Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Well, we’re settled into the apartment now for the most part. This apartment is a bit smaller than the Taipei apartment, which has required some creative decorating and furniture placement. Although the decor is decidedly Asian in look and feel, never fear. We are already scoping out the antique shops in Düsseldorf for those European treasures we simply can’t live without.

Rather than write about our apartment, I’ll let the photos tell the story.

Welcome to the entry way. As you look at this photo, a door leading to the kitchen is located on the left and a hallway leading to the bedroom, bath, and study is down on the right. I am standing in the living room taking this photo.

Entry Way

Living Room
Our living room area is actually one large space with built-in bookcases on one end and sliding glass doors leading out onto the front balcony at the other end. We still have a few furniture holes in the room, including picking up a Chinese carpet that is laying in the attic of our Waxahachie house – we’ll grab that on our trip home to Texas in late July. We also have our eyes on a couple of French side chairs to add to the living room…

Living Room View #3

Note: Ginger is not a bit camera shy...she often wanders into a photo just as the picture is snapped.

Living Room View #2

Living Room View #1

Living Room View #4

Note: In Germany, all lighting fixtures, bathroom mirrors, draperies, curtains, etc. are supplied by the renter, not the landlord. We have found an antique French fixture for the living room, but the others are all IKEA...thank goodness for IKEA. Draperies were installed last week.

The kitchen consists of a large galley area for cooking, built in cabinetry for dishware, and an eating area.

Kitchen View #3

Kitchen View #1

The current table and chairs shown in this room will ultimately be moved to the front balcony, once we find the perfect European antique table. You can also reach the kitchen through the living room as well.

Kitchen View #2

Master Bedroom
Not a large space, but the master bedroom just the same. Note the Chinese screen is being used as a headboard, especially as there was nowhere else to put it. There is also an entrance onto the rear balcony as well from this room.

Master Bedroom View #1

Master Bedroom View #2

Master Bedroom View #3

Other rooms
Rounding out the apartment are 1 ½ baths and a study/guest bedroom. I am not ready to share photos of the study, as this is still a work in progress. There is a second entrance onto the rear balcony from the study as well.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Neither Rain nor Snow….

For those of you in the US, you know the expression…Neither rain nor snow can stop the US Postal Service. Not sure if a similar adage holds true in Germany, but I will let you know later this winter.

I am beginning to figure out the complexities of the German postal service. Not that I have all the answers yet, but some of the puzzle pieces are starting to fall into place. I can now buy stamps, mail packages and letters, fill out customs forms, pick up packages that are stopped in customs (oh yea, I have that one down!). Still, each visit to the local post office brings a new revelation. It certainly keeps me on my toes.

A little background: Apparently, the German postal service has recently been deregulated and partly privatized, opening up the opportunity for competition. With this deregulation comes a few hiccups along the way. While Deutsche Post (the primary and only real option for mail service in Germany) has not yet quite mastered the concept of differentiating their business on low cost strategies, let alone a customer service mindset, I suspect they will get there eventually, particularly as new companies enter the market.

What Deutsche Post has mastered, however, is the art of “re-branding”. Everywhere you look, Deutsche Post is advertising, flinging its yellow and black colors and messages onto billboards, tram and bus advertisements, newspapers, etc. I am familiar with this type of marketing strategy in the US - tell ‘em you’re new and improved, so therefore, you must be. Not that I would know how the “old” Deutsche Post operated, but I can see that their marketing budget has received a major cash infusion.

Other observations:

· Walk or ride? – Most mail carriers deliver mail to residences and small business by foot. Carriers walk their routes, pushing a three legged cart (think: pull golf cart used by golfer who walks the links, but attach a yellow and black mail bag.) There are a few varieties on this theme. Some mail carriers use a three wheel bicycle, with the mail bags attached across the back. Not sure why some carriers have to walk and other gets to ride, but perhaps that has something to do with the distance covered.

· Cute yellow vests – Yes, there appears to be sort of dress code for mail carriers, but it is not universally applied. Can’t explain why, as some carriers wear the official Deutsche Post shirt and others do not. They do, however, wear cute little yellow and black vests (again, think crossing guard vest, but in yellow and black).

· We like our mail carrier – Yes, it’s true. Our mail carrier who delivers our mail is outstanding: on time (like precision, he is here at 10 am Monday through Saturday), pleasant and courteous, and quite helpful. The employees working in the actual post office close to our apartment, though, have the same beaten down manner that “us Yanks” often see in our post offices in the States. I think I even see them cringe as I approach the counter .

· Hours of operation – Monday through Friday (9-4), and Saturday till noon. An improvement from Taiwan where post offices were closed on Saturday.

· Air mail letter – Now, hold on to your socks. I mailed a Mother’s Day card (normal Hallmark card size and weight) via airmail. The cost? 3.15 euros. Gang, that is close to US$3.50. It was more than the cost of the card. I guess Christmas cards are out this year…

Monday, June 27, 2005

Texans are Texans the Whole World Over

Much to our delightful surprise, the weather turned cooler in Düsseldorf on Sunday. So much so, that Sunday brunch in an outdoor café in Alstadt was not only a wonderful diversion, it became an absolute must. As Buddy and I drove to old town, we noticed that some sort of “fun run” was taking place in Düsseldorf, with lots of folks running across the Oberkassel Bridge.

“Ah, that looks like such fun, “I remarked to Buddy as we drove past the runners. “I really miss the 5K and 10K runs I used to do in Texas. I wonder if there is a running store that can provide information on future running events?” With no more discussion than that, we drove onward to our restaurant destination.

After placing our brunch order, I noticed a nearby table of runners who looked as if they had just completed the same race we saw enroute to brunch. As I strained to hear whether English or German was being spoken, and with the words of “I really miss 5K and 10K runs…” still ringing in my ear, I popped over to the table for a quick investigation of the running opportunities in my new city.

As luck would have it, 2 of the 3 people (who are actually Korean Americans) were native Texans, having recently moved to Düsseldorf. Not only did we have our home state in common, but one of the runners actually grew up in nearby Richardson and worked for The Associates (another small world, as I worked there for a brief time as well). After trading all the “do you know so-and-so?” and “where did you live?” questions, this fellow Texan proceeded to spill forth with a whole host of information on local running stores, future running events, etc. We traded email information, and two days later have already been connected with other Texans living in our same area of Oberkassel, a local church, and offers for getting together in the near future.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. I am glad that “friendly Texans” are one of those things that you can still rely upon….

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Cinestar de Filmpalast

For many reasons, it was time that we found our local movie theatre. As one who prides herself as a “diehard” film buff, 10 weeks has to be the longest time I have ever gone without heading to the movies. I was way past the “let’s see a movie” withdrawal stage; as many of you know, I was easily up to 3 movies a day back in the US. No, I was past the point of even missing catching a flick at the local theater. And, that was unnerving me quite a bit. Hence, reason #1 to get a local movie theater scoped out.

