Is Healthcare better in Germany?

Sometimes “home” feels a lot further than a 10 hour flight away. My old college roommate was just diagnosed with colon cancer and I don’t know how to express my worry, my concern – all the feelings I am having for her – better than in a facebook message. She is not one for social media so I’m not sure if she’ll see it. Over the decade that I have been out of college we lost touch as we each got married, moved (one of us across the country and an ocean), and generally went about our lives.

Maria Heimsuchung Hospital PHOTO: Erin Porter

But with this news I am brought back to those good ‘ole college days and can’t believe she is facing the C-word. It is among an expats’ greatest fears; not that you will just miss out on the fun things (like weddings), but you won’t be around when things inevitably fall apart.  Just because you’re gone doesn’t mean things stop changing.

In her post, my friend sums up her month as one of “major surgeries, 4ER visits, 2 blood infections, staples, stitches, and a jugular infusion line. Then the 7/3/17 game changer of a colon cancer diagnosis and starting chemo in 4-6 weeks.” She is facing a brutal battle, and one of the major concerns isn’t even the massive health issues she is tackling. It’s financial. As my country (the USA for the uninitiated) continues to claw itself apart over a workable health care system, everyday people need to keep figuring out how to pay for it. Continue reading

New Laws in Germany for 2017


As the new year approaches, many new laws and regulations are about to take force in Germany in 2017. Some of them are welcome changes (no more cell phone roaming charges in the EU), while others don’t make a huge difference (a modest minimum wage increase) or really aren’t all that welcome (higher electric rates).

Let’s start with a new law that most people in Germany will enjoy: a new nationwide holiday!

Wittenberg Rathaus

The City Hall in the Luther City Wittenberg. All of Germany will observe the Reformation Day holiday in 2017. Currently only five Bundesländer observe this holiday. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

REFORMATIONSTAG
For the first time ever, Reformation Day (October 31) will be an official holiday all across Germany in 2017. Currently the Protestant Reformationstag is a holiday only in the German states (Länder) of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen (Saxony), Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony-Anhalt), and Thüringen (Thuringia). Reformation Day commemorates the date when Martin Luther supposedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg 500 years years ago. Because 2017 is also The Year of Luther (das Lutherjahr), German lawmakers decided to make Reformation Day an official holiday all across Germany for that year, even in Catholic Bavaria. But it’s a one-off just for 2017. After the special nationwide observance on Tuesday, October 31, 2017, the holiday will return to being observed only in the five states mentioned above. Continue reading

Brexit – notes from a Brit in Germany


Brexit 1 We found out the Brexit result at the top of mountain in Italy, the alpine hotel’s shaky internet connection making it almost impossible to read more than the headlines. Our reaction was disbelief. Like me, most people, whether Remainers or Leavers, couldn’t have predicted that Britain would vote to leave the EU. “Shocking news from the UK this morning,” I said to the six London bankers in the hotel’s breakfast room, a passing statement which felt pointless but important. They sat glued to smartphones piecing together market developments before one of them shook his shoulders and announced, “Right, this is too depressing. Let’s get out walking.” We happened to be driving back to Germany that same day, with me reading the news all the way through Austria, relaying the plummeting pound, the resignation of the Prime Minister, the incredulous disappointment of most people in my predominantly pro-remain social media bubble.

The ensuing events have been well reported – how the public faces of the Leave campaign scuttled under rocks as if they hadn’t really wanted to win at all, how the Labour Party plunged into (still ongoing) turmoil, how the first analysis suggested that old people had voted young people out, but then it turned out that too many young people didn’t bother to vote at all. The anger of the side that lost is well known too. The Leavers call them sore losers, but in the wake of a political gamble to satisfy a decades’ old internal party conflict, a campaign marred with tall stories and manipulated statistics, only to be capped with the desertions of its most prominent advocates, and with the rise in hate crimes against migrants immediately after the result, the soreness felt justified.  Continue reading

Relax Berlin! You Can Still get an Anmeldung

Rathaus Pankow, Berlin. Photo: Erin Porter

Rathaus Pankow, Berlin. Photo: Erin Porter

Frequently I see panicked posts from other expats. They are frantically looking for an Anmeldung Termin (registration appointment).

