Co-working at first hand

Two years ago I wrote a post about co-working spaces and their blossoming popularity with Germany’s freelancers. Though the idea appealed, back then I was still enjoying the quiet and ease of working in my own living room. More recently my feelings changed – why, I am not sure, but the dining table became rather too solitary and the familiarity of the pictures on the wall claustrophobic instead of concentration-inducing.

It was time, it seemed, to get out of the flat at last and rent a desk. My research proved useful. At first, I thought I would look in small office spaces – perhaps one room, shared with a just a few other freelancers. But as I looked around the many desks on offer locally, the large, well-equipped spaces seemed far more attractive. I liked the lofty ceilings, newly installed galley kitchens, and the general buzz and entertainment provided by gang of young, mostly-bearded coders, invariably working for some start up or other, using the same space. Continue reading

Birthdays at Work (or the Joys of Raw Meat)

My first job here in Germany was in a publishing house (Verlag in Freiburg, and that job was actually my first real job after college. It was certainly a different way to be indoctrinated into the world of work. It was the early nineties and it was the Schwarzwald. Freiburg is still a pretty hip town, but in small companies like the one I started in, they stick to tradition. Almost everyone was per Sie with one another, despite the fact that many of them had been working together for years. After a year of having two Americans and one Canadian in their midst, they loosened up a bit and we were almost all per Du.

Birthdays at work, depending on the company, usually involve the person whose birthday it is bringing in something to eat. At my current company, it might just be Sekt and Brezeln for my small department. At my husband’s company, some people bring in three-course elaborate meals for the whole group, which is 40 people. This year I made American cakes and cupcakes for the whole lot. They were a happy bunch after the sugar rush! 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

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

Teaching ESL in Germany

I recently finished a two-week stint of teaching intensive English for a company that has been contracted to provide training for unemployed people. The unemployment office sends a lucky few – in this case five people – to take a course that is meant to help make them better candidates for jobs in the future. The intensive English module was part of a 6-month project management course that was paid for my our friendly neighborhood Arbeitsamt, and it is said to cost almost €10,000 for the whole course.

When I accepted the course, I had not yet had the job interview that led to my offer of full-time employment, which is by far the better option for me. Basically I said yes to the English course, and got a job offer about two weeks later. I was not thrilled about having to spend 40 hours per week teaching people English, and that for two weeks straight from 8.30 to 4.30 pm every day. I have no problem with working full time, but how do you keep a bunch of people interested and awake for 8 hours when it comes to learning English?

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Say cheese

It is not allowed, you know, to require photos from job applicants in the UK. CVs arrive as faceless email attachments. There was even talk, a while back and possibly still ongoing, of making applications completely anonymous, removing the name in bold across the top as well – leaving the person represented only by a bald list of spectacular achievements.

Since moving to Germany three years ago our little twins have kept me too busy to be applying for jobs. But now times are changing and I am ready to move, at least part of my day, away from changing tables and back towards tall metal filing cabinets. So I find one interesting job online and casually follow their application procedure. CV uploaded, I am suddenly required to upload a photo too. Surprised, I browse my snapshots and find a reasonably serious-looking one of me at a London tube station on my way to work – my clothes are smart at least, even if the background is somewhat distracting. 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

Return to Freelancing

I’ve been away from the blog for a while because we moved to Ireland in 2010 for a new job for me. For years I have been working as a technical writer and editor at large corporations (SAP and IBM, to be exact), but as of April, I have returned to my roots in more ways than one. I’m back in Germany and I am back to freelancing, or being self-employed, which are two different things from a tax perspective. Continue reading