Reason #2 is a basic survival technique: with the recent onslaught of hot weather we have been having in Düsseldorf, a cold A/C movie theater was starting to sound really attractive.

Having done some reconnaissance in the Oberkassel area where we live, I located a movie theater that appeared to have a number of screens and films. After chatting with a few expats, I quickly learned that the Oberkassel Cinestar de Filmpalast has the most screens devoted to “OV” films. For those of you not familiar with this term, it stands for “original version”. In Germany (unlike Seoul and Taipei), films made outside of Germany are dubbed into German, rather than having German subtitles. So, if we are keen to see the new Star Wars flick, I need to look for a showing that has “OV” at the end of the title. This is essentially telling me that the film is being shown in its original version: for US films, it will be in English. Otherwise, Darth Vader will be speaking in German (having now seen this movie and hearing the less than riveting dialogue, I am not so sure that English is a real requirement).

Once we knew the movie theater existed, how were we to find the movie showtimes? The typical ways of calling up the theater or reading it in the newspaper were not really an option, as they are in German. Thank heavens for the internet (theater has website in English) and GPS tracking (after doing some advance reconnaissance before our first movie experience in Germany, we found the theater is a mere 5 miles away). OK, #1 - movie theater identified – check. #2 - exact location of theater found – check. (I sound like Monica Geller as she is preparing for her trip to London for Ross's wedding - know which Friends episode I am talking about????) Now, we were ready to let the games begin…

Last evening, Buddy and I made our inaugural visit to the Cinestar Kino (theater). Unfortunately, the English language films are the typical Hollywood blockbuster types that do not always portray America very realistically (we had the same issue in Seoul and Taipei). Lots of films dealing with either guns or war, comic book superheroes, science fiction, and tough guys with fast cars seem to be the only US film exports. No wonder the rest of the world has such a skewed view of the US. (Joe and JoBeth – forget seeing anything even remotely resembling an arthouse film). So, what were our options?

· Krieg der Weiten (War of the Worlds)
· So was wie Liebe (A Lot Like Love)
· Batman Begins
· Star Wars: Episode III – Die Rache der Sith
· Sahara

Nothing really excited us, but the thought of a non air-conditioned apartment excited us even less. Star Wars it was!

It is so interesting to me how the simplest of activities, like going to the movie theater, can be so different in another country. Here are a few examples:

· Assigned seating – Buddy and I were not thrown off balance when the ticket sales guy asked us this question, “What seats do you want?” We also had assigned seating in movie theaters in Seoul and Taipei and loved it! According to Amber G., Colombian movie theaters follow a similar practice. You can buy your ticket, get your assigned seat, and then there is no racing to the theater to scope out your preferred seats. You can enter the theater just as the film begins and follow everyone else in an orderly procession to their assigned seats. Just makes so much sense….come on US movie theaters – get with the program!

· Sweet or salty? – When ordering popcorn, the question is not “with or without butter?” It is “do you want sweet or salty popcorn?” Not sure exactly what sweet popcorn is, but I suspect it is something like caramel corn. Either way, the popcorn is not as tasty, but again, we could make the adjustment. Better than the Taipei and Seoul options (dried fish snack or a bulgogi burger).

· Start time – If the movie is advertised as starting at 8:00 pm in the US (or in this case 20:00 - I need to brush up on my military time), the advertisements and film previews often start a bit before that. Well, last night’s film actually began at 8:20; it was so late in starting that we thought we had wandered into the wrong theater. Now, I can get on board with this, especially if I am running a bit late; I’ll always know I have this 10-15 minutes built in cushion of time before the main event begins.

All in all, an enjoyable evening at our local kino. What is coming up in the near future at our theater? Herr und Frau Schmidt…yes, I will even go see this….beggars can’t be choosers….

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Weiss Spargel

Germans are crazy about it. They line up for fresh spargel at the local stands like they are waiting in line for concert tickets. They commonly refer to this time of year as “spargel season”. Local German towns even have spargel-fests. Its reputation has grown to almost mythic proportions. What is it, you ask?

Simply stated….white asparagus.

Personally, I did know such a thing existed. Not being much of a Julia Childs in the kitchen, I did feel I knew my fruits and vegetables quite well. Five years in Asia introduced me to quite a few new varieties of food, so I thought I had seen it all. Guess not.

Germans begin making the pilgrimage from the city into the countryside each spring to buy this white asparagus from the farmers fresh...literally, right out the field. Farmers have even been known to run out of spargel by 7:30 AM. In addition, visit the local villages and dine on local dishes serving us the stuff. For many villages, the highlight of the season is the annual "Spargelfest," complete only with a large tent, where guests enjoy various different asparagus dishes, lots of beer, and a big formal evening dance to crown the "Spargel Königin," the beautiful Queen of Asparagus for the village (that can certainly rival Bertram’s Oatmeal Festival).

Traditionally, spargel is harvested from Easter until St. Johannis Day, June 24. To harvest after this date kills the roots, as the plant cannot leaf out properly to make it through the heat of summer and to gain the strength for the next season. The old farmers say, "When the cherries get red, leave the asparagus in its bed". A farmer who maintains his field of asparagus can harvest for about ten to twelve years; the first three years of the planting's life, there can be no harvesting.

White asparagus will have the same qualities as green asparagus, including purple highlights, except that the color will be white instead of green. Perhaps it is a little larger, but not much. Because the harvesting process is quite intensive (much of the harvesting is done by hand, involving digging up the asparagus, and hand peeling the outer layers), spargel can be quite expensive. Unlike the usual green variety, the spears of white asparagus are planted in sandy soil trenches and covered with moist earth to shield them from the light until the day they are picked, and halting the production of chlorophyll. More than you wanted to know? No worries, this could be entertaining dinner party banter at your next soiree….

OK, the most important part, “How is it eaten”? Lots of ways, but atop fresh salads, or steamed and covered with hollandaise or mayonnaise seem to be the favorites.

As I did a little online search for more information, I noticed that the Bavarian Grill in Plano, Texas (yes, Plano, Texas!) has a great little story on the history of the white asparagus, along with pictures. My first reaction was: there is enough information to even warrant “a story” on white asparagus? Apparently, there is; however, for those asparagus connoisseurs, I will let you check out the URL below should you want more details.

As yesterday was the “last” official day of the spargel growing season, I should run, not walk to my local market if I am going to experience any of this delicacy this year.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Ahnyang Asayo

(That's "hello" in Korean)

Last weekend, Buddy and I had quite a surprise! A former work colleague of mine from EDS Korea was in Amsterdam on business for 3 weeks. Having the weekends to himself, he came to see us on Sunday. We spent a lovely afternoon in Old Town, showing Dorian a little bit of Dusseldorf, eating a bratwurst (sp? - German sausage) and pomme frites, and generally just visiting. After a leisurely and rather hot stroll along the Rhein, we took refuge in the shade, relaxed and "people watched" and enjoyed our beverages of choice.


