We have been back in the States for over six months now and we think about our extended time in Germany all the time. It was just about a year ago when we moved to Frankfurt and struggled to find an apartment. There are so many things that we wish we would have known before moving to a foreign country. Even if you travel constantly, there is something unique about living in a place that is completely different than your typical surroundings, especially if you move to a place with a language that you don’t know.
The first couple of weeks after we arrived in Frankfurt were like a vacation, it didn’t seem real. We were in a hotel, getting to know where things were located, and doing normal tourist things. Then the hunt for the apartment began and we quickly realized that we were in for an experience. In the United States, there are advertisements, magazines, real estate agents, and apps that will all help you find a place to live or buy. Renting a flat in Germany was a little different. They had just gone through the process of having landlords rent on their own to having them rent through agencies, but there wasn’t an easy way to see what was available. What information there was out there was in German, which is a language that we knew only a little of, so we were spending a lot of time using translation apps.
As our allotted time to stay in a hotel was coming to an end, we started to get stressed as we didn’t seem to be able to locate a place to stay. We were at a local pub that we had found on our first day in Frankfurt and happened to ask the bartender if he had any advice. Although he didn’t know the process, he said his wife would know exactly what we needed. A few minutes later and we had a couple of websites to use and within a week we had found an apartment that was exactly what we were looking for. It was centrally located, near old town, the food district, and shopping. We might have paid a little bit more than we had originally anticipated, but in the end, it was worth every penny.
This was only the first of the challenges that we would face during our transition to living in Germany. We thought that living in a large city would mean that most people spoke English, but that wasn’t necessarily the case, especially as you went into the smaller neighborhoods and frequented the local businesses. We assumed that going into a grocery store, we would be able to easily recognize what products we needed or find things that we normally used. We couldn’t figure out the products based on the pictures on the labels and with our limited German, the titles didn’t translate well for us. We quickly found that we needed to go to several different stores to buy all the things that we needed. We went to the butcher for our meat, the bakery for our bread, the pharmacist for our aspirin and vitamins, the DM (home and bath store) for our toiletries, and then a typical grocery store for canned goods and other products.
Just figuring out how to operate the oven, coffee maker, laundry machine, and other daily routines were not as easy as we expected. We had over a thousand television channels and yet the only things that were in English were news, so we ended up using our Netflix subscription and watching it on our laptop. It took us a while to figure out that we could connect the laptop to the television, but eventually we were able to watch it there. It certainly wasn’t all a struggle, there were other things that we found easy to understand and convenient. Transportation was fairly easy to figure out from the street cars, underground railway, railway, and airplane travel, there were so many options. We also enjoyed walking the city, it was easy and as long as you paid attention to traffic signals, easy to navigate. There were an abundance of restaurants, but most of them had limited menus, so you quickly learned which places to go when you were in the mood for certain foods. Most of all, we truly enjoyed the friendships that we made and the impact that they made on our lives. We wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world and hope to go back for a longer stay at some point, although this time, wherever we go, we will be better informed.