Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sonntag in Deutschland (Sunday in Germany)

Sunday is truly a day of rest here - by law.  Wikipedia tells us Sonntagsruhe is the "legally protected peace and quiet on the work-free Sunday" (my translation).  It's 11:20 a.m. as I write this, and I truly hear nothing outside except for a lonely dove and an occasional car passing by. Yesterday our neighbors were cutting down a tall tree, mowing their lawns, trimming hedges, hammering fence posts...but today it's quiet.

Unlike in Wisconsin, this is not a day to do yard work or wash the car.  We are not allowed to use machines of any kind outside today, though hand-held tools and brooms that don't make noise are ok.  If we did, the neighbors would have a right to complain directly to us, and summon the police if we are repeat offenders. Making noise with machines puts a person in bad relations with his neighbors, so it's less about the police and the law and more about the fact that it just isn't done.

Stores are closed today. There are exceptions in large touristy cities like München and Berlin, but in our small community there is no shopping today. Tough luck if you are cooking and forgot a major ingredient or ran out of wine last night. You should have planned better, and you won't likely make that mistake next Sunday.

I bagged up some glass bottles this morning to carry to the recycling containers, but before I left I fortunately remembered that it is not allowed to put things in the containers on Sundays - certainly not loud bottles that clank and break when tossed in.  Those living close to the containers would be out scolding me in no time, and that's not the way I want to meet the people of Bildechingen.

The one exception to loud noises on a Sunday is the call to mass, when the church bells go crazy. This happens at about 9:45 a.m.  It's a lovely sound, at least when one doesn't live directly across the street from the church.

Quite honestly, I find this a wonderful cultural tradition. How nice to have one day each week when the neighborhood is tranquil. It's a good day for a walk or bike ride, to sit outside on the patio enjoying nature, to get together with friends for Kaffee und Kuchen in the afternoon... There are no errands to run (because next to nothing is open), no heavy chores to accomplish (because one can't use power tools), and no appointments except those with friends and family.

I do like Sundays here very much.  In Wisconsin I could choose to relax on a Sunday any time I wanted to, but my neighbors were still mowing, sawing, blowing leaves, and trimming bushes, so there was little peace. Here in Bildechingen I only hear the sounds of the birds, an occasional dog, our fountain, and now and then a human voice.  Sunday may very well become my favorite day of the week.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Things to Get Used to 1: Locked Doors

One of the first things I need to get used to is the doors over here - doors to rooms, houses, offices, garages, and cars.  Our front door, for instance, has no handle on the outside. It is permanently locked, and there is no way to leave the door unlocked so that coming in and out while doing yard work, for instance, is easy. If I go out our front door, I better have my key in my pocket, or I'll be walking to the office to get a spare from Martin to let myself back in. The only way to open the front door is to insert and turn the key. This is quite nice for a feeling of security, in addition to the fact that the door is made of very solid heavy wood, and I don't even think Fezzik could break it down.

This did make me wonder what paramedics do if I'd ever need to call them and can't get to the door to open it.  Martin said they'd have to break in a window.

Next we have the garage door. The garage is separate from the house, and although there is a handle, Martin keeps it always locked.  When we go into the garage to leave with the car, we unlock the door and then lock it again with the key from the inside.  The other day while Martin was at work, I wanted to put our shopping bags into the car so we wouldn't forget them later. I left the house with my house keys so I could get back in, unlocked the garage door, went to the car and found the car doors locked.  This is just a difference in habit, I think, and it's obviously more sensible to lock one's car wherever it's parked. My children do this in the States, too, and I'm glad it's their habit.

Unlike in the States, almost every room in a house here has a door that closes. The "open concept" and "great rooms" that are popular in Wisconsin are not common here. The kitchen, the living room, the hallway leading to the bedrooms, and in some homes (but not ours) the dining room can all be closed off. I'm sure this helps with controlling heat and noise - Martin often closes the kitchen door when he's making coffee because his coffee maker is so loud as it's grinding the beans.  He has spent enough time in American homes, though, and our inside doors to the various rooms stay open most of the time.