It really is a terribly small world...

Kahmsamnida (thanks) Dorian for the photos...

Amendment to the Amendment to Hot and Tired

It is 4:45 pm on Friday afternooon...and it is 86 degrees in my apartment....enough said.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Amendment to Hot and Tired

Thanks for all those questions and suggestions re: A/C. And no, we do not have an A/C in the apartment either. Yesterday, it was about 82 degrees in the apartment but thankfully the home office and bedroom catch only morning sun and are shady from noon on. So, the back side of the apartment does not get as hot as the front.

Yes, there are portable A/C units available for purchase in Germany but we were told that it is only really hot for about 4 weeks each summer. So, we are assessing whether the investment is really worth it or not. Unfortunately, because of all the lovely trees along the Rhein, those of us with apartments facing the Rhein do not have a much of a breeze and alot more insects. OK Real Estate Guy, should you not have disclosed this fact during apartment search? So, the A/C purchase is still TBD. Ask me in another week and I am sure we'll have an answer.

Surprisingly, it is not as hot in Dusseldorf as it is 2 hours south in Frankfurt (I was there on business 2 days this week). There was a notable difference in temperatures (to our advantage), of which I am quite thankful.

We have also been told that the summer should be not as hot this year. Great! How do the Germans know this? From scientific and meteorological information and data? Historical trends showing the ebbs and flows of hot summers and cool summers? They just had a really cold winter, so a mild summer is expected? These were the answers I was prepared to accept. Instead, this is the explanation. "This summer, the sheep were sheared in late May and caught cold. Thus, this means that it is going to be a cooler summer." Come again? Which sheep? All sheep? Some sheep? And how do we know they even caught a cold? Runny nose and watery eyes? Was there a run on antibiotics at the Vet's office?

I am confused....very confused....

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Hot and Tired

A couple of days of business travel took me to the EDS offices in Russelsheim, which is why the blog has been a bit quiet. Lots of long days and project deadlines, which I won’t bore you with. What I can share is that for 2 days of 90+ degree weather, I saw not one air conditioner…not in the EDS offices, train station, taxis, or hotel, etc. Made a bit more problematic that I was hauling around a suitcase and computer bag. Could I possibly have had any water left in my body after that???

The one thing I kept reminding myself of was that I was going to have 2 hours of A/C on the train from Frankfurt…and a nice long soak in the tub when I arrived home…

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Back Yards

One of the advantages to living in a house in the US is usually the yard…a back yard is key for that outdoor entertaining or if a need to relate to green space arises. Apartments in the US are notorious for being 2-3 story concrete blocks where the only green space is the strip of grasse and a couple of crepe myrtle trees leading from the parking lot to the actual apartment or the management office. Of course, our apartments in Seoul and Taipei gave a whole new meaning to apartment life (the “how many people can you cram into apartment buildings” equivalent of “how many people can you stuff into a Volkswagen Beetle”.)

Well, here 's a view into our backyard, as shot from our back balcony.

Apartment Back Yard 006

I am happy to report that this is not the case in Deutschland. As evidenced by the pictures below, each apartment building usually has some sort of communal backyard with tons of trees, grass, and greenery of all sorts. The style of the gardening may vary, but every building will usually have this backyard/greenspace. Here is a shot of some of our neighbor’s backyards (as seen from our back balcony).

Apartment Back Yard 002

Our building’s backyard actually backs up to another apartment’s backyard (really, it is that way on the entire block) so it is an extra wide area. We have the feeling that we really aren’t living piled up on top of everyone else. If you look closely, you'll see another apartment building peeking through the trees.

Apartment Back Yard 004

Now, how does the “communal” use of this backyard work, you ask? Well, we are not quite sure, as we have yet to see any official entertaining or activities requiring the use of a backyard to have occurred in “our backyard”. Does one have to reserve the space for a party? Or is it just an “everybody is neighborly and gets along well” approach? Not sure, but if the past 2 months have taught us anything, there has got to be a form to complete, someone/some entity that must approve the activity, and a fee involved.

Seriously though, we have observed in other areas that people often hold outdoor parties, sunbathe, lounge in a deckchair and read, or play with their children and pets, etc. in these spaces. A nice touch, and an area we will use hopefully sooner versus later.

Apartment Back Yard 003

Saturday, June 18, 2005


It’s the name of our “super” market (and I use that term loosely). Pronounced in Germany as “ray – al” as opposed to English “reel”.

As is our routine, Saturday is grocery shopping day. As we went through this most mundane of tasks, I could not help but observe a few “vignettes” that I thought I would pass along…

· German men must be quite self-confident.
I counted 6 men (all ages, shapes, and sizes) carrying very charming wicker baskets over their arms while shopping for produce, or using them to sack their groceries. Don’t know about you, but I am not sure I know any Texas guy who would be caught dead sporting the wicker hamper slung across their arm or shoulder.

· Weigh your own fruit and veggies or else!
I continue to be the person who gets the surly scowls, hears the sighs from fellow customers standing behind me in line, or witness the “oh, come on, can’t you speed it up?” looks because I can’t figure out to weigh my produce. Nowhere in the US or Asia was I ever required to weigh my fruit and veggies, and operate some little machine that spits out a bar code label with the price listed on it. Apparently, I committed a major faux pas the first time I put all my produce on the check-out counter, expecting the check-out clerk to weigh the produce, calculate the price for me, and add it to my bill. Well, thankfully the machine has pictures that a third grader could figure out (thus, no real need to read German), but invariably there is some machine malfunction, or operator error on my part. I start breaking out in hives as I enter the store just thinking about whether I will be able to master this simple task.

· Mustard in a tube?
We must be careful when brushing our teeth, or we just might grab the tube of mustard by mistake. Yes, you read correctly…mustard comes in a tube (or at least most of the brands in Germany). For that matter, so does ketchup, mayonnaise, ketchup/mayonnaise swirl (whatever that is used for). It tastes pretty much the same but I am still not used to the packaging…

· Rent a cart
I suppose it is to cut down on grocery carts mysteriously disappearing from grocery stores. Bottom line, if you want to use a grocery cart, you’ll need a 1 euro coin (about US$1.20) to insert into the coin machine that will unlock a cart for your shopping use. The first few times we went shopping, we were downright indignant. “What a crock!”, we would say. “I can’t believe the Germans have to pay to use a grocery cart”. Finally, some kind soul showed us that when you return your cart to the cart section, and re-lock it, your euro pops back out. “Ah, I see…it is kind like a deposit”. OK, I feel a bit dumb, but somehow better….

