Updated: Jan 23
New adventures are often exciting, but they can also be a source of anxiety. As the spouse of a military retiree, I contend there are two types of retirees; those who have had their fill of PCS moves and can’t wait to find their forever home and never leave it…………and those I call “military gypsies”….the ones who (even after retirement), are still looking forward to their next move. Many who aren’t yet retired also fall into one of those two categories……..they love it…..or hate it!
But moving overseas is a whole new ballgame! It’s far from being the same old thing! In fact, many have been trying to get an overseas assignment for a long time and once it happens, there’s probably way more excitement than anxiety. The only anxiety is probably a result of the unknown. So sometimes it helps to reduce the unknown factors ahead of time.
While none of the following issues are earth shattering, or even significant enough to influence how or what you ship here, they are just little things to know about Germany if you don’t already.
There will always be exceptions (especially in either newly built or custom-designed homes); but I THINK most of these are “standard” across the country!
RESIDENCES (whether a single residence, duplex or apartment building)… just some comforts of home to which you may have been accustomed in the states and will now be happy to do without just for the opportunity to live here!
· No A/C
· No Ceiling Fans
· No Garbage Disposals
· No Clothes Closets
· No Linen Closets
· No “Mud Room” or hall closet to store mops/brooms/buckets
· No Laundry Room (most W/D’s in bathroom)
· No Ice Maker in the Refrigerators
· No Screens on any Windows
Note: German households mostly use Shranks (often pronounced Shrunks) or some type of clothing cabinet instead of closets. They also purchase some type of cabinet for linens and toiletries since most German homes have no built-in closets of any kind. Almost all furniture stores have a nice selection from basic to elaborate.
WINDOWS – We love the first two; wish we had in the states!
Dual-Functioning Windows: whether single or dual panes, they 1) Tilt inward at the top to let in lots of fresh air without making accessible to the elements. No rain/snow gets in while the windows are tilted. 2) With the switch of a lever, they swing all the way open to ensure the best breezes when the summer temperatures climb.
Most residences have permanently installed exterior rolling shutters called Rolladens, which are either operated with power switches or with interior straps to adjust them to your needs. When completely closed, it’s pitch dark; you might never know when the sun comes up! When it’s cold outside, leaving them completely raised allows warmth from the sun. You can also lower them almost all the way to leave space between each slat so that air can still get through. They can also serve as a security feature; I never hear of anyone breaking in through a window that has the Rolladens down!*
Window Treatments: If you shop for window treatments you will see a lot more options, and many people opt for Austrian Shades, some type of panels for other rooms, but the transparent curtains are the ones we see most frequently in all windows! For a more in-depth assistance with German terms for window treatments, please follow click here.
I have to say that I love the way curtains are purchased in Germany. Instead of custom orders or pre-packaged curtains, you choose from design options on display (based on the length you need), tell the attendant cuts it from a spool of fabric to meet your width needs. Their fabric has no-ravel seams that allow it to be cut to any width. They also design curtains to be pleated, or looped to create Austrian Shades yourself with the help of little plastic hoops that fit through each section of the curtain. It's very ingenious. Again, I wish it was this easy stateside!
*Note: We’ve noticed recently that some of the very old buildings – many that used to be a single residence and are now three or four family dwellings – are being renovated without Rolladens. Also, if a building has an arched window that would require custom-made Rolladens, or in many buildings with a bay windows, the builder/landlord may choose not to install them. However, for most residents of Germany, Rolladens are customary. Photos only shown from exterior because photos from the inside (when they are down) will be total blackout!
Please also note, that as mentioned above there is no Air Conditioning and no ceiling fans, mostly due to only a short time when they would be needed (prior to climate change!). Also, there are no screens throughout Europe; Europeans usually just whisk bugs away, swat them or simply endure them. Therefore, when the weather does get hot, whether to tilt or fully open the windows, leave the Rolladens all the way up or all the way down, and the type of interior window treatments are all issues you have to play with to determine whether “cooler with the potential for flying bugs” is better or worse than “really hot – but no bugs”! Fortunately, there’s probably no more than two months a year (depending upon where you live in Germany) that the heat is really bad. During the warmer months, we have five fans going 24/7! It’s more about comfort than ambiance during the summer!
