An Alien in America

An alien's perspective on life and everything else

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

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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The flight across

Posted by nickxyz on February 2, 2008

In order for our two girls (2 dogs) to not be quite as stressed as a transantlantic flight might cause them to be, we decided to leave the country via a direct flight. Booking a one way ticket from the US to Germany for that very purpose turned out to be not as easy or as inexpensive as we thought. A one way ticket during our timeframe would have amounted to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2k (through various web sites). Thinking outside of the box, we tried a regular round trip ticket during the exact same timeframe and were quite surprised. A regular round trip ticket only ran about $400 for the exact same route out. Not quite sure why that would be the case, but the round trip ticket quite obviously was a LOT less expensive. So, we booked the RT trip.

Outbound was to leave at 10.30 pm at night, getting into Germany the following afternoon. I had booked that flight previously for a family trip and it was almost empty. Who else would book a red eye flight?? After our girls had successfully made the trip to the airport, I wanted to check them in as early as possible. The ticket counter personnell was quite helpful, but for some reason decided to quote me a completely different price than the phone reservation agent had about 2 weeks prior ($100 / dog). And what a difference it was. Each of the girls was quoted a price of almost $250. To boot, it appeared that only one dog had been referenced in my booking, and for the fact that it had to be reserved and planned for by the airline in terms of space and availability, the agent at the counter also indicated a slight risk that the second dog might not be allowed on board. Nice!

After expending some of my award winning charm and negotiation skills, I was able to book both girls, but had to bite the bullet on the price. Well, so be it. At least the airline has the best reputation for dog / animal safety and also maintains a dedicated veterinary station at our German destination.

Going on board, I had to mention to the main steward that I was traveling with two dogs and whether there was any way he could double check that they had been loaded properly, the AC and pressure adjustments had been turned on. They actually did that and reported back shortly before take off that my two girls were fine and ready to go. After almost 9 hours, of which I slept about 7, we arrived in Germany on a foggy afternoon. The steward again called down to the cargo hold and reported back to me even before de-boarding that my girls had made the trip safely and would most likely already be waiting in the baggage are by the time I made it down there.

And indeed, they slid down the belt at about the same time I got there. The horse was doing just fine and didn’t appear to have had any issues during the flight at all. The fat one, always the more sensitive one, was visibly shaken. She didn’t care for the ride down the conveyor belt at all. After having moved the two kennels onto those standard airport luggage carts (one for each kennel), both girls sat kinda tilted in a corner. Walking up to Customs, the two bright representatives had seen us coming down the hallway for at least 100 m, yet as we approached the pass through, I might as well could have kept going right on through. If I had not opened my mouth and asked them if they wanted to see papers for the girls. At that point, some lightbulb must have turned on and one of them finally piped up and yes, I needed to be seen by the local vet……

The vet was called and came by fairly quickly, took a look at the papers and the girls. Asked me to bring out the first one to check the microchip. She pulls out this scanning device and begins to tell me that this one is a cheap replacement because the primary scanner was broken, and most likely this replacement would not read the microchip after all anyway. Well, and it didn’t. What a waste… But, not to complain, the two girls got through Customs without another glitch and out we were in Germany!

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Countdown has begun

Posted by nickxyz on January 20, 2008

The countdown has officially begun. A few more days, but still several mountains to move.

Most importantly, the girls (dogs) are all set. Last shots and pills were picked up on Saturday.  Started packing clothes, started sorting out the “stuff” into three categories (stays, goes and give away). The adrenaline is slowly raising, the house is getting emptier and emptier. Lots of lunches and happy hours to go to and say goodbye to lots more people…

Keep the faith

Posted in Ausgewandert, auswandern, Daily Insanity, Travel | 1 Comment »

Germany – Here we go

Posted by nickxyz on January 12, 2008

My frequency of posts had dramatically decreased over the last several weeks. One big contributor to my tardiness is the fact that we were working on a possible return to Germany. Until that was all done and buttoned up, I just didn’t want to put the word out there….  🙂