· Bring your sacks or pay the price
Now, this is not a new concept, as we saw this in Taiwan as well. If you want to use the grocery store shopping sacks, you’ll pay a few pennies equivalent per bag. Hence, the reason for all the women (and men) with their cloth shopping bags, wicker hampers, etc.

· “Irv, cleanup on aisle 9” (Yes, thank you…movie reference from Mr. Mom)
I still don’t understand why all the glass bottling for beer and water…I think it is more cultural rather than environmental but I cannot confirm this. And yes, no canned soft drinks or beer, etc….It is all 1 liter bottles, and often in glass. Well, today, we heard a crash of gargantuan proportions…yes, four cases of several stackable cases of German bear (a cases has 10 bottles a piece…so that is about 40 bottles) crashed to the floor. No, we were not the culprits who knocked the beer over….”Irv, I was nowhere near aisle 9!”.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Yes, I Guess We are Consultants

Thanks to Martha for pointing out the obvious: we are such consultants! It even peppers our everyday vocabulary. Allow me to explain….

We are finally starting to make a little progress in getting our apartment in order and acclimating to Germany. Since Buddy's travel schedule has been pretty non-stop, it has wreaked havoc on our home improvement activities as well as weekend schedule. Saturdays are what we call "procurement" day: we get up at the crack of dawn, race around all day making purchases at local shops and stores, source necessary products (food, home interiors, basic services), and fall into a heap around 8 pm just as the stores are closing. Buddy also describes this day as a “day long sprint”.

Sundays are mainly reserved for "implementation" where we have been completing all the projects for which we just purchased goods for on Saturday. These include hanging pictures, unloading boxes, hanging draperies, painting walls, planting plants, etc. The challenge here is that if we don’t have all of the required items “procured”, we can’t implement. Always a bit disappointing when you realize that the drill bit you need to drill into concrete is not in the toolbox like you thought it was.

Again, we think we are nearing the end, which is thrilling because we are ready to do fun things on the weekend, like sightsee and travel. We are starting our church investigation as well, but the options for English speaking churches are looking a bit slim...will keep you posted.

Well better put my project plan together for procurement day… :)

Thursday, June 16, 2005


One of the best parts of moving to a new neighborhood is getting to know your neighbors. As of this writing, no welcoming committee has rolled out the red carpet or stopped by to introduce themselves to the Budman and I. I realize that is probably only a southern US thing. Truthfully, they all seem like really nice people and I am hopeful we will get to know some of them a bit better. Until that time, it is inevitable that we have given them “nicknames”, so we can tell them apart.

Here is the “lay of the apartment” land, so to speak…

Apartment Overview: We live on the first floor of a four story apartment building. We are, however, technically on the second floor, because there is a first floor at street level (known as the ground floor) and then a basement below that. I know, it was confusing to me at first. Each floor typically has 2 apartments, with the exception of the top floor which has been converted to one apartment.

Mrs. Lachenmann: This is our immediate neighbor that shares the first floor with us. She is really the only neighbor we know by name or know at all for that matter, and she is rather friendly. An older woman (60-ish?), she is single and a German native. We have observed she runs a tight ship at her place, keeping her apartment, balconies, car, and garage neat as a pin. Fortunately, our first interaction with her did not set the stage for things to come: she chastised us we because we should not have been using the communal washer and dryer on Sunday (our second Sunday in Germany). We were apparently violating the apartment rule book (no washing of clothes on Sunday – come again?), but nobody had clued us in to this fact. Not the most pleasant news to receive when you have just moved to a new country, haven’t yet purchased your new France Airbus (a.k.a. German washer/dryer machine), and have no clean clothes to wear. Thankfully, we get along perfectly well, and she is a very quiet and pleasant neighbor.

“Granny”: OK, here is where knowing the neighbors’ names end. “Granny” is our upstairs neighbor that has the apartment directly above ours. Granny is quite a pistol…she is apparently a bit hard of hearing because even we can hear her TV perfectly well. She also has a nice grandfather clock that helps us to keep perfect time . We are not her favorite tenants because apparently our English newspaper kept getting stuffed into her mail slot every morning for the first 3 weeks we were here. And she told me about it….everyday…in German (the first point I have noted as a negative about working in the home office). She also felt the need to communicate with us that our movers were not wiping off their feet when they were bringing the furniture and boxes into the apartment building. Again, in German, but somehow, we did not need a translation. Got it…they’ll need to sweep up when they leave. More to come on that one, I suspicion.

“Bottle Man”: This is “Granny’s” 2nd floor neighbor. Not much is known on this guy, expect that he keeps his extra wine, beer, and water bottles in his garage (that is located directly below our apartment). We only see him when he is bringing down empty bottles and taking up new bottles…hence his nickname. We can understand why he does it as there is no storage at all in these German apartments. Our extra water and diet cokes are stored in our cellar space in the basement.

“New 3rd floor couple”: This is a tag-team nickname. This middle-aged German couple, extremely nice by the way, moved into our building the same week we did. They are still doing remodeling and setting up house, but they are some of the friendliest people we have met. Don’t know their names, as they speak very little English, but a friendly smile is always received from them. As noted from the nickname, they on the third floor…clever, huh?

“Bad Parking Guy”: Only thing we know about the other 3rd floor neighbor is that he parks his Honda SUV in front of the sidewalk leading up to the front door. Not really an issue for us, but Granny does not like it, that much we know. Either Bad Parking Guy does not want to pay for a monthly parking space, or there was not one available for him to buy. Either way, he believes he owns this spot, and there is not a sign to tell him otherwise….

“The Lohkampffs”: Otherwise, known as “the landlords”. They own the apartment we are living in, but bought the “super-spacious, penthouse view on the 4th floor” as Mrs. Lohkampff described it to me on our first and only interaction in 9+ weeks. Now, I don’t want to be a stickler, but can the top floor of a 4-story apartment building technically be a penthouse? Judges, I need a ruling on this one. Only other known facts are that they own their own business (executive recruiting agency), she has parents living in Muenster, their maid comes every day between 9 am and noon, and they travel a ton on business. (OK, I feel a bit like Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, Rear Window, with nothing better to do but to watch my neighbors. But if we were all honest, we probably all do a bit of this….).

And last, but not least, “the Cave Dwellers”: This is the group term we have applied to the people living in the ground floor and basement apartments. Their apartments only look out onto the back yard, and have no street view. To be perfectly honest, we hardly ever see them, but we know they exist because there are doormats and wreaths on their apartment front doors (we see this as we walk down the basement to store our empty water and coke bottles). The hallways are extremely dark and a bit depressing, a bit “cave-like”. Thus, the name for these tenants…

Perhaps more information that you wanted. One final thought occurs to me…what nicknames have the other tenants given us? The answer to that one could rather interesting….

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Quite a Dorf

Düsseldorf or “village on the Dussel” started as a small fishing village at the intersection of the Rhein and Dussel rivers. Obviously, it is not a village anymore, having the reputation for being one of the richest cities in Germany. A city of approximately 600,000 people, the city has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of WWII, as 80% of the city was destroyed following the war but has since been rebuilt.

