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New Address: Dresden, Germany

January 17, 2015

Hey folks, friends, and family!  It’s been a while since we posted, mainly because the last couple of months, and particularly the last two weeks, have been a whirlwind.  We finally have the free time (and mental clarity maybe?) to sit down and write something reflective.

As most of you already know (I’m pretty sure we both talked about it endlessly for the past 6 months…) Alex and I just moved from Pasadena, CA, to Dresden, Germany, a medium sized city in the eastern German state of Saxony.  Selling our lovely bungalow in Pasadena was emotionally a bit tough, but the process went as well as anyone could ever possibly ask.    After leaving Pasadena, we drove with our dog and our truck to Michigan, where we spent some much-needed time with our families during the holidays. For an entire month, we got to while away our time with long walks in the snow, stacking lumber, baking cookies, assembling gigantic train sets, ripping out flooring, drinking, installing insulation, wrapping Christmas presents, running errands, opening Christmas presents, and eating meals cooked for us by our parents.  It was truly wonderful.

On Jan 4th, we said goodbye to our family and our dog, and flew from Grand Rapids, MI to Dresden, Germany via Chicago, IL and Frankfurt, Germany.  Everything we decided to take with us fit in three checked bags (50 lb each) and two carry-on bags.   No, our flights did not go smoothly.  But, despite much hassle, switching of planes, and hours of standing around, we arrived in Dresden on the intended day, and only 8 hours later than planned.  Somehow our bags made it too and we never even had to go through customs.  When we arrived at the international guesthouse via taxi, the weather was just perfect: howling wind and hard sleet. But, fortunately, retrieving our key from the lockbox and finding our apartment was pretty straightforward.   We went to sleep (or tried to…), knowing that in the morning we would have to get up bright and early to figure out how to take public transportation to the Goethe institute for our German placement tests, after which I would have to go to work.

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Since no one really wants or needs to read about each and every detail of every day between then and now, we decided instead to compile a list of interesting things we’ve experienced during our first two weeks in Germany:  Things that exceeded expectations, things that were worse than we thought they would be, things that were just as frustrating as expected, and things that are just … different.

