Happy Anniversary to Us: One Year in Germany!

by Rebecca A. Watson on July 29, 2014

in Germany, life, travel

I’m taking a break from the Monday Morning Pages this week because we’re celebrating our one year anniversary of living in Germany! Normally I’d pull some quotes out of my journal about what I experienced this week last year, but I thought it’d be nice to hear from my other half, Sante!

I’m delighted to feature his writing, not only because he’s my hubby but also because I think he’s pretty good for an engineer ;)

Now that Rebecca and I have lived in Freiburg for a year, I thought I would share a bit on how we are getting along. We didn’t have a whole lot of expectations when we came and were definitely rolling the dice a bit by moving.

We told ourselves we would ride it out for two years and, worst case, we would be able to travel around Europe easily and do some cool things that wouldn’t really be feasible if we were  still living in the U.S. Read on to find out how it is working out.

Internal Combustion Not Required

I think the single biggest improvement to my life has been not needing a car everyday. This is the longest I have gone without having a car since I first had one. It’s not so much the lack of a car that has been great (although we are saving money by not owning one) but not being a slave to a car.

My previous commute was only 15 minutes each way, but it was an adrenaline-fueled race to get around as many fast-lane dawdlers and trucks as possible before my exit.

It is ingrained in German culture to keep right except for passing. Same number of lanes — infinitely better traffic flow. A perfect example of when American self-righteousness goes wrong (and truthfully, doesn’t it always?).

Happily, I have barely had to deal with German highways as it is. I have a glorious five-minute bike ride to work or a 15 minute walk. Being able to ride a bike to work everyday, and not requiring a shower when I get there, is Nirvana.

And if I decide to walk to work, people don’t stare at me like I’m a peasant. Rebecca made it almost the entire year without being cat-called once! In Santa Cruz it was pretty much a daily occurrence for her.

commute

Sometimes I still have to deal with traffic on my commute.

It’s not just the proximity to work that has allowed us to go without a car for so long; it is the infrastructure of Freiburg. There is a nice bike path that runs along the river East-West though the city, so it is quick and safe.

Most of the rest of the town has clearly marked bike paths, the town is nestled in the flat space between mountains and the drivers actually watch out for cyclists!  How novel!

The last reason we haven’t needed a car is that there is good public transit, and we don’t feel dirty or scared when we use it. Most of the people on board are *GASP* normal.

In fact, I can count the number of crazies I’ve seen (in a city of over 300,000) since we moved here on one hand. In Santa Cruz, I couldn’t do that for one day. I have no idea why this is, but it is awesome.

Working to Live, Healthily

The new job. I suppose a lot of people I know will want to know about if I am happy that I switched jobs. Without going into detail, the answer is yes.

Kind of related to the job is healthcare/sick days/vacation. Health insurance is not cheap here, but it is cheaper than I was paying before. And it is better. I have yet to pay anything for going to the doctor here, and I’ve already been milking the system.

I had a pinched nerve in my back which resulted in an emergency room visit, X-ray, and MRI; a broken knuckle (another E.R. visit with X-ray); saw an allergist; saw someone about an injured knee, and I’ve paid nothing.

Physical therapy was about 25 Euro for 6 sessions, and drugs seem to cost roughly the same as the U.S., but otherwise it seems to be free.

cast

I’ve been taking advantage of the public healthcare.

Then there are the sick days. They aren’t limited. They aren’t vacation days. If you are really sick, you should stay home. You get about three days before you need a doctor’s note.

If you get a doctor’s note, you are actually REQUIRED to stay home and rest. The employer must pay full salary for 6 weeks, then the insurance will pay up to 2,835 Euro/month up to 78 weeks. As I understand it, medical fees are covered, so there is no having to worry about dying from being too poor.

I’m not really clear what happens after that … hopefully we won’t every need to find out. I started this job with a week more vacation than I had before, but then I don’t need to use my sick days when I’m sick, working out to a few days more, plus the fact that I get to stay home and rest when I’m sick. Brilliant!

