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!

Being with Myself

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

-Margaret Atwood

We had quite a winter here in Munich. It was the snowiest and coldest winter I’ve experienced since moving to Germany, even if you don’t consider the three weeks I spent back in the States over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were bundling up and trudging through the dirty snow on the city sidewalks. Suddenly, the heat came with its full force, reaching what would normally be considered summer temperatures for this region.

Spring came quickly this year. The warm weather and later sunsets have given me the energy and the time to take walks after work before the sun sets. In the area of Munich where I live, there are three parks, each with a small lake. One of which, Fasaneriesee, is only a five-minute walk from my building. I’ve gone there many evenings either with A. or just to take some time on my own.

I value time with myself so highly these days. The rhythm of my life is interacting with people at work, interacting with A. at home, interacting with people at the grocery shop, interacting with people over the internet and through my phone. Don’t get me wrong, I like to talk with people and spend time with them. The problem is that I spend so much of my time with other people that I rarely have the time and head space to just reflect and be with myself.

In Missouri, I would take walks on my own at the local state park or just around my grandparents’ lakefront property. Downtown and around-town walks by myself were the norm for me when I was studying in Staunton, Virginia. The most alone time I ever had was during my time in Konstanz while studying for my Master’s. I would even take cycling rides by myself along the lake which lasted several hours per round-trip.

And now, now I live in Munich. It’s a city of 1.5 million, the most populous place I’ve ever lived. It is nearly impossible to be alone in this city. You want to take a walk? So does everyone else. You want to grill out by the Isar? Half the city will be there with you. You want to hide alone in this little grove of trees? At least five other people had the same idea.

No matter where I go, I am surrounded by people. Mastering the art of being with yourself while surrounded by others is no easy feat. But it is easier when you take your walks in the twilight and the majority of people have gone home for dinner.

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I take my walks when there is less light, fewer people, but still much beauty. I’ve seen the tiny buds of the leaves and watched them grow into full-fledged summer leaves. Some of the trees started to blossom, and I could take in the smell and rejoice at the sight of bees returned from their winter slumbers. The ducks have built their nests and laid their eggs, more of which I seem to find every walk I take around the lake’s grassy shores.

All the while during my walks I quiet my mind against the noise of the city and reflect on the day. I let nature smooth over the frustrations I have with myself, my work, and my relationships. Every little why-did-I-do-that moment is washed away when I see the miracle of spring bringing the world back to life, glowing in sunset hues.

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Time with myself in nature is my own personal self-therapy. It heals my anxiety, or at least it quiets it. It lightens my mood and helps me to feel more awake when the city puts me into a trance.

At the end of the workday, I take in the sights, sounds, smell of the outdoors. That’s exactly how spring should be.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: Months 21 & 22

Since things have been quite busy in terms of my study load, I decided to lump two months together when I realized that there was no way I’d write about June on time. To be clear, those two months are June and July. Oh wow, that’s most of the summer gone already…

Around Konstanz & Southern Germany

In the first part of June, I did quite a bit of cycling. It wasn’t unbearably hot, but still nice enough weather to summon you outdoors. On one Saturday, I went cycling along the coast of the Bodensee with A before we went for a swim in the cool lake water. After swimming, we realized it was getting closer to 8, so we cooked dinner and then took some wine and glasses back to the beach.

Bodensee Sunset

We had intended to just drink some of the wine while enjoying the sunset. It was certainly a surprise when, across the lake near Meersburg, a firework show started up.

Fireworks vor Moonrise

This went on for about five to ten minutes. Near the end, I glanced to the right and noticed a light above the horizon. At first, I thought it was the sun for some reason, but then I realized that the sun had set to the left and had been below the horizon for some time already. It only took me a few seconds more to realize that it was the moon rising up from behind the Alps and scattered clouds there. We stayed a while longer and enjoyed the moonrise before finally deciding to cycle back home at a quarter to 11.

Moonrise

Several weeks later A and I went hiking at a place called Eistobel. The hike isn’t particularly strenuous, and there are several opportunities for taking a swim along the path (although the water is freezing!). However, what Eistobel is most known for is its waterfalls. I understand that the waterfalls are especially beautiful in winter when they freeze, so I may need to return during a colder part of the year to get the full experience.

