Here Comes the World Cup

I am sure you already know this, but as of the time of my writing, the World Cup begins in 22 days. In just over 3 weeks, soccer fever will consume Germany and much of the rest of the world. Are you ready?

If you are new to Germany and have arrived from North America, you might not be. The World Cup is big. Bigger than the Superbowl. And longer, more exciting, and more fun. “How can that be?”, you may ask. “Nothing is bigger than the Superbowl!”, you may say. This is something you must experience to believe.

Beginning June 12th at 5pm Sao Paolo time (10pm German time), you can spend your waking (and sleeping) hours consumed with the game of soccer. Lest you fear you will have to sit at home in front of your TV all day, rest assured: many workplaces will broadcast it in-house. All pubs will show the matches. And there is “public viewing” – the German notion of gathering in public squares to watch matches on giant screens, together. With beer. This is more fun than it sounds! (“public viewing” for Germans involves watching sports together in public, and is an awkward example of Germans adopting English words and giving them new meanings). Continue reading

Confessions of an Expat TV Addict in Germany

VPN options for GermanyThis is the most honest way to introduce myself to German-Way readers,

Hello, my name is ebe and I am an expat TV addict.

It’s true. Despite living in Germany for several years, I still watch American TV every day. As a writer working from home, I have the freedom to tune into the squabbles of various housewife franchises, observe the zombie apocalypse and evaluate cooking competitions any time I want. And I want.

It’s comforting in this strange life abroad to hear those familiar accents discussing things I understand. Unlike German politics, the best Fleischsalat or how to help the refugees in Oranienplatz, I have opinions on TV. It helps me stay connected to that life I left behind and keeps me in the loop with my stateside community. Continue reading

Au Pair in Germany – the Hosting How to Guide

Like Sarah did several years ago, I mentioned our foray in having an au pair. We had had one from South Korea last summer, a relationship which ended pretty miserably. Despite our efforts to have fair and adjusted expectations of a young woman, age 20, from a culture with no nanny or babysitting culture, we were disappointed, frustrated, and fertig. Translation: stick a fork in us, DONE.

We naively made the initial compromises because we wanted a native Korean speaker who could teach our children Korean by building a loving relationship through regular contact with them. Unfortunately, unwittingly, we over-compromised as the young woman in question didn’t seem to have any real childcare experience, despite what we were lead (or wanted) to believe. It got to a point where the only expected responsibility she was able to fulfill was tidying the kitchen. Looking after more than one of my three children quickly put her out of her depth and some real safety issues came to surface (e.g., kids playing with her medication and her not telling us immediately about it). And although she was brave enough to become an au pair, she didn’t have enough courage to ride the local bus (which is a loop) to her language class alone. On top of that, even though she was a German major and we had interviewed and corresponded in German, she could only manage if I spoke (my rusty) Korean with her. Believe me, after that exhausting initial first month of Korean only, I switched us to German! No matter what language I spoke with her though, I always had a sinking feeling that we were not on the same page. Continue reading

American Expats, the IRS, FATCA and Other F-words

Besides “IRS,” Americans can now add another item to their list of ominous acronyms: FATCA. Like most things related to income taxes, the FATCA issue has a lot of people in a dither. As if US tax law wasn’t already complicated enough, along comes FATCA to gum up the works even more, especially for US citizens living overseas and earning income from a non-US source.

All US citizens or resident aliens living abroad are obligated to pay income taxes to the US Treasury, even if they haven’t lived in the United States for years, have no intention of returning, and even if their income comes solely from foreign sources. The United States of America is the only modern, industrialized nation that taxes the worldwide income of its estimated six million citizens who live abroad, even if their income is generated in a foreign country and they never return to their homeland.[1] Continue reading

Bureaucracy and the formalities of moving to Germany

From the outset, I am going to give you a disclaimer. I don’t profess to know everything about German immigration. But for the past few months, I have been working as a relocation consultant for expats moving to Germany for large multinationals. I accompanied them to the Ausländeramt and filled out any number of forms for them. So here is what I know.

The two situations I have dealt with in recent times are expats moving from countries that do not require a visa for entry into Germany. This applies to Americans, for example, and also to South Koreans (and many more, I am sure). Those people can enter Germany without a visit to the consulate in their home country and without filling out any paperwork. However, in order to work, they need an elektronischer Aufenthaltstitel (eAT). This also applies to people who enter with a visa. I have had transferees from Russia, for example, who required a visa. At home, they have to fill out paperwork to apply for a  temporary visa. When they arrive, they have to apply for the eAT as well, and if they are allowed to work, they receive a Fiktionsbescheinigung, which they can hand in at work. Remember, I have only been working with people who are here to work. I can’t vouch for the way this works for others. Continue reading

The German health care jungle

Since becoming self-employed, which was not so much of a choice for me, but more a forced path, I have had to become privately insured when it comes to health insurance. I had very much hoped to avoid doing so, but it turns out that public health insurance gets very expensive if you are no longer an employee, or Angestellte(r).

You are “allowed” to join the private system only if you are self-employed, are a civil servant, or if your income is above a threshhold, right now which is at about €52,000 per year. If you are an employee and decide to remain in the public system, you are considered freiwillig (voluntarily) insured. In the public system, if you are below the threshhold, you are pflichtversichert (mandatorily publicly insured). Ruth wrote about the benefits and detriments of the two systems. Continue reading

Election year – time to swat up on German politics

Before I became an expat I was well versed in politics. I read the broadsheets daily (usually at the top of a London bus on my way to work) and, when occasion called for it, I voiced a distinct opinion at dinner parties. So I find it embarrassing that after three years of living in Berlin, I remain relatively ignorant about contemporary German politics. I am well versed in the country’s history (19th and 20th centuries at least) but terribly vague about way the present state functions and current politic issues.

It could be that this is a typical expat experience. I know my American grandmother, who has lived in Britain for over 65 years, still prefers to read about American politics than that of our small fair isle. But now, in Berlin, the election is nearly upon us. The Euro crisis is bringing Germany’s role in Europe to centre stage. And everyone is talking about politics. It doesn’t look like we’ll be moving back to the UK anytime soon, so it is time, I think, to be able to join in.

In attempt to educate myself and to provide some useful information for other expats in Germany, in my next few posts, I shall attempt to tackle: (1) Germany’s political system; (2) the main German political parties and (3) Germany in the wider context of the EU. My musings will only fleetingly touch on the historic, and mostly be told from an expat perspective – that being what it feels important to me to know, rather than the nitty gritty of every last detail. And I hope these posts will not be quite as dry as they threaten to be.  Continue reading

Gone Fishin’

Recently we spent a long weekend on the shores of one of the thousands of lakes that dot Ontario. The weather was fantastic, so we spent lots of time paddling, in canoes and in the pool. Most of the time, however, we spent fishing. The kids had a fantastic time trying out different bait and lures, finding the perfect combination for catching the little sunfish and bass lurking in the water under the dock. A simple hook with a worm did the trick.

Fishing with my kids reminded me of my own childhood, fishing with my parents at similar lakes, or in rivers, anywhere we wanted. When my oldest received a fishing pole as a birthday gift a few years ago, however, we were a bit lost in Germany: where can we go fishing? We ended up at a nearby trout farm, pulling bored fish out of unsanitary-looking ponds. It was unsatisfying to say the least. Continue reading