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

Summer in the City, Munich

Remember that time I was super excited to move to THE Oktoberfest city and then it was canceled for the first time since WWII?

Oktoberfest is the largest Volksfest (folk festival) in the world and generally brings in ~1.5 billion euros from tourists each year. Until we moved here, we didn’t realize that there’s more to Oktoberfest than your average American probably assumes. Yes – the giant beer tents are the main attraction, but the festival grounds also have carnival rides, food vendors, and some cultural events. It’s essentially a State Fair on steroids. The festival takes place in the Theresienweise, which is a massive 420,000 sq. m (4,500,000 sq. ft.) area just outside the old town. You can really feel the vastness of the festival grounds when it’s empty.

Empty Oktoberfest grounds. It looks so sad.

As you might expect, the smaller Oktoberfest vendors were predicted to be the hardest hit from the cancellation. So, in an effort to give the city a little post-lockdown pep-in-it’s-step and a chance for the vendors to make some money, Munich has come up with a solution – Sommer in der Stadt (Summer in the city)!

Summer in the city is essentially a decentralized volksfest, and to be clear, it’s a “non-traditional event” and “not a replacement for Oktoberfest”. From the last week of July through the first week of September, pop-up beer gardens, concerts, craft vendors, food vendors, and carnival rides are scattered around the city. So, on Saturday we decided it was time to go see what it was all about.

There are three main festival locations – the Theresienwiese (the Oktoberfest grounds), the Köningsplatz, and Olympia Park. It seemed fitting to start at the festival grounds (and they were the closest), so that’s what we did.

Have you guys heard of Assumption Day? Yeah – neither had we.

Clearly, we aren’t Catholic, but the state of Bavaria is, and Saturday was a public holiday for the Assumption of Mary – aka the day it was assumed that Mary went to Heaven. Thank you, Munich Reddit, because otherwise, we would have no groceries – all the shops (including the grocery stores) were closed on Saturday (and are always closed on Sunday). I bring this up because I think this contributed to the underwhelming feeling we had when we excitedly made it to the fairground Saturday afternoon. There wasn’t much going on…

I did get a picture with the Bavaria Statue, though.

Post-coronavirus Tip: You can climb up the Bavaria Statue for a nice view of the fairgrounds!

I say post-coronavirus tip, because it’s closed until further notice. Very disappointing.


In case you didn’t notice, there is no shade in the Theresienwiese, and it was HOT on Saturday, so we carried on. It was just… alright. 😂

To be fair, it was a holiday, it was very family-friendly, and we didn’t make it out to Olympia Park, which was the primary location for the cultural events. I think I also had higher expectations based on pre-corona festivals. I will also give the city of Munich a lot of credit for ensuring a safe festival environment. There were never too many attractions in one area and the programs are very spread out over time. For instance, we learned after the fact that the hand-made craft mini-festival was on the Thursday and Friday prior, naturally.

I did manage to get another photo-frame picture, and we ate a chocolate-covered banana. So, it could have been worse.


Saturday wasn’t all-for-not, though. We managed to finally see the Isar River! I’ve been wanting to go swimming in the Isar, but it’s about a 40 min bike ride from our house, so we just haven’t done it yet. We didn’t swim on Saturday, but luckily there was an open kiosk with cold beer and plenty of space for people watching.

View from the Reichenbachbrücke (bridge).
The Isar has a walking path that extends the length of the river. FYI, masks are not required outdoors in Germany but social distancing is requested.
View from the Wittelsbacherbrücke.

Oh, another Assumption Day tip? Check your train times. Apparently, when Mary goes to Heaven the S-Bahn doesn’t run like normal. Our typical 15 min trip turned into an hour. Partly, because we had to take the tram, which is slower. Partly, because despite getting on the tram in the direction of home, we ended up going in the opposite direction. Still not quite sure how that happened… oh well.

Still no news on Shane’s job. Fingers crossed for an update soon!

Tschüss,

Whitney

Munich Guide: Pasing

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been so focused on experiencing (and sharing) Munich city center, that I haven’t talked much about our little neck of the woods – Munich, Pasing!

Pasinger Marienplatz.