Today, Düsseldorf serves as the administrative capital of North Rhine-Westphalia (one of the states in Germany). It is quite a cosmopolitan city, with a vibrant atmosphere. Architecturally, it is a mixture between the old (i.e. Altstadt/Old Town, the Ko, and lots of brownstones peppered throughout the city) and the new (industrial offices, skyscrapers and modern buildings).

Five bridges connect the city of Düsseldorf, with our district, Oberkassel, being connected by one of these bridges, Oberkassler Brucke. As the Rhein River runs through the city, parks and esplanades line the riverbanks. Although this city has historically been manufacturing town, it has thankfully not followed the trend of just becoming another “ugly manufacturing” town.

The main shopping avenue, known as Konigsallee, is a testament to this affluence. Abbreviated to “the Ko”, this area is actually a double-wide tree-lined avenue that is divided by an ornamental waterway (actually part of the Dussel River). Originally, this waterway formed a moat that surrounded the Elector’s Palace but the palace no longer stands today. Along this avenue, you’ll find the trendiest boutiques, expensive furriers and jewelers, and high-tone shops…think NY Fifth Avenue but on a much, much smaller scale. Most of the time, we reach this area, as well as Altstadt, by taking the trolley.

Nearby, Altstadt, or Old Town, is a wonderful area filled with cafes, pubs, shops, and boutiques. Most of the area has been converted to a pedestrian walkway, so walking in the area is quite easy. In the evenings, this place really rocks.

Buddy’s office is located in another area of the city called Golzheim. He can reach the office in about 15 minutes, even during the Düsseldorf version of “rush hour”. Although we did look at some apartments in this area, we felt there was not as much to do or shopping (grocery, cleaners, post office, etc.) as in other areas. Good decision on our part.

Tomorrow, some info and pictures on our neighborhood, Oberkassel. Tchus!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

It's Time for TV

It’s 9 weeks and counting. I used to think that I could handle little or no TV, but I am wrong. Unashamedly wrong. I need my TV; I want my TV.

Therein lies not one, but the two issues at hand.

Issue #1: We really need satellite.

Apparently, there's plenty of excellent English programming available, but we need cable or satellite reception to get most of it. People in Germany can get their television three ways: with antennae, via cable, and via satellite. There is not much, if any, television in English without cable or satellite reception. According to a Swiss EDS colleague who shall remain nameless, “the Germans want everything dubbed because they don’t like to read subtitles” (actually, he said “too lazy to read subtitles). I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see Law & Order on TV, only to find out Jerry Orbach was speaking with a decidedly German accent and vocabulary. So, English language viewing options are essentially “zilch” with option #1.

Option #2, cable, provides us with 2 English stations: BBC World News and CNN News. OK, not really an option as how long can you take only news programs? With Option #2, Jerry Orbach is still speaking with a German accent and vocabulary. Moving on.

Option #3, satellite, provides a number of English language programs. So, you say, why not get cracking on getting a satellite dish? Ah, I agree. On the surface, it seems so simple. Go to a local satellite store (find a sales rep who speaks English), purchase your satellite dish and arrange for installation. Well, not so quick there, Sherlock. Apparently, renters need the “landlord’s permission” to install a satellite on/in the rental property. Here is where the German law gets murky. Supposedly, the landlord cannot legally withhold his permission to allow a renter to install a satellite. However, German law says that renters must notify landlords and get their permission in advance of any installation. So, what happens if my landlord falls into the 1% of landlords who won’t say “yes”? Well, “Scarlett will worry about that later, because after all, tomorrow is another day.” As I type, Buddy and I are preparing the nice, “Hello there, remember us? We are your English speaking tenants who have no TV viewing options and would be ever so grateful if you would allow us to install a satellite dish” kind of request letter.

We’ll see how this one plays out…

Issue #2: We really different TVs.

Regardless of the satellite versus cable issue, we still need new TVs. OK, I know that the electrical current is different in Europe and that my US TVs won’t work. I have lived in 2 other countries and am well aware that current converters will be required. No worries…I have already located those.

The issue is that apparently German broadcasting uses a different frequency, so I must use TVs that use the PAL technology (I am not really sure what that is). All I know is my US and Taiwan TVs don’t have PAL technology. Thus, I am now required to box up my 3 perfectly good US TVs, put them in storage, and buy German TVs….

That is the project for next Saturday….

Monday, June 13, 2005

That Turkey went to Turkey!

The Budman just returned home last Friday from Istanbul, Turkey. A two-day business trip allowed for only a quick view of the city…you know, the type of tour that takes you from the airport to the office to the hotel, back to the office, with a return trip to the airport. So no real sightseeing was done.

Buddy did remark that Turkey was quite interesting, a real mixture of two cultures. When asked to describe the city, he said, “That is tough. You look one way and the city seems very European. You see another part of the city and it seems Middle Eastern”. Apparently, that correlates well with the saying that “Turkey is where Easts meets West.”.

Anyway, quite a fascinating place, at least the part he saw. I must confess, my geography needs some improvement because I did not realize that the old cities of Troy and Ephesus are in modern day Turkey.

Also, the Turkish currency has been updated, having introduced a new currency late last year. Thankfully, the new Turkish lira has dropped the 10+ zeros behind each number. That was a godsend for Buddy as everyone kept telling him, “just memorize the color of the bills, rather than trying to subtract and add all the zeros. You’ll be fine”. Easy to say to a guy who isn’t colorblind.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

From the Home Office, the Top 10 List for Most Useful Websites for the Traveler

Not sure what we ever did before Al Gore invented the Internet ? Seriously, the WWW has been a lifesaver for us, both living overseas as well as traveling. For those of you might be packing those summer vacation bags, hitting the beach with a good book, or heading for the road trip, here are the Hachie Gal's top 10 most useful sites for the traveler:

#10 - - Need to know the time in another country, or when is the best time to call your overseas friend? Check out this site....

#9 - and
This is a tie. For those of you who are “currency conversion challenged”, the first site converts to and from all traded currencies, even that pesky Turkish Lira. For those of you who are “metrically challenged”, the second site converts to and from metrics for all types of things. And while we are on the subject, can someone tell me why the US is not using the metric system? It sure would make my life easier if I knew more than how to convert 5Ks, 10Ks, and marathons to and from the metric system.

#8 - - Not sure of the travel conditions in another country? What about any travelers’ advisories for this country? The US Government not only lists all the advisories by date published, but also includes general information on each country, listing of embassies, travel and safety precautions, etc.

#7 - - The weather channel goes international! Gotta know whether you need to pack an umbrella or sunscreen....

