One Year in Germany!

Quite by accident, the end of May has become our official unofficial moving-aversary. This time last year, we were leaving the Netherlands for Germany, but this time seven years ago (🤯), we were leaving Pittsburgh for the Netherlands!

Leaving Oostersingel 72a!

In honor of our one-year Deutsch-aversary, I wanted to do a little reflecting.

What do we really think about living* in Germany?

* 6 months of which were in a hard lockdown in a 30 sq meter basement apartment with one window**.

** a window that looks at a retaining wall.

Our current view. The kitty makes it worth it.

German efficiency is a myth.

Honestly, I don’t know how this idea started – well, Ok, I kind of do. It stems from so-called “Prussian values,” and by the 1930s, the German reputation was built on Ordnung (order), which were mostly just rules and directness being interpreted as efficiency. If you’re interested, this article gives a lovely history lesson. For everyone else, all you need to know is that efficiency is a trait valued by Germans. However, “efficiency” is generally mistaken for a propensity for rules.

I suppose, theoretically, rules should make things more efficient since you should know exactly what to do. But what happens if things DON’T go according to plan?

like… oh, in the case of a global pandemic?

German angst.

Don’t know what to do about it? Well then, don’t do anything at all! Or, plan a meeting to meet about what to do. Either is acceptable.

We’ve had our fair share of inefficient interactions this year – from Shane’s contract to our residence permits to my freelance tax ID number, which I EMAILED about and received a reply by POST. Over a month later. Telling me I already had a tax ID number since it had been issued in the meantime. 🤦‍♀️

Germany also handcuffed itself during the coronavirus vaccine rollout. In America, there were stories of people getting spare vaccines from missed appointments. In Germany, people vying for those missed-appointment-vaccines were turned away because they weren’t in the proper priority group. Flexibility (in other words, a more efficient vaccination program) wasn’t an option.

I will give some credit, though. Once Germany gets it going – whatever “it” is – then it goes OK. Once there was clear guidance on how to handle new residency permits, our process was smooth. After some vaccine-rollout adjustments, the country is making progress.

The long and short? Take efficiency out of you vocabulary and you’ll have much more realistic expectations.

Learning German is hard… yet easier than Dutch.

…or for the inappropriate version that accurately depicts my true feelings.

I had such high hopes for learning German when we first moved here, but dddaaayyyymmm German articles are frustrating!

So, I gave up.

Well, I semi-gave up on learning German (will-we-won’t-we-need-Spanish?!) but 100% gave up on caring if I get the der, das, die correctly.

Currently, we can get by. Dutch has been very helpful with that since the sentence structure is the same and a lot of the words sound similar, so you can piece together meanings. Plus, we have mostly closed interactions – like at the grocery store or with the receptionist at the doctor’s office. You know what to expect out of those interactions, which makes them easier and manageable. And, similar to Dutch, we can both understand more than we can speak.

So why is German easier than Dutch? Because a German speaker doesn’t automatically switch to English.

Now don’t get me wrong, most people, particularly in a city like Munich, can and will speak English with you but you have to ask for it. And if they say no? Well, then you’re along for the ride, but that’s how you learn! I’ve found that I am much less self-conscious about my speaking capabilities when I know that English is off the table. German is in my brain somewhere. I just have to force it out!

I also notice that I am much less immersed in the language here than in the Netherlands. I’m working from home, we’ve had essentially no social outings to practice those basic skills thanks to lockdown, and we don’t have a boom box anymore. Yes, our old apartment had a legit boom box, so we listened to the radio all the time. It’s amazing the things you unknowingly pick up. We also haven’t been watching regular TV because (go figure) it’s all in German. In the Netherlands, most shows were in English with Dutch subtitles, so we would watch TV in English but hear commercials in Dutch. Before you know it, you’re singing along Kruidvat! Steeds verrassend, altijd voordelig! and wondering what in the heck you’re saying.

Kruidvat! Always exciting, always inexpensive!… in case you were wondering.

So, one year later, I still sound like an ausländerin.

Taxes are high, but it seems worth it.

Ah, taxes. Everyone’s favorite topic.

There’s really not so much to say about this. Taxes in Germany are pretty high. Shane loses about 35% of his paycheck each month, but that’s also paying for his health insurance (and mine, before I started freelancing), pension, and unemployment if he needs it.

Overall, it’s pretty similar to the situation in the Netherlands. The main difference is health insurance. Here, it’s included in the tax where we paid for insurance separately in the Netherlands. And about that health insurance, so far – no complaints! We’ve been to the doctor now for a couple of new vaccines and some health checkups and haven’t paid a dime (I mean… a 10 euro cent?). So, it feels like you’re at least getting something out of it.

Bavaria does not equal Germany.

A poll for the Americans:

When you think of Germany, what comes to mind?

Lederhosen & dirndls, pretzels, big beers, cute wooden alpine balconies?

While yes, all these things are German, they are typically Bavarian.

This seems like an obvious statement, but Germany is a big country! It takes about 7 hours to drive from Hamburg (the largest city in the north of the country) to Munich. So – ok, it takes longer for me to drive the length of my home state, North Carolina, but we’re talking Europe big.

There are also 16 states (Bundesland) in Germany, each with its own unique characteristics. For example, Bremen (a state and a city) was very close to us in the Netherlands and certainly had more Dutch-like characteristics, and Düsseldorf (and the other cities on the Rhine) have a distinct feel to them.

Oh, and the important one. Don’t you dare confuse a Berliner with a Bavarian, which are about as, unsurprisingly, culturally opposite as you can get. While the Nazi party may have originated in Munich, WWII and the aftermath had a completely different impact on Berlin. Munich (and Bavaria) is also a conservative mostly Catholic state, where Berlin is more left-leaning.

Long story short, visit Germany but drop those expectations!

When you come to Bavaria, order that weiß bier & weißwurst for breakfast and wear your lederhosen (especially during the Oktoberfest months) but don’t expect that to be the norm elsewhere.

