germany bureaucracy birds
Burdensome bureaucracy, bountiful benevolence, beautiful birds, bad blunders.
Hallo aus Deutschland! My big move from Canada to Germany has happened, if you count my physical relocation as moving. There are still approximately 379 things I have to figure out before I can consider myself reasonably settled, but things are happening - slowly, steadily.
One of my superpowers is dealing with complex systems of constraints and dependencies and holding them all in my head (*when there are rules and the rules are clear and comprehensive). Thanks to German bureaucracy, this move has really been testing the limits of these abilities. I discovered pretty early on that there are some circular dependencies: banks won't let you open a local account without a local phone and a local address. You can't get even a pre-paid phone card without a local address. Worse still, many rental viewings can only be scheduled by phone and some require you to have a local bank account already (which, like I said, can't be done without a local address!). Circular dependencies make for literal unsolveable systems so I'm glad to have gotten very very lucky.
Before I got here, I had scheduled a viewing for an apartment which turned out to be even nicer in person than on the internet. So I signed a lease on my third day here! Here are some apartment highlights.
- Adorable, bright little loft apartment that I have all to myself!
- I made good on my promise to myself to get a queen-sized bed for the first time in my life
- The pitter-patter of rain on my skylights is rather lovely
- I can see birds flying over the house through said skylights!
- 3 buses to the university (about 10 minutes)
- Within a 3 block radius
- at least 3 bakeries
- restaurants, cafes
- drugstores, pharmacies, a doctor
- supermarket, greengrocers
- town square (complete with a fountain, local pigeons, markets 2x a week)
- banks, phone companies
- Slightly further away
- Forest (birds!)
- Mini golf
- Tennis courts
- Train station
This place is at the high end of my budget but clearly it checked a lot of boxes for me and a big deciding factor was that the landlady was very kind and didn't have nearly as many hard requirements as other places did. When I came for the viewing, she even introduced me to half the neighbours and they all seemed like lovely people. She's been one of several instrumental people who've made a huge difference in the smoothness of my move here by being kind to me. Here's a quick section dedicated to them!
I am most grateful to her for how much she has demystified about German life for me. She let me go shopping with her one day because I wanted to watch someone in their element navigate stores here, to learn how things worked. When I first moved to Canada I remember quickly learning that you didn't just go up to the coffee shop counter and say what you wanted. There's a script and it goes like this:
Deviating from this script would result in weird looks. And it's all very regional as well. I remember my "just on VISA" bit getting a confused eyebrow raise in Seattle even though it was universally accepted just 2 hours north in Vancouver! So this shopping trip with my landlady was very useful and I learned a simple German grocery/supermarket script that has been serving me well. It's less verbal here compared to Canada:
My landlady hired this painter to paint the common areas of the building. He was playing this really lovely Ethiopian music as he painted (which I figured out later when Shazam decided to cooperate with me), and I told him I liked it. When he was done painting, out of sheer kindness, he came upstairs to help me build my IKEA bed. This was an interesting challenge because he speaks less English than I do German, but we managed and I even learned some German in the process. The landlady had advised me to tip the IKEA delivery guys for bringing all the stuff up the stairs so I thought it would make sense to tip the painter too (especially since I knew she had hired him because he was out of work). But he refused, saying in German that he had lived here 7 years and I had only been here 4 days. I know this is what he said because among other things, I learned German numbers and days of the week from him while we were building the bed.
This morning I was in said bed practising my German on Duolingo and my lying sideways pressed the power button on the phone and restarted it. When it came back to life my phone wanted me to enter a PIN for my SIM card - a number which was on a piece of plastic that I had thrown away before leaving the hotel. I couldn't call customer service because A, they would probably speak German, and B, my SIM card was locked! So I panickedly went to the phone store at the street corner and was relieved to find that the person there spoke English. I asked if he could help at all, even to just make the phone call for me. He very generously did so and saved my phone.