Eistobel

Also that weekend, I saw my first ever hedgehogs during an evening cookout. A pair of the adorable little guys just decided to join us in the yard, probably drawn by the warmth of the fire and the abundance of slugs (a meal for them) in the nearby bushes.

At the end of the month, I spent some time at the annual Konstanz Flohmarkt (flea market). According to the local news, there were about a thousand stands at this market. It’s every year in June for a full twenty-four hours, along both sides of the Rhine and across the Swiss border into Kreutzlingen. I didn’t buy much, but I did pick up some antiques for one of my little sisters.

July has been much less exciting. The heat waves have ended with cold spells before igniting a new heat wave. As I write this, the past several days have been cold, rainy, and gray. I even had to get a pair of fuzzy socks out to keep my feet warm. Now the thing with these drastic weather changes, as any good Midwesterner would know, is that they bring strong storms. It’s been quite a month for a storm lover (meaning me!), and there were even multiple instances of small hail!

Hail Kz

The few exciting things this month, apart from the weather, have been dinners. The first dinner was at the house of my professor, who is also my advisor and now former-employer. In case you didn’t know, I quit my student job to focus my last few months on my thesis and job search. The dinner was a relaxing break, and I got to put my experience of making fruit bowls to good use.

The second dinner was to say goodbye to a good friend and fellow student in the program. He moved to Mannheim this week to pursue a PhD. I wish him all the best in his continuing studies, and I know he will see us all again.

That dinner was the first time I really thought about my friend group here splitting up. I realized that he and I are the two who will be leaving Konstanz at the end of this semester. And for me, that means having to once again search for a new friend group in the city where I will live next. Or being a hermit, which is entirely possible although not the plan!

In the Books

On the study side of things, there is good news. Lectures have ended, and I only have one exam next week. Luckily, this exam isn’t required coursework, so the pressure isn’t so high. I also finished my colloquium presentations on my thesis, which is a huge load off of my shoulders.

What is left is to get moving on my thesis, write everything up, and hand in the final document at the beginning of September.

I also officially started my job search in this past month, which has meant writing lots of cover letters and getting frustrated with myself for not speaking better German. The jobs in my field usually prefer people with excellent German skills. The ones which don’t require German are often either too senior for me, or I am overqualified for the position. I’m trying to apply for all of the jobs that I can which are in my Goldilocks zone (and interesting to me), but that means that I may not end up going to the city which I am most hoping to live in. Let’s see.

Speaking Denglish

I’ve been trying to push myself a bit more with German. I do have to say though, that doesn’t mean a whole lot considering learning improving my German has taken a backseat due to my thesis. Annoyingly, I keep stumbling across confusing things such as the strange forms of Junge which are part of an entire class of nouns previously unknown to me and the fact that Fladenbrot (flatbread) is not at all what I think of as flatbread. Sure makes it difficult to try cooking something new. But hey, finding ingredients has been a challenge since I arrived for many of my favorite dishes, ehem, Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.

Before the Storm at Bodensee

So that’s my June and July here at the Bodensee. Hope you all have been enjoying summer! Oh, and by the way, happy Game of Thrones return!

Cheers!

Everything I Thought I Knew About Sledding Was Wrong

Depending on where you grow up, your childhood winters may have had a lot of snow or no snow. Even if you did grow up with snow as I did, you might not have had the best sledding conditions.

I remember very few exceptional sledding adventures from my childhood. When I went to Mary Baldwin in Virginia, I discovered the amazing soccer field. The soccer field is a bit like half of a bowl carved out in the land. The steep hill that curves along half of the soccer field’s perimeter has no trees. Sledding paradise… Or so I thought!

After I finished my exams, I went to the Alps at the very end of February. My German friends informed me that this is “real sledding.” Indeed it was.

Schlitten fahren (sledding) is much more serious than sledding I’ve done in the States. First, you must bundle up against not only the cold, but in case of an accident. This means wearing a helmet.