Oh, and quick tip. In Bavaria, servus is hello, and order a brezen instead of a pretzel. 😉

Not how Shane envisioned post-PhD life, but it’s been worth it!

Let’s be honest, I could try to summarize what Shane said about this, but I won’t get it right. So he’ll write this bit:

Finish a PhD, get a good postdoc position (or two), and then transition into running your own lab – that’s the plan, right? That’s the ‘normal’ academic trajectory. Yea right – Covid really threw a wrench into that plan (as I’m sure everyone can relate to). Whitney has previously talked about our long and frustrating process of moving to Germany and gaining residency, so I’ll avoid re-hashing that. Instead, I focus on the past ~8 months of actually putting my PhD to use. All-in-all, totally worth the wait and hassle!

For this position, I switched ‘systems’ (aka, the animals we use to study evolutionary processes), leaving behind the 10+ years of experience in fish and fish-related research. Now, I work with Heliconius butterflies and I could not be happier. Why? Because it’s different! If find that I thoroughly enjoy learning a new system, new techniques, and new ways of thinking about things. Has this been harder than if I would have stayed in aquatics & fish? Of course it has – but that’s the whole point! My hope is that this will make me a better ‘scientist’ (still weird to call myself that) and broaden my options for when I branch out and form my own lab (fingers crossed I make it that far!).

Oh, and I would remise if I did not also mention my new lab and working group. Much as I spoke about the ‘system’, I am equally happy with my working environment. My lab mates, colleagues, and the general vibe within department are fantastic! The past ~8 months have been a joy and I look forward to the next few years!


Overall, I don’t feel like an outsider, but I certainly don’t feel integrated. I’m partially attributing that to coronavirus, partially to our perpetual state of will-we-won’t-we-move-to-Ecuador, and partially to my lack of trying.

Presuming we stay in Munich, my year-two goal is to try a little harder!

I’m not quite sure how to do that, but that’s part of the challenge of living abroad, I suppose. Tips are appreciated. 😉

Tschüss,

Whitney

January 2021 Joy Report

January always feels like a long month. Do you agree?

Oddly, January 2021 has flown by! Perhaps it’s the monotony of lockdown life. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

A quick update on life here in Munich.

We’ve been in partial lockdown since the beginning of November and a total lockdown since December (i.e., only the essentials are open), but it does seem to be working. The numbers in Germany are decreasing – they are still high, but decreasing nonetheless. Back in December, Munich was considered a hotspot (200+ cases per 100,000 people), but as of yesterday, we were down to only 63 cases per 100,000. The most recent change is the FFP2 (N95) mask requirement. Now, shops and public transportation require an FFP2 mask, or you’ll be issued a fine. The hope is that FFP2 mask use will continue to drive down the numbers, which could allow non-essential shops to reopen. For now, we’re in lockdown until Feb 14, but with the new variants and a slower than hoped for vaccination pace, I expect it will go longer. The goal is to have the country down to 50 cases per 100,000 people before lockdowns are eased. So… we wait!

Oh, and Munich has a friendly reminder…

Munich lockdown alcohol restriction.
We still have a curfew and exit restrictions.

Anyway, on to January joys!

My Birthday!

Shane made cupcakes (with glitter!) and bought me a Soda Stream so I can drink “fluffy” water to my heart’s content!

Sparkling water is called sprudelwasser in German, which is really fun to say and has made its way into our day-to-day Deutsch-lish (ya know, a German/English mix).

“Can you sprudel me some water please!?” and “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts, sprudely doodely…”

…lockdown life. 🤷‍♀️

Whitney's 35th birthday.

New apartment stuff.

The apartment we rented is furnished, and we never intended to be in Munich this long. So, we never bothered to spend any money to personalize it. I mean, we brought some stuff with us from the Netherlands, but it was a hodgepodge of things, and we were hesitant to buy stuff just to put into storage later. However, the longer we’re here, the more we felt the need to make it feel a little more… adult. Like, perhaps we should have a matching set of sheets.

To add to it, we’ve not been able to go to the gym since November. We’ve been getting by, but it was getting boring.

So, we bought some new fancy LED lamps and some fake plants to brighten up the basement, some new sheets and pillows to minimize the ‘college dorm’ aesthetic, and a pull-up bar and some dumbbells to add to our studio home gym.

Game. Changers!

We should have done this sooner.

Living room upgrade.
New couch pillows, rug, lamp, and fake plants (old kitty).

SO. MUCH. SNOW!

I would say we’ve easily gotten two feet of snow this month.

Snow measurement (about 8 inches)

All this snow has its pluses and minuses. Plus, it’s gorgeous! Minus, we can’t go snowboarding (and it’s the “best winter in Germany in years” 😐). Plus, we’re the weirdos who like shoveling snow. Minus, Shane still has to bike to work.

We haven’t seen this much snow (outside of snowboarding trips) since we lived in Pittsburgh. The seasons in Groningen were pretty indistinguishable (cold wet winter, slightly warmer and dryer summer). It’s been really nice to have a “true” winter season!

Chillie dog!

Much to Meatball’s chagrin, we have won over our landlady’s dog, Chillie. It’s becoming a morning routine. Chillie is sent outside to pee but instead comes straight downstairs and barks at the door for some love. I can’t say I hate it.

Meatball though – she hates it. 😂 Chillie is small enough and so full of energy that Meatball isn’t quite sure what to do with her. One day, Chillie ran smack into Meatball and started licking her face (unfortunately, I was out for a walk when this happened). Shane said that Meatball sat in shock for a moment before it occurred to her “wait, I don’t like this!” and started hissing.

But how can she resist this face? I think the more Chillie comes to visit, the more Meatball will like her. Probably not, but we’ll let her come visit anyway.

Chillie belly rub.