Pasing is a district in west Munich and feels like a city of its own (because it originally was). It has a lively center, it’s own official city park, and even it’s own version of the Marienplatz. To top it off, it’s easily accessible from (as I’ve dubbed it) big-Munich. You can be Marienplatz to Marienplatz in 30 min by tram or by bicycle, or 15 min on the S-bahn. Pasing is also ~20 min by bike to the LMU campus where Shane will work, so essentially, we chose to live in Pasing for the location.

Tell you more about Pasing? Gladly!

It has a mini-Marienplatz.

Technically called the Pasinger Marienplatz.

Pasing is growing quickly – construction is king right now.

As I mentioned before, Pasing once was an independent city. The Marienplatz in Pasing, inaugurated in 1880, was originally designed to mimic the Marienplatz in big-Munich. In 1938 Pasing was annexed by the Nazis to become part of Munich, and the central square was renamed to avoid any confusion. The square has been redesigned over the years with the addition of trams and adjusted traffic patterns, so it doesn’t feel so prominently central anymore, but it’s nice to see.

It has the 4th busiest train station in Bavaria,

number one being Munich Hbf.

The current train station.
The old train station with the Arcaden (the mall) in the background.

Despite not being a true square, this part of town feels much more ‘city center’ than the Marienplatz. The main station used today was built in the 1950s, but if you exit the station and turn right you’ll find the Alter Pasinger Bahnhof, the old station. Built in 1847-48, it’s the oldest surviving railway station in Upper Bavaria (according to the plaque on the building) and now houses (to my nephew’s delight) a restaurant called Alex. They had a pancake brunch menu so I expect Alex (the restaurant) must be good. I suppose Alex the nephew isn’t so bad either… even more so if he made me pancakes. I digress.

It has it’s own Maypole,

or Maibaum in German.

I love these maypoles! A quick history, in case you’re unfamiliar (as I was). The hoisting of the maypole is a spring-celebration tradition in Germany & Austria, but they aren’t unique to these areas. Variations on the tradition also occur in places like Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden. In Germany, the tradition dates back to the 16th century where villages would strip a tree to create the pole then decorate it with village symbols. Each year on May 1st, the pole was erected (manpower only!), the keg was tapped (Maibock), and a party to celebrate Spring ensued (May Day)! The tradition carries on today, but not every city (or village) will erect a new maypole every year. For instance, the last maypole in Pasing was raised in 2017.

It’s also tradition to steal the maypole of neighboring villages. This seems a little hard to imagine given their size but as May 1st approaches, villages will organize community watches to keep their maypoles safe! As recently as 2017, a group from the town of Neufinsing managed to steal big-Munich’s maypole! Their ransom? A life-long table at Octoberfest. This was denied, so they settled for the traditional meal and free beer on May Day.

The Pasing maypole is located at Wirtshaus Franzz. How it ended up here, I’m not so sure, but they have a beer garden so you can reward yourself for the effort.

Speaking of beer gardens…

You’ll find no shortage in Pasing!

A plus side to getting a little bit out of big-Munich? Beer prices drop. You can expect to pay €3.60 for a half-liter, €7.90 for a whole. Do expect to pay in cash, though, or have a minimum charge of ~€10 to pay by card.

You can walk off the beer in the Stadt Park,

(aka: the city park)

I really enjoy Munich’s city parks. They are all over the place, and you genuinely feel like you’ve escaped the city. The Pasinger Stadtpark is no exception. The Würm River runs through the park, which makes for an excellent swimming spot for humans, doggies, and beavers!

Pick some flowers along the way,

I don’t know if this is unique to Pasing, but there are multiple honor system pick-your-own flower fields! We’ve seen fields with a flower mix, tulips, and now sunflowers. As the sign says, Wir dürfen gepflückt werden (we can be picked!). Just drop some change in the bucket and pluck away!

and visit a castle!

Blutenburg Castle. I’ve blogged about it before. It’s a lovely walk (or bike ride) if you’re in the area. You’ll find signs for Blutenburg in city center or as you leave the North entrance of Stadtpark.

and lastly… when you’re in Pasing you can visit

The MALL!