Bewildered, I asked, “Am I going to die or something today?” My sledding buddies told me, “Well if you think you’re going to go off the side of the mountain, then jump off. In the really dangerous places they have nets, so you should be okay.”

Nets? To keep me from flying off the mountain? Yep. Sledding is way more intense.

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Around the bend and on down the sledding path I go.

The next difference: the sled. My grandma has told me that back in the day they had wooden sleds with metal runners. In my childhood and undergraduate college days, we all had plastic sleds. The Germans scoffed at that remark. “Your little plastic sled would break, and then you’d have to walk all the way back down the mountain.”

After the Germans had me seated on a wooden sled, I was given driving instructions. Basically, you put your heel down in the snow on the side of the sled that is in the direction you want to go. Seems simple, but takes practice.

Oh, and about those brakes… Just stick both of your heels in hard and hope you stop. If you’re going too fast, then you should probably just bail.

Finally, do not pass another sledder until you are sure you can safely do so with enough space. Sleds don’t have rear-view mirrors after all, so other people can’t see you coming up behind them.

Snowy trees
Snow-covered trees on the way down the mountain.

Sledding basics aside, the experience itself was also different. To start, we took a lift up the mountain. I’ve never been skiing or done any other winter sports on a mountain before, so this was my first time in a lift. Up we went. Then, down we went.

I think it took us about an hour to get down the mountain. In warmer months, the sledding path was a road. For us, it was a treeless path to race down. At many points it was a race. I lost as an inexperienced American, but it was still fun. At least I have the advantage of being a light weight. Whenever there was a hump in the road that sent me airborne, my landing wasn’t quite so rough thankfully!

Sledding View Mountain
The view at the base of the mountain, heading back to the lift for round two!

All in all, I’d say the day was another successful venture into local culture and recreation. I’d definitely recommend “real sledding” to other international students and expats near the Alps.

Cheers!

Among the Clouds

About a week and a half ago, before Old Man Winter officially descended upon Germany, there was a gorgeous weekend. That meant hiking!

I went hiking in the Bavarian Alps, near the Austrian border. From the closest town, it was about a half-hour walk to the beginning of the trail.

We started walking up a steep hill into the woods. Half-way up was a lake, full of freezing cold snowmelt water. We kept going and then finally the ground flattened out a bit. The trees were starting to thin out and I could see the massive stone wall that I was supposed to be going up.

When I was told that there was even more mountain above that to hike up, I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” These Germans aren’t kidding about their hiking.

As ascent number two began up the rockier, steeper part of the mountain, the sun creeped behind the clouds growing just below the top of the rock wall… Wait, clouds? Below the top?

Once you get that high up, clouds become fog. Cold fog. Not only that, but the air thins out a lot. Needless to say, I was getting a bit demotivated, especially because I could not breathe well, nor could I see very far ahead of me.

We got to the top of the rock wall and sat down for a rest. We started to walk a bit further, and suddenly, the fog began to clear. Looking back, I could see the town far, far away in the valley. I also realized that we were above the tree-line, meaning that the air was so thin that the trees would not even grow up there.

First Hike View
Looking back towards the town. Yeah, I hiked a hell of a long way…

In leiu of trees, there were mountain goats running around. I immeadiately thought of Twin, and her obsession with the “horny goats” at Slieve League last year.

Where we ended up in the end is called Kirchdach Sattel or Kirchdach Saddle. The elevation (which I read from the trail marker thing) is 1,919 meters (6,296 feet) above sea level. The elevation at Hinterstein (where we parked) is about 880 meters (2,887 feet). According to my calculations, I climed about 1,039 meters (3,409 feet) in one day. Oh, did I hurt the next morning.

Lake at the Top

Apart from the weather clearing up providing sweeping views, I had another surprise at the top: the border. The highest point that we went to actually had a marker for the border with Austria! It was pretty neat to face one side and see only Germany but turn around to see just Austria.

Austria in Background
You can see Austria in the background as I perch literally on top of the border. Two places at once, anyone?

That’s my tale about the first time I hiked above the tree line, also known as, “my first real hike.”

Cheers!