It’s a Beautiful Thing

There is no denying that Santa Cruz is a beautiful town, but Freiburg is no slouch. There are no breathtaking ocean views here, but if you get up in the mountains, there are some pretty amazing views of green mountains and valleys, and charming villages.

And if we’re talking architecture, Freiburg blows Santa Cruz away. Within the city there are many more pretty things to look at in Freiburg than Santa Cruz. And in the summer, some of those pretty things are topless by the river ;-)

Honestly, I can’t really decide which place is prettier. They are both beautiful in different ways.

Schlössle viewCool graffiti

Lovely view

Plenty to look at in Freiburg.

The other nice thing is that if you go outside Freiburg, it just gets more beautiful. In Santa Cruz, it pretty much only stays pretty if you go North or South. East can be a bit of a bummer.

Here, there are beautiful, green foothills in all directions, or if you go a little farther south or southeast, the epic-ness that is the Alps. Driving through the Alps is incredible.

Drive in Alps
See what I mean?

In Germany, the Weather is Wetter

Something that is a bit of a surprise to me is how much I enjoy the weather. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword (you know, because of that whole winter thing), but when the weather is nice, it is NICE.

No cold breezes that come in at 5pm; a nice day stays a nice day well into the night. And the sun here is intense. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 degrees C. If the sun is out, it feels glorious.

I also rather enjoy having a real spring. It’s hard to appreciate spring if you don’t have much of a winter. There is a bit of a magical transformation when the leaves return, flowers bloom, and birds are singing. And the birds here sing a nice relaxing siren-song as opposed to the squawking of sea-birds in Santa Cruz. It’s a nice touch.

And the summer is a real summer! None of this June gloom b.s. June here is sunny and warm, with some rain. The rain can be a drag, but it also keeps the trail conditions good, and everything around a luscious green.

And who doesn’t love a nice thunderstorm in the summer? Well, I guess bums probably don’t, but it seems like most everyone else does. Thunder and pattering rain are making the soundtrack as I write this.

rainbow

Rain isn’t always bad.

Thar’s Gold in them Hills

Now to the important part: the mountain biking. I’ll start by saying that the trails in Freiburg are not as fun as Santa Cruz. Many are just converted hiking trails, and they end up being very straight, very fast, with embedded rocks, and tight switchbacks.

So it goes: sprint up to warp-speed, brake hard for the tight switchback, sprint up to warp-speed, etc. Not exactly what I would call flow. And the prospect of crashing here is downright scary.

However, there are more places to ride in every direction just outside the city. Les Vosges, home of Jerome Clementz, is about 40 minutes away, Lac Blanc (a nice bike park with real dirt, not moon-dust) is an hour away, and the Alps are about two hours away (with foothills to ride in all along the way).

I have barely begun to explore but am really looking forward to having access to new trails a small car ride away. Santa Cruz has Skeggs and Los Gatos, but not much else to ride within an hour of driving. And if you are into snow sports, Freiburg has you covered. You can even get to a small mountain nearby on public transit.

Alpen ride

Plenty of places to ride nearby, like this little diddy in Austria

You know the feeling of climbing 1000 meters and your buddies want to do a bonus descent, but you are starting to cramp, you are nearly out of food and water, but you go ahead and drop in on the side of the mountain opposite home anyway?

Germany has a solution to that, and it is a restaurant at the summit. They are everywhere. I’m still baffled that they can survive, but every time I stop in one, they are packed. Even when it’s cold out. There is nothing greater than climbing to the snow line, toes like icicles, popping into a warm restaurant, ordering some soup, then shredding back down.

Germans have really figured out being outside. Even on some of the coldest days, I’ll get to the top of a climb to find entire families that have hiked up from the bottom. I’m trying to picture a typical American child hiking up a mountain while it’s snowing, but it’s just making me laugh.

thirsty

Are you running out of water in the middle of nowhere? No worries in Germany!

Home

Then there is our amazing flat. Not only is it close to work, but it’s close to shopping and restaurants. We have free reign of the entire first floor (that would be ssecond floor in the U.S). This means windows on all sides, and tons of light.

