Ein Jahr

As of today, I’ve been in Germany for one year of a three year commitment.   It’s been a hell of a year.  When I posted about being here for four months back in March, I had a few items that I listed as to-do items.  Let’s see how I did:

Have basic conversations in German:  On a very basic level, I can do this.  I can introduce myself, ask where someone is from, and inquire about basic information.  I have the vocabulary of a two year old native, but I’ve learned a lot.

File my German taxes from 2011: I did this in late March.  In July, the Finance Authority sent me a letter asking for more documentation, and I returned the requested document right away.  In October, they finally sent me a followup, and a small refund a few days later.  I am now the proud owner of a German Steuernummer (tax ID number.)  It only took seven months!

More blogging: I’ve settled into a pattern of posting every Monday.  Coming up with ideas for new posts is difficult sometimes, but for the most part I’ve always got something new to say.  Sometimes I have a rush of ideas and I post a little bit more frequently, but I post at least one new entry every week, always on Monday mornings.   WordPress.com’s scheduled post feature is a tremendous boon for the frequent traveler.

More travel:  Holy hell, success!  Of the thirteen cities I mentioned back in March, I’ve been to seven of them.  This year has been an amazing year for travel.   Every new city is logged as a ‘Category’ on this blog.  There’s a dropdown on the right-hand column to view entries about them.  In 2012, I’ve gone to seven new countries and countless German cities.

  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • London, England (Seeing London has been a goal of mine for more years than I can recall.)
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Vienna, Austria
  • …and so much of Germany already:  Berlin, Bochum, Bruhl, Cologne, Erfurt, Frankfurt, Kempten, Mannheim, Munich, Nuremberg, and of course, Regensburg.

Eat Less McDonald’s:  Mild failure.  It’s still far too easy to slip into McD’s when I’ve been out late or have to eat something after German class.  I try my best to keep it to a minimum, but I still eat far too much of this because of the convenience.

Acquire a traditional Bavarian outfit complete with Lederhosen: Yup, I did this.

I originally wanted to list a whole lot of the things that I’ve accomplished this year, but I did that on the Four Months post and again on the Six Months post, so I won’t do that.   Here’s a few other highlights that I wanted to mention though:

I Went To WEBMU: WEBMU is the “Whiny Expatriate Blogger MeetUp.”  The rules for membership are that you have to live in Germany and blog in English.  The people in the group are a heap of fun, and we had a great weekend in Berlin.

I Met Other Bloggers: Expatriate blogging is a very social thing. Between WEBMU and my naturally social nature, I met many other bloggers (and their non-blogging spouses) in person this year. Here’s an incomplete list of them:
Riayn in Hamburg, Heather in Nürnberg, Mandy in Berlin, Sarah in Hamburg, Snooker In Berlin, Ian in Hamburg, CN in Heidelberg, and last but not least, Cliff and Sarah here in Regensburg.  (Alex, you’re totally on my “Want to meet this person” list for 2013.)

I Tried A German Theme Park: I went to Phantasialand, a pretty well known German theme park.  Living in Florida spoiled me for theme parks, but this was still a lot of fun.

I Listened To  A Percussion Show In A Cave: The header on this one is pretty self explanatory.  The cave, the Tropfsteinhöhle Schulerloch, is near Kelheim.

I Drank Beer Brewed By Monks:  The Weltenburg Abbey is not far away.  The dark beer is delicious,  the grounds are beautiful, and the boat ride up the Donau river from Kelheim is picturesque.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

I Watched More TV and Movies In German:  I have been trying to learn German, and one of the things that helps this is to use German television, radio, and movies.   I’m quite fond of watching How I Met Your Mother and Futurama in German.  I also watched The Lion King, The Muppets, Men In Black 3, and Ice Age 4 all auf Deutsch.  I was even able to clearly follow the plots of all of them, even though I missed quite a few of the verbal jokes.

It’s pretty hard to sum up an entire year in a single post- that’s what the entire Blog has done.  It’s mind-bending to think that I’ve been here for a year already, and that I’m a third of the way done with my time here.

I wonder what my next year has waiting for me!