Ha! Now, if you’re really into malls or shopping then get yourself on out to Pasing, because the Arcaden has everything you could ever want! The only reason it’s on my list is that 1) we haven’t lived somewhere with a mall in a very long time and 2) we go there every week because that’s where our closest grocery store is. I will say they have a very impressive food court, which includes Five Guys. Also not something we expected to see here.


Practical Info:

How to get there: From Munich Hbf, take any of the S-bahn trains to the Munich-Pasing station, or hop on tram 19 or 29.

Cost: Obviously, it’s free to explore the area! Beer & food & mall goodies not included.

Opening Times: Most everything is closed on Sunday (as is much of Bavaria), otherwise, the hours for restaurants/beer gardens are pretty standard and close around 23:00. The Arcaden is open from 9:30 – 20:30 daily, except Sundays.

Rating: 🧡 (if there’s time)

Obviously, I give it a personal rating of ✅✅ for living, but if you have only a short time in Munich I would prioritize other things. Although, it may be worth considering a hotel or Airbnb in Pasing versus the city center to save on accommodation cost, but still be well connected.

Still need convincing? Pasing has built in trampolines. Game. Changer.

Tschüss,

Whitney

A Week of Happies (no crappies!)

Sorry for the language, but 2020 is a sh*t show.

I mean, now Kayne is running for President? I just can’t. And Shane’s job? It was supposed to start in May and now we’re looking at September (more on that in a later post). Thanks, Corona!

My sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law taught us a game: Happies and Crappies. We played it a lot when we were in Asia as a way to reflect on our experiences. It’s simple – everyone says one good thing (a happy) and one bad thing (a crappy) from their day. Between this game and a fellow expat’s recent blog post (June’s Joy Report), I was inspired to switch up my content.

I’m ditchin’ the crappies and offering up five happies from this past week!

One: This street name.

…as an English speaker.

I read it as ‘dumb ass strasse’. Yes, I realize that it’s actually a name (Dumas-strasse), but it makes me laugh every time.

Two: Meatball turned 15!

Well, roughly. I adopted her a decade ago, this week! Don’t worry, she’s still a spring-kitty-chicken, which brings me to part 2a. Her ramp! I mentioned before that our window leads out to a retaining wall, so she can’t actually get outside, but can see through the grate and enjoy the breeze through her whiskers. Now that she has a ramp, she goes up and down approximately 200 times a day – most of those being in the wee hours of the morning.

Three: The first meeting of the Ecuador crew!

Shane was hired alongside another postdoc, Lucie! Eventually, when we’re allowed to go to Ecuador, the three of us will move together (I have dubbed myself an honorary lab member) and Lucie and Shane will be the project leaders. The number of new coronavirus cases in Munich are staying very low (knock-on-wood), so we were able to check out city center, have some drinks at the Hofbräuhaus, and talk about Ecuador!

Four: Our local swimming spot.

No offense, Groningen, but Munich knows how to have a summer! We’ve had sunshine and warm temperatures, which means I’ve been dying to do some river swimming. Apparently, you’re not a Münchener until you’ve swam in the Isar River, but that’s ~40 min bike ride away from our house. We’ll do it one day, but for now we’ve found a closer option. In about 15 minutes, we can be swimming in the Würm River.

Five: We joined the climbing gym.

It’s been 3.5 months, but we’re finally back in climbing action! Also a testament to how well Germany has handled it’s containment of COVID-19.

Fun Fact: Our gym is called Einstein Boulderhalle after (obviously) Albert Einstein who lived in Munich as a child.

Honorable mention:

I’ve learned 2 new German words recently, which have quickly become my favorite: schmutzig (dirty) & schlussel (key). It’s something about that ‘sch’ sound at the beginning that makes it fun to say! 🤪


It’s’ easy to focus on the bad these days. Hopefully my happies brought you a smile, or at the very least, inspire you to think of your own happies!

Tschüss,

Whitney

Munich: A Shwitastic Guide!

22 days.

That’s how long it took for me to get around to buying a cheese pretzel (käsebrezel, as I now know). This may seem insignificant (which, ok it is), but I love cheese and I surely love that cheese on a pretzel – ERGO – this is an unacceptable situation.