That’s all I have to report for January. In all honesty, the lockdown hasn’t felt so bad, but I am getting really tired of walking the same neighborhood loops, and I am ITCHING for some travel. Anywhere. Just to see something new. But for now, we wait.

Fingers crossed for some relaxed restrictions in March! 🤞

Tschüss,

Whitney

December Joy Report

Happy Birthday to me! Happy birthday to me! I drank too much last night….that’s the end of this post! 🤦‍♀️😆

Jussssttt kidddinnnggg…about it being the end of this post. Happy New Year!

Anyway, I’m rounding out 2020’s joy reports with a double-joy-whammy! First up are a few things that made me happy in December, but I also felt like there were a few things I wanted to acknowledge about 2020. We can all probably list a million reasons why 2020 was the worst (seen the match.com commercial?), but, for us, there were a few GOOD things that came out of 2020, despite all the de-railed plans. First up, though…

December Joys!

The first snow in Munich.

It was only a few centimeters, but it was enough to cover the ground. Shane was at work (this was before the hard lockdown that started mid-December), and I was high on that fresh-snow-Christmas spirit! I popped in my headphones with my favorite Christmas music (December by George Winston), and off I went a walking in winter wonderland! Naturally, Blutenburg Castle seemed like a fun snowy destination. I was cold and wet by the time I got home, but it was just grand!

Flu shots – in German!

Yeah – ok, flu shots feel like a weird brag, but it’s less about the flu shot and more about the German! While I was excited for Shane to get a flu shot (he didn’t last year and got the flu twice), I was more excited that we broke the German-speaking barrier!…that obviously only exists in my head. We had been warned that we would most likely need to speak German when going to the doctor, but I found a doctor online who advertised that they spoke English. Great!

I was only semi-surprised when I called to schedule an appointment, asked if we could speak in English, to which the receptionist replied

nein.

It threw me for a slight loop, but I had Googled the word for ‘flu shot’ (grippeimpfung), the receptionist was very friendly and spoke slowly, and I managed to hang up the phone with instructions to show up at “elf uhr, morgen“. I spent the next 24 hours walking around the house practicing “I have an appointment at 11” (ich habe einen termin um elf uhr) and “I would like a flu shot, please!” (Ich möchte eine grippeimpfung, bitte!), and morgen um elf uhr I successfully told the receptionist I had an appointment! Turns out, they have English patient forms and the doctor spoke perfect English, but the receptionist did not.

It seems so trivial, but it was very empowering! The receptionist was also the nurse who gave me the shot, and I managed to understand her description of the vaccine symptoms, tell her I wanted my vaccine in the rechts shoulder, and made a small joke about how schnell the whole thing was.

Post-flu shot selfie for my parents. haha

Unlike the Netherlands, I don’t feel scared to try German. Dutchies are SO GOOD at English that they automatically switch if you try and speak Dutch or (even worse) you’ll get a little giggle at your attempt. I genuinely don’t think it’s on purpose or with bad intentions, but it’s certainly not encouraging. Here, if you’re trying, then that seems to be all that matters.

Unfortunately, the lockdown has really limited our interactions with native speakers, but I definitely feel like we’ve improved our language capacity.

Shane’s first advent calendar.

And, to be fair, I think this was also my first chocolate-filled advent calendar. We both remember having ‘countdowns to Christmas’ as kids, but not like this. The bad thing? Now I want an advent calendar for the entire year…

My Christmas leggings.

I don’t think I need to elaborate. Best 9 euros I ever spent.

Christmas 2020!

Could we go home? No. Could we do anything? No. Could we see other households? Technically, yes, but we didn’t.

But ya know what? We made the best of it.

Did we FaceTime with my brother-in-law so he could read us Twas The Night Before Christmas? Yep!

What’s on Shane’s forhead? A crack in my moms iPad screen. haha

Did we get a little cheerful and walk around the neighborhood taking pictures with other peoples’ Christmas decorations? Sure did!

Did we see other households? If you count the lady walking her dogs who caught us 3 times taking pictures – then why yes, we did!

It wasn’t the Christmas we expected, but we had a great time working with what we had!

…which we made sure included cinnamon rolls, a stollen, and pretzels from a gluten-free bakery I found (that took us an hour and a half round trip to bike to…oops), eierpunch (German eggnog), glühwein, curryworst, dipped cookies, and potato pankakes with applemusse! 🤪


Ya know what Pandemics are good for? Reflecting. Let’s just say we took a lot of neighborhood walks where we did a lot of complaining, but we also realized there were a few surprisingly good things.

2020 Joys Despite Covid-19

We’ve had more time in Munich.

It’s been this circular argument – if there were no Covid-19, we would be in Ecuador right now. But if we were in Ecuador already, then we would have missed Oktoberfest. But if there was Oktoberfest, then there would be no Covid and we would be in Ecuador. But if we were in Ecuador, then we wouldn’t have an opportunity to go snowboarding this year. But with Covid-19, probably we can’t go snowboarding this year…you see my point.

Despite Covid-19, we’ve been lucky to have extra time in Munich and we were especially lucky to have a relatively covid-free summer. We were able to have a *modified* beer garden experience, swim in the Isar, go on some hikes, and visit Olympia Park. No, we haven’t been able to experience the city in it’s full glory, but we know the Innenstadt well enough to navigate without maps, and I call that a win.

We CAN live in a tiny home!

We’ve watched A LOT of tiny house shows, and to be honest, really thought that we could live in a tiny house one day. Or, at least in a small house with tiny house principles. Well, once we moved to Munich we were forced to see if we could actually do it on account of 30 sq. m (~300 sq ft) is a mid-range tiny home. The kicker? Ours isn’t as efficiently built.

Good news, folks! We haven’t killed each other!

We’ve had to get creative – with furniture arrangements, workout spaces (since the gyms are closed), and sharing sit-space with the cat – but it’s all been ok. Our biggest complaint? The lack of light (our only window leads to a retaining wall). Even our one sink in the bathroom and hot plate are do-able. Not preferable, mind you, but do-able.

