Are Home Appliances Boring?

… if so, you must have the wrong brand. Moving from Germany back to North America, it has become painfully evident to me that the German obsession with perfection in engineering doesn’t translate across the Atlantic. In multiple rented spaces, I have made do with a substandard dishwasher, with clothes washers that don’t really get the clothes clean, and with vacuum cleaners that make noise but are low on suction. Each of them was a North American brand, probably manufactured elsewhere.

To be fair, I haven’t always had luxury appliances in Germany either. It was only after our appliances began breaking that I started to take an interest in the market – and as a working mom with two small children, functional household appliances are elevated to a new level of desirability! Continue reading

Looking to Buy? Take Your Time

This blog has covered the topic of renting an apartment many times (in posts by Hyde and Chloe) and I have written a bit on the topic of home ownership. But where do you start if you are looking to buy property in Germany? The first stop for anyone interested in property is – it is a website that compiles available properties from the entire country, and the search features are powerful enough for you to narrow down according to your exact criteria. Assuming that you read German and that your budget is big enough, this may be sufficient in helping you find a home.

For everyone else, it will take a larger investment of time than you might be used to in North America or England. Germany is not a country of property owners; most people here rent their accommodation long-term. For those who do own their homes, turnover is very low (Geoff wrote about this a while back, too). Germans tend to buy a house and then live in it for the rest of their lives, passing it on to their children. Houses in Germany are built for the long-term (as in everything they do, the Germans strive for perfect rather than sufficient) and the prices will reflect that. Starter homes for under €100k are unheard of, unless they are just being sold as a tear-down. Apartments can be bought in this price range, but are probably smaller than you might be hoping for. Continue reading

A different type of renting

The friends we left behind in London all had one thing in common – their desire to get themselves on the property ladder. Had we stayed I suspect we would have started hunting around for somewhere to buy in just the same way. It is simply what you do when you’re a young professional in the UK and if you don’t you worry you’re going to be left behind, you’ve not made it, that you’re destined to be one of those unsuccessful people who only ever rents a flat.

What a surprise then to move to Germany where being ‘only’ tenants instead of homeowners does not come with such class associations. That Germany has the lowest rate of homeownership in the EU has been written about elsewhere on this blog. What I am interested in here, is how this phenomenon effects the experience as an expat of first finding a flat to rent and then living in a rented flat in Germany in contrast to the experience in the UK. Continue reading

Homesickness in a Global World

We have now arrived in Toronto and are busy setting up our new house. Like any move, this one has had its share of surprises, including our air freight sitting in Germany for two weeks because the movers forgot about it. Flexibility is key, and a very long fuse… so far I have managed both quite well, and have just a few more days (hopefully!) until our big container arrives with the bulk of our things, including all the furniture.

As we have explored our new city and found our bearings, we have of course scoped out a few locations that make us feel happy and connected to “home”. That has become a relative term for me, as my upbringing was in the Pacific Northwest in the US but my adult life has been spent in Europe. I am a terrible foreigner, I pick and choose all the things I want to retain from my home culture, and I am equally selective about what I integrate from my host culture. I’m definitely not all-or-nothing when adapting, constantly seeking a balance between retaining my own identity – cultural and individual – and blending in with those around me. I never was very good at fitting into a group…
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Good Night, Sleep Tight, Watch out for the Crack!

Maybe you have visited Germany on a trip and noticed that the hotel beds were a little funny. Large, generously proportioned, down pillows, down comforters. But strangely, when you sink into the middle of the bed you find, well, it’s lacking. There’s a crack down the middle of the bed! And no covers there either. German “king-size” beds are really two twin beds sharing a frame. What about the covers? Also twin.

And guess what: it’s like this in their homes, too. This was a shock to my newly-married-assumptions-about-life when I came to Germany. Like most young couples, we bought a bed frame at IKEA. We went to the mattress store to buy a good mattress and when we got there I realized we would be buying two good mattresses for our one bed frame. I spent some time thinking about this, then asked if there was some kind of filler for the gap. There was, but it created a speed bump, which to me didn’t really solve the problem. Continue reading

Germans: We don’t need no stinkin’ apartment numbers

It never really dawned on me that the Germans don’t use apartment numbers – until I lived in a German apartment house. The only way the postal carrier (Postbote/Postbotin) can deliver mail to the correct apartment in even a large apartment complex is by the surname on the mailbox. In my case, not even my own last name, but that of the people I was subletting the apartment from. And my apartment complex in Berlin even had a Hinterhaus, another building facing a courtyard behind the front building, and all of them were five stories high. Yet the only numbers in sight were for the floors.

My first reaction to the lack of apartment numbers (Wohnungsnummern) was, “How ridiculous is that?” But then I remembered that the Japanese don’t even have street names in most of their cities (except in Kyoto and Sapporo). They use block section numbers in a confusing (to us Occidentals) address system that makes the Germans look like the height of logic and reason. The Japanese also write a postal address in the reverse order of most of the world: starting with the geographic location and ending with the name of the recipient. Continue reading

Don’t be Stuffy

A few years ago, a building contractor told me a story that scared me enough to change my habits:

“I worked with a young couple recently who fully remodeled an old house. They both worked full-time. Every morning, they both got up, took showers, got dressed and left for work, to return again late in the evening. Within three months, mold had taken over in multiple rooms of their house and they spent a fortune to have the problem fixed. Not once in those three months did they air out after taking a shower, and all the moisture just built up in there.”

After hearing this story, you can bet I open the windows and air out the bathroom after a shower! And for good air quality in your house, to prevent mold, and to increase heating efficiency in the winter, you should also air out (lüften) your home regularly. Continue reading

Schaffe Schaffe Häusle Baue

That’s nice thick Swabian for “work and work to build a house”. The Swabians are probably the most home-owning obsessed of the Germans, and even here, I’m not even sure that the majority of people live in their own property. Continental Europe in general is very different than the Anglo-Saxon world in terms of property ownership. Most Europeans prefer to rent, usually apartments near a city. Property ownership here is just not as popular, and people (hopefully) invest their money elsewhere. Our adventures with finding a home to buy took ages, then we gutted and completely renovated the darn thing. On the topic of Handwerker (a lovely catch-all term referring to builders, electricians, painters, plumbers, etc.) alone, I’m sure I could fill pages… but I’ll spare you (for now!)

In a rental property, as various other blog posts here have referred to, you get the walls and floor and ceiling and a functioning bathroom when you move in. Light fixtures, window coverings (except for external shades, Rollladen), and kitchens must typically be provided by the tenant. Many Germans have told me that it’s obvious why renters should buy and install their own kitchen: it is such a personal thing. Really? In a rental? Continue reading