Saturday, August 17, 2013

Finding an apartment in Germany

It's only a decision that will affect your happiness for however long you live there.

Apartment hunting should be fun but it's not.  Not at all.  It's frustrating and tedious and horrible and stressful.  Every time we have to move I make a go at something bigger and better than what we had previously.  I always liked our apartment in Malente and after looking at some of our options in and around Berlin I am reminded that we have it pretty good here.  Some of the great things about Malente that I also wanted in our new home-

* Grocery and drug stores within walking distance.
* Train station nearby with free parking.
* Lots of green space for Redgie.
* Big bedrooms and a nice cut.
* Being on the ground or first floor.
* A roomy kitchen and bathroom (I knew I'd have to give up the circular bathtub but I'm going to take as many baths as I can before we move).
* Reasonable rent.
* A nice clean safe neighborhood.
* Street parking.
* Enough room for office space, a guest bed, a children's bedroom, and all our furniture.  That's a tricky requirement for a two bedroom apartment. 

Our apartment is only a little over 900 square feet but the cut doesn't waste any space so it feels big.  Having big bedrooms is also a plus but on the other hand the high ceilings are harder to heat in Winter.  There are a few things I wanted to do differently in a new place.  Like a smaller second bedroom and more space in the living room.   That way Sophie can have her own room and we can move the study area into the living room.  Some other things on my checklist-

* No white tile in the kitchen or bathroom.  I have white tile in my kitchen and it's hard to clean. 
* No faux wooden counter tops because u.g.l.y..
* No cellar of terror.
* No parking wars.
* A shorter commute to the city.
* A more relaxed pet policy.
* A good playground and Kita (kindergarten) within walking distance.
* A closet if I can get one.
* More restaurants and take out options.

After finding apartments that fit our criteria in areas near H's work we then had to get appointments.  Getting an appointment isn't easy.  H couldn't take any more time off in between his busy work schedule so we only had a day and a half to find an apartment that was suitable.  That's not stressful at all.  Seriously though, it was super stressful.  One person didn't give us an appointment because we have a young child.  We got appointments for only half the apartments we found.  One of the appointments we went to was pointless because the apartment had been taken but real estate agent didn't bother to let us know.

Another thing to keep in mind is that balcony space counts as the square footage in the apartment.  Several places seemed to be small because they had a large terrace even though the square footage was high.  Some of the apartments we turned down because the cut was strange or our furniture wouldn't fit.  One had a cellar of terror and a litter of cigarette butts in front that reminded me of leaves in the Fall.  That street also smelled like garbage and had no parking.  Not good for a family with two cars.

We were lucky, real estate agents love solidly employed young families.  We were able to chose between two good options, one in the city and one in the suburbs.  I surprised myself by liking the suburbs better.  Can you believe it?  I could have taken a city apartment on a beautiful leafy street in Zehlendorf but I didn't.  How could I say no to a less expensive 1,200 square foot apartment that is only ten years old?  So we won't be true Berliners but we can grill on our balcony and I can take the train downtown in the same amount of time.  And best of all H found a Masters of Sociology program in English.  I already wrote them a letter asking how I can apply.  It's always been an important goal for me to get my Masters.  I never thought I'd be able to do it in Germany but now it looks like it could happen.  I can't put into words how happy that makes me. 

We move in six short weeks.  Since we first considered this opportunity my life seems to be running like water.  I never imagined that I would live near Berlin or be able to go back to school.  I can only be thankful we took a chance and hope that it pays off.  At least we have a place to live and H won't have a job that requires frequent business trips.  Just those two things make the move worth it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Things to love about Germany

Sometimes my husband says he thinks I don't like Germany or Germans.  Say what?  Ok maybe I complain a lot bit but that doesn't mean anything.  I married a German, remember?  My child is German!  Well anyway, I thought I'd dedicate some writing to the many, many great things about Germany and Germans. 

1. Castles, palaces, fortresses and other historical buildings.   When most people think of German castles they think of Neuschwanstein.  Neuschwanstein is amazing and it was built by a crazy person!  Fabulous, right?  But there are gads of other things worth checking out.  I admit I am pretty nonplussed by the smaller castles around here but that doesn't mean they aren't wonderful.  It just means that after six years I'm getting used to seeing them.  Before Hamburg we used to live in Saxony so the first castles I saw were all breathtakingly memorable. 

Tiny little castle where my husband's friend got married.  Good memories :)

2. Art- art is everywhere.  The other day I was admiring some interesting original art in my dentist's office.  Way, way better than those motivational posters that Americans tend to hang up in schools and offices.

3. Our health care is awesome.

4. Everything is orderly.  Well most of the time.  The trains run on schedule, the trash is picked up and recycled, all the children go to school and get their check ups.  Cars and trucks are kept serviced and everyone pays their taxes and takes care of their registered pets.  The streets are clean and every yard has a gnome.

5. Germany takes care of it's own.  No German has to be homeless or without their basic necessities.  That's pretty great.

6. Less crime, fewer guns, and generally safer overall.

7.  Groceries are better.  We can get cheap locally grown organic produce whenever we want it.  We can go pick our own if we have time.  Even processed foods here have less chemicals and hormones.

8. Most people speak a second language sometimes a third and fourth.

9. A lot of Germans like to travel.  Traveling generally makes people a bit more open minded and aware of the world around them.

10. People are on time.

11. Good wine is inexpensive.  I feel like wine sort of deserves it's own post.  I knew nothing about it before I moved here.  Now I know quite a bit.  The last few years H and I buy a lot of our wine directly from a German vineyard.  I pick up various bottles of sect and rosé usually for less than €5.  Champagne is more but still cheaper than in the US.  I love a glass of wine at the end of the day.  It's just so lovely.

12. The clubs don't close until it gets light outside.  I don't do any clubbing anymore because I'm too old but back in the day it was fun, fun, fun.

13. There are no open container laws in Germany so you can enjoy your wine or beer wherever you want.  They passed some laws about drinking on public transportation since I've been here but it's nice to take a bottle of wine along with your picnic to the beach or the park.

14. Germans are helpful.

15. Children are accepted in public places.

16. Most working people get at least a month of paid vacation plus lots of paid public holidays.  Add this to a little bit of overtime and most Germans only work about 10 months out of the year.

17. Disability and sick leave are much, much better than in the US.

18. The nature is natural.  There is little urban sprawl, lots of forests and fields and beautiful unfarmed and undeveloped land.  Germany is a very beautiful country.

19. Expat friends are more diverse than friends a person makes in their own country.  I've met so many interesting and amazing people.  I never stop being thankful for the wonderful people I've gotten to know! (No shade on my Chicago people, they are extra awesome for staying friends with me all this long time I've lived in Europe.)

I'm sure there is more but my toddler has fallen asleep.  Instead of trying to think of what I missed I'm going to go enjoy some delicious wine and hang out with my German husband. ;)  What do you love about your country?