My Last Days in Konstanz: Part 1

For two years I lived in the lakeside city of Konstanz while working on my Master’s degree. I had decided to move there without ever having set foot in Germany before. Having come out the other side, I can safely say that it was a good choice, and I’m quite sad that I don’t still live there.

Back in September of 2017, I handed in my thesis, had a final interview round with the company that ended up hiring me for my first “real” job post-university, and packed up everything to move out of my student apartment. During all of that, I also took some time to explore some parts of the city I had never visited, and I revisited some of my favorite places.

It’s these adventures that I now want to share in this space. Since there is quite a bit that I want to share, I am going to split the information up into several posts.

To provide some context, it had been a very hot summer in which I remember sweating through writing my thesis, hiding in the library when my room began to feel like an oven, and taking a break most days to go for a dip in the refreshing water of the lake. After my thesis and job interviews were complete, the heat broke and rain showers took the place of the sun.

I was quite pleased that the weather chased away many of the tourists and allowed me to explore the streets with relative peace. I had wanted to walk the streets and dedicate some time to take a look at the historic buildings, and then I had the perfect opportunity. Many of the old buildings have a name and building date on them. Some of those dates go back to the 1200s and 1300s.

Zur Mugge, 1422
Zum Leopard, 1399
Zum weissen Bär, 1523 and Zum weissen Adler, 1489
Haus zum roten Korb, Anno 1384
Zur Wage, 1273

It’s nice that these features still exist on the buildings, and you can often see the unevenness of the roofs and different levels of the buildings. If you really want a great view of the Old Town streets, then you can go up the tower of the church there.

The Konstanz Münster (Münster Unserer Lieben Frau) is a church that dates back to about the year 600 CE, though it was destroyed and rebuilt over many centuries. It hosted the Council of Konstanz in 1414-1418 which was the only conclave to be held north of the Alps. It remains one of the largest churches in this region of Germany.

During the warmer months of the year, it is possible to climb the church’s tower for a few Euros. Unlike some of the other church towers I have climbed, the stairs are quite spacious.

There are a few levels to reach. At first, you reach a sort of base of the tower which already affords some nice views of the city and harbor. If you go further, you can reach another level in the tower, with a final option to climb up to the highest indoor part of the tower. Be advised that at the very top you can only see out of some windows (thus, the blurriness of some photos).

While inside the tower, you can also see some of the bells with their historic designs. If you happen to be inside the tower when the bells ring, you’d better cover your ears. As I ascended the tower, it was deafening to hear the bells ringing.

Heading back down the tower, I decided to explore the church one last time, although I had been through it dozens of times in the past. I am not religious, but there is definitely a sense of tranquility and historical significance as you pass through the different areas of the church.

Out by the harbor, you’ll find the Council Building, which is where the actual voting in the papal election took place. Today, there is a restaurant in the lower level that offers seating with views of the lake. On the day that I was making this small tour, the clouds were quite moody although I got a hint of a rainbow.

Speaking of the Council of Konstanz, one of the historical figures during that era was Jan Hus. He was a Czech reformer who was targeted as a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415 in Konstanz. There is a museum dedicated to him called Hus-Haus. I spent about an hour exploring there one afternoon, and can recommend it to anyone interested in history. Bonus: Entry is free, and the exhibits are in German, English, and Czech.

Not too far away from the Münster is St. Stephan’s Church. While it’s not as grand as the Münster, it has it’s own charming qualities and a gorgeous painting on the ceiling. Along with the Münster, it is among the oldest and largest churches in Konstanz. If there are a lot of tourists in the city, this church is a good option to step into somewhere quiet and calm while enjoying the surroundings.

Another interesting place in the Altstadt is the Rathaus. (For those who don’t know, a Rathaus is kind of the equivalent of a town hall.) The exterior is covered in paintings, and it has a castle-like appearance to it. You’d almost expect Rapunzel to come to the window. You can step through to the courtyard if you want to explore a bit.

Konstanz is filled with artwork in general. You’ll find paintings on the side of buildings, sculptures, and beautiful architecture all around. Unlike many other parts of Germany, Konstanz avoided heavy bombing in World War II by leaving their lights on at night and pretending to be part of Switzerland. Since it is at the border and a Swiss town bumps right up against Konstanz, they were able to successfully fool the bombers. As a result, much of the historic city remains intact today in ways that you don’t see in all German city centers.

That’s not to say that the Nazis were not active in Konstanz. You will find “stumbling stones” with the names of murdered Jewish citizens throughout Old Town, and there are also monuments to the victims of the Nazi regime such as this one:

Luckily, that dark period of history is gone from Konstanz, and the city has a modern feel mixed in with its historical features. The newest example of modernization before I left Konstanz was this “Way of Live Calculator” (not a spelling mistake). It is an art installation by Andreas Sarow (2017).