#6 - - Don’t laugh but this site is quite useful, particularly for those of you who either live in (like we did in Taipei) or will be traveling to an area that is prone hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical storms. This site is maintained by the US Navy but tracks storms globally through GPS. Really cool graphics that show not only the storm’s current path, but also the forecasted path and time and date storm hits land. Cruise fanatics take heed.

#5 - - Need to know what shots to get before traveling? Curious whether the water is safe to drink in a particular country? What are the medical facilities like in the country I will be visiting? The Center for Disease Control can answer these questions and more.

#4 - - Need a crash course in the tourist highlights of a particular destination? The search "by city name" or by clicking on the "world map by region" is especially useful.

#3 - - Looking for that deal on air, hotel, car rental, or the all-inclusive package? This site can help, but be aware that to get many of these deals requires that you become a member of Best Fares. I have found it more useful for domestic travel than for international travel....

#2 - - I always need directions…this site is great. I can even get a lot of directions for international destinations.

#1 – no URL – if you are going on vacation, you won’t need your PC or and you shouldn’t be surfing the web…..

Thursday, June 09, 2005

That is one small frig

In the US, we are all used to our big cars, big houses, big yards, big closets full of lots of big stuff . It is nice to have that much space and it certainly is convenient, but we’ve learned, you can adjust to about anything if you set your mind to it.

Take the most everyday of appliances…the refrigerator. Nothing better that cooking up a storm all weekend, and having loads of food for the week. Or, planning for that party and having that big ole frig stocked full of party food and drink. Well, we’ve adjusted to the fact that this may/may not be the norm for Germany, but it is our reality anyway. As can be seen in the picture below, our frig is unobtrusively hidden to look like part of the cabinetry. Nice! So, just where is that frig?

Apartment Knicks - Move in 050

Upon closer inspection, there it is…yep, the one that looks like the college kids’ dorm frig….

Apartment Knicks - Move in 051

Being a “glass half full gal” most of the time, one thing is for sure… it sure cuts down on food spoilage.

“Our” Eldon

For those of you whose Monday nights in the mid 80’s revolved around the TV sitcom Murphy Brown, you’ll get this analogy immediately…for others, just bear with me. Yes, we have our own German version of “Eldon”.

He appears whenever we have odd projects needing to be done around the apartment, a list which never seems to be complete. His handiwork (and I use that term loosely) ranges from installing light fixtures, doing cabinetry, plumbing, hanging pictures, installing window screens, construction, to minor repair and fix (including his own repairs that are a result of his own doing ).

I suppose we should be grateful. With no apparent hardware store in sight, I know that the everyday tools, home improvement necessities, and basic gadgets that are in the arsenal of every “power-tool”- armed, tool belt hanging from the waist” red blooded American must exist somewhere in this city. We just have not found it yet.

So, what is a body to do? Enter Franz (A.K.A. our Eldon), the Polish native handyman who has built quite the handy-man business in Düsseldorf. We believe he has a work permit to live and work in Germany, but that detail was never fully understood by us, primarily due to the broken English, German, Polish conversations we’ve shared. Franz has already been out to the apartment 10+ times to assist in some various household project. Often, he brings his “Eldon-like” assistant along for the job. The concept of a written estimate, let alone a verbal estimate, escapes him. An early request from Buddy on this very topic seemed to appall and offend him. He does the job, but the price will be less if paid in cash (yes, that much we get…no translation needed). Apparently, he does not want to pay the taxes….

We’ve also realized that while Franz does good work, it is always going to turn out a little different than you think it will. Thus, proving the adage, “There is more than one way to do something.” We quickly learned that Franz needs a little guidance or the results may be less than optimal. Case in point: We needed Franz to a hang a ceiling light fixture in an area where the electrical outlet had been patched over (why, we don’t know – not a single light in the living room). Unfortunately, due to lots of conference calls at work, my anal retentive supervision did not allow tight QC of the process and light hanging methodology. Voila…I have a newly hung ceiling fixture with 2 other holes in the ceiling. Apparently, he could not find the wiring. OK…could happen to anyone, but then he cuts a piece of wall paper (the ceilings are papered and painted over, rather than textured and painted) and covers the holes. “Good as new”, he says and proudly swings his right arm ceiling ward as if he is Vanna White turning a letter. The smile on his face was that of a proud papa holding his first born!

Well, we said good bye to “Eldon” today for a while, completing what I hope will be the last of a series of projects for some time. Being new to the city, Buddy and I seem to see Eldon more that almost any other person in Düsseldorf. As I realized that today, I thought, “Man, that‘s gotta change”. Next thing I know, Eldon will be a permanent fixture around the apartment, not unlike Murphy’s handy-man….

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A Threat to German Society...Come Again?

A recent political and cultural discussion is underway in Germany: are childless people a threat to German society? An interesting topic, in particular, for someone with no children. Thus, I was quite intrigued as I began to see statements from German politicians citing this apparent blemish on German family values and the entire German citizenry’s lack of willingness to embrace parenthood.

Why is this topic getting so much airplay? Why is the government and its officials so interested in ensuring that its citizenry procreate? Surely, the decision to have children is universally accepted by most of the world’s industrialized nations as a matter of personal choice. More importantly, why are so many everyday citizens finding fault with politicians and their political party platforms for raising this issue? Am I, as one member of a childless couple, unwittingly contributing to the denigration of society…and not even know it? My goal: find out exactly what all the brouhaha is about.

My assessment may not be scientific nor represent all sides of the issue, but here is apparently the rub: it comes down to money. Certain German politicians are criticizing those citizens (usually between the ages of 26 and 45) who do not have children as not “doing their part” to sustain the social security system by ensuring that there are sufficient workers in the future who can pay into the social security system (i.e. have children). Like many national social security systems, there are more people who are either approaching retirement age or already retired than there are new workers entering the workforce. It is simple accounting: more money is scheduled to be paid out than is being taken in.

So, rather than look at reforming the system, reducing benefits, increasing the retirement age, etc., the government is campaigning that its citizens have more chidlren. Recent government editorials and statements to the press have been portraying these couples as selfish (choosing not to have children), materialistic (preferring dual income families, and more opportunities for travel, personal achievement, etc.), and driven by personal ambitions (careers before family, mutiple advanced degrees, etc.). Some of the political party platforms have gone so far as to recommend that state pensions for childless couples should be half of that for couples with children.

Well, the flames have been fanned! Most assuredly, this has drawn widespread criticism from not only the public, family friendly groups (who see couples with children being pitted against couples without children), and social system reformers (who see the real issue being the out-dated and under-reformed social security system). Does anyone win this argument? Certainly, there are those couples who decide not to have children, but what about those couples unable to have children? What about those couples who do not fit the “traditional” view of a married couple? Will these people also experience the reduction of state benefits?