My pretzel antidote is part of a bigger concern: not taking full advantage of our new city. It’s easy to get caught up in the routine of life, especially with everything going on in the world today. As a way to hold ourselves accountable, I’ve created a ‘Make the Most of Munich’ map – a Munich bucket-list, some might call it. Without further ado…

Icon Color Key (i.e., our recommendations):

⚪️ Yet to visit. [grey]

🛑 Eh, it’s ok to skip this. [red]

🧡 If there’s time, check it out. [orange]

✅ Highly recommend! [green]

If you’re curious about something, check out each icon. I’ll be updating as we adventure, so you’ll find links to our experiences here!

Have we missed something? I’m always interested in ‘hidden gems’ or unique experiences. So please, let us know what we’re missing!

Tschüss,

Whitney

Feature image icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

Germany: First Impressions

Ah, first impressions. They can make or break a relationship. So far, Germany has been kind to us. We’ve been here for two weeks, so I thought I’d put on paper (on screen?) our first impressions of living in our newly adopted country.

Learning German is a must.

Ok – so we could probably get by without learning German, but our quality of life and feeling of integration will certainly improve by speaking the language at a basic level. In the Netherlands, everyone was willing to speak English. In the beginning, multiple (Dutch) people told us not to even bother trying to learn Dutch. This was good for us as first-time expats, it took a lot of pressure off, but it was also bad because it removed the feeling of necessity. We knew we could get around without it. Here, plenty of people speak English, but I feel a much bigger pull to learn German. For me, it’s part guilt – I’m in their country, I should speak their language – and part “do-over”. I get a second chance at becoming fluent in a language! So, for now, I’m particularly motivated to learn. I’ll report back on my attitude in a few month. 😜

So far, learning German has been much easier because it’s so close to Dutch (I could understand just about everything, I was just sh*t at speaking…). On the other hand, learning German has been hard because it’s so close to Dutch!

For now, Meatball and I are having a lot of one sided conversations in German (“Es tut mir leid, Meatball, aber ich habe kein essen für Sie!”). My favorite word so far? Schmutzig (dirty).

Recycling / trash collection is serious business.

Grey bins (trash). Blue bins (paper). Brown bins (compost). Yellow bins with sub-bins for white, brown, and green glass, for plastic, and for aluminum.

It’s a lot.

A “trash island”.

Maybe other places have this kind of trash and recycling system, but Groningen surely didn’t! You can find the grey, blue, and brown bins at your house. As for the yellow bins, you have to find die Wertstoffinseln (recycling islands – pictured above). BUT THERE’S MORE! If your glass or plastic bottle has a pfand (deposit) – indicated sometimes by the word, sometimes by a symbol – then those bottles have to be returned to a store to have the deposit refunded.

We did have bottle deposits in the Netherlands, but it was much more straightforward. The magic word was statsiegeld, and it was either there or it wasn’t. No deciphering required.

Don’t get me wrong, I like all the recycling, especially that we now have the ability for composting, but we did literally double the number of trash cans in our house. So, some adjustment was required! If you’re new to Germany, I found this website to be incredibly helpful.

Food Costs are lower, but not at the markets.

If you’re new to the blog, then check out my ‘Dear Holland‘ post. For everyone else, it goes without saying that we LOVED our market in Groningen. I am sad to report that while our new local market is very cute, it can’t compete. Less variety, higher prices. Sigh. So, we’re back to shopping at grocery stores.

Plus side. The grocery stores are very nice with varieties comparable to that of an American grocery store. It’s honestly, kind of overwhelming. The one exception being produce… We’ve had a tough time finding things like fresh broccoli, cauliflower. Another missing item? Canned salmon. Tuna, anchovies, herring? Yes. Salmon? No. We have noticed that a lot of the produce originates in Germany, some even Bavaria – which is fantastic! – and might be the reason why we’re not finding certain items. They just aren’t in season! Relatedly, with our market in the Netherlands we were able to shop ~80% waste-free with re-useable bags, re-useable egg cartons, etc. So far, that’s not possible here, but all the plastic is recyclable (so they say). So, while I would prefer to be as waste-free as possible, until we nail-down our stores-of-choice at least there’s comfort in the fact that it’s not all going in the landfill.

