Germany Thus Far: 5 Years

As the sun sets on the day that I write this, it has been a full five years since my flight touched down. It was my first time in continental Europe, in Germany, in the land that I planned to spend the following two years studying without any trips back to the States.

In the past five years I have held multiple positions as a student worker while completing my coursework, completed my Master’s degree, held three different positions at two companies, and achieved permanent residency (plus a German driver’s license, for what it’s worth). I’ve learned quite a bit about myself, reckoned with some of my past, and recognized that there is still so much more to release as I pave my own path forward.

Alongside my own seasons, the world around me changed just as quickly, if not more starkly by comparison. It feels like a distant memory, but the last summer I spent in the US was marked by the laughable Trump campaign for US president, the heart-wrenching refugee crisis which is still not properly resolved in the EU, and numerous wars and attacks on democracy around the world. I felt, at the time, that we were living in a dark period of modern history. Today I would laugh if the thought of how much worse things have become did not make me despair.

Five is an arbitrary number, but it is a way by which I can mark the passage of time and the progress that I have made in my own life. I rejoice at the educational and professional successes I have had in the past five years, while also mourning the loss of time with my grandparents in their twilight years as well as missing out on important events in the lives of family and friends. Last year I imagined how much more I would achieve in 2020 and how joyous this arbitrary marker would be, but as the past months went by, well, things didn’t exactly go that way.

This year my grandfather passed, a pandemic put the world into lockdown, and the pandemic caused most of this year to be spent in a home-office set-up. Even my escape of traveling was thrown out the window as vacation plans were cancelled, and new ones were made in a pandemic-friendly manner before needing to be revised several times. It’s hard to say that this year was particularly successful or exciting, but I guess it was a nice dream to have had.

In any case, here are some take-aways, arbitrarily presented in groups of five for your reading pleasure.

Frauenkirche in Dresden
Frauenkirche in Dresden, with the statue of Martin Luther out front.

Five new-to-me places in Germany I’ve been in the past year that I can recommend

  1. Heidelberg: Very cool city. Went to the weirdest bar, but had the best time.
  2. Steineberg: It’s a mountain. Walked through a lot of cow pies to get there.
  3. Wolfratshausen: Surprisingly nice old town. Went by bike from Munich as part of a longer tour. Maybe will go by car next time.
  4. Bad Tölz: Stunning historical city center. Was also part of the bike tour. Definitely going by car next time.
  5. Dresden: Surprisingly nice city, despite everything the Munich people say about the East. I can honestly say in a non-sarcastic way that I really liked it.

Five things about living in Germany that I still can’t let go

  1. Getting a driver’s license is so complicated. Just converting my US license to a German one was already 20 times more of a pain than getting a driver’s license in the first place in the US, and I apparently had it way easier than someone getting a new license from scratch.
  2. Separating trash: It’s such a complicated system. I think it’s already been beaten to death by other expats on the internet, so I’ll let you Google this mess yourself if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
  3. Rundfunkbeitrag: Every three months every household has to pay this fee for publicly-financed radio and TV. At first I was annoyed, because I didn’t listen to German radio or watch German television, so why the hell should I pay for it? Now I am wondering, why do Germans have this low-cost on-demand version of German publicly-financed wannabe Netflix, but Americans get charged exorbitant rates for commercial-riddled cable TV? I’m both annoyed and in awe now.
  4. Everywhere you go, the birthday song is sung in the native language – except in Germany. They sing “Happy Birthday” in English. Why guys, just why?
  5. The ungarisch (“Hungarian”) potato chips one can purchase at the grocery store are just so good. I guess I will never outgrow some junk food obsessions as an American, but these potato chips are amazing. Hungarians might say it’s not Hungarian-flavored, but whatever it is, I like them.

Five ways I’ve changed since coming to Germany

  1. I don’t drink soda much at all anymore. And I eat healthier. And I am healthier. Maybe it’s just a side effect?
  2. I’m quieter. Operating in an environment where the language isn’t one you speak confidently seems to have a dampening effect on your enthusiasm to be social, or at least it does for me.
  3. I cross the street correctly now. I never really lived in a city before, but now that I’m here I’ve learned the German way of always crossing at a cross-walk and waiting for the light to change. And if you break the rules I have to glare at you because you’re setting a bad example for children. Very German of me to be so judgemental, isn’t it?
  4. I don’t overwork myself. American culture gives us the idea that we have to be available for work 24/7. I certainly tried to start simulating that at university in the States already. Now, I just say that I work my 40 hours a week as long as there’s no deadline that required overtime (which is rare). I can highly recommend not checking email outside of work hours as a way to improve your sanity.
  5. I talk funny. For real. Germans have told me that while I have an American accent, I don’t exactly sound like other Americans. Meanwhile, people from Missouri tell me that I “sound funny.” It seems that my accent has washed out over time, and my grammar is sometimes influenced by German grammar (which I suck at, but some of it has rubbed off on me anyway).
A tunnel in the trees