  • Speaking german with strangers:  Not as terrifying as expected.  Most of the our pidgin-German has well-received, and we can usually understand what people are saying to us too.  The best thing, is that most people stick to German, even when it’s clear that we don’t speak it that well (good practice for us!).   Most people in Dresden are really friendly.  It reminds us of the midwest, in fact.
  • Grocery prices: Way lower than expected.  We have been told by German friends that groceries in Germany are cheaper than in the U.S.  We didn’t believe them.  We thought, surely, they were just shopping at the wrong places in the U.S.  Like Von’s or Ralph’s (*ick*).  I can now confirm that groceries in Germany are really and truly much cheaper than back home.  As a quick example, we stopped at a normal (not a discount) grocery store on our way home today to buy a loaf of french bread, a liter of canola oil, 2lbs of sugar, and a decent bottle of red wine.  Our total at the check-out counter was €4.22, which translates to about $5.
  • Grocery selection: Awesome for us, but not good for everyone.  The selection at any given store seems to consist of about one third cured meats (I mean, does one small grocery store really need need two different 30ft long butcher counters dedicated to salami and speck?), a quarter dairy products (mostly deliciously smelly cheeses at ridiculously low prices), and a quarter wine and alchohol.   Most of the wine costs less than 2 buck chuck.  I’ve now taken to watering down my sprite with red spanish wine, just to make the sprite less expensive.
  • The tram and bus system: Super easy and convenient.  Everything about the tram system in Dresden is awesome, as long as you don’t want to go too far away.  Both the trams and the busses stop at the same stations, which are at street level, in the middle of the street.  You don’t have to swipe your ticket, rather, the whole system relies mostly on the honor system.  All this is to say that there is a very low activation barrier for using public transportation.  If you are walking past a station when a bus or tram is going by, just hop on.  If not, keep on walking.
  • The little things:  Mostly easier than expected.  Things like setting up our cell service, applying for a bank account, and figuring out the recycling/trash rules were all pretty easy.  We got used to separating our trash into 4 different bins (paper, compost, plastic + metal, and all the rest) within the first few days.  Our cell service is through Aldi, which is cheap (€12.99 for my plan, with only 300 MB of data).
  • Rock climbing gym: Best things yet!  Apparently rock climbing is actually a normal / popular sport here in Germany. People don’t look at you funny when you say that your favorite sport is rock climbing.  Better yet is the huge rock climbing gym here in Dresden, which has long hours (8am – midnight), high walls (up to 60 feet) and no rules!  No, really.  They don’t even check to make sure you know how to belay or lead climb on your first visit.  You just pay and then walk in and climb.
  • Big asian grocery store at the Hauptbahnhof:  It turns out we can get almost everything we need for Chinese, Thai, and Indian dishes at one very convenient store at the main train station.  Sure, they only sell one variety of bok choy, instead of the 20 varieties in L.A. area stores.  But, we’ll survive somehow.
  • Lack of Mexican food and ingredients: Just as bad as expected.  We’ve been to about 6 different groceries stores now and we still haven’t found tortilla chips.  We can get tomatoes, avocados, cilantro, and black beans, but we can’t find frozen corn, and there is no chance that we will ever find fresh jalepenos.
  • Bureaucracy: Also as bad as expected.  Just like anywhere else in the world, the results you get depend entirely on the mood of the person on the other side of the counter.
  • Shopping without a car: The stores are pretty good, and the prices are better than we hoped, but, biggggg but, you have to get everything home somehow.  Right now we don’t have a car and even if we did, we live on the 15th floor of a tower and the parking isn’t steps away from the elevator anyway.  Every time you shop, you have to stop and think “can I carry this with me until I finish shopping at this store and any other stores I want to go to?”  Then, “can I continue to carry it to whatever the nearest tram station is?” And finally, “can I carry it the half mile home from the tram station?”  It is surprising how little you REALLY want to carry that far.  Suddenly smaller packages of everything seem like a really great idea.  Thankfully, it seems most Germans agree with me on this, as many things are sold in smaller quantities.  Which leads to another interesting thing here.  Prices scale pretty fairly here.  That means, you can sometimes walk into a cafe and get a small, 6oz coffee for €0.80 or a large, or a 12oz coffee for €1.60.  It is wonderful!  There is no up-sell, no “Are you sure you don’t want to get the half-gallon-mega-jug-o-coffee for just 10¢ more?”  You don’t sit at the store and honestly consider purchasing a kiddie pool’s worth of sour cream just because your two choices are the kiddie pool’s worth, or 6 ounces for nearly the same cost.  Nope, a half pound of beautiful delicious Irish butter costs about €1.25 and full pound costs about €2.50.  There is one place this breaks down though.  That is specialty goods.  Want a half pound of ridiculously fresh and delicious goat’s cheese?  That will cost about €3.  Want tiny dollops of goat cheese topped with tiny amounts of finely diced peppers or basil or other interesting things that are all arranged beautifully in a package and can’t amount to more than a few ounces at most?  That’ll cost you €12.
  • Health Insurance Cost:  Europe is the land of socialized medicine, free health care for all!  Not so much.  You can get state health care, but many (most professionals) choose to have private health care.  How much does this cost? Less than in the U.S. but you would be surprised by how much it actually ends up costing.
  • IBAN:  International Bank Account Number, the thing that literally the rest of the entire world uses to keep track of and transfer money.  The United States doesn’t use IBAN’s.  Why?  I have no clue.  We are the only country that doesn’t use them.  This is a mystery. An incredibly annoying mystery.  Everything here is done with IBANs.  Want to sign up for a recurring gym membership?  No problem, what’s your IBAN?  Want to refill your pre-paid cell plan?  Just enter your IBAN.  Pay rent? IBAN.   As soon as our bank account is activated, this will cease being a problem, and will instead be very convenient.  In the meantime though, it’s annoying.

Okay, that’s enough for now.  Enjoy a few photos, and then wait with baited breath for next week’s (or next month’s) post!

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Our studio apartment.  Functional, but small.  And very green.

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After our trip to Ikea (pronounced “Eeekayah” here, by the way) our place felt a bit more homey, and also more green.

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These are just pictures from our first time wandering around the “old city” Altstadt neighborhood.  There were lots of surprises hidden around every corner.

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Dirt cheap wine = normal wine = delicious.

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Rock climbing!

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Whoops!  You caught me!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Betsy jellema permalink
    January 18, 2015 7:01 AM

    Love your photos and observations, esp after having spent time in Frankfurt. Glad you’re soaking it all in with such gusto! Love, Aunt Betsy

  2. January 18, 2015 5:12 PM

    Great start to your revived blog. Love the commentary and interesting details! Miss you lots!

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