the floor (hallway and bathroom) from the washing machine. It wasn’t all that much, but according to Big Blue’s owner, the water was still in the concrete of the walls and floors around the bathroom. Obviously that’s bad, and would need to be dried out before we could fix the bubbled laminate in the hallway. 

I was a little fuzzy on what was happening when he came to check out the situation, mostly because I thought he was there to fix that laminate. Then I was less than pleased to come home from a very long day to find this monstrosity in the bathroom. And learn that we couldn’t close the bathroom door completely for the next two weeks at least. Fun! 

We did manage to work it out fairly well, but that’s a relationship road that I was really hoping to not cross ever. Much less in the first few weeks of living together.   

Picture Zwei:

Perhaps you were easily able to identify that as the underside of a boiler. You got it… in addition to the presence of Big Blue in the bathroom, we’ve been playing ‘Little House in Germany’ for the last week, as the boiler decided that it didn’t feel like working anymore. I’ve been through this horror before in Prague, when we were hot water-less for more than a week once, but it wasn’t something I was really looking forward to revisiting. The only saving grace was that it happened over a long weekend and so there wasn’t all that much that I absolutely had to do outside of the house or in a timely fashion. That’s good news when washing your hair becomes an elaborate process.

The guy came to repair it yesterday afternoon (thank goodness), but since I had to catch a 6 am train, that meant getting up at 4:30. Heating water in the kettle so I could ‘Little House’ bathe and not miss my train at that ungodly hour is not my idea of a good time. 

Picture Drei:

Oh electricity, you’re the thing that keeps it all together. Until you don’t. Monday night I was in the middle of cooking dinner, when I ran downstairs to grab some beers for the fridge. I looked up and noticed that the spiders were gathering strength above my head. Technically they aren’t in the house, they’re in the stairway, but it was getting a little extreme. Like, three enormous daddy long legs hovering above every time we go in and out. I decided that was it, and grabbed the vacuum. 

I plugged it in, turned it on, and kapew. Nada.

Yep, running all the kitchen appliances, Big Blue in the bathroom, and everything else was too much, and I blew a fuse. I grabbed my phone for the flashlight and tried to figure out the fusebox, but I wasn’t sure which one was the main and flipping things didn’t do anything… great. I went to the front window and was trying to decide if it was worth calling BV since he never has the sound on his phone turned on, when there he was, walking through the gate. Good timing and welcome home, honey. 

The spiders win this one, but I’m planning my counter-attack.

*Other ridiculous home issues in Germany:
The Time I Locked Myself Out Braless 
The Time(s) I Couldn’t Open Any Doors Without Incident 
The Time I Went On Vacation And Workers Trashed My Apartment
The Time I Ranted About Hot Water

A Quick Photo Challenge

“When it rains, it pours.” Old words, but wise words nonetheless. Sometimes it means that a person’s social calendar is action-packed, sometimes it means that they’re loaded with work projects, and sometimes it means that it’s raining a lot. The latter is pretty standard here in German fall. But I digress. 

In this case, none of the above is true for me… but there has been a lot of ridiculousness going on. In that spirit, I’d like to pose a challenge to anyone who’s still checking this blog of mine, since I’ve been a pretty craptastic blogger of late. I’m going to post three mysterious photos today, and you can leave your guesses as to what they are in the comments. On Thursday (I swear! I’m drafting it now!), I’ll reveal the correct answer and send a virtual high-five to anyone who gets them right.

First though, a pseudo-clue:

While I don’t know if I want Bob Vila to show up, I feel like we could qualify to go on
 ‘This Old German House.’ 
Picture Eins:
Picture Zwei:

Picture Drei:

Alright… if anyone is still out there reading, give me your guesses in the comments!

 

Words to Live By: A Proposal for a Bavarian Motto

In this post I’d like to put forth a proposal. While I have heard many an expression over the last two-plus years of German living, there doesn’t seem to be any “official” mottos for the state. In the U.S. of course, each state has a motto, as odd as it might be, and I think Germany should get in on this action. 

Might I present this as a possible motto for life here in Bavaria (or Franconia, at the risk of pissing off those around me)…

Translation: “A life without pleasure is like a long journey without an inn.”

I may jest, but the German (or again, at least the Bavarian/Franconian) love for the Gasthaus is unconditional. I think it’d make a fine motto. And since there’s an election on, perhaps one of the newly-elected politicians can make it happen.