28 October 2004

Finding an Apartment in Germany

Burg Stettenfels
Here is a nice castle, Burg Stettenfels, looking over the town of Untergruppenbach, which is not far from Flein. It would be a nice place to live, but the heating is too expensive.

So, why all the references to Flein? As it turns out, we are in a temporary apartment in Flein until we find a permanent place.

Flein is a small town south of Heilbronn, surrounded by vineyards. It is a fairly quiet, tranquil town, yet not without a few fun things to do. But probably not close enough to "the city" for our tastes.

As it turns out, finding an apratment in the Heilbronn region is not easy. First of all, the concept that most Americans will not understand is the "Makler", the closest thing in English is "Real Estate agent". In most cases, you need one to rent an apartment too. And, unlike buying real estate in the US, the Makler is paid by the buyer, not the seller. What makes it most interesting is that we are the ones looking up ads in the paper, calling around and visiting crappy places along with the good. I could see paying 2.3 month's rent to someone if they actually did the legwork and separated the wheat from the chaff (did I spell that right?), but so far all they seem to do is tell us that they won't show us this or that, won't make appointments at our convienence or, in the case that we like something, they will pass the information on to the landlord.

So, once the landlord gets our information, and usually that of a few other people too, he meets with us, and decides whether or not he likes us enough to let us have the provlidge of paying to live in his place. No first come, first served, no bidding wars or anything, it is all up to the gut feel of the owner. So, the first place we fell in love with, we didn't make the cut. Since there is no law protacting us from discrimination as in the US, he can skip us for whatever reason - maybe he doesn't like redheads or that my wife's name isn't the same as mine. Or maybe I am too short or I stared at his crazy moustache too much. Who knows - all I know is the place I really liked isn't my home.

We're going through it again _ found a place we liked and told the guy we really want it. Once again, no on the spot signature of contracts or even an appointment to do so. Hopefully this time we'll getthe apartment. Which brings us back to the picture. If we don't get it this time, I'm camping out at Burg Stettenfels. It looks like they have enough room.


25 October 2004

Fine Wine from Flein

Fleiner Rundwanderweg Marker
We wandered the Flein Rundwanderweg, a hiking trail winding through and around Flein, Germany. There were these great stones marking the way, but unfortunately we were going the opposite direction. We aren't really sure what the image is. A woman squishing grapes in a big bowl? A witch at a cauldron? ???

Vineyards near Flein


And the grapes looked great too. Not only that, but they make a great wine.


24 October 2004

The German Government System

So, before I could legally live & work in Germany, I needed to get a residence visa and a work permit. Theoretically, this should be easy, because I'm married to a German. If she can live here, than they can't stop me, right? Well, yes. But it is more complicated than that. Here is the adventure we went on trying to get these important yet elusive documents.

Step 1) Go to the Rathaus (city hall) in Flein (where our temporary apartment is) to register our address with the local authorities. This is something strange to Americans, but is required by German law and is the first step of the complex puzzle. Jeannette goes to register us both while I am at work. Whoops!, that won't do, I have to be there in person. But, since they are only open in the mornings, we had to wait until the next morning to get my Anmeldebestätigung.

Step 2) Leave work early Friday and go to get my residence permit. We thought it should be at the Heilbronn Rathaus, but it is closed in the afternoons. So we decided to use the time in the afternoon to get a bank account, also known as Herculean Task #3.

Step 3) So, we swing into the bank, well before it closes. Shouldn't take that long to open an account, right? Think again! We needed to have an appointment first. Make an appointment for Monday at 4:30.

Step 4) Nothing government or banking related is open on Saturday or Sunday, so take a break. So we started looking for our permanent apartment. But that is a different story entirely. (Stay tuned!) But at least we find out that I need to go to the Landratsamt (the government office that handles foreigners like me) instead of the Rathaus to get my residence visa.

Step 5) Monday rolls around, and since I have to leave work early for the bank account appointment, we diecided to kill two birds with one stone and swing by the Landratsamt as well. We were armed with every piece of paper we had (passports, marriage certificate, work contract, Anmeldebestätigungen, shoe sizes, etc.). We stop at the information desk and ask which room do we need to get my Aufenthaltserlaubnis (residence permit). The answer: a piece of paper with the Landratsamt hours, which are all in the morning (except Wednesday!). Hmm, seems like a trend. What do those German government workers do in the afternoons, anyway? Well, at least we have plenty of time to get to our bank appointment.