HELP! I need an appointment for a burgeramt asap, please!

What is an Anmeldung?

The Anmeldung is a necessary – and usually pain-free – step to getting settled in Germany. It is required of everyone who lives in Germany, both citizens and foreign residents. This requires a stop at your friendly (just kidding – rarely are office workers in Germany friendly) Bürgeramt or Rathaus (note that in Munich this is done at the Kreisverwaltungsreferat or KVR). Continue reading

From Smoke Detectors to Electric Cars: New and Revised Laws in Germany for 2016

Sometimes it’s surprising how a modern nation like Germany can lag behind in certain areas. A good example from the past is smoking. While the US and many other countries long ago banned smoking in restaurants, the workplace, and other public areas, Germany was slow to do the same. After an initial period of voluntary restrictions by some businesses, Germany began to regulate smoking in public places. (Austria, on the other hand, still has a lot of work to do on public acceptance of smoking bans. Cough! Cough!) While non-smoking areas in Germany were once a rarity, today German anti-smoking laws are similar to those in the US in most cases.

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As of 2016, some German states require the installation of smoke detectors (Rauchmelder) in existing homes. PHOTO: Feuerwehr e.V.

Another area where Germany was lagging behind was smoke detectors. As with many things in Germany, this is an area left to each of the 16 Bundesländer (states). There is no nationwide law. After a slow start beginning around 2004/2005, almost all of the German states now require smoke detectors in new houses and apartments. As of 2016, only Berlin and Brandenburg still lack any smoke-detector requirements (Rauchmelderpflicht). Some Länder now also require smoke detectors in older, existing living quarters. Continue reading

Learning to Hate Deutsche Telekom

Door to Berlin

Door to an unconnected home

I had no strong feelings about German internet providers. Sure, I love TV and the internet, but how it got to me was of no concern. That is, til Deutsche Telekom screwed us over.

First, the good news. We have a new apartment! After months (and months) of searching for a bigger place to accommodate our little Berliner we found a classic Berlin altbau – all tall ceilings, double windows and hardwood floors. We love it.

But we knew we needed to do one thing as soon as possible – get our internet connected. We’ve heard it can take some time to get an appointment (even if it is as simple as flipping a switch) and we didn’t want to miss a day. Ha! Such naiveté. Turns out we still had some faith in German customer service which has now been thoroughly quashed.

Continue reading

Amis and Abis: Roadblocks to Getting your Bachelor’s Degree in Germany

Source: Felix Kästle/dpa (c)

Source: Felix Kästle/dpa (c)

My student advising service, Eight Hours and Change, was recently featured in a story on National Public Radio’s Marketplace in a story that discussed the German university system. The main takeaway from this piece for most readers and listeners in America was the astonishing revelation that German universities are (mostly) tuition-free, and, as a result, I’ve been inundated with inquiries from every state and several territories.

For bachelor-seeking students, this can be an awkward conversation. After confirming that the vast majority of subjects can be studied at minimal cost, I have to move on to the caveat. Yes, its possible for Americans to study here for free, but that doesn’t mean everyone can do it.

Continue reading

Applying for a Wohnung in Berlin


When we found out we were pregnant, we knew a two-room (one-bedroom in American) apartment was no longer going to cut it. So we went on the hunt for a three-room, ideally with a balcony, high floor, a little class and great transportation links. Slowly at first, and then with increasing sincerity as the baby finally made her arrival.

PHOTO: Erin Porter

My little Berliner on the Wohnung search

As always, I was horrified at the lack of light fixtures, kitchen and even floors in some Wohnungen (apartments). I checked out the toilets. My wandering eye searched further afield from my preferred neighborhoods (known as Kiez in Berlin) of Friedrichshain to nearby Lichtenberg, Wedding from Prenzlauer Berg. Surely Marzahn couldn’t be that bad…could it? Despite my lowering standards, we are still without an apartment to accommodate our growing family.

Why is renting in Berlin so hard?

The hard truth is that looking for a house in the Hauptstadt is hard. Competition is fierce, rental companies aren’t particularly motivated to make things work for the renter (evidenced by the insane viewing hours – 10:30 on a Tuesday anyone?), and applications take organization, great credit and earnings and a lot of luck. Continue reading