Well…the debate rages on. Both sides have gone to their respective corners, and are waiting for the next round to commence. Regardless of where one falls on this issue, the “fall-out” is far from over. Without placing a value judgment on the issue one way or another, it has apparently sparked quite a controversy and dialogue.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Rhine River et al

Slowly but surely, a daily routine is emerging. Working from the home office continues to be a real plus, however, the challenge is often “shutting down” work rather than to trying to stay focused.

So far, I am finding that an early morning run along the Rhine is the best time to get my exercise in, and then it is done for the day. Lunchtime is often reserved for errands (i.e. post office, cleaners, market) since those businesses close as early as 7 pm. Kind of a challenge for worker bees like me. The best part (at least right now) is that it is still light at 10:00 pm. I don't quite understand how that can be scientifically.

Dusseldorf Germany 007

Our apartment is directly across from the Rhine River. Don’t let the Soviet Bloc style construction fool you. The area of Oberkassel where we live is full of old German brownstones. Unfortunately, there are also several of these “1970’s” monstrosities that are not the most picturesque of apartment buildings. A tight housing market has resulted in very few of these old buildings being available for lease. I’ll send pictures of the neighborhood at a later date, as well as some interior apartment shots.

Dusseldorf Germany 002

One of the perks of the area is that there are lots of green spaces in our neighborhood, as seen below. Tonight, on my walk in the neighborhood, I counted 67 rabbits; towards dusk, the only way you know they are there is that you see their white tails bobbing up and down. Five bridges connect the old and new parts of Düsseldorf across the Rhine River. Our district, known as Oberkassel, is a very charming area, but fodder for another day.

Dusseldorf Germany 003

In literally 2 minutes walking time, I can be on the jogging path, bike trail, and river grounds. It is not uncommon to see a herd of sheep at some part of the river bank, serving as a “lawn-mower” for the grass.

One thing I learned quickly…walk defensively. Bikers have the right of way, so make certain you are not walking or running in a bike lane. If there is a collision between a biker and a pedestrian in a sanctioned bike lane, the pedestrian is at fault.

Dusseldorf Germany 004

The Rhine River does not belong to Germany alone, but the section of river in Germany has the most spectacular scenery. Tours along the Rhine are available in almost every area that the river flows through, with some being more scenic than others. While still quite lovely, the river flow through Düsseldorf is not quite as picturesque as the sections with Germans castles peering down from steep cliffs. Still, after a hard day’s work, a run along the Rhine is the perfect way to unwind…..

Monday, June 06, 2005

Early to bed, early to rise…it’s apparently all relative

A recent article in the German edition of The International Herald Tribune described something for me that, up until now, I had only anecdotally been able to verify. The Germans are “early to bed, early to rise” people. However, my own observations are such that these trends, while perhaps unique for other EU counterparts, are not so “out of whack” with US sleeping behaviors.

First, perhaps it is important to clarify what is considered “early to bed, early to rise”, according to the article (which was written by a Brit). Whatever the definition, I can assure you that by nature, I will not fall into this category. I enjoy late night TV and reading too much to be asleep by midnight.

According to a recent poll, one out of 3 Germans rises before 6 am (which is double the UK average); another third gets up between 6 and 7 am. “OK,” I thought, “this is not so unusual with what I see in the US” (or at least in my part of the US). On the flip side, Germans hit the sack earlier than their EU counterparts, with 75% being asleep before midnight. Many respondents cited that they are in bed by 10 pm, however.

Lots of reasons for this trend were cited, with the primary reason being work-related. Other reasons included an apparently earlier start to the school day for German kids (school starts at 7:45 or 8:00 am, an hour ahead of most other European countries – this again, is not so unusual when compared to Texas school hours). A mere 44% cite that they get up early out of sheer habit.

This “early to bed, early to rise” mantra apparently correlates to holiday time as well, in which Germans have a reputation for staking out the best spots on Mediterranean beaches, or being first in line at the bakery or the local markets.

For Buddy and I, an early start to the day is essential, especially on the weekends. With a limited time to get your shopping and errands done, we have found that you can’t sleep the mornings away…”you snooze, you lose”.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Sweet Kitty and Shuggie Lynn

A.K.A, Ginger and Gracie. Only Buddy and I would be so weird as to give our pets nicknames. For those of you who’ve been asking, the girls are fine, and have adjusted to their third “ex-cat” assignment in 5 years. I am not sure they even remember the flight :).

Girls - Taipei Fall 2005

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Keep your elbow “on” the table

Remember your parents telling you, “Keep your elbows off the dining table”? This bit of dining etiquette was ingrained into us at an early age. In Germany, don’t be so quick to criticize. Visitors from North America should be aware that the parts of the dining experience in Germany are probably a bit different than the one experienced at home.

Heidelberg Germany May 2005 022

To start with, in most restaurants, except the most expensive ones, don't wait to be seated - just grab yourself an empty table. If the cafe is full and you're not too shy, you can always ask the people at a half full table whether they mind sharing with you. You never know, you might make some friends.

Once you've ordered your meal, expect to wait a little bit longer than you are perhaps used to. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the atmosphere. Once you've finished your meal, you will need to ask for the bill, as it will not be brought automatically to you. The waiter is not ignoring you, he is just giving you space to enjoy the dining experience.

Apart from the huge steins of beer, be prepared for little glasses of beverages with little/no ice. Note for Texas-sized tea-glass drinkers: I’ll have that glass drained before the waiter gets his back turned from my table.

Now back to this elbow thing…Buddy informed me early on that the one “dead give-away” to tell a foreigner from a German, is where he/she places their elbows while eating. Depending on which hand you eat with, the other hand/elbow will not be placed in the lap. Rather, the entire forearm up to the elbow will be placed on the table, usually right in front of and parallel to the body.

Interestingly enough, not all the food establishments have places to sit down. The German equivalent to “fast food” will often have lots of tables, but for people to stand at and eat their meal, rather than sitting down. The finer dining establishments, restaurants and cafes, of course, have seated dining.

Eating in Europe is supposed to be an unhurried, pleasurable experience. Don't feel the need to rush and don't feel any pressure to give up your table, you can stay there all night if you wish.

I’d like to say that I have been eating German food up a storm. And yes, Buddy has introduced me to a couple of great German restaurants in Old Town, with braut sandwiches and pomme frites (French fries) served with mayonnaise, not ketchup. I am amazed, though, at the number of Italian food restaurants in this country….good Italian food, too. The Germans apparently love their Italian food….

Bon Appetit!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Congratulations to Teacher of the Year

Please indulge this slight diversion from the daily Germany postings to allow us to send a BIG congratulations to TEACHER OF THE YEAR (JoBeth). She'll never toot her own horn, so those who know what a great teacher she is will just do a little of that for her.



What is Up With All the Gnomes?

I’ve never understood the concept of “lawn art”…neither yard jockeys, the painted wood cutouts, nor the lifelike plastic deer in the lawns of many West Texas homes. Well, now I can add the “garden gnome” to this list.