Step 6) The woman working at the bank was really nice, but she couldn't let me open an account because I am not yet legal to live in Germany. Well, at least Jeannette is. Of course, she doesn't have a job yet, which is also a problem. Even if we had a stack of money with us, and begged them to lock it in their vault, they wouldn't without both of those things. But, we did manage to get the account opened up since we're married and we each had one of the two required items. And it only took a little over an hour. One interesting thing, we're not allowed to have a negative bank balance (huh?) until I have two pay stubs from my job. Hmmm. I guess that means that I can't get all of you loyal readers really bitchin' Christmas presents this year, because I won't have two pay stubs from Germany until at least the end of December. Sorry guys, I was planning on seeing just how negative the balance could be by going crazy for "the holidays"! But since the bank is being such a pain, you'll have to settle for a pack of Twizzlers and more rantings in my blog.

Step 7) So, Tuesday we show up bright & early at the Landratsamt, punch the button corresponding to my last name on the little machine that gives out numbers and *woo hoo*, it looks like we're number 1 to talk to Herr Müller. The instructions say to wait in front of Door #3. So we do. At least 1/2 hour goes by, 1/2 hour after the place supposedly opens, before we get buzzed in. Herr Müller is a really nice guy, but talks awfully fast German, even for Jeannette, which seems funny to me, considering he is working in the Ausländer (foreigner) office. Anyway, he apologized for the delay as he stamped "ungültig" (denied!) on someone else's papers, which didn't put me at ease. Was he some real hard ass? I guess he wasn't. We pretty much had everything he needed, except an application, proof of address and a picture. He even wrote a couple things in the application form for us. I went back to work, ready to be back to see Herr Müller on Wednesday.

Step 8) Jeannette got the proof of address from "Wo der Hahn kräht" (Where the cock crows), the hotel that owns our temporary apartment.

Step 9) Since the photo places probably don't open early, we decided to get my photos at lunch time Wednesday and swing by Herr Müller's office at the Landratsamt then. Just in case you're saying to yourself "What? Are you stupid? Haven't you learned by now that German government offices are only open in the morning!", Wednesday is the special day at the Landratsamt where they actually are open in the afternoon. So, after a nice Chinese buffet (but not all you can eat, rather it is pay by the kilo), some photos and a weird encounter at the cell-phone store trying to re-fill our pre-paid phone card, we managed to make it to the office of Herr Müller.

Step 10) Unfortunately, at that time, there were two people in line before us. One of those people had two small children, at least one of which enjoyed screaming, and in those solid, well-polished stone German government offices, the screams echoed considerably, and my ears are still ringing, 5 days later. Eventually we got in, I got a neat new sticker in my passport and a letter to give to the work permit guys telling them to let me work so that I don't just leech off the German social welfare system. He also gave us the hours to the Arbeitsamt, the place to get the permit. Of course, they aren't open Wednesday afternoons, so the saga continues.

Step 11) Thursday morning and the Arbeitsamt opens at 7:30, before the Hahn has even gekräht. Everythings good - slip on in to a free parking space (one of the hardest things to find in a German city), pop on up to room 413 and bam! they ask me a hard question. How long have we been married? I don't know about German guys, but what American guy knows that? I managed to mumble my way through it and got the paper. I'm legal to live and work in Germany.

Step 12) Drink my first German beer as a legal resident of Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

So that's it. Maybe my saga will help streamline the process for others. I think the key is to have a name in the range of Ck-Hu so you can talk to Herr Müller. He rocks. And I'm not just saying that because I get to see him again next year, to renew my residence visa.

So, I hope that I have learned a little about the German government, so that it will take less than 3 months to renew my driver's license, which expires in February.

08 October 2004

The Big D

For all of my adult life, I have lived just down the road from "The Big 'D'". When I was in Ames, it was Des Moines. When I was in Austin, it was Dallas (who some would say is the one and only "Big 'D'", but work with me here). In Colorado Springs, it was Denver. Someone asked me before moving to Germany, how I would feel not being near a "Big 'D'". I didn't really have an answer then. But after a bit of thinking today, I know. I am still in the same situation, except I'm no longer living near the Big 'D' but in it.

Think about it.

05 October 2004

Frauenkirche, Dresden

Frauenkirche in Dresden
This church was destroyed at the end of WWII, and remained as a pile of rubble until only recently. It has been re-assembled from the original pieces and now stands in it's former glory.

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04 October 2004


Originally uploaded by allanimal.
From a traveling art exhibit that just happened to be in Dresden the day I was there. One of Lenin's comrades.

03 October 2004

222 km/h

I drove my rental car at least 222 km/h today on the autobahn, going to Dresden, and some people still passed me.