One last thing related to window treatments and the couple months when it could be very hot, remember that excessive noise is not tolerated in Germany (especially during the Quiet Time, 10:00 PM – 6:00 AM on weekdays and all day on Sunday), so when windows are all open, you might want to rethink the volume at which you listen to your music or TV! If you happen to be in an “old town” setting, there’s a good chance all sounds are bouncing off all those old buildings and cobblestone streets, making “voices carry” even during a normal conversation!
Compared to many in the US, the bathrooms are pretty small, many are also used to house the washer and dryer. I’ve heard people complain about the toilets, but I actually prefer them to the US. There are no huge tanks; the flushing system is built into the wall and is designed to conserve water, but they actually (in my opinion) flush better than those in the states.
Some have actual stand-up showers (that have a tendency to be rather small and confining) and some have tubs with a hand-held shower head. Some have both. Rarely will you see one large enough for two people!
Just like the other rooms, most bathrooms in Germany do not have linen closets, and many also have no medicine cabinet.
Kitchens are fairly small, even if all the other rooms are really large! They typically come with a European size (small) refrigerator. Europeans don’t shop for weeks at a time like Americans. If you don’t have a backup refrigerator, you’ll learn to shop more frequently.
If the kitchen has a pantry at all, consider yourself fortunate; it’s not likely to be large! Most have very little (if any) shelf and/or counter space, and with the space you have you will probably have to find a place to store bins for recyclables! No country does re-cycling better than Germany, so get used to a bin for at least glass, paper, and plastics in addition to your regular garbage. Remember – there are no garbage disposals!
"No one does re-cycling better than Germany; get used to bins for at least glass, paper, and plastics in addition to your regular garbage."
If you are renting, there’s a good chance your landlord takes on the responsibility for snow removal and yard maintenance, but not, it’s your responsibility to make sure no one falls on an icy sidewalk or driveway. Please see "Good To Know Before You Arrive" in the PCSing category for more on this!
Don’t forget everything is metric! So, if you’re bringing your garden hose, you’ll need to get an adapter or plan on just buying a hose here.
Just like in the states, look for the best packages; don’t just go with the first provider you talk to! Personally, we aren’t fond of AFN (had it last time we were here; so glad there’s other options now!). If you plan on picking up an AFN box, remember that your building will need an antenna; without it, the box won’t do you any good!
Internet connectivity is fast now. When we lived here before we seriously had to wait for almost a month to get Internet; now it’s immediate. However, if you will be connecting to a lot of US websites (like your US bank/insurance/credit cards, etc.) you will probably want to spring for a VPN which allows you to access them without getting a message that says you can’t access that website. Even though it’s referred to as “the world wide web”……many websites are specific to the country where they primarily do business.
We were happy to discover our US based Netflix and Prime accounts are accessible from here (with a VPN). Sky TV came with our service, but the streaming is very spotty and loses connectivity, so we rarely watch it.
It appears most Europeans use WhatsApp to make phone calls for free, but you can also use Facebook Messenger and skype. I believe there are other options too (Google Voice?), but I’m not familiar with that. Perhaps another reader could share what they know about it.
When you sign up for Internet/Cable/Telephone, make sure you get the package that includes free landline to landline from Germany to the US. Although fewer have landlines these days, it’s a way to speak to Grandma for free!
I cannot address the Google equivalent, but I was happy to find that Alexa works just fine here (with a 220 adapter), and probably due to the VPN. Not sure if all features would work here without a VPN.
This post was primarily to give you an idea what to expect in your new German residence. Other general info will be posted in the Lifestyle category.