The exterior walls are over a foot thick of solid concrete, so together with the amazing German windows, the insulation is the best I have ever experienced. Truly impressive.

The area we live in is also very quiet with very little traffic. It’s the perfect compromise of being close to shopping, but being away from the noise.  And if there is noise, we can shut our windows and the insulation does its thing.

There are views of the green mountains out the front and back windows, I have a garage plus a basement, we have a small yard/garden area (albeit shared with two other families), and our living space is huge! We have an extra bedroom that we don’t really use, so come visit!

Little Misc. Things

Another nice thing has been learning German … Admittedly, very slowly. But, eventually I will be a trilingual American. Rebecca has definitely been doing better than me in this department, which has also been cool. I’m so proud of her!

Here’s one that I never thought would matter much to me; you can drink in public, and it’s not a big deal. There is a square where many people picnic at night when the weather is nice, and it’s like being at an outdoor bar where you don’t get shafted for the price of drinks.

And people here have been drinking since they were 16 or younger, so you don’t get a lot of douchebags that can’t handle their alcohol. Talk about freedom.

Augustinerplatz

Are you thirsty in the city center? No worries in Germany!

Of course, there is also the novelty of being somewhere new. Things are different here. People are different. Food is different. We can ride bikes to go watch the Tour de France. It’s fun learning about everything, and especially sharing the experience with Rebecca. Having lived in a foreign country before, I can say that it is a much more rewarding experience with someone you love.

Le Tour

I never thought I would watch Le Tour live, let alone ride my bike from my house to watch it.

Freiburg is in the very southwest of Germany, so France and Switzerland are a short jaunt away, so when we get sick of Germany, we can take refuge pretty easily.

Basel

Taking refuge from Germany in Switzerland. Nothing will make you appreciate Germany more.

Der nicht zehr gut

I’m not going to pretend like everything is better there; there are definitely some things I miss about home. Mexican food, for one. There is a distinct lack of it here.

Luckily Rebecca has figured out how to find the ingredients for delicious tacos, but we have had to hand-carry the Tapatio from home. There is one store at the edge of town that carries Cholula, but it doesn’t quite do it for us.

Lack of familiar things can be exhausting. I never really thought I’d have to think about which underwear, socks or deodorant to buy again. I knew what worked, so why bother? Now it’s back to square-one with all those little things.

Then there’s the 19 percent sales tax on pretty much anything you buy. Does it seem like the infrastructure is 19 percent better than in the U.S.? Well, to be honest, it kinda does. But it still sucks to pay 19 percent. Can’t we tax the rich or something?

If I really had to pick one reason I don’t like living here it would be just the general difficulty of figuring out how to do everything while not really speaking the language.

Things like getting a phone, apartment, driver’s license, car, insurance, etc, are labor-intensive, frustrating, and exhausting. Just making a phone call can be a chore when you are unsure if you are going to understand the person on the other end of the line or vice-versa.

Can I say the rain is a bad thing if I already said it is a good thing? My coworker Timo said it best: Wouldn’t it be nice if it only rained during the night? A day of rain here and there is nice and calming, but a week of rain during the summer is a drag.

Germany is a bit of a crappy place to rent a home. We paid about two month’s rent for a realtor fee, which seems quite unfair. Shouldn’t the person making the money on the place pay the realtor? (To be fair, they recently passed a law to resolve this.)

We are also required to pay to fix anything less than 100 Euro. And if there is something more than 100 Euro, typically our landlord will ask us if we know anyone to fix it, then say it is too hard to find someone to fix it, and do nothing.

I would love to own a rental property here. They are basically money-printers.

Then there is the whole kitchen thing. For some ungodly reason, Germans take their kitchen with them when they move.

And I don’t mean they take the appliances and furniture; they take those, the counters, the cabinets… everything but the kitchen sink… Actually, they take that too! As if their counters and cabinets are going to fit in their new house? Whatever, weirdos.

Luckily we were able to purchase our kitchen from the previous tenant, the downside being that she installed something easy and I can’t say I’m impressed by the craftsmanship of our sink counter. But at the same time, we don’t want to invest in a rental, so I try to ignore it.

