An Alien in America

An alien's perspective on life and everything else

Week 1 – Germany

Posted by nickxyz on February 13, 2008

Arrived on a Monday afternoon with two black ink spots (Thank God, they made it ok!), weather kinda drizzly, coldish; it was January after all. Once the girls and I had left the baggage area and had cleared into Germany proper, we made our way to the car. While it was a rather roomy station wagon (yes…), it was still to small to hold the kennels with the girls. So we used the same method that we had used prior to get to the airport. Kennel was disassembled and stacked into each other, shoved in the back seat, luggage into it and the girls in the back. Nice setup. Worked all the way home.

Barely home, the initial setup tasks started to pile up quickly. The first one was just 4 hours after arriving, with one of the banking representatives (Wuestenrot for the ones interested). They do mortgages, investments and insurance. Since I only had a few days left until I started the new job, I needed to get a bunch of bureaucratic ‘stuff’ taken care of and quickly.

After having lived in the US and having done my own investing and financial planning (after all, if I don’t do it, no one will), I kinda have an idea of current interest rates, the concept of risk and diversification, the pros and cons about funds investing and direct stock investing,…. Granted, I thought it was great service for him to come to my parents’ home in the evening to discuss options with me. And I was fully prepared to listen to what he had to say and truly consider everything since he is the financial rep….

Well, first off, we discussed possible mortgage options and associated financing. As he went on and on and on about the incredible advantages of going with his institution (a specialized bank focusing on the housing market / financing), I started to get a little leery. So I started asking detailed questions (see my own financial experience) about why the intermediary financing has to be locked for the amount prescribed, why I couldn’t make special principal payments during that time and why on earth the monthly contribution was as high as he had calculated?? I kept wanting to see the actual payment amount for the various options, he kept telling me about the low interest rate overall, that also would be locked in (in case, the federal interbank rate or fed rate would suddenly be increasing beyond our wildest dreams within the next 5 years…. yeah, right!). I kept telling him, that I am not interested in the interest rate, but in the actual payment amount. He did not see the difference….

Moving on to the investment options themselves. I could round up the monthly mortgage payment to the next even amount and divert the extra money (which they would be very happy to do, as long as I don’t want it to go to principal) into a fancy savings account. He kept calculating how much money would accumulate in there in about 8 years, at which point I could convert it and pay it towards the principal…. (and I would wait this long why??). When I asked him how much interest that specialized savings acocunt would carry, he answered ‘a great 1.9%’…. ah, what? The stock market on average (even in a bad year) returns 7% maybe more… so I would park my money (of which I don’t have nearly enough to begin with) in a 1.9% interest account for 8 years why??? I think, he didn’t like me at that point any more.

 The next day, I went to our house bank to get things squared away there as well. Went and got it all taken care of in one fell swoop! Had some great conversations about a lot of different topics, got some very good advice, on which I acted as well. Still a good decision.

Wednesday, I moved to our new ‘fair city’ to get acclimated and familiar with the surroundings. Thankfully, family lives close and offered to take me in for a few weeks… great suggestion to remember for anyone…. beats any hotel and any other accomodation by miles!! Also went to look for a house to buy. We had seen it on the Internet before and had made an appointment to see it. The pictures where quite nice, aren’t they always? We get there and it is located in this completely inaccessible little bit wider residential sidewalk conversion. Almost a cul-de-sac… It sits on this little speck of dirt. The description talked about an existing herb garden… Walked all around the house twice and didn’t find squat, nothing but a dirt patch with tons of weeds on one side of the house that might have at one time been that…

Inside, it is a clean, but older home (an old couple had just moved out into assisted living), according to the realtor. We asked him a few questions and his standard answer seemed to be ‘I don’t know’. Not very confidence instilling. He was one of those that fit the stereotype of a wanna-be high stakes realtor…. The ground level was quite okay, the 1st floor was not too bad either. The attic, accessible through a door in the ceiling in the hallway, turns out to not have ANY insulation. I could see the sky through the roof tiles…. oh, I should be informed that this is standard building practice to ensure that any moisture or wind on stormy days can easily flow through the attic without destroying any roof tiles. But the fact that water ran down the chimney from the roof into the attic and down into the house proper was not of a real concern….

Moving on to the basement. Quite roomy, nicely maintained, dated looking but okay. The description had listed a garage as being part of the house as well. So far, we had not seen a garage. Walking through the dungeons down there, there is this one iron door that seems to lead further into the beast’s belly. Turns out that is the garage…. Quite obviously, a workshop previously to which someone had broken down a wall and replaced it with a garage door. Couldn’t quite stand upright in that room and with the door open, it almost scratched the roof of the realtor’s car (Opel Tigra) when he tried to convince us that it is a standard size garage…. Walking out of the garage door, it becomes even more obvious that it is a makeshift lookalike. The narrow entryway has a tight corner that needs to be navigated first, plus a little wall tower, plus this nasty low level elevation with concrete tile that one just can’t see coming in and turning to fit the car’s nose into the opening. The realtor almost got a nasty scratch onto his new Tigra because he had miscalculated the distance and height during one of his 3 correction attempts…. Needless to say, that one was deselected immediately.

The next day, I just scouted out my way to work to know how much time it would take me, where to go and how to get there… Didn’t do much else that day. Friday then was the first day at work. Typical orientation day setup. Good timing in that it was on a Friday 🙂

Stay tuned for more from Krautland….

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