Five things I’ve learned about myself

  1. I’m surprisingly totally fine with this whole not-seeing-many-people thing. I thought I would go nuts, but I’ve settled into my routine at home. As long as I get to go outside at least once a day, I’m quite happy.
  2. My body can do some things. This past year I completed a 30-day yoga challenge, gave myself a month-long running challenge (which I failed but still got further than I thought I would), gave myself a month-long swimming challenge (which I rocked despite not liking water), and cycled a good chunk of the Isarradweg on a four-day cycling tour. I never thought I was particularly athletic, but wow.
  3. I suppose I can file this one under “relearning,” but I have discovered the joy of reading again. I used to read quite a lot before university, but I had forgotten my capacity for sitting down and just reading for hours and hours. Let’s see how much I can manage to read in 2020 with all this newfound time at home.
  4. At some point during university you think, “Yep, I was pretty stupid in high school.” I thought maybe it was just a thing that happens once you transition into the so-called “real world,” but no matter how old I get I realize that I still have so much more to learn. Future me will likely think current me is dumb, too.
  5. That perfect dream job most likely isn’t something you will end up doing. If you asked me during university what I thought I would do for work, I would have never guessed product management. Over the past few years, I realized that people don’t work those dream jobs. People just find a job that you have the skills for and for which someone will pay you. Cynical maybe, but I admit that I feel lied to by the American system.

Five hopes for the coming years

  1. I really hope I can attend the graduation ceremonies of both my little sisters, as they’ll be finishing their Bachelor degrees in the next few years. Good thing they weren’t graduating during this pandemic year, or I would have certainly missed it.
  2. I’ve been wanting to go to the Faroe Islands almost as long as I’ve been in Germany. Every year I think it will happen, but it doesn’t. I just hope that when the pandemic is over and it’s responsible to do so, I’ll get the opportunity to finally go and lose myself in the landscape to my heart’s content.
  3. I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t say I’m looking forward to finding a bigger flat some day. If anything, I need more space for all my plants. Can anyone else relate? Proper bike storage would also be appreciated.
  4. Paying off my student loans: I think I can do this in the next 2-3 years if I continue to manage my finances strictly. This is maybe something that people from almost any other country can’t understand, but anyone who has attended a US university without a significant amount of privilege knows how much stress this can put on you and how many things you pass up just to be able to make these expensive payments.
  5. Lastly, I hope that I finally get enough of a fire in me to push through and get a grip on German. It’s something that I didn’t focus on so much since I started working, but I know I need to.

I suppose that’s enough from me.

Cheers, to five years!

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!

Germany Thus Far: 3 Years, Can It Be True?

It was shortly before my three-year anniversary of living in Germany when I realized it was coming up. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been here that long, but the calendar says that it is true!

So in the past year, what are the most significant things I’ve done?

1. Got a Job in Munich

Since I handed in my Master’s thesis in early September last year, I also had to get a job. I started applying in July of last year and was very lucky with timing, as I then started working in October.

The challenges of transitioning from academic life to work life are enough to begin with. Add in that I somehow did it in another country, succeeded in changing over my residence permit, and moved to the city (I’m not a city gal), well… That’s pretty impressive for me personally.

Do I love working more than I loved studying and doing research? Nope. But hey, I guess that’s part of your first few years working; you learn what you like and what you don’t.

2.Visited the Family

It was September 2015 when I moved to Germany, and throughout my entire Master’s program I could not afford to make the trip back home. Therefore, going home last December was the first time in over two years that I saw my family in person. It was also the first time in two years that I used US dollars, that everyone I spoke with had a Midwestern accent, and that I was surrounded by American flags everywhere I went. Yes, I suffered from reverse-culture shock.

LOZ

It was a nice little adventure to go back home, although it was the dead of winter. At least my Grandma can’t be upset that I always miss the holidays since I finally made it for Christmas!

3. Distortion in Copenhagen

After several years of A telling me about Copenhagen and how great it is, I finally went. The first few days were filled with bike rides around the city to do all the touristy things. The second half of the week was all about the electronic music festival.

While it’s true that Copenhagen is quite expensive, the city has a great vibe, amazing architecture, and delicious food. I even had my first bagel in several years (my life without bagels is very sad, indeed). Copenhagen is pretty spectacular, one of the few cities in which I can see myself living happily, albeit probably broke.

4. Another Trip to the US

So the trip that I was not planning to make was to head back home in the middle of summer. Living away from home when someone in your family is in poor health is pretty tough. I eventually got to the point where it didn’t make sense to keep stressing in Germany when I have a regular paycheck that can get me over the ocean to check in with my family in person.

Although it’s not what I planned, I now remember how flaming hot and humid Missouri gets in the summer, and why Missourians actually need air conditioning. A more pleasant part of the weather was walking barefoot through a summer storm to pick up my aunt’s car.

Family’s all okay now, too, in case you’re wondering.