On the topic of renting, most places don’t have closets built into the structure, so you have to buy wardrobes too. Moving in Germany is a major PITA, so we are happy we found a good place.

I knew this before we came here, but the public bathroom situation in Germany is dismal. For example, along the Dreisam River that runs through the city, on a nice day it is chock-full of people grilling. There are families and young adults alike. Drinking beer, and hanging out ALL DAY. Where do they do their business?

All I can say is I am scared to walk off the beaten path near the Dreisam. To be fair, I’ve never explored, and I’m not 100 percent sure people are crapping in the woods, but if it looks like a duck …

Dreisam

Hanging out by the Dreisam without a bathroom in sight.

Finally, Germany has these amazing windows that either swing open, or pivot from the bottom to open just a little. They are all double-pane, and extremely well-sealed. They are engineering marvels, and they are ubiquitous.

But for some reason, Germany has not figured out that if you install screens in your windows, bugs stay outside. So you end up living with bugs in your house. And bats. We have definitely gotten used to the bugs, but WHY? WHY NOT JUST HAVE SCREENS?

Windows-1windows-2

The windows are feats of engineering, but if they are open all bets are off.

bat

Don’t worry, the bats are harmless. They definitely DON’T CARRY RABIES AND CHASE YOU AROUND YOUR HOME WITH THEIR GIANT FANGS!

So, is it perfect here? No. Are we happy here? Without a doubt, we are happier here than we were in Santa Cruz. We are on an awesome adventure, and it has only just begun!

And seriously, we are paying for a bigger place than we need so that people can come visit. Don’t make us waste our money. Come visit!

{ 6 comments }

Sober is Not A Uniform

by Rebecca A. Watson on July 27, 2014

in habits, media, music, Recovery

There’s this fashion blog I used to read a lot.  I liked it because Alison, the woman who writes it, is realistic about what kind of money one might really spend on things. She encourages readers to do things that actually matter, like get a real bra fitting and use proper hangers for different articles of clothing.

One of the tips she gave about creating a wardrobe was to find your uniform. Basically, she said, find what you like to wear most, and then buy those things.

No shame in buying the exact same thing in two colors. If you love it and you feel comfortable in it, then buy it. And stop filling your closet with stuff you think you should be wearing. It’ll just take up space and destroy your clothing budget.

I liked this advice and considered following it. I thought of myself as a jeans and T-shirt kinda gal, but as I looked through my clothes as well as pictures of myself throughout the years, that’s clearly not the case. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I’ve always been kind of all over the map when it comes to fashion.

These photos are from the same roll of film. Remember those?

These photos are from the same roll of film. Remember those?

In the summer you can see me rocking skinny jeans and a tank top and the next day walking down the street in a sundress. I’ll wear a skirt with sequins and a hippy baby doll top. Then there’s the classic red bandanna halter top with daisy dukes and a cowgirl hat. And that’s just in one week.

I don’t like committing to one style. Hell, I don’t even like committing to one decade. It’s the same with music. When someone asks what type of music I like, my cliché answer is everything.

Of course there is Ani Difranco and Metallica in my iPod. Yes, I have Michael Jackson and A$AP Rocky radio stations set up on my Pandora. And damn straight, I’ve saved all of Led Zepplin’s albums along with Alan Jackson’s on Spotify.

The reason I bring this all up is because of a shirt I have. A tank top to be specific. It’s one of my staples for summer. I bought it in Las Vegas years ago and I frickin’ love it.

elegantly wastedDo you see how well it fits my rock-n-roll ensemble? Hello? And the more faded it gets, the cooler it becomes.

But wait. There’s something wrong with this picture, isn’t there?

Oh yeah. I’m sober.

This has been bouncing around in my brain every time I put the shirt on this season. I only wore it once last summer. A check-out clerk asked the then three-months-sober me if I was wasted. Confused, a little defensive and complete bewildered, I answered him, “No!”

I left the store, only later realizing why he would ask.  I packed the shirt away and there it stayed. Until now. A year later.