Nothin’ like some lat pull-downs in front of the shower and next to the toilet and the litter box. #dedication?

Pro-tip? Noise cancelling earbuds. 🤣

Shane’s got a new project.

As you know, we only intended to be in Munich long enough for Shane’s lab to make a plan and gather supplies, then we were headed to Ecuador for two years. You might have guessed – they needed to be in Ecuador for a reason. That’s where the butterflies are. The pandemic forced some reassessment, which means that Shane ended up with a new project – for now! It’s one that can be completed here in Munich. Put simply, he’s dissecting butterfly eyes (collected on other field trips) and looking at species-specific differences in eye morphology.

Meatball’s health.

I hate to admit it, but our kitty katz is a grandma.

She turned 15 (ish) this year, but we were still surprised when we took her to the vet for a rabies vaccination and found out that she had lost almost half her body weight. Turns out, she had an overactive thyroid. Good news – it’s easily treated with medication, which she enjoys taking in a squishy treat. Bad news – she *loudly* lets us know when she’s ready for her squishy treat. Determining the proper dosage took some trial and error and SEVERAL follow-up vet visits, so our delayed move to Ecuador was to Meatball’s benefit. Well…maybe not if you ask her.


And that sums up 2020!

I don’t know about you, but I’m really enjoying these joy reports, so expect to see them in 2021. Especially since it might be all the blog content I have. 😂

Congrats on surviving 2020, and cheers to a healthy and more adventurous 2021…and access to that Covid vaccine!

The Marienplatz Christmas tree.

Tschüss,

Whitney

November Joy Report

Partial lockdown is boring.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s the right thing to do, and if I’m being honest, we’re pretty boring people on a day-to-day. I do miss the gym, though. We’re pretty creative in our 30 sq meters (300 sq feet) but it not quite the same as a bouldering gym. 😜

In other news, it looks like we’ve marched straight into winter, and there’s even a chance of snow! I thought for sure we were going to have to buy new winter coats after I spent an hour unpacking and repacking all of our stuff stored under the bed and found nothing. Turns out, I put them in an *easily accessible* place, which was truly easily accessible had I just remembered I’d put them there.

Like I said, it’s been pretty boring.

Regardless, here are a few things that made us happy this month!

Tattoos

If you read my October Joy Report, then you’ll remember I lost my cousin in October. Shane lost his grandparents roughly a year and a half ago and had been wanting a tattoo to honor them. I had just been wanting a new tattoo, period. After Tony’s death, it felt like it was the right time for us to do it. Shane could remember his grandparents and I could remember Tony. The universe was in our favor. The day before the partial lockdown started, they worked us in.

Shane went first, and ended up with more than he ever really imagined – in a good way! His grandparent’s owned a leather shop, and the bull in the tattoo is from the leather shop logo. The mountains and scenery are representative of the mountains where his family is from.

I got a galaxy cat. I’d been wanting something colorful and cat-like anyway, and when my mom and cousin said they were getting galaxy-cat Tony tattoos, I was definitely on board. It’s a fun and beautiful way to remember my fun and beautifully spirited cousin – and he just really liked galaxy cats.

Shane’s 35th Birthday

My honey bunches turned 35! I literally never call him that so I’m not sure what possessed me to do that now, but I’m going with it. Do you know how hard it is to plan a surprise for someone when they are working from home and you are literally always in the same room?

It’s hard.

I was able to sneak out under the pretense of forgetting cheese (which I actually did forget) and buy supplies to make a cake and somehow successfully hid all the cold ingredients behind carefully placed butter and yogurt. He only figured it out when the smell of cake started wafting during his Zoom meeting. So, that’s a win! I had original hopes for a night on the town, but we got take-out and ate ourselves sick on cupcakes. All in all, I think he would say it was a good birthday.

Thanksgiving

Speaking of eating ourselves sick…

We had a true Thanksgiving this year!

The last time we celebrated Thanksgiving was our first year in the Netherlands. We payed close to 100 euros for a special-ordered turkey that was entirely too big for any of our appliances (we only have a toaster oven and a crockpot), and Shane ended up trying to cut it apart with a bread knife (our only serrated knife). It was a mess. I also payed way too much to import canned pumpkin, marshmallows, and crispy onions for green bean casserole. It was a lot of work, and we celebrated late since it’s not a holiday in Europe (go figure). To top it off, I couldn’t find a live-stream of the Macy’s parade. It was a nice meal (with some good friends), but after that year, we just kind of gave up.

UNTIL 2020!

Shane found a turkey in the grocery store and everything changed. I had to swap the pumpkin pie for apple, but those crispy onions? GOT ‘EM!

Apparently they are pretty common in German dishes, and they were only 0.87 cents! What a steal!

Shane took the day off work, and we cooked, drank festive cocktails, talked to family, and I even found a live stream of the (modified) parade! Honestly, it was a really great day.

The Umschreibung

aka the endless staircase.

Turns out, this art installation is not too far from our climbing gym and the ‘nicer, fancy’ grocery store. So, when I was on the hunt for those crispy onions, I decided to make a pit-stop! It was fun to find a little hidden gem and see a new part of town.

Looking up.

Meatball

I mean – look at that paw placement. She kills me with cuteness.

And with that, we’re on to December! Conveniently, der letzte monat des jahres was part of my Duolingo lesson recently. I’m planning on going hunting for to-go Glühwein stands… I’ll report back.

Tshüss,

Whitney

October Joy Report

So, October was…going!

Honestly, with the job and residency drama behind us, we’ve just chugging along this month. Getting into our new routine, appreciating the mundane daily life, enjoying the fall weather and colors. And then the unexpected happened. My trivial October joys were greatly overshadowed by one event – the loss of my cousin, Tony, who took his own life on October 17th. And while that is in no way a joyous occasion, my cousin, despite his decision, was a joyful kind of guy – at least that’s how I knew him.