We’ve shopped for two weeks now, and both weeks we’ve been under our normal food budget. Let’s hope that sticks!

Munich has a nice biking culture.

It’s common knowledge that we’ve adopted the biking lifestyle. Shane heard during his interview that the biking culture in Munich was really good – maybe not Holland good – but good, nonetheless. We moved here with the intention of buying bikes, and we did just that during the first week (and both struggled through a one-way English – German conversation… please refer to point #1). Similar to the Netherlands, there are several bike paths that keep cars and cyclists separated. Unlike the Netherlands, about 40% of people wear helmets.

Soon, we will be going on our first real biking adventure into the city center (~30 min away by bike). For now, we are in the helmet-less crowd since that’s what we’re used to, but if there are a lot of interactions with cars then maybe we will join the helmet-people.

An upgrade from his old bike. It has 21 gears!
My new bike needs a name. I’m open to suggestions!

Beer gardens are everywhere!

Shane and I always joke about the fact that, as an American, there is this mystic of the autobahn. THE AUTOBAAAHHHNNN (said like “the claaawwww” in Toy Story) – this magical road where you can drive any speed you want and not get a speeding ticket! Then you drive in Germany and you realize that autobahn literally translates to “highway” and the glass shatters. It’s just like driving on the interstate in America. I’m sorry if I just shattered your glass.

Well let me do it again, folks, ’cause the famous Bavarian biergartens are well… just terraces!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love it. In no way am I sad to see a beer garden at every turn. It was just one of those lightbulb moments.

I am under the impression that if a restaurant has outside space, then that space is called a biergarten. I am also under the impression that each biergarten exclusively serves one of the six main Munich brand beers: Löwenbräu, Spaten, Hofbräu (from the famous Hofbräuhaus), Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, and Paulaner.

Just for you, lovely readers, I promise to dedicate some time to properly research beer gardens and Münchner biers. You can expect a full write up later.😁

Overall first impression? We like it, and it’s not so far off from living in the Netherlands. We’re still working on transitioning life (gym, phone number, bank accounts, etc.), but for now, Germany, and Munich in particular, seem like they have a lot to offer. I’m excited to start exploring!

I’ve also learned that auf weidersehen does not mean goodbye, but literally translates to “to see you again”. Seems strange to sign off a blog this way. Instead, I defer to the more informal and commonly used…

Tschüss (bye!),

Whitney

Dear Holland: a love letter

If you’re reading this, then we are officially no longer residence of the Netherlands.

I started to write this post a few days ago, but something just didn’t feel right about it. Last week, we finished watching the Michael Jordan documentary on Netflix, and it made me realize that we’re having our own version of ‘the last dance’ – our Last Dutch Dance! Naturally, I started wandering around the house muttering things to Meatball like “This is the last week of squeaky floors! 🙌” and “This is the last week you can sleep in a king-sized bed! 😣”. It made me realize what was missing from my original post was a little bit of heart. Yes, I can tell you all the standard reasons why the Netherlands is a great country to live in (work/life balance, universal healthcare, pragmatic attitudes) – if you’re interested in specifics I’d love to talk about it in detail one-on-one. Instead, I’d rather tell you all the personal reasons we loved living in Holland.


Our Apartment.

I first want to pay homage to our little apartment over the flower shop. Actually, for Dutch standards, it’s not so little, but when we first moved here in 2014 from a 2 bedroom + living + diving + sunroom apartment in Pittsburgh, it sure felt small. Despite all the apartment frustrations (squeaky floors, mice, bees, perpetually cold, terrible wifi) it’s been a great apartment. It came furnished, we can walk to the city center in ~5 min, we have some great views and a really cool landlord.

Over the years we’ve learned to deal with all the quirks: Meatball can catch mice, I can catch bees, Shane bought a space heater, and well – the wifi is still shit. Suddenly, the furnished apartment we found on the internet from across an ocean turned into a home.

View from the living room window.

Bikes!

Biking just outside Groningen city (May 2019).

Now, I realize that this one is quintessentially Dutch, but it’s true! Bikes. are. life. The average number of bikes per person in the Netherlands is 1.3 (and 1.4 in Groningen), and it makes sense. The majority of trips are made on the bike. To the grocery store, to the city center, to work, for leisure activities. And you can’t just have one bike. If you have space, then one should always consider keeping a guest bike, or a crappier bike to take to the city center where the risk of being stolen is higher.