I keep asking myself, Is it OK to wear this if I don’t drink? If in fact, I really loathe being around people who are wasted? If, even though I love the song, it was in fact written by an alcoholic who later killed himself?

(Edited to add the song for those who don’t know it.)

or

Am I promoting alcoholism by wearing this? Glamourizing it? Or can I just be like all the other Euros and wear clothes with random English phrases on them as a fashion statement?

This question has come up for me in other ways too: What about listening to music that glamourizes drinking? Or watching movies that do? Or reading Hemingway? Where does this train stop?

Because although I’ll admit Shots by LMFAO makes me terribly uncomfortable, I will always love this song:

And then there’s Oasis’ anthem. And this classic from the Doors. And one of my new favorites by Kendrick Lamar. If you haven’t heard Swimming Pools, check it. It’s sick. Nope, it’s too good to just link to. Here’s the vid:

I could go on with movies and books, but let’s stick to the fashion and music theme we’ve got going on here. I don’t wanna confuse the issue. And I think the issue is this:

Sober may have changed a lot about me, but it hasn’t changed the human I am at the core. It’s only helped me to discover her. And that took some getting used to.

That’s why a year ago I wasn’t cool with wearing this shirt. I also couldn’t tolerate hosting a party or staying up until 1 a.m. with everyone around me drinking. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to throw a BBQ or stay up late with people laughing and playing games, it was because I wasn’t sure I could do that and still be me.

I didn’t know if I could tolerate life happening around me. I thought I’d  be that weird human standing out, not drinking. I thought I would hate everyone sipping on their night cap of aged whiskey while my mint tea got cold.

Turns out no one cares that I don’t have a beer in my hand. And I’m still appreciating other’s choices to drink, asking about what part of Scotland it’s from and why they like it. Not because I wanna fit in, but because that’s me. I adore food and drink and can talk about them endlessly.

Which leads me back to the shirt. It would seem that no matter what I wear, as long as I’m comfortable, I am still me. Even when my friends were dressing my up for photo shoots, it didn’t matter what outfits I wore and how different I looked, I was always Rebecca.

char

Dress up is fun.

And when I think about how I feel listening to all the music I love, the one thing I always know is that I am grounded in myself. After all, music is the language of the soul — I just happen to speak several dialects. But they all come from my heart.

Of course I want to protect my soul, my heart, but I’m certainly not going to stop treating life as my own personal buffet table. I’ll take a little bit of this and that, and while I might be allergic to alcohol, I’m certainly not going to stop myself from enjoying the things that have been made with the same machinery.

So bring on the Hunter S. Thompson, switch on The Big Lebowski and crank up the Guns ‘N’ Roses, because the only uniform this girl is gonna wear is her own. Or maybe something from Tank Girl’s closet ;)

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, I’m the featured interviewee for this month in Tanya Penny’s Transforming Pain into Purpose & Passion series. I recommend checking out all the interviews. They are really inspiring!

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I remember years ago, maybe in junior high, learning the definition of an entrepreneur. There was the traditional definition — one that starts his/her own business — but my teacher would always insist the real definition was this: A Risk Taker.

I never considered myself one of these risk takers. My dad owned his own business and he worked hard, long hours. He worried about money and stressed about jobs. It seemed he never took a day off.

But somehow I found myself gravitating toward that role several summers ago. Actually it was around this time in 2011 that I started my own marketing business.

And gradually it has dawned on me that I am exactly that. I am a risk taker. And this time of year happens to be my habitual risk-taking time.

mark calendar

Yep, it’s about time for another adventure.

In 2009, I moved to California without a job or contacts. In 2011, I gave up a ridiculously well-paying (albeit soul-sucking) gig to work part-time and start my own marketing biz. And in 2012 I wrote this:

“I guess things are really coming to a place where I realize that I need to take some risks. I’ve definitely spent some time being comfortable.

Now it’s a matter of pushing a bit more — not looking at junior level contract jobs. I deserve a higher level of pay and respect. I dunno. I feel like right now is such a weird time. I’m getting to a settled point and I want to push for something new.”

It was around that time that I signed a new client and ended my part-time gig, working full-time on my business.