With that, I leave you to calculate your life. More about what I explored during my final days in Konstanz is soon to come.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 4.5 Years

The last time that I did one of these posts was back in 2018 which marked three years in Germany. Looks like I have a lot of time to catch you all up on. Let’s jump in to some of the big events and changes from the last 1.5 years, bringing you up to date on my 4.5 years in Germany thus far.

Close to home

Most of the time, I stayed close to home, either in Germany or in the States. I’ve made a few trips back to visit my family of course, but otherwise, I didn’t do a whole lot of travel. Most of my travel has been in Bavaria, or even to places around Munich.

Exploring Bavaria
Don't look down.
Don’t look down.

There are two main reasons that I didn’t get out much. First is that my partner was furthering his education last year in an intense accelerated program, so there wasn’t a lot of time to travel together. The second was that I didn’t really have the money to be able to travel alone, even though I had an entire month off in August because…

I switched jobs

After I realized that I could not stand it any longer in the travel technology company where I worked, I got to work looking for jobs. Luckily, I found a new position in a financial technology company which is much more challenging and intellectually stimulating.

It’s nice to be in a job where you feel like you’re a fit for the role, and your work actually matters. Not to mention, I get along with the people much better despite the fact that many of them are really intense.

New bike

Along with the job upgrade, I also came to the realization that I needed to upgrade my bike. My first bike in Germany was a cheap buy at a flea market. It’s quite worn, and it is not a good long-distance bike. Considering that my commute is about four times as long now, and I am getting more into longer rides in the warm months, it was time for something new.

Instead of buying another second-hand bike, I actually spent the money to get what I wanted. It’s stable and stands up really well to longer rides. If the current lockdown ever ends and the weather improves, maybe I’ll be able to go on some new adventures with it.

Pandemic

Speaking of the lockdown, I think I have to include the pandemic in this list. It’s still ongoing, of course, and it’s likely to last a lot longer. Still, I never thought that I’d be watching a global health pandemic unfold from Munich.

This week is my fourth week of home office. Everything except essential services are closed in Germany. It is only allowed to leave your home if you are going to the grocery store, pharmacy, work (for those who still have to go in), or for fresh air and exercise. In order to stay sane, I make of point of going out for a walk every day.

I’ve heard from people in the States who are concerned about my safety in Europe. No doubt they see what is happening in Italy and Spain in the news, but I think I’m much better off here than back in the States. At least I have health care, and Germany also has a world-class healthcare system which is actually accessible to people who need to use it. Plus, there’s the fact that there are certain protections in place that make my job much more secure than if I were in the States. I’ll stay right here, thanks.

Staying permanently

Before the lockdown, I applied for permanent residency. Since I wasn’t able to go and pick up the card, imagine my surprise when they sent it to me. I am now the proud owner of a Niederlassungserlaubnis.

Yep, I’m fine with staying somewhere that has villages and mountains like this.

What’s it mean? Basically, I get to stay in Germany for the long run, and I don’t have to get approval from the immigration authorities anymore if I want to change my job. Plus, I don’t have to carry my passport around anymore since it’s an actual ID card instead of a giant sticker in my passport. And yes, I seriously count that as a nice perk!


That’s about it. It’s obviously not an exhaustive list of what has happened the last 1.5 years, but you get the idea. To everyone reading this, stay healthy and sane.

Cheers!

What I Look for in International Work

I finished my Master’s degree back in 2017, and started working straight away. For the past almost two years, I worked in a travel tech company focused on vacation rentals. This was my first post-university job, but I recently had my last day working there.

It was quite an experience, and I certainly learned a lot in the first year, most notably on the technical side. However, there comes a time when you have to take a look around, think about where you are, where you want to be, and consider if the current trajectory of your career will get you there.

Turns out, recent changes in the company were taking me down a path that went further away from my goals. Not to mention I was basically bored out of my mind by my tasks the last six months and wasn’t seeing any real career growth.

Having to conduct another job search in Germany was not exactly something that I really wanted to do, but in the end I think I’m going to be much happier in the new role.

I could write a whole series on searching for a job in Germany, but instead I’m just going to share a few things that I have learned are important for me in working abroad.

Integration

While I integrated into my former company just fine, there came a point when I realized that integrating into company culture is not the same as integrating into German society. I enjoyed how diverse the company was, but when my partner tells me multiple times that my German is actually getting worse, it’s an indicator that I’m not getting closer to my goals. For the record, I was taking a German course through the company the first time I was told that my German was deteriorating.