So, with that in mind, my first October joy.

Tony.

Photo credit to Cassandra (graciously taken from his Facebook page).

I’m not entirely sure where to begin. I suppose a short family history – Tony is one of four Milani children, who are cousins on my mom’s side of the family. My mom’s dad was in the US Air Force, and the family moved a lot. So, it was normal that our extended family ended up all over the US and sometimes the globe. My sister and I are the youngest of the 8-cousin bunch, so we looked up to our older cousins, especially since we only got to see them every now and then. As life goes, you grow up and you grow apart, but in 2009, at a long-overdue family reunion, we all reconnected. After that, with the help of Facebook (and Snapchat and any other cat-meme sharing social media platform), our cousin crew was back-in-action and this time for good.

Now to Tony. I swear, he’s the funniest of the crew, and this was no small task. Joey, his brother, smashed cake in his own face when we were kids, which made him the funniest in my book for a long time. I think that Tony’s ‘funny’ came from his complete authentic self. When we were together, he always seemed to be unapologetically who HE was – caring, empathetic, genuine, loving. SO SO loving. Which also might have been a detriment – he was the kind of person that would give so much of himself to others, he could forget to give back to himself.

One vivid example – when Shane and I went home to celebrate our wedding in North Carolina, I remember showing Tony the montage of our Croatia wedding photos and being surprised to look over and find him teary-eyed. Granted, the photographers picked Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ and someone was “cutting onions” nearby – so it wasn’t totally his fault (😜), but it was totally Tony. He was so happy for us and so happy for our family to be together.

A family photo
Tony is far left, holding the small child above his head…

Tony is married to Cassandra, and they are both in the US Air Force and constantly on the move. One thing I never told him (them) – they were our family ‘goals’. They’re adventurous, open-minded, and made the best of their situations. Mostly, for us as two travel-loving, abroad-living people who might have kids one day, they showed us that you CAN still do it. With four boys in tow, they didn’t stop traveling and exploring, and we’re grateful for their example.

Oh, and Tony was fluent in at least 3 languages. So… cool cool cool, cousin. I’m only a lot bit jealous of his language skills.

You hear this a lot, but life’s too short to hold grudges. Life’s too short to not reach out to that person you’ve been missing. Life’s too short to not be who you truly are, do what makes you happy, and take way too many pictures! Obviously, there’s more to Tony’s story than what meets the eye. So, I’d like to end this piece by saying please – if you’re struggling, reach out to someone. Honesty is hard, but life is worth living even if it may not feel like it at the moment. I wish that Tony’s story hadn’t ended, but all I can do now is learn from it and honor him by remembering all his wonderful qualities.

Tony was a vet. If you’re American and know someone who might benefit from the National Veterans Foundation ‘Stop Veteran Suicides’ crisis line then please, pass on this information, or you can make a donation.

2016

Fall colors!

Covid cases have been rising in Germany. So much so that we are heading into a month long lockdown starting today (2 Nov). We haven’t been DOING too much since the weather turned colder and rainier. Beer gardens and outdoor spaces at restaurants have been mainly closed for the winter and we’re not to keen on indoor activities at the moment. So, while Shane’s at work, I’ve been taking a lot of walks! We both agreed that the fall colors in Munich have been much more dramatic than in the Netherlands. Obviously, there are different types of trees here (lots of chestnuts), but they just POP!

Stoop views.

Honor system potatoes and squash

Do you remember how I said there were honor system pick-your-own flowers back in the summer? Well, this has transformed into grab-your-own-squash-and-potatoes! I’m excited to see if there is a winter pick-your-own variety.

This stand (called the “Potato Hut” offered regional potatoes, squash, and halloween pumpkins.

We got our real residence permits!

It took about 4 months to get an application appointment, and less than 4 weeks to receive our official cards in the mail. No more worries until 2022!

and finally…

This.

I have no words for it. I don’t know how to describe it. Why is a realistic looking mannequin holding a dragonfly displayed in a glass case on Shane’s campus? The world may never know. Literally. There’s no description plaque. If anyone out there knows why this man is on LMU’s Biocampus, please explain!

Honorable Mention

Budenzauber.

A dreamlike-unreal effect caused by lighting and appropriate decoration, which the stalls create at a Christmas fair.

That’s a mighty specific translation!

The Christmas markets in Munich are officially cancelled, so I guess I’ll have to make my own budenzauber this year. In the meantime, I hope everyone is able to find their own little slice of joy, and if you can – share it! You never know who might need a boost. ❤️ Tony.

Tschüss,

Whitney

September Joy Report

Yes, I’m a day late.

I just wanted to make sure I incorporated the entire month of September for the most accurate reporting, ya know?

Anyway, quick update on Munich life, then on to the joy report!

It’s been in the American news lately that the numbers of coronavirus cases in Europe are increasing, which I can confirm. The cases in Munich have risen to more than 50 per 100,000 people, which puts us in the ‘red’ zone, triggering more restrictions. As of last week, the new restrictions limit gatherings to 25 people, there can be no more than 5 per table (it used to be 10) at restaurants/beer gardens, there is a ban on to-go alcohol sales after 9 pm, and masks have to be worn outdoors in high-traffic areas. Germany is trying hard to avoid a 2nd full lockdown, so hopefully, this will help. Selfishly, I want it to work because they haven’t yet canceled the Christmas markets, so there’s hope!

Enough coronavirus, back to the joy!

Shane is officially working!

The number one joy of September! In my last post, I detailed the headache it took to get here, but we’ve arrived and that’s all that matters!

The traditional ‘leaving for my first day of work’ picture

We celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary!

And we were able to make a day trip to the mountains. I’d call that a double-joy-whammy.