Shane and I bought bikes the first week we arrived. Miraculously, Shane has managed to keep the same bike all 6 years. I may or may not be on bike #4 (2 stolen, 1 rusted apart). Regardless, I will never forget that first week re-learning how to be comfortable on a bike. Over the years, I would say we fit right in. We’ve mastered the art of biking with your hands in your pockets, transporting crates of beer (or a cat, or Christmas tree), staying up-right after a few too many drinks, and navigating the mayhem of a four-way-free-for-all-bike-intersection unscathed.

Biking isn’t always fun though. We’ve both had our run-ins – with cars, buses, scooters, and other people. One time the side mirror of a car caught Shane’s bike handle and just pulled him along… only slightly scary. We’ve also had our fair share of weather. We don’t have a car, so rain or shine, wind or heavy wind, if you need to get from A to B then it’s to the bike, Batman! Sometimes it would be nice to have a car, but the ease and accessibility of using the bike outweigh the occasional inconvenience. Plus, bike maintenance is much cheaper than car maintenance…

We sold our bikes just before we left Groningen. Shane spent €60 on his bike the first week, and sold it for €25, making his net bike cost per year (excluding maintenance) €5.80. Over the years, I spent €270 and had to give the damn thing away for free because no one would buy it, bringing my bike cost per year to €45. I personally think I won this contest, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.

The Market.

Our first Saturday market trip (June 2014).

This is not a secret. We love our market!

Het beste markt van Nederland 2016! 🥇 *humble brag*

It’s the best market in the Netherlands every year in my book! This will be, hands down, the number one thing we miss in Groningen. We have shopped at the market every Saturday from the moment we arrived. Why? It’s cheaper than the grocery store, there is more variety, you can find local produce (or at least national produce), and it has a great atmosphere. Plus, it’s just fun to have a ‘spice lady’, a ‘dried beans guy’, and a ‘THE veggie stand’.

Relatedly, another thing I am going to miss is making people happy with exact change. The Netherlands doesn’t use the one and two-cent euro coins. Instead, if you’re paying in cash, then your purchase will be rounded to the nearest 5 cents.

For instance, at the grocery store, you weigh your own fruit and print a sticker with the final price. If I wanted a single banana, then smart-me would find the banana that costs €0.17, because when I pay in cash I’ll only pay €0.15! But, if my banana is too heavy and comes out to be €0.18 cents, well then I’m overpaying for that banana (by a whole €0.02)! Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

At the market, vendors LOVE exact change and with the rounding system, it makes it easy! I would LIVE for those Saturday “ooh mooie!” (ooh, great!) moments. Unfortunately for me, making people happy with exact change has become a casualty of coronavirus.

Our last Saturday market trip (May 2020).

Food.

Clockwise from top-left: brokkelkaas, stroopwafels, Groninger droogeworst, and puur pinda rotjes.

If I’m being honest, Dutch food isn’t all that exciting. I’m stereotyping a little, but a typical day would be bread (with butter, jelly, or hagelslag) for breakfast, bread (with cheese or a savory spread) + a boiled egg for lunch, and some form of meat and potatoes (and maybe veggie) for dinner.

The Dutch only eat “warm” at dinner, so when Miss Americana here showed up on day 1 of my new job asking for a microwave to re-heat my leftovers I was met with some confused looks. Another food faux-pas: mixing peanut butter and hagelslag (sprinkles) on the same piece of bread. This makes no sense to me, as hagelslag is typically chocolate flavored, and who doesn’t love peanut butter + chocolate combo?!

There are a few things we will miss though, like droogeworst (dried meats, spiced regionally), stroopwafels, zuurkoolschotel (sourkraut casserole), stamppot (potatoes + endive or kale mashed together), and Groninger mustard.

The two things I will miss the most? Gevulde spekulaas, which I’ve raved about before, and cheese. I am unabashedly a cheese snob now. Brokkelkaas anyone? 😋 Shane’s top choice? Droogeworst with cheese accompaniment.

Terrace Culture.