German courses offered in house were poor quality and only held once a week. Couple that with the fact that most of my colleagues / classmates had very low motivation to learn German, and I felt myself not applying myself as much. I also did not have to use any German in my daily work, so there was nothing that really forced me to improve my German so quickly in the short term.

While looking for a new company, I tried to find something which had a greater German language leaning, but still an international feel. The company that I will be joining is again very diverse, but the market focus is DACH (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) and the UK. This is much more focused than the 21 countries and their languages that I had to work with in my former company.

When I was offered the job, it was also stated that they would expect me to be able to get along with German-speaking business partners as well as the English-speaking partners in the next year. This is great because I have some time to learn the product and work on my German, but I also have a set point in time that I should be ready to speak and write German as a representative of the company. Knowing that it’s expected that I learn is a much better motivator than being told that someone can always help translate so it doesn’t matter if I learn.

I should quickly note here that some people who work abroad in English-speaking roles, or roles in their native language, only learn enough of the language to get by (restaurants, grocery shopping, transportation), but search out multilingual doctors, services, etc. for most things they have to do outside of work. While there’s no “right” way to do it, my personal philosophy is that if I’m going to live abroad authentically, and not in an Anglo-bubble, I should try to learn the language.

Career development

I always thought, “When I start working, I will have so much more free time for myself compared to in university.” In some ways that’s true. I don’t have to stay up late trying to complete extensive reading for a seminar. However, because I sit in front of a computer all day at work, I don’t really want to spend as much time doing that outside of work.

I wrongly assumed that if I didn’t have time or projects at work that helped me advance my career, I could just do that career development in my free time. While I have done some things in my free time, it’s not enough to counteract not making any progress on professional development in my daily work.

For a variety of reasons, my former company did not give me the opportunities I wanted to further develop my skills and learn new things which are in the field of my interests. Therefore, in looking for a new role in another company, I tried to find a field which both fit my interests and would challenge me to grow my skills and knowledge in the direction that is right for me.

While I know I have an uphill battle going into my next role, I would rather be fighting to learn details about an industry and the technology they use than doing the same tasks over and over which give me neither benefit nor joy. Some people may thrive on repetition and stability, but I would like to have the opportunity to be challenged.

A residence permit is not a reason

When I was looking for a job after finishing my studies, I knew that my former company was not a perfect fit. Among the options I had at the time, it was the best offer on the table. I could have waited around for a better offer, but that put me into the position of needing a “job search” visa. I also had these frustrating student loan payments that I would have to start making, but I had a bit of a buffer there.

The main reason I accepted the job in the end was to secure my residency. While it happens that you have to accept an imperfect job in order to maintain residency without major headaches, I don’t think that it should be the reason to stay in the job on the long term.

I had a lot of stress around how long I needed to be in the first job before searching for a new job, whether I should just wait until I could settle into permanent residency, or how difficult it would be to switch my residence permit if I got a new job.

The answers? One year is long enough to know you aren’t a match for a company. Switching jobs doesn’t hurt or help with permanent residency. As for the last one, the jury’s still out, but I understand that it’s a relatively simple process that will only require me to sacrifice my soul to the Ausländerbehörde for one day.

In summary, if you’re looking for a job abroad and maintaining your residency depends on it, it’s okay to be a bit desperate. What’s not okay is forfeiting your happiness after you’ve given the role and company a fair shot and know it’s not for you.


Anyway, that’s my two cents on what I find most important in working abroad. I’m sure it’s not the same for everyone, but it’s at least food for thought.

Cheers!

Lost and Found No. 3

Hello! How are you all? The past few weeks have flown by, probably because we had three four-day weeks in a row here in Germany. I think it’s good for my sanity that I’ve had shorter weeks this past month. Sure would be nice to have this all the time! Anyway, let’s get down to the past two weeks’ lost and found.

Found: Old postcards

I have a slight obsession with old postcards. Sure, typical vintage postcards are cool, but I love postcards from the first half of the 1900s that show photos of places waaaaay back in the day. If they have something interesting written on the back, I enjoy that as well.

Steamboat Postcard

The Flohmarkt (flea market) that is held in conjunction with the Frühlingsfest (Spring Festival) is a decent place to find some of these gorgeous, old black and white postcards. I did happen to buy “a few.”

Italian Postcard

Lost: Severe allergies

Not that I’m sad to have gotten over my seasonal allergies, but I enjoy the irony of the situation. It recently came to mind that the problem (pollen) and the solution (rain to clear the air) both are products of Mother Nature.