Leutasch Gorge, outside of Mittenwald, Germany

Giant pretzels and obatzter dip

I finally got my hands on a pretzel bigger than my head, and thanks to my keen-eyed husband, we discovered Obatzter dip. He just happened to notice that everyone coming back with a pretzel had some “orange dip”. So, when I went to get a pretzel, I was explicitly told not to come back without whatever that dip was. Turns out, it’s DELICIOUS (obviously). It’s essentially a Bavarian beer cheese made with Camembert cheese, butter, paprika, and beer.

Big everything at German beer gardens.

Chillie and The Cat

I say “the cat” because we’ve asked her name three times. It’s “typical Bavarian” (according to our landlady), and we just can’t remember it. Anyway, Chillie and the cat belong to our landlady, who lives above us. Naturally, we can’t resist an animal, so we have befriended Chillie the chihuahua and the cat. The best part of these two? Chillie bugs the living daylights out of the cat, but the cat just takes it – until she doesn’t, then she taunts Chillie from above.

NFL on TV

I’ll say this was more of Shane’s joy, as I could really care less. Regardless, we can actually watch NFL on TV here! The commentary is in German, but actually that’s not a bad thing. Shane’s new goal is to learn enough “football German” to be able to yell at the TV in a bar.

Honorable Mention:

Servus!

aka Bavarian for ‘hello’! It’s one of those words that once you know it, you hear it everywhere. Now I feel like I’m part of the club. 😜

It’s been a strange year, but hopefully you were also able to find a little joy in September! October – here we come!

Honorable mention #2: smush-face Meatball.

Tschüss,

Whitney

The Truth about Moving to Munich

I’m just going to come out and say it. Moving to another country is nothing like the movies.

Sure, you can sell your things, pack your bags, and take off for that new life abroad, but generally speaking, you won’t be staying longer than 90 days or legally working without some sort of residence permit. Of course, all of this depends on which country you are trying to enter and which country you’re a citizen of.

We thought our most recent move (from the Netherlands to Germany) would be a piece of cake! I mean, the hard part is over right? We were already living in Europe – ironically, 40 minutes from the German border. Boy, were we wrong. So, in light of full expat-life transparency, I want to chronicle the time, energy, and frustrations it took to become legal & employable residents of Germany.

TLDR (this might get boring):
  • Moving internationally isn’t as easy as it seems.
  • Tip #1: Give yourself more time than you think for all the paperwork/permits. Check the consulate websites for specifics.
  • Tip#2: Expect to wait. A lot. Send in the papers then try not to think about it.
  • Tip #3: Save copies of your applications, confirmations, receipts – anything related to the process. You never know when you might need proof.
  • Tip #4: Ask about an international liaison within your company/university.
  • Tip #5: The Munich Foreigner’s Office is notoriously bad. I highly recommend this blog post for tips on getting an appointment.
  • Tip #6: Don’t give up! Once you’re in your newly adopted country it’s worth it.

Let’s start at the beginning. Finding a job.

The easiest way to gain legal, long-term residency in another country is to line up a job or educational program ahead of time. In our case, Shane received job offers from the universities (NL & DE) before we moved, and this was our starting point.

Tip: Sometimes countries offer a ‘look for a job’ residence permit.

For example, the Netherlands has a zoekjaar (search year) permit, which allows recent graduates or scientific researchers to live in the Netherlands while applying for jobs in the Dutch labor market.


Now, this is where it might get a little boring, but I wanted to describe it in detail for full disclosure and our own posterity. No offense if you skimm. 😜

30 Oct 2019

Shane applied for the postdoc position.

19 Dec 2019

He’s got a Skype interview, baby!

13 Feb 2020

Munich bound for Shane’s in-person interview.

14 Feb 2020

Happy Valentine’s day to us because HE GOT THE JOB!


This is where things start to go sideways.

DISCLAIMER

Our experience moving to Germany was impacted by the coronavirus restrictions put in place by both the Netherlands and Germany. Had these restrictions not been in place, then theoretically this process would have been a lot faster. I’ll try and make the distinction as I go.

12 Mar 2020

The Netherlands imposed the first round of coronavirus restrictions.

17 Mar 2020

Germany imposed a travel ban as part of their coronavirus restrictions, which includes the immigration of all ‘non-essential’ workers.


19 Mar 2020

The paperwork begins! 9 multi-page documents (in German) were sent to Shane via email to start the contract process. Yes, it took over a month for the university to make contact and start the hiring process. Intended start date: 01 May 2020.

23 Mar 2020

The paperwork was returned so the contract could be made and Shane was sent a letter of intent, which can be used to apply for a temporary work visa.

Tip: Apply for a temporary visa at your local consulate before you travel.

Under normal circumstances, Americans (among other non-EU countries) are allowed to enter Germany for 90 days visa-free, BUT this does not give you the right to employment.

Applying for a temporary visa at the consulate before moving is the easiest way to avoid employment delays. In our experience, the websites can be misleading especially regarding entry-visas vs work-visas. For us, the entry visa was not needed but the work visa was. The consulate website should have specific information for each country of origin. Our experience was similar in the Netherlands so I assume EU countries follow roughly the same rules.


Lucky for us, the German consulate in Amsterdam closed indefinitely once the travel restrictions were imposed. 😑 What should have been a relatively straight-forward process became exponentially more complicated. According to the consulate, our (Shane’s) only option would be to apply for a German residence permit (which automatically gives work privileges). This is handled at the local level.

aka We needed to move to Germany during a pandemic.

Shane updated the university – their response? New start date: 01 Jun.

A month later than originally planned (because of Covid-19 restrictions) we moved to Munich! New start date: 01 July.


28 May 2020

We’re here! In Munich, that is.

02 Jun 2020

The registration paperwork was sent to the local authorities. This is step 1 to obtaining a residence permit. Due to the coronavirus backlog, there was a 4 to 6 week waiting period for confirmation.

Munich Tip: Registration is not generally completed via mail. Normally, you would make an appointment at the District Administration Office (also known as KVR).