Observations At Six Months

As of today, I have been in Germany for six months- I arrived on Saturday, November 12th. During that time, I’ve been keeping a list of things that I wanted to mention on the blog, but that aren’t long enough to carry their own blog post. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • In German, Kerze means candle. Katze means cat. Mishearing one or the other can lead to a very silly conversation.
  • They sell the perfect size Coke here. .2 Liters is enough to accompany most meals without being as small as a shot glass.
  • Movie theatre popcorn here is not salty by default, it’s sweet. Not all theatres even sell the salty version that I’m used to. I was very surprised the first time I took a bite of movie theatre popcorn here.
  • Many Germans are very, very tall. I’m still convinced that someone boinked a Frost Giant at some point in the past.
  • There is one German word, Entschuldigen, which can be used for both excuse and apology. This is yet another way that conversations between native English speakers and those for whom German is a second language can be very complicated.
  • The German approach to child-rearing is a little bit different. The American “stranger-danger” paranoia doesn’t exist here, so it’s not uncommon to see a list of children’s names on the back of a proud parent’s vehicle. They also rig up these ingenious skateboardy things that are attached to the back of their strollers with a little hinge like the one pictured at right- this woman is pushing the stroller with the infant, and the smaller kid stands on the little board with the wheels, so he gets a ride as well. I think it kind of looks like fun.
  • Where an American would say “I’m crossing my fingers for you,” a German would say “I’m pressing my thumbs.” It means basically the same thing- wishing luck or good fortune. It is done with the thumb of one hand only, bending it inside the index finger and pressing on the outer joint of the thumb with the fingers curled around it.
  • It’s a small difference, but I’ve noticed that public restrooms here are not constructed the same way that they are in the US. The area where toilets and urinals stand is usually separated by the area with the sink and hand dryers by a door, so each restroom is actually two smaller connected rooms. This is not the case in private bathrooms or very small restaurants, but most of the restrooms that I’ve been in here outside of my own apartment are built this way.
  • Germany uses the letter ß. The letter is pronounced as ‘ss’ and that is an acceptable alternate spelling. This is especially common on street signs. For example, one of the main streets downtown is Maximilianstraße. This can also be typed as Maximilianstrasse, or abbreviated as Maximilianstr. The reason I bring up the letter ß is that it comes up several times in the next bullet point.
  • Elevator buttons are different here. The ground floor is usually labelled EG, which means Erdgeschoß, the German word for the ground floor. I first thought it had something to do with ‘Entrance.’ A parking level below the first level is often labelled with UG. I thought at first that it meant ‘Underground,’ but it really means Untergeschoß. An upper level would be OG for Obergeschoß. A parking garage is usually called a tiefgarage, but don’t expect to see that listed on the elevator buttons. Sometimes, the ground floor is labelled with 0 and a level below that is marked as -1. The first level above the ground floor is labelled 1 because Germans consider the first level up to be the first floor. In other words, I climb a flight of stairs every day to go to my first floor apartment, but in the US I’d call it a second story apartment.
  • Speaking of things being different underground, the duplex parking here can be a little nerve-wracking. This may exist in the US, but I’d never seen it until I got here- underground parking where a space can have multiple stacked vehicles. Each person who uses a parking space has a key to raise and lower the parking ramp. I would be constantly worried that I would drop my keys down into the Pit Of Souls beneath the lowest cars. Still, it’s an impressive use of space. And hydraulics.

vier Monate (four months)

Four months ago today, I boarded a plane in Miami to move to Germany.  One third of an entire year has passed.    It’s kind of mind boggling to me-  the time has passed very quickly.  I feel like I’ve been here no time at all.  And I simultaneously feel like I’ve been here for so much longer than four months.

Since I arrived, I have:

  • Survived my first three weeks in a hotel.
  • Found an apartment.
  • Learned to bank in Germany.
  • Successfully navigated German bureacracy with help from my colleague Michael – I have a residence permit, permission to work, and a German tax ID and social security number.
  • Equipped that apartment with furniture, mostly from Ikea, as well as an Internet connection.
  • Worked a lot.  I don’t really talk about work on this blog, but it’s there.  It’s what brought me to Germany in the first place.
  • Survived my first winter in Germany.  My first winter anywhere, really- I lived in Florida for my entire life before this, so snow and ice is very new to me.
  • Learned to grocery shop in a new country.
  • Learned a great many food words in German, become fairly adept at reading menus.
  • Tried an enormous amount of restaurants and bars in Regensburg. (Special thanks to Jenny for being my semi-constant mealtime companion.  She has really great taste in food.)
  • Become a regular at an Irish pub.  (I’ve always wanted to be a regular at a pub. Neat!)
  • Learned to navigate the alttstadt (old town) better than some folks who’ve been here for much longer.
  • Learned how to use the bus and train systems in Germany.  Acquired a Bahncard.
  • Travelled on my own to a concert in Kempten, near the Alps on the Austrian border.
  • Travelled to Munich to see an Orchestra perform the entire score to Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Travelled two Nuremberg twice, once with a friend and once on my own. (The second trip to Nuremberg will be a coming-soon post.)
  • Met another American blogger who lives in Germany. (Hi, Heather!)
  • Met a lot of people from at least eight other countries besides Germany and the US.
  • Had a Russian girl named Elena drink me under the table.  (My Russian ancestry cries every time I can’t keep up.  Need more practice.)
  • Learned and embraced a lot of very German customs and behaviors.
  • Watched The Lion King and The Muppets in German.  Also, lots of Big Bang Theory, Futurama, Star Trek, Family Guy, Simpsons, and How I Met Your Mother in German.
  • Learned a lot of German- still not enough for a conversation, but that will come in time.
  • Tried very hard to never fit the “stupid American” stereotype.
  • Discovered the tasty, tasty addiction that is Butterbreze- buttered pretzels.

…and most importantly:

  • Met a lot of really great people, and even made some friends.

Things that are still very much on my to-do list:

  • By the time I’ve been here for one year, I want to have basic conversations in German.
  • I still need to file my German taxes from 2011. D’oh!
  • More blogging.  Always more blogging.
  • More travel. I still need to see Vienna, Salzburg, Budapest, Prague, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, London, Cardiff, Barcelona, Berlin, Heidelberg, Zurich, and many other places that I can’t think of right now.
  • Less McDonald’s.  Having two McD’s within a short walk from here is somewhat lethal-  when you’re really hungry and/or tired, it’s too easy to slip in for a burger and fries.  It’s especially tempting after a night of drinking at the Murphy’s Law.
  • Acquire a traditional Bavarian outfit complete with lederhosen.  Maybe.