At the same time I curse the pollen, I also wish for spring and beautiful flowers. Then, I even beg for rain to give me some relief by washing away the cause of my misery. I just have to laugh a bit at how illogical my desires with regard to spring and nature are. It’s a good practice in mindfulness to think about how many other areas of life are in conflict like this.

Found: A resolution from my former home

My master’s degree was completed in Konstanz, meaning two years of bliss in that beautiful city, relaxing with all the nature surrounding the Bodensee. I just saw yesterday that Konstanz became the first city in Germany to pass a resolution that declares climate change as an emergency.

Sometimes I have to stop and think about how fortunate I am to have lived in Konstanz, and how amazing it is that I now live in a country which at least recognizes climate change at the national level. Much of the rhetoric around climate change coming out of the White House in the past few years has been disheartening, but events like this remind me that many people around the world care about this issue and want to take action.


So, on that note, I hope you all feel a little bit more thoughtful about our planet. Or maybe just postcards. Regardless, have a lovely weekend!

Cheers!

A Picturesque Medieval German Village

Over the two years of my Master’s studies, I had the pleasure to spend some time in the small German village of Bad Waldsee. This village is located north of the Bodensee, near Ravensburg. It’s probably not the top of anyone’s travel list, but I enjoyed visiting there on occasional weekends and semester breaks nonetheless.

To highlight some of the my favorite things about the village, I’d like to tell you all seven things I enjoyed there. Without further ado, here’s a list of my favorite things in Bad Waldsee in no particular order.

Snow in BW2

No. 1: The Charming Architecture

Wandering around Bald Waldsee Altstadt (Old Town) is a good way to enjoy an afternoon. There are several buildings and churches which have been around for centuries, and part of the old town wall still exists as well. Bonus points if you get to enjoy Bad Waldsee in the snow!

Merry Christmas!

No. 2: The Giant Advent Calendar

Around Christmas time, Bad Waldsee puts up a giant Advent calendar on one of the city buildings right in the middle of the Old Town. Every December evening leading up to Christmas, the townspeople gather to see a new window opened, enjoy live music (which is surprisingly frequent despite the cold), and drink Glühwein (mulled wine).

No. 3: Take a Walk around the Lakes

Bad Waldsee Old Town is sandwiched between two small lakes: Stadtsee (Town Lake) and Schlosssee (Palace Lake). Many people like to walk around Stadtsee, the bigger of the two. The pathway around the lake offers lovely views of the town, especially at night with the city lights or in winter with snow and ice.

DSCN2525

No. 4: Seenachtsfest

Long-time readers may recognize Seenachtsfest as the evening summer festival in Konstanz, complete with fireworks. While this is indeed an event in Konstanz, Seenachtsfest loosely translates to “evening lake festival,” and is held at other lakes besides the Bodensee (Lake of Constance).

Bad Waldsee hosts their own small, but enjoyable, Seenachtsfest each summer. The event is usually accompanied by a Flohmarkt (flea market), carnival, live music, and numerous food and drink vendors. There are also, of course, fireworks over the lake. The fee for entry to the fireworks is much cheaper than Konstanz, and much less crowded as well.

No. 5: Künstlermarkt

Speaking of festivals, I can’t forget to add in the Künstlermarkt. This happens on one weekend of September. I’ve always caught it on a Sunday, and all of the shops open their doors for the day (which is not normal on a Sunday in Germany). There’s also a little handmade goods market, live music, and food and drinks. Definitely worth a visit if you’re around.

Stadt See Tulips

No. 6: Dinner at Amadeus

Because I’ve mentioned food in several of the above items, it’s only fair that I recommend a few places to eat for when there isn’t a festival going on. My favorite place in Bad Waldsee to go for dinner is Amadeus.

Amadeus has a bit of a funky menu, from chicken curry to burgers. There’s certainly something here for everyone. I can especially recommend their pumpkin soup with shrimp. Yum.

If you’re in the mood for a drink, Amadeus also makes amazing cocktails.

No. 7: Cake at Café Weinstube am Markt

For those of you with a sweet tooth (like me), you’ll enjoy eating some cake at this old-fashioned café. While the décor may be a bit traditional, the cake is some of the best I’ve bought in southern Germany. There’s always a mix in the case, and I’ve never left disappointed. When the weather is good, you can even enjoy your cake on the patio. To me, this place is Kaffee und Kuchen at its finest.

Stadt See Schnee

So I guess that’s my small virtual introduction to Bad Waldsee. If you’re ever heading through there, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Cheers!

P.S. This town is also home to a Spätzle Museum, perfect for Swabian cuisine enthusiasts!