First sunny day [pre-coronavirus] (March 2020).

Of all the restrictions we’ve faced during the coronavirus lockdown, I think this is the one that hurts the Dutch the most. Especially since the weather has started to turn warmer. Terrace culture is no joke here – if the sun is out, then the terraces are packed. I like to lovingly refer to the Dutch as ‘anti-vampires’, a group in which I now include myself, because if the sun is out then people are in it. It’s also comparable to cats when they find that one sliver of sunlight…

Sun-kitty.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging. Over the years we have come to worship the sun like the Dutch. It’s almost like you’re brainwashed to think “Sun. Must sit. Terrace. Beer. Now!”. Don’t want to pay for beers at a restaurant? No worries, generally speaking, there are no ‘open-container laws’ here. We just pop some beers in a backpack and head out. One of our favorite spots was the Oosterhaven (East Port) just down the street from us.

The Oosterport (March 2020).

The Weather.

Beautiful Dutch day on top of the Forum in Groningen (December 2019).

If you don’t complain about the weather, are you even Dutch? I’m pretty sure NOT complaining is a reason to fail the integration exam… So, I would be remiss not to bring it up.

Long story short? It’s a love-hate relationship.

Love: The sunshine! When it’s beautiful outside, it’s really beautiful. Even if its cold, a sunny day changes everyone’s attitude. When it’s warm and sunny the city has a certain inspiring energy to it.

The Witte Molen on a sunny day (March 2020).

Hate: The lack of sunshine. Sometimes, it will go literally weeks without seeing the sun. This can be particularly uninspiring in the winter when it’s grey all day and dark at 16:30. And, in Groningen at least, there are always a few weeks of thick fog that add to the gloom.

Shane’s work building in fog (Nov 2015)

Love: How fast the light changes. Sunrise and sunset change so quickly that it’s noticeable from week to week which gives you hope during those dark winter months. We are currently coming into peak light season, where the sun will come up at ~05:00 and set at ~23:00.

Hate: Trying to sleep during peak light season. Blackout curtains required! 😆

~23:00 June 21, 2019.

Love: The weather is consistent. When in doubt plan for windy, cold and rainy. Plus side, I have a lot of jackets now!

Hate: The weather is consistent. I miss having true seasons. I don’t necessarily miss those stiflingly hot & humid North Carolina summers, but inevitably I reach a point in the spring (right about now actually) when I’m just sick and tired of being cold all the damn time. When it’s June and I still have to wear a jacket… 😑

We have had some heatwaves (last summer) and were lucky enough to see the canals freeze, so temperature swings do happen. Just don’t expect to wear shorts all summer, or see snow in the winter.

Frozen canals during the ‘Siberian Bear’ (March 2018)

Despite my love-hate relationship with the weather, I can say without a doubt that moving to the Netherlands was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We’ve had a lot of personal milestones over these past 6 years: we got married, traveled to 17 new countries, learned a new language (sort of), Shane got a PhD, and I’ve found 2 jobs. But I think, more importantly, moving to another country has completely changed our perspective on life. When the scripts are flipped and your the outsider, the immigrant, the person who doesn’t understand the language – it changes you. Personally, I think it’s made me bolder, more patient, more compassionate, and instilled a sense of personal responsibility to understand others’ cultures.

A bucket-list item – the pyramids! Cairo, Egypt (April 2017).

We’ve also grown as a couple. Moving across an ocean with another person can go one of two ways. Thankfully, for us, it’s only brought us closer together. We’ve both moved out of our comfort zone in one way or another, and had the benefit of the others’ support to get through it. And, thanks to that Dutch work/life balance, we’ve had the financial means to enjoy living in Europe and the time to establish life priorities as a couple. Quarantine ain’t got nothin’ on us!

So, to the Netherlands, and to Groningen in particular, we are forever grateful! And to all the people we’ve met along the way:

Dutch, Canadian, Chinese, Finnish, German, Indian, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Luxembourgish, Mexican, Portuguese, Serbian, Spanish, Syrian, Swiss, and Turkish

Thank you for welcoming us and making our expat life complete. 💛

And with that, we’re off to the next chapter – Germany!

Tot ziens,

Whitney