Well, as of this week, it is now official. We are returning back to Germany. Currently hot and heavy in the preparations: the movers’ representative was here earlier this morning to take a pre-move survey, we are sorting through our “crap” and deciding on what goes, what stays and what goes the way of the dodo bird. Our stack intended for Goodwill is growing by the minute. The silver lining of the effort is that we are doing a thorough review of our mess, which has been overdue for quite some time now. We haven’t quite made it to the category of “pack rat”, but we sure weren’t very far off either 🙂

Approaching this new chapter in life with a laughing and a crying eye, really. I know it is the right decision (we are moving for family reasons), but we are also taking on additional risk, losing some of our “stability” 🙂 and trading it in for quite a few ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’. Blood is thicker than water. We will have a strong family support structure already over there that will make the adjustment and the culture shock somewhat smoother, I hope. Having been gone for roughly 10 years (I “left” initially for my first practical term during college and came home only for about 8 more months thereafter) does mean that a lot of what I used to know / do / was comfortable with has now changed and “evolved”, just like I have.

People in similar situations, I think, who are expecting to return to their “old” life are in for a rude awakening or the surprise of their life. Every time I had gone home in the past for a few days for vacation, catching up with family and friends on what they had been doing so far was very much intriguing. In those circumstances, I really had no tie or connection to the “stories” I was told as I was not there to live through it with my family and friends. That forced distance could be considered a savior in some instances, in some others it was a hinderance I felt very clearly. Now, with our move, that constant balancing act will not change, I am just switching sides, so to speak.

Another two weeks….

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Trip to Germany

Posted by nickxyz on December 2, 2007

Been to Germany last week, almost a last minute type of deal.  Had to use up some vacation (strange enough in a 10 day / year country) before the end of the year, happened to be surfing the Internet across tiss (my favorite Internet flight search site) and found a fare that could not be beat. So I went 🙂

Spent a week with the family, ran some errands of things I can’t get in the US, most notably Milka Schmunzelmaenner und Nutella, baked some Christmas Bredla and generally had a nice laid back week’s worth of vacation. Works wonders for the workaholic mind 🙂

For only the second time in the last 10+ years, I was able to snag a red eye flight to Europe. Leaving via Chicago at 10.30 pm CST, arriving in Frankfurt a little bit after 1 pm CST the next day, using Lufthansa. Wow, I need to write that one down and keep it handy for the next few flights. It really does make a difference in the level of jet lag once in Germany. Having slept a few hours on the plane, the remainder of the afternoon was really an easy thing to take and stay awake until the general local population usually goes to bed. I did however, wake up at 2 am local time with an urgent need to check out the refrigerator for anything edible.

Spent some time with each family member the following days, ranging from losing big playing darts in the basement (I cannot stand ‘cricket’ mode) to lollygagging in town strolling through seasonally decorated pedestrian zones, picking up some early Xmas gifts. Even did some cultural excursions into nearby cities. The Christmas season in Germany is just something entirely special that cannot be replicated abroad, no matter how many Christmas markets are popping up. 🙂

The week went by entirely too fast, as usual and by Friday, I was back on the transatlantic flight headed for D.C. I am not quite sure yet what to think of D.C. as the POE on trips coming back to the US. As the nation’s capital airport I would assume that their ability to accommodate large amounts of immigration / customs traffic would be better than any other major hub; most notably with all the political VIPs arriving there (they might actually have “more direct” immigration procedures than us regular folk) on a constant basis. Compared to the previous international airports in the US, such as Chicago or Philadelphia, their average throughput and speed of processing in D.C. is fairly dismal. With us, several other large flights arrived and the hallways leading up to the main processing stations were cram packed! We were advancing an inch every 5 min. And I only had 2 hours layover to catch the connecting flight. Finally in the main hallway, there were only a handful of open stations… Given that it was early afternoon and the tendency of European flights to arrive at that time on the East coast, my professional mind kicked back in (system wide process improvements, streamlining entire work flows)… Anyway….

I actually did make my connection 🙂

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