Sunday, September 26, 2010

Some (somewhat) useful information I've acquired...

I've been here in Germany for well over a year now (but not quite a year and a half yet).  Besides the usual of finding a German course or looking for an apartment, here are some other things that I've figured out along the way so far...

1.Social Life
As soon as you settle in, you will find yourself needing one of these again. Find a tandem partner as a start, talk to people in your German course, look on a website like and find yourself an interest group or event going on that interests you and go. Just go. It will fight off the feeling of loneliness or uselessness you might get when being away from home (wherever or whomever that may be for you).

2. Allow yourself to go nuts.
Not off the deep end nuts, or even with your credit card nuts, what I mean is that from my own experience, life can be frustrating in another country sometimes, allow yourself to get pissed off or annoyed. Get upset, figure out why you are upset (you may be surprised that its not quite the most obvious reason). Then pull yourself together and try not to hate Germany for it. A good mantra: Different doesn't mean wrong.

3. Find a go-to guide
Either in the form of a book, a forum or even better a live person, find someone who has "been there, done that" and preferably speaks German well to help you out. You will need help. If not in language, then figuring out how things work (or how to fix them when they don't.)

4. Visit home.
It will put things in perspective for you, whether in a positive way (you might be glad you can go back to Germany after the visit), negative way (you might realize that you don't want to be in Germany forever) or in a neutral way (no place is perfect). In any case, get yourself out of Germany after a while and give yourself a chance to revamp.

Surely others who have been abroad longer have more to add to this list... feel free to share.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The not so apparent apartment renting rules of Germany...

After 3 1/2 weeks in America, I'm back in Germany. I didn't realize how much I actually missed home until I got there. I've been back since Monday evening. The jet lag hasn't worn off yet so I find myself wide awake at midnight and in the mornings unable to wake up without hitting the snooze button nine times. From one day to the next, I left late summer and jumped right into late fall. Germans are walking around with boots and winter jackets, scarves and hats. The weather is definitely cool here, but I'm not sure it warrants winter gear just yet.

The good news is I've returned to Germany to find that we have about 90% secured an apartment. Finally! We've been searching for a while without success and then just before David and I headed off to the States we agreed to try and find an apartment together with another couple. Every country has their own way of doing things, but every time I think I've come to understand Germany a little bit better, I find something new that catapults me back to the starting line again.

What I've learned thus far about apartment renting in Germany:

1. When finding a one room apartment, that does not mean it is a one bedroom. One room, means one room. Two rooms means two rooms. Germans count room number, how you define or use those rooms is up to you. Three rooms equates to three rooms plus a bathroom and often (but not always) a separate kitchen.

2. Speaking of kitchen, Germans like to travel from place to place with them. They invest a lot into their cooking crannies, so they don't leave them behind, unless of course you are going to reimburse them for it.

 3.  Be aggressive.   It seems like there are more renters than apartments available.  The only way you have a shot in Helsinki is to be annoyingly persistent, and yet even then that didn't seem to work for us.

4. Provisions. This word took on a whole new meaning when searching for an apartment here in Germany. Provisions is what the Germans call paying 2-3 months of rent to a real estate agent for finding the apartment for you. The thing is, they actually don't find the apartment for you. You find it yourself. And what's more, even when you go to see the apartments, often they aren't present, its left to the current tenant to show you around the place. Now, I'm sure there's a lot of paperwork and things involved that I don't see, but it's a painful thought to think I have to pay a person I've spoken to for a total of perhaps 30 minutes 3 months rent, which could equate to 600 Euros, 1000 Euros, or if you're renting a house, several thousand Euros.

5. This is a new one I discovered today. So Germans charge a fee to people living in the apartment if they are, what they call Untermieter. So say you are renting an apartment with a few people and it is under X's name. Y, if not directly related to X, is required to pay 2.50 Euros extra a month because he or she is living there. The fee is clearly not astronomical, but I don't understand the logic behind charging the fee in the first place. If the apartment is X's and Y and Z live there, then both must pay the 2.50, even if they are presumably paying rent also. Why? Beats me.

I'm sure there will be more surprises along the way but for now all the paperwork is in, so here's hoping.