I come from Smalltown, Wisconsin, and I was not very good about locking my doors. I never locked the car doors when the car was in the garage, if I had to step out and knew a friend was stopping over before I'd return I would leave the back door unlocked. Once recently I left for a few hours without realizing that I'd not only forgotten to lock the front door to the house, but I left the inner door standing wide open. I usually locked all the doors at night before I went to bed, but I sometimes forgot.  This won't happen here, which is good.

Lastly we have offices. Martin and I have spent considerable time in the last 10 days driving into town to visit a bank, the Ausländeramt ("Alien Department"), the Finanzamt ("Taxation Office"), the Standesamt ("Registrar's Office") and at least one more Amt (office) to get my papers in order so that I can work, get health insurance, and acquire a residency permit, Lohnsteuerkarte (salary tax card) and bank account. Many offices in these old buildings also have solid doors and no windows to the hallway, so you're never quite sure if the person you need to see is available or if you're in the right place. One needs to listen briefly to see if there's chatter inside or if it might be a convenient time, knock on the door, and hopefully hear someone say "Herein, bitte" (Please come in).  Today at the Ausländeramt we heard lots of talking inside, so we waited in the hall. When a family came out of the office, we started in but were told to please wait. So we closed the door again. It feels awkward to not really know if anyone knows you're there waiting, not wanting to interrupt, but also needing to get your business taken care of. Eventually I was able to turn in my application for permanent residency, record my fingerprints, and turn in my biometric photo.  In a few weeks I should have my Aufenthaltstitel (residency permit).

On the way home we stopped at the store, where Martin selected the meat for tonight's dinner.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Shopping for Meat

Sometimes it seems even the simplest things are more difficult in a foreign language.  Today I walked to the store to buy a cut of beef for the steak sandwiches we're making tonight.  I needed a 12-ounce beef strip steak.  I'm not actually all that confident with choosing cuts of beef in the States, either, so I looked up what that is. I decided sirloin could work, too, so I looked that up on and found Filet or Lende.  On the way to the store I realized I did not remember how much beef I'd need.  This would not be a disaster except that I would need to guess in grams rather than pounds or ounces, and I have not yet learned the conversion equations. I also don't have a sense of how much a gram is, which makes estimating tough.

I went first to the cookbook section of the store to search for a beef steak recipe.  I found one for roast beef for 4 persons calling for 1 kg of roast beef. I'd need enough meat for two persons.  Ok, on to the meat department.

Although I was hoping for little signs next to the cuts of meat so I could be sure I was asking for what looked like the strip steak I needed, the signs are all lined up in the front part of the window. Those identify what they have and how much it costs, but not which cut of meat in the cabinet belongs with each sign. I'm sure they're assuming that shoppers know what the heck they need.  Hm.  I saw advertisement signs also - near to the cut that looked promising - for "irisches Beef," or Irish beef. Wait. That's not going to be corned beef, is it? Isn't that only sold around St. Patrick's Day? It  could, and probably does, just mean the cow was a former resident of Ireland.  But I don't want to take chances here. Beef is expensive.

So I said to the kind butcher "Ich hätte gern 500 gram Rinderfilet [I'd like 500 grams of the Rinderfilet]." Rind is beef, and told me Filet is a word for sirloin.  What he reached for was not strip steak or sirloin.  I recognize that cut - it's tenderloin!  NO!! Wait!  Not the...oh never mind. He hacked the tenderloin in half and weighed it - just about 500 grams. I can do these sandwiches with tenderloin, right?  I held my breath while he printed the ticket for the beef -  20.57 ($26.43). 

Maybe Martin would prefer to grill our dinner tonight.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Week One

I've been living in Horb (southern Germany) for about a week now. I am originally from Wisconsin – grew up in Sheboygan, went to college in Appleton, and lived and worked most of my adult life in Fond du Lac.  My husband is German and has lived in southern Germany all his life. We have been good friends for 22 years.  He and I were married in June 2006 and have been living apart for more than 6 years, with one or the other of us flying overseas several times a year for visits, holidays, family occasions, and so on.