Due to coronavirus, this wasn’t available at the time. We were also unaware the Munich KVR is notoriously bad. Like, worse than DMV bad.

The line outside KVR. They may have an online appointment system, but it’s not reliable. People take their chances and just line up outside.

Anyway, why do we even need to register?

First, it’s illegal not to. If you move you also have to report your change of address.

Second, as a new resident of Germany, you get your tax identification number after you register. You also can’t apply for your residence permit, open a bank account, start a cell phone contract, etc. until you can supply proof of registration. So we applied and we waited! New start date: 15 July

25 Jun 2020

The “Whights” receive proof of registration via snail-mail! Bittersweet, since they spelled our name wrong. Regardless, Shane applied for the residence permit online (normally an in-person appointment) via the KVR contact form and immediately received an email confirmation with a Fiktionsbescheinigung, which implied we can legally stay in the country and Shane could start working.

At this point, he’s also been put in contact with a person from the university who can act as a liaison. They can’t legally speak for you, but can provide guidance and make phone calls on your behalf (in German).

26 Jun 2020

HR rejects the Fiktionsbescheinigung as proof of legal working status. Turns out, the email confirmation only lets us stay in Germany past our 90 days without penalty as part of the coronavirus measures. New start date: 01 Aug.

07 Jul 2020

After an update with the liaison (who has been beyond helpful!), there’s more bad news. It can take up to 8 weeks for the Foreigner’s Office branch of KVR (the Ausländerbehörde) to receive your online application and invite you for an in-person application appointment. During this appointment, they take biometrics and issue the paper (& official version) of the Fiktionsbescheinigung. Until the paper Fiktionsbescheinigung has been issued, there is no legal right to work.

The application was submitted on 25 Jun 2020, putting the 8-week mark at 20 Aug 2020. New start date: 01 Sep.

20 Aug 2020

Can you guess? No word from KVR, so Shane contacted his liaison again.

The week of 24 Aug 2020

After 3 days of trying to call the Foreigner’s Office on behalf of Shane, the liaison got through. Turns out, all KVR contact is should go through the contact form – where Shane originally submitted the application – but it seems that the contact form submissions are not (or very infrequently) checked.

Essentially, we waited 8 weeks for nothing.

Over the course of the week, after multiple phone calls, a few emails, and a letter from Shane’s boss essentially pleading for someone to take his application, Shane’s application was in the hands of an actual human being. They would be in contact soon with an appointment date. And, no. You definitely don’t get a choice in your appointment day and time.

Munich Tip: Call! Call! Call! Call!

*September 2020* Expect to get an automated messaging (in German) that will hang up on you regardless of what number you press, but hang in there! Eventually, the line will open up. You’ll get a different automated message (still in German), but this time when you press a number you’ll be put through to a person.

01 Sep 2020

Shane’s appointment was scheduled! … for 2 weeks later.

15 Sep 2020

After the longest 2 weeks of waiting EVER, Shane’s KVR appointment was a success! He has a Fiktionsbescheinigung and can legally work!

He’s legal!
21 Sep 2020

327 days after he applied and 143 days later than expected, Shane is officially a postdoctoral researcher!

Off to his first official day of work!

Unfortunately, the story isn’t quite finished. I’ve now applied for my own residence permit (as family), but that’s the thing. We’ve waited this long just to APPLY. We’re still waiting on a decision which can take up to 12 weeks. We don’t expect any issues, but in the meantime, we can’t make any definite plans to visit home or move to Ecuador until we have fully established residency in Germany.

Regardless, we’re both *temporary* temporary residents of Germany, Shane’s back to work, and we couldn’t be more relieved!

A much deserved celebratory maß.

Living abroad has it’s upsides – the job, the lifestyle, the experiences – but it’s certainly not as easy as it may sometimes seem. It it worth is? Absolutely. Are there struggles? Definitely, and I think it’s good to be honest about it.

To anyone going through residency struggles, hang in there and may the force be with you. 🤪🤞

Tschüss,

Whitney

Germany: Three Month Impressions + August Joy Report

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Munich for three months. Even harder to believe that Shane still isn’t working, but that’s a post for another day (I don’t have nice things to say, and we need the good karma). A month into our German expat adventure, I wrote about my (our) first impressions. Now that we’ve been here for three months, I thought I’d do it again with an added bonus – the joy report! I’m certainly a ‘glass-half-full’ kinda gal, and I really enjoyed writing my July Joy Report, so I think this will be a thing now.

Anyhow, let’s begin.

3 Month Impressions:

Let’s begin with a follow-up.

I actually enjoy the recycling.

I saw someone on Reddit the other day asking the Munich sub if everyone really had 7 bins (yes, I say ‘bin’ now).

“7 bins?! No way. Oh wait…. I just counted. Yes, 7 is correct.” – said everyone.

We don’t have 7, but we do have 5 (regular trash, compost, paper, glass/aluminum/plastic, & returnable bottles). It was annoying at first, but now I’m all for it. We take the regular trash out once every two weeks, we get to compost even though we’re in the city, and just about all plastic in Germany is recyclable.

*pats self on back*

A ‘recycling island’.

Groceries and toiletries are cheaper.

We’ve been consistently €20 under our grocery budget each week. 🙌 Works out well when you’re still waiting on a salary.

We are buying comparable things, organic if it’s available, but probably the main difference is in the price of meat. We were shopping at an organic butcher in the Netherlands, but we’ve not found one near us. I’m speculating, but a lot of the produce (and meat for that matter) are relatively local, which may also contribute to the lower prices. The EU mandates ‘country of origin’ labeling and a lot of the products available to us are from Bavaria or neighboring states.

The weirdest thing we’ve tried so far? Handkäse (hand cheese). I love a block of good cheese, but “sour milk cheese” just didn’t cut it.

One thing we can’t find? Peanut butter. It’s a true tragedy.

