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

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.

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A Pseudo-European Teenager Goes to Texas

Our eldest has been in Texas for the past year attending high school, after spending most of her life in Europe – some in Ireland, but mostly in Germany. She is sixteen, and with that comes the sixteen-year-old way of looking at the world.  She’s been back for a week, and after announcing that she no longer speaks German, she seems to be settling in okay. And yes, she does still speak German. You can’t lose it that easily!

When she moved to Texas, there were a couple of things that she was worried about. She only knew American high school from movies: cliques, sports, cheerleaders, nerds, etc. German school is just not like that. The stratifications are not so clear, and the groups are not so defined. I told her that it might really be like the movies. And when she started school she said, “It’s like Save the Last Dance!” My daughter is in a high school near Dallas that is very diverse. I think the non-white portion of the school is something like 90%. Heidelberg is also diverse, but not in the same way. She was scared to death of the bus — she told me they called her “Snowflake” — but I think in the end she fits in in a way that she didn’t expect. Growing up in Europe, she didn’t have any experience with American race issues, again except for movies. She didn’t grow up with the stereotypes about black people, or white people, or Mexicans, or whomever. We are pretty liberal in our house politically. I think landing in this school in Texas was a huge shock, but it was also an amazing chance for her. She has friends across all groups of kids, black, white, Christian,  Hispanic, straight, and gay. And she is surviving and thriving. Continue reading

From freelance to Angestellte to Arbeitslos

Remember my last post where I talked about my wonderful new job? The one I was excited about after the eight months of freelancing and running around in many directions trying to make a living? Well, one of the perils of working for a start up company is the very flimsiness of it all. They depend on investors and the investors want results. What appeared to be a safe bet for me and the perfect place turned out not to be.

I went in to work at the end of January only to receive a mysterious meeting request from the CEO. I turned to  my direct manager and saw from the look on his face that I could expect bad news. And bad news I got. The company had grown to0 quickly, and documentation people are not the ones who bring in the cash. I was unfortunate enough to still be in the first few months of my probationary period (Probezeit), so I was chosen to be one of the victims. They assured me that they weren’t letting me go for performance reasons, but that doesn’t really make me feel any better, to be honest.

Needless to say, I was absolutely floored and devastated. I managed to get home, called my husband at the airport (he was on his way to Graz) and conveyed the horrible news. Then I went home to start looking for a new job. The company had assured me they would support me in any way they could, with a Zeugnis or by calling people they knew at the software behemoth nearby – my former employer, SAP. However, I have a very specific skill set. I am a technical editor, which is common enough in Germany, but I am not especially keen on writing in German. My German is fluent (written and spoken), but as a word person, I don’t feel comfortable writing less than perfectly in any language, especially when it is for publication. I love the actual writing and editing process and am very picky about language. But most jobs for technical editors are looking for native German speakers. Continue reading

Incorporating a New Worldview, Into Your Old Life

It’s fairly common to feel like an alien at times, while living in a foreign country. But now, when I come home to Canada for my regular summer visits, I often feel like a bit of an alien here too. In recent conversations with family and friends at home, I am finding that my opinions and perspectives about both everyday and fundamental issues are differing from theirs, sometimes to the extreme. This has made me stop to consider how my expat life has changed my views on certain issues, and how it may be affecting my various relationships. Being “worldly” and “cultured” are often touted as beneficial, but how does one learn to incorporate such qualities into relationships with those who have lived their entire lives in the land you left?

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Dealing with the Germans

This topic has the potential to be divisive and insulting. I will tread lightly. A year ago, a friend of mine celebrated her last few days of singledom with a bachelorette party in France. Unable to attend, I sent along an “Instruction Guide to a German Husband”, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek list of Do’s and Don’ts for foreign wives of German husbands.

And sitting down to write about how to deal with Germans, I find myself thinking: 11 years of marriage to a German, countless hours and festivities with German in-laws, 11 years of living in the country and speaking the language… do I really know how to deal with Germans? Only sometimes. I think I’ve got things figured out and then some Amt throws a spanner in the works, or I attend a party where I’m the only foreigner and come away feeling fresh off the boat, a complete outsider. Continue reading

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Part 1)

No, I’m not going to discuss Spaghetti Westerns today. I’m going to list some of my expat likes (the good), dislikes (the bad) and major gripes (the ugly) related to living in Germany. Although I’m going to start with “the bad,” you should know that my “good” list is at least equal in length.

There are regional differences for some of the items you will see here. Germany is no more monolithic than the USA. Conservative Munich is not really anything like free-wheeling Berlin. But I have tried to list things that generally apply, and note those things that may be more regional in nature. Everyone’s good and bad list will be unique, but there are many cultural things that all expats in Germany can relate to. And I’d like to point out that I could make a similar list for life in the US. In fact, this German list is in part a commentary in reverse on life in the US.

I’ve been living in Berlin for almost two months this year, but I spent almost a year here in 2007/08, and I have also traveled a lot all across Germany over the years. But time marches on, and the list I’m making now is not the same list I would have drawn up a year ago or five years ago, much less a decade ago. If you want to see a more neutral comparison of US and German culture, see our six German Way cultural comparison charts, starting with Driving. Continue reading

“Friendly Service” and Zero-Euro-Jobs

Who’s left holding the (grocery) bag?

One definition of culture shock: The first time an American goes through the checkout lane at a German grocery store. The first shock is seeing the cashier/checker comfortably seated rather than standing. The second comes as the purchased items come zipping across the laser scanner — and you, the customer, discover that you are also the bagger (Einpacker). And you are under pressure from the person behind you when the checker starts scanning his/her groceries, barely a split second after you have paid. (The third shock comes if you don’t have your own bag.)

German entrepreneur Martin Lettenmeier wants to change that. At least the bagging part. He has founded a company in Fürstenfeldbruck, Bavaria with a typically “German” name: Friendly Service. (He probably chose the English name because the concept barely exists in German.) Based on his experience in the USA, Lettenmeier wants to spread the idea of the friendly grocery bagger in Germany. (“Profis stehen den Kunden beim Einpacken bei.”) Continue reading