Second Germanniversary: reminiscences

It’s been two years since I moved to Germany, exactly, so I thought I’d put up a brief post in celebration of the event. I actually didn’t expect to be here this long, originally, based on the length of my original contract, although that was largely due to the peculiarities of academic funding that are the same everywhere.

I arrived early morning September 1, 2011, in Frankfurt airport. Had just a few minutes to figure out where the Regionalbahnhof was to catch my train to Saarbrücken, which I just barely did. (Wouldn’t have really hurt if I had missed it, but still.) First thing I did in SB after catching my bearings—I had an idea of the “top view” of the city from the Hauptbahnhof via Google Maps, so it was disconcerting to get the “side view”. So that’s what the Europa-Galerie really looks like!

I really had done a lot of research on Saarbrücken before even accepting the job, but some things have to be done with “boots on the ground”. I got a taxi driver to drive me to the temporary accommodation set up by the Max Planck Institute/MMCI for me, left my luggage there, and then somehow miraculously made it back to the city center to set up internet and cell phone service, which apparently I did miraculously quickly, according to some of my foreign colleages. The research as well as my basic proficiency with written German really paid off.

The next day I went to work for the first time, and was faced with the many days of on-going set up paperwork. Thanks to the good offices of the MMCI staff, I got my local residency registration straightened out (this isn’t immigration, even Germans have to do this—it’s peculiar to Germany as far as I can tell). Opened my bank account, started transferring money to it the old-fashioned way, through ATM withdrawals (I had favorable terms on this from my US bank—it’s not more expensive than using a transfer service, but there’s a withdrawal limit).

I even bought my first groceries from Aldi Süd—well, not really my first. Germans are often surprised when I tell them at Aldi Süd exists in the USA in mostly the same form as well as disguised as the more upscale Trader Joe’s. I recall that it was Quark (a form of German soft cheese not quite like cream cheese), bread, some fruit, and a frozen pasta dinner for which I also had to rush and buy some dishes to actually prepare. Also, milk—it’s only sold in max 1L cartons here, unlike the 1 gal. jugs that I was used to in the USA, or the 4L bags of Eastern Ontario that boggle even US minds. (You buy milk in thin plastic bags???)

Unfortunately, I was then plunged into a six week hectic apartment hunt in between actually figuring out my job and getting a start on research. This was partly my fault as I was very picky, but the tenancy system in Germany also has a lot of differences from the US and Canadian ones that aren’t altogether very favorable for very short-term renters. But you can’t have everything.

It wasn’t my first country change, but I still reminisce on the time. Even though it was only a few weeks, it was subjectively months long. In the end, despite all my research, I really only consider myself properly “set up” about three months later. That is defined as getting a home DSL connection, of course. Big German ISPs are no better than anywhere else, it was a Verizon-esque nightmare. Many people might consider getting their residency visa to be the endpoint of the adventure—that actually took a while because they were just introducing the electronic visa ID cards (that is an interesting issue…), but aside from the delay it was very smooth—being a Canadian has its advantages.

But while the whole set-up of my German life contained a lot of hassles, it was also a lot of fun. Like I said, I like to reminisce about it at parties. I can easily recommend a change of country as a way to shake up your life and wish it were in general easier for most people to consider it. I still haven’t moved to a country in which I am totally alien—as I said, I was German-familiar before moving to Germany, and all Romance-language countries are also more or less spoiled that way for me. A decade ago I hardly imagined I’d be living in the DC Metro area, let alone Europe, so who knows?

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