Surely you’ve seen them? And no, Germany is not the only country whose citizens seem to have an affinity for the garden gnome. The concept is simple: plant your flower beds, flower boxes, shrubs and trees, but before your horticulture foray is complete, make sure a garden Gnome graces your garden. At first, I thought it was simply one German’s attempt at unique landscaping, but then I began to see garden gnomes popping up seemingly everywhere. Was it the J.R. Tolkien equivalent of middle earth creatures taking over? Or simply a use for an over-supply of plaster-of-paris in the local high school art class? Whatever the reason, the gnomes appeared to be here to stay.

After posing this question to one of my EDS colleagues, he quickly pointed out that many Germans and other Europeans are just “wild” about these gnomes. They love them! There is even a website to the garden gnome. I visited this website hoping to find an answer to the simple question of WHY? and found out there is an entire history devoted to this creature:

· Gnomes are 12 centimeters high and resemble the people of their host country (although all the gnomes I have seen look alike to me).

· Because gnomes are constantly happy, always festive, never worry, and are endlessly helpful, they never age and live for hundreds of years.

· They are primarily vegetarians ( which I guess is a good thing since they live in gardens), although apparently “they will also eat sausage and drink beer during festivals”. Huh?

· As humans continued to dig into Mother Earth, whether through basic gardening and/or mining for minerals, thousands of garden gnomes have been displaced. Hence, the reason why people are “adopting” them and putting them into their yards (OK, I grant you, it’s a great marketing concept).

· And the beat goes on…

Well, trust me, there is an entire legend of the garden gnome that you can read about, and if so inclined, “adopt”. While I realize the expression “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” is often a good moniker to remember when living abroad, I am going to opt for a slightly different gardening approach…

In case you doubt me, check out the website devoted to these creatures…

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Death and Taxes

You know the old expression...”Two things you can count on, death and taxes”. Well, life in Germany is certainly reaffirming that (not the death part, but rather the taxes). The Germans have a tax for everything – no wonder they are disillusioned with their government. It can’t be all that different, can it? Yes, my friend, it can.

During recent weeks as I read my “get acquainted to living in Germany” books, I kept seeing references to a tax for this and a tax for that, but I just glossed over it. Being ever the compliant citizen, regardless of country, I’ll end of paying whatever is “due Caesar”. Yet, the practical part of me would ponder, “How is this ever enforced?” I now have a few answers to this question, so read on.

First, let me provide you with a brief summary of the taxes I have seen in my limited time in Germany:

  • Income tax – We have yet to file a German income tax return but sources tell me that income taxes take up to 50% of each German’s gross income.
  • Consumption tax – All goods and services (including phone service, utilities, dry cleaners, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.) have a 16% consumption tax added on to the final bill. That is the equivalent to the sales tax we see in the US, but man, that’s high!
  • Church tax – Day 2 in Germany - Arrival at German immigration. Buddy and I were both asked our religious affiliation. We looked quizzically at each other, wondering, WHY? The reason for this is that many residents of Germany pay a tax depending on the religious faith to which they belong. If Catholic or Protestant, a 5% tax applies; if Jewish, a 3% tax applies. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, any other faiths, as well as non-believers pay no tax. Interestingly enough, “Protestant” is defined as Lutheran or Episcopal. Faiths such as Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, etc. are all considered “sects”, and are known as “Free Church”, and not Protestant. So honestly, we are able to avoid this tax.
  • Dog tax – Yes, owners of dogs are taxed. As a non-dog owner, I am not totally familiar with the rules, but I believe you pay a flat 5% regardless of the numbers of dogs you own. But, 5% of what? This tax is supposedly used to pay for city “pooper-scooper” personnel. Trust me, they need this tax because no one picks up after their dogs…amazing! No such tax for cats – whew!
  • Customs tax – Anything not made in Germany and imported into the country will most likely be taxed. A recent spending spree on Amazon (US) resulted in a trip to the German Customs House (not to be confused with the German Post Office, as I quickly learned).
    There seems no logic to the customs rule, but I can say that DVDs, CDs, gifts from family and friends, etc. will all be taxed 16% consumption tax plus a 3% customs tax, if the total amount is over 25 euros (or 20 USD). Gang, that is not very much. Books apparently follow a similar taxation approach but the total allowable amount is 80 euros. Don’t ask me why.
  • Radio and TV License fees – OK, technically not a tax, but once again the government is making me pay for something. This varies but a monthly fee is paid in the following manner: (1) Radio only - 5.32 euros, (2) TV only – 16.15 euros, (3) Radio and TV – 16.15 euros. Here is where I wondered, “How will ‘they’ ever know”? Ah, I found out.
    Apparently, “Broadcasting License Fee Agents” conduct “surprise visits” to homes; guess who received such a visit today? Well, after showing the agent I had no TVs (all my US TVs are in the basement because they won’t work in Germany), I could honestly say I had none. However, as soon as the German TVs are purchased, and that time is a-comin', I’ll be coughing up some euros to my local agent.

Moral #1 of the story: Be thankful you only have the taxes you have. It could be worse.

Moral #2 of the story: Please be careful what you send me…I could be paying an additional 20% on top of the value of the item.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


So, what is the Budman up to these days? Well, in the famous words of Ricky Nelson, “he’s a travellin’ man...made a lot of stops…all over the world…”. Seriously, he is doing well, working hard, and enjoying his new team in Germany. This week, he has been in Hamburg, but he has already seen the cities of Mainz, Hanover, Frankfurt, and Munich (a story for another day) courtesy of the Bahn.

Heidelberg Germany May 2005 009

For those of you interested in his adventures in the exciting world of NPL (non-performing loans), you’ll need to email him to get the details. Suffice to say, a sluggish German economy is a “boon” for his business. If the NPL work ever dries up, he can always get a job as:

  • an interior designer (OK, the colorblind thing could be a setback)
  • a general contractor (has laid carpet, done a whole host of general apartment repairs, figured out the converter box and apartment electrical panel issues)
  • a travel agent
  • an IT professional (greatly responsible for the EDS home office set-up, including phones, fax, VME, and printer)
  • a personal assistant

Why do you ask? Because bless that man’s heart, he has been a trooper through the whole moving experience and has been all this and more for me.

Heidelberg Germany May 2005 035

How many men would go fabric shopping? How many men would make 6+ trips to Deutsche Telecom (a.k.a. T-Punkt….and yes, there have been times in the last few weeks when we felt totally “T-Punkt”) in one day with only the tram to get you downtown? How many men would help you set up an apartment, hanging scads of pictures in a 24 hour period? Well, I know one, and his name is...Budman.

I am sure I could regale you with some humorous stories that are “vintage” Buddy, but that would not be appropriate for the tone of this posting. Another time.

Heidelberg Germany May 2005 063

For now, let’s raise a toast…”this Bud’s for you”.