He was very excited to have someone to speak English with because it's rare here and so he promptly told me his entire life story. Apparently he lived in England for 6 years and had two romantic failures there after which he "hit rock bottom and did a lot of stupid things," but then he moved back here because he missed his family. He said he was Polish and that despite the history here in Germany, he had never faced as much xenophobia here as an Eastern European compared to what he faced in England. He had some adorable language quirks that I haven't heard in a long time such as referring to one of the two people he dated there as an "English lass," and saying "Sorry, love!" when he forgot to give me back my passport.
I signed up for a wifi connection at the store since I hadn't done that yet, and he walked me through the process and the sign-up. It's going to take 2+ weeks for a technician to come and set things up, but I'll take what I can get. More importantly though, I couldn't sign up without a local bank account (which I don't have yet), and you won't believe this but he actually put his own bank details in! He said I should just come into the store when I have my own bank account so he could update it. This way I could keep my technician slot instead of delaying it further just because I didn't have a local bank account. I'm quite floored by his (well-placed!) trust in me.
Also I can't not mention my German friends Simon and Sabrina. They don't know each other personally but they both live in North America and have remotely been exceptionally sweet, kind angels to me. Here's a non-exhaustive list of stuff they have done for me:
- explained stuff about the recent German election and the different political parties
- listed and ranked German supermarkets
- made me a literal Google doc with information about banking in Germany
- tracked my flight
- gave me advice and moral support when I was figuring out how to get from the airport to Saarbrücken
- proofread German messages to Important People (like potential landlords)
- told me "if you're totally lost and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, call me" (at 3 am for him)
- sent me German memes without translation to make me do the work of learning
- taught me never to translate "birding" literally in German because "vögeln" means "to fuck" (ich liebe vögeln, ha ha)
Speaking of birds, I haven't had a chance to get out and go birding yet because I only just unpacked my camera and binoculars and I've had my hands full with so many other things. But here's a quick list of new birds I have confidently IDed:
- Eurasian moorhen
- Grey heron
- Eurasian magpie
- Great tit
- Carrion crow
I'm seeing WAY more birds than this short list (including several flying over the house at dusk) but I cannot reliably ID them yet, especially without a European birding book. That's on the neverending todo list but understandably it's lower priority than getting a bank account and wifi and a student card.
I worry I'm making it all sound very lovely and nice and easy when actually it's been (and continues to be) very hard, actually. And I don't just mean the cognitive load of constantly trying to communicate in a language you don't speak yet. Every time something goes wrong (plumbing issues! shorted my magic wand because of voltage differences! locked myself out of my SIM card! forgot to eat anything after breakfast because stress! misgendering! forgetting to hydrate enough! confusing all-German websites and customer service!), I feel like I inch closer to becoming a sobbing mess on the floor who just wants to go home, but I'm trying oh so hard to remind myself that it isn't me, that this is just what it's like to move to a new place and learn new things.
It's been helpful to remind myself of a previous move to an apartment in Port Moody (BC, Canada). In my first few days I couldn't stop setting off the smoke alarm no matter what I did, and it was incredibly loud and stressful and embarrassing because the landlords lived upstairs and could hear. After my first grocery run, I tried to put my eggs in the fridge and they slipped and I broke every last one. I had bought a new pepper grinder on my second day and when I tried to grind pepper over my stir fry (that I had set off the alarm with yet again, and that didn't have eggs in it because I'd broken them all), it turned out that the lid was loose and it emptied itself of half its peppercorns into my pan. I tried making a baked apple and the recipe asked me to pour water into the dish halfway through. It didn't specify that I should use warm water and I didn't know better, so I poured cool water into the hot glass oven dish and it shattered, sending shards of glass and cinammoney apple all over the kitchen. I felt incompetent and awful and like I couldn't do a single thing right.
And yet, none of that is what comes to mind when I think back to my time in that house. I remember trail running in the forest 6 or 7 days a week. I remember walking down the hill to my favourite cafe on the planet with a new book every Sunday, and spending a few hours there sipping on coffee and reading. I remember seeing my first pileated woodpecker in the woods, having folks over to visit me, taking mirror selfies in the bathroom, napping on the couch. In the end I was sad to leave.
I'm impatient to get to that point in this place too - I just have to keep reminding myself that it is necessarily a slow process. I hope I feel a bit closer by the time I write my next post. Until then, tschüss!
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