Toiletries are also 50% cheaper than in the Netherlands, except ibuprofen. Here, you have to buy it in an Apotheke (pharmacy). It’s over the counter, but has to be distributed by a pharmacist and was €4 for a box of 20 400mg tabs. For comparison… the same box was €1.79 at the grocery store in the Netherlands. For a country that loves beer, their painkillers are hard to find…

Relatedly…

Grocery store cashiers are LIGHTNING FAST.

You know in America how sometimes it feels like the cashiers were trained to go as slow as humanly possible, or where you have a particularly chatty cashier – both of which slow down your whole transaction? Oh, and remember how in America someone else bags your items for you?

Sorry Americans, you won’t survive a German grocery store cashier.

THEY THROW THINGS OFF AT THE SPEED OF LIGHTNING PLEASE JUST GIVE ME TWO MORE SECONDS SO YOU DON’T SMUSH MY CHIPS AND…. nevermind. Smushed.

You literally need a strategy. Produce takes a little longer to scan since they have to weigh it first so…

Pro-tip: bottles and heavy things on the belt first, followed by produce (which gives you time to get the heavy things in your bag), cold items, and finally the ‘breakables’. And just go ahead and have a separate tote bag ready for those chips – then you can snatch them up before it’s too late.

Biking isn’t a social activity.

There are plenty of bike lanes (at least in Munich) and everything feels very safe, but it’s certainly not a social activity. In the Netherlands, it was strange to bike single-file. Part of the biking culture was the chit-chat on the way to your destination, and the rules dictated that you could ride side-by-side. Here, you can only ride side-by-side in a park, otherwise, you should be single-file. Going for a leisurely bike ride (instead of a walk, for instance) isn’t as fun because you can’t really talk.

The plus side, as I said before, the city is very bike-able which is nice because we don’t HAVE to rely on public transportation. It makes the city feel much more available.

The downside, everyone uses these Dyno bike lights which use the power of peddling to turn on the lights. Naturally, the bike I bought was wired incorrectly (the best we can guess) because I peddle and nothing happens, but as soon as I brake the light comes on. 🤦‍♀️ We didn’t want to take it to a bike shop just yet and went searching for some battery-powered lights. They are so expensive! €15 for a front and backlight, which as I type this does not sound like a lot, but in the Netherlands, you could get a similar set for €5, so it hurt my heart a little. Oh well.

A bike adventure through the English Gardens to the Isar River.

Still working on German…

But we’re getting better! I’d say we’re at the phase where we are learning as much vocabulary as possible. We’re starting to be able to understand and reply in basic scenarios (at the grocery store, at the beer garden, etc.) and our (very) basic reading comprehension has improved. We randomly get a newspaper twice a week, and while I’m not reading full articles, I can at least distinguish the headlines now, and I call that a win!

My take-away impression?

We still don’t have a true impression.

Since Shane hasn’t been able to work yet, it really feels like we’ve just spent a very lovely summer as tourists in Munich. Sure, we’ve had to figure out the grocery stores and changed phone numbers (phone plans are also cheap, btw), but ultimately we aren’t truly ‘living’ here yet. We haven’t had to navigate the work/life balance, we can’t open a bank account until we have a steady salary, and we can’t partake in any social benefits (aka insurance) until we have residency. So, we haven’t done things like figure out the doctor or the dentist. As of now, we have a wonderful impression of Munich, but can’t really speak to what it’s like to actually “live” in Germany.

Fingers crossed that this changes soon! I would love to report otherwise.

Now, on to the…

August Joy Report!

(I make no apologies for my use of exclamation points in a joy report.)

I finished my first web development course!

After starting the blog, I became more and more interested in web development. The blog inspired me to want to know the ins and outs of how I am actually presenting you this information. While I am by no means ready for professional employment, I completed my first 54-hour course and would confidently say I have a good foundation. Who knows, maybe in a few years I’m building science-based websites instead of working in a lab.

We finally swam in the Isar River!

Two weeks ago we accidentally stumbled upon an excellent Isar River swimming spot, right in the heart of Munich. Friday of last week was more than likely our last truly HOT summer day, so we packed a cooler and biked 35 min back to that spot, and boy oh boy was it a great time! The river & the sangria were cold, the sun was hot, the people watching was great, and I feel like I’ve taken a big step towards becoming a true Münchner.

We went to the Mini-Hofbräuhaus!

Yes, a mini version of the big Hofbräuhaus exists – in the English Gardens!

I highly recommend a bike for this adventure, depending on where you live, because the Mini-Hofbräuhaus is located in the “wild” part of the English Gardens – aka the ‘not easily accessible by foot’ area. Do you like dogs? Well then you’ll love this place as it’s super dog friendly. Added bonus – the beer prices are lower than the main HB in the city center (€7.40 vs €9.20 for a liter).

Speaking of beer…

We can buy Oktoberfest beer in the grocery store!

I’ve yet to figure out if this is an annual thing, or if this is special for Covid times. Regardless, if we can’t participate in Oktoberfest this year then at least we can try the beer.

If the 0.5L bottles aren’t enough, you can grab a 2L bottle instead.

And finally,

We’ve been to the Alps twice!

We’ve had two hiking opportunities, one was a little harder than the other, but both were fantastic, and it’s nice that the Alps are only an hour (to hour and a half) drive from Munich. First up was Ehrwald, Austria – which I blogged about here – and our 2nd trip was to the Kranzhorn mountain (blog post to come).

The Seebensee in Ehrwald, Austria.
Overlooking the Hut on the Kranzhorn mountain, Austria & Germany (it splits the border!).

Honorable Mention:

My favorite German-words-of-the-month: Mietwagen (pronounced “meat wagon”, lol) which means ‘rental car’ & Sehenswürdigkeit (pronounced “seyens-wor-dig-kite”) which means ‘attraction’, or literally ‘something worthy to see’.


Until our next Sehenswürdigkeit (yes, I realize I used this incorrectly)…

Tchüss,

Whitney