5. Isle of Skye

The first trips I made to Scotland were back in 2014, and I documented them on the blog. (Read about them here and here.) Those two trips led me to falling as much in love with Scotland as I already was in with Ireland. One thing that A and I have wanted to do for several years now is to make it to the Isle of Skye. This year was the year to do it.

We rented a car and attempted Ben Nevis before going on to the Isle of Skye. That trip was an absolute dream, and the cool weather was dearly cherished after a brutally hot summer in Munich. I’ll eventually write about it here, but for now, I’ll just say that I can’t wait to go back to Scotland again.

Learnings

So those are the big things, but my international adventures are not the entire takeaway. Here’s a short list of some things I learned this year.

  1. Skiing is not for me. Tried that in Austria on a company ski trip, and the conclusion is that I will just skip straight to sledding and hot cocoa.
  2. I need to put the plant down, and walk away. I now have… seven plants? I think it’s seven, maybe there are more… Having a green thumb doesn’t go away just because one moves abroad!
  3. My German has gotten better. In fact, a few weeks ago I made a trip to the foreigners’ office and spoke in German during the entire appointment with the Munich bureaucrats.
  4. I need to plan a lot of hiking trips. Since I didn’t painstakingly plan out any options, I didn’t end up going on any. I tried to be a bit more relaxed, but it seems that being a planning freak does lead to more adventures into nature.
  5. Legal residence doesn’t get easier with time. In fact, the bureaucracy is so large that it even lost my file, resulting in multiple temporary permits and a long wait until they find my file before they’ll process the application that I already submitted. Never-ending story, this residency thing.
  6. December is too short, and there are too many Christmas markets to visit. Last year, I tried very hard to experience some new markets because I have had a love affair with them since my personal discovery of Christmas markets back in 2014. This year I will have to map out every one that I want to visit and be a bit more calculated in my excursions (and my Glühwein fund).
  7. Forcing myself to live in a city does not mean that I will learn to like it. Nine months into living here, and 12 months into working here, Munich still isn’t my favorite place. If anything, it’s more of a headache. If only I could find Munich-style jobs in the mountains….

Seven seems like a perfectly arbitrary number at which to pause here. So I guess that’s a wrap on year number three in Germany. I don’t really have a lot of plans for the next year yet (apart from Christmas markets), so let’s see where life takes me!

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!

Munich Now

On Saturday, I went for a walk. The sun was shining although winter still has it’s grip on this city. I took the public transport to Olympia Park, then I walked up Olympiaberg, an artificial hill made up of debris from World War II.

As I walked, I breathed in the cool, fresh winter air. It seemed almost as if every inhalation woke me up a bit more, and with each exhalation I removed a bit more of the cobwebs from inside my chest.

As a child, I grew up with the sounds of waves crashing against the shore and the birds singing in the trees. Summers were bare feet, fireflies, and cricket song. Nature is where I’m happiest, and it’s what gives me life. Although my dreams were always bigger than a small town, I know I’m not made for the big city.

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I thought about this when I was standing still at the top of the hill, soaking in the sun and letting the cool breeze wash over me. In that moment I realized that there are two versions of myself.

There is a version of myself which is relaxed, funny, adventurous, and ambitious. This version is outdoors in nature as much as humanly possible, yearns to travel near and far, and writes introspectively and honestly.

Sadly, this isn’t who I’ve been for most of these last months. The self that I have been is anxious about the smallest things, uses books and movies as escapism, and often goes about her days in a fog. Since the last month of finalizing my thesis, I have become this person.

Being outdoors in the park helped to clear the fog and cobwebs. I have spent so much time indoors and in the city that my sense of self has been suffocated as well as my creativity.

These are not the original words. I had written another post, but it wasn’t right. Spending some time alone in nature today reminded me that I have two different writing styles which seem to reflect those two versions of myself. The original post was written in a style which a reader can understand and perhaps find interesting. I’ve put out plenty of this writing and received praise for it, but this is not the version of my writing which I like to express. My preferred writing is that which a reader can feel.

OlympiaPark.jpg

Since September, I’ve finished my Master’s degree, moved out of my student flat in Konstanz, started a new job, visited my family in Missouri for Christmas, and moved into a new flat in Munich. The winter has been bitterly cold and snowy. On top of the weather, my work hours have made it very difficult for me to spend much time outdoors. Everything has been a whirlwind of activity, and all of it occurred between the walls of various buildings.

So… I’m in Munich now. I’ve been working here for almost six months, although settling into a flat was a more recent occurrence. I’ll not write much about the transition of the past six months, as it was cumbersome and quite boring to be honest.

What I will tell you, dear reader, is that I will be making an effort to get outdoors, be the truer version of myself, and write with a little more feeling (although I promise you’ll still get the travel tales and recommendations!). This is definitely going to be a greater challenge than in the past since I’m more “in the city” than I’ve ever been in my life, albeit a worthwhile one.

Cheers!