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Finding an apartment in Bielefeld, part 3: It’s not me, it’s you

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Part 1 of this series of posts dealt with what to expect when looking for an apartment in Bielefeld (specifically the absence of anything in them), part 2 concerned where to look for listings, and part 3 will be about issues you may run into once you find one that you want.

Renting an apartment is very different here than it was in the USA.  In America, there are many laws that try to protect renters from ‘discrimination’.  Here, that doesn’t seem to be the case, but undertandably so…many of the spaces for rent are part of another person’s house, and the landlord still lives there.  There are many people renting out a single room on their property, rather than exclusively large apartment buildings in which your behavior has little affect on the owner.  Because of this, the owners can (and will) judge you very carefully before giving you the keys.  It seems to be customary that a landlord or current tenant will show numerous people the apartment over the course of a few weeks, and then they’ll pick the person they like best.  This made me nervous, and we did indeed get turned down for the first apartment we really wanted.  Maybe they didn’t like that we couldn’t communicate with them without an interpreter…imagine that!

During the apartment hunt, you may need to stretch the truth a little bit to close the deal.  “Yeah, I’m totally learning German at the speed of a linguistic genius!”  “No, I hate parties!”  “Bielefeld?  I think I’ll live my whole life here!”

Seriously, I had one landlord after another specifically tell me they wanted someone who was staying for 10 years or more.  Most people, and especially expats, have no idea if they’ll still be in that apartment 10 years from now.  In fact, I hoped I wouldn’t be.  So I lied, and I got the apartment.

 

Once you have the apartment, know your rights and don’t let anyone bully you.  Sure, you should try to be a good tenant and take care of the property, but within reason.  We’ve had neighbors demand we walk in house shoes at all times, and try not to walk at all between the hours of 1 and 3pm.  No hanging your laundry where anyone can see it on Sundays.  Don’t take showers because it is creating a mold problem.  All of these things have actually been requested, and they’re all ridiculous.  You are not legally required to do any of them.  You are, however, legally obliged to give your landlord 3 months’ notice if you decide to move.

Don’t be discouraged by horror stories…we all tend to find that being successful in this country means doing as the Romans do.  People tend to push the envelope, to try to change others’ behavior to their liking more than is usually considered acceptable.  You are allowed to ignore them and do what you want…it’s what they would do!

Please share your stories and tips about successfully dealing with your apartment and your neighbors in the comments!

Finding an apartment in Bielefeld, part 2: Where to look!

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Part 1 of ‘finding an apartment in Bielefeld’ was “what to expect”. Part 2 is “where to look”, and part 3 will be about issues you may have once you’ve found a place you want.  This is meant to be a collaborative post, so please participate in the poll and add comments!  If we make finding an apartment marginally less stressful for one person, we’ve accomplished a lot.

With the theme “where to look”, two things come to mind.  The first is the medium through which to find apartment listings.  Most of us will immediately gravitate toward the internet, but be aware: there are many online companies in Germany that have attractive listings and websites that can be navigated in English, but they will charge you a “finder’s fee” if you decide on one of their apartments.  This finder’s fee is not a day’s lunch money, either….it is typically more than two months’ rent.  I had a difficult time believing how much they charge for doing 5 minutes worth of work, but c’est la vie.  For my husband and I, these agencies became a last resort.  Thankfully, the age old practice of listing apartments in the newspaper is still alive and well.  There are other ways to find listings as well.  It’s about time for a poll:

The second part of the “where to look” theme is of course finding the best area in Bielefeld for your lifestyle.  Will you have a car?  Do you have children?  Where will you be working?  What are your hobbies?  My husband and I do not have a car or kids, we work at the university, and we prefer nature over the city.  Our apartment is located in Gellershagen right next to a bus stop, with farmland all around.  If you already live here, what aspect about your apartment closed the deal for you?  Is there anything about the location that would make you turn down a nice apartment?  Let us know in the comments.

The well-organised separation of waste

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The following post is from Trailing Spouses member Christiane, who is from Brazil:

The other day I was researching some themes on the Internet and I came across an online community called “Brazilians living in Germany.” There, I found a topic about the “correct separation of waste.”
I read reports of many confused compatriots, some of whom are even angry with the “rules of these boring Germans.” In these situations, Brazilian solidarity can be a great help. Many people wrote huge