But now, after what seems like a very long wait, we are starting our married lives together in a lovely little house Martin found for us in the perfect location.  It's about a 4-minute walk to his office, where he spends most of his daytime hours, and a 20-minute walk for me to the shopping area where I can buy just about everything we need for day-to-day life.  We have a rather elaborate garden with roses, lavender, mint, rhododendron bushes, a fountain, and an angry artificial owl that sits on a stone pedestal and oversees the goings-on of the yard.  The garden and yard are surrounded by a tall hedge, so typical in southern Germany, to prevent passers-by from peeking at one's lawn. We also have a pergola on the far side of our patio – a 3-sided garden shed in which we store Martin's Weber grill and the lawn furniture when the weather is bad and during the winter.  It's a lovely place to sit during rain storms, as well.

Our house has three bedrooms and an office, so we have more space than I would have anticipated.  Nearly everything here is on a smaller, more conservative scale than in the States.  Kitchens are smaller, bedrooms are smaller, and yards and garages are tiny in comparison.  There is just not the space to spread out here as there is in America, and land costs much more.  Still, our yard is much bigger than we need, and I'm not complaining - until it's time to do yard work, which I've never enjoyed.  Perhaps I can learn to enjoy it here.

The garage makes me laugh.  We have a two-car garage, which is not at all common here. Most homes have a one-car garage, and some also have a carport.  German garages are just a bit larger than their cars. One has to squeeze into the driver's seat and hold one's breath backing out (at least I do, fearing what will happen if the wheel was turned at any point after entering the garage).  If one has a car of a reasonable size, there may be some space in front of it for a bike.  Germans must be flabbergasted by American garages and the junk with which we fill them.  When we put our house in Wisconsin on the market before my move here, one of the things we were told was that our 2.5-car garage was a negative point.  Americans buying houses today want 3-car garages, because even if they don't have 3 cars, they have another garage-full of stuff they need to store in there.

We have a Wintergarten (sun room) on the south side of the house with windows as three of the walls (two face outside to the back yard and patio and one faces into the living room), and I'm sure we'll be using that room often during all seasons.  But perhaps the best feature of the home is the very German Kachelofen (tiled stove or masonry heater)! This is in the Wohndiele, which is the main entrance area, or foyer.  Martin has made a fire for me in there nearly every night since I arrived. The wood goes into a little metal box inside the tiled "fireplace", and once it's burning the box is closed – so unlike fireplaces in the States, one doesn't see the flames.  They heat up the tiled walls of the heater from the inside, and the heat from the tiles warms the whole room.  When I get a slight chill, all I need to do is sit down on the bench of the Kachelofen and lean my back against it.  Hmmmmm…. it warms me straight through in no time.  I'm very lucky that Martin has not yet tired of building me fires.

One last interesting feature of German homes is that when a buyer moves in, he typically finds the rooms empty. Totally empty.  There are few – if any – closets, and the sellers usually take the lights, including the ones fixed to the ceilings.  The sellers usually take the kitchen cupboards and counters with them, and often the sink as well.  A buyer may come in and find only a faucet sticking out of a kitchen wall. This is the case in the bathroom as well. There are no cupboards under the sinks, or counters - those go with the sellers. In the bathroom are only sinks, the toilet, and the shower and/or tub.  The woman from whom we bought this house was down-sizing to an apartment, and she included the kitchen sink, cupboards, and counter tops with the house. She also left the curtains in all the rooms, which was really nice for us.  We can change them gradually as we like, but at least we didn't have to add those expenses to our move right away.

This week has been mainly about getting used to the house and making it feel like home even though our shipment from the States isn't here yet.  I'm getting there, and once the shipment arrives, I'm sure the house will feel completely ours.  There will be plenty of work to do, and I'm looking forward to being productive and truly settling in.