And then came 2013, writing in a hotel room in Connecticut, halfway to Germany:

“Failure is a part of success. The only real failure is not to try. Isn’t that the truth? I so often wouldn’t write something because I’m afraid it’s not good and will make me feel bad. But really, it’s the people that take risks who live life. I mean that’s what we’re doing now, taking a risk.”

sante n rebecca germany

A calculated risk, being that I married an engineer. But a risk, nonetheless.

And this week I’m taking another risk, pursuing a dream I’ve been wanting to try for more than a year now. I’m finally becoming a life coach!

And I’ve tied it in to my life’s mission, which is to help people through my writing. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

Taking risks is what evolving on this planet is all about. If we really want to win life, we’ve got to get used to being outside our comfort zone some of the time.

And it’s also how we learn. Because even if we’ve failed, it’s not a mistake if we’ve learned from it. And failure can teach us (and others, if we’re open to public failure) more sometimes than success can.

Not that I want to fail, of course. This endeavor really fulfills part of my life’s purpose, I believe. After being a sober pen pal for many months, I think I’m going to like this line of work. I’ve been told by many job aptitude tests that I’d be a great therapist. So we’ll see how it goes.

Risk isn’t always quitting your job, or starting a new project or moving across the globe. There is risk in everyday changes as well. I took a risk when I quit drinking. Heck, you can take a risk by wearing a skirt instead of shorts.  It’s more about getting outside your comfort zone.

What are you doing in your life to take risks? Are you getting too comfortable or do you challenge yourself in different ways?

Wondering what this Monday Morning Pages thing is all about? Read how it started. Or check out all the archives. Also, special thanks to Jean-Claude Killy for the title. Alpine skiers really do have a way with words — at least the ones I know.

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5 Secrets for Connecting to Your Soul Thru Writing

July 16, 2014

In the summer of 2009, something very special happened to me. As I was lying in bed journaling at the end of the day, I was struck by a strange feeling. I’d been writing a particularly emotional passage, but this felt like something more. I set down my computer (I journaled on my computer at […]

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MMP: Let Go of Your “Shame A Dish”

July 14, 2014

When I was little, I was taught the phrase “Shame on you” in German. I’ve got some German ancestors, and well, I guess it was one of the few phrases that stuck through the generations. Shame on you translates to Schäm dich, but I’d always heard it pronounced “Shame a dish.” Now that I understand […]

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Lessons in Acclimating to A New Country — or — Four Things About My German Therapist

July 11, 2014

Moving to a new area can be a nerve-wracking enterprise for anyone, regardless of whether it’s across a state or across an ocean. Will the stores carry the food I like? Is there a yarn shop? Are there abundant supplies of cheap avocados? (The answer for Freiburg: Mostly. Yes, several. No. Not ever. You will […]

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MMP: Thrown Up Against the Past

July 7, 2014

This weekend I had the house to myself, and I decided to do some mind-body healing around the shame and guilt I carry around with me. This burden has decreased significantly since I stopped consuming alcohol like it was my job, but there’s definitely still a lot of residual stuff coming up. I read somewhere […]

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My Creative Habit in Ten Questions

July 4, 2014

As a journalist, blogger and marketer, I’ve done many interviews in my life. It didn’t dawn on me until several years into them that someday I might be the one answering questions. In the past week I’ve been invited to an interview (more on that in a few weeks) as well as to answer the […]

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MMP: Honest-to-goodness fun!

June 30, 2014

I just got back from Zürich last night and spent most of today catching up and doing errands, as is usually the case when you go away for the weekend. The trip was quick, but it was such a satisfying time. We arrived Friday night and got settled in with the friends we were visiting. […]

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This Week I Am:

June 27, 2014

Listening to: Air Traffic Controller: My favs on this album: Hurry, Hurry  and You Know Me and RadioLab, What’s Left When You’re Right? A particularly exciting episode about extreme opposites and what happens when they clash. Stories about game shows, creepy moments in a cabin in the woods and left-handed folks drew me in for the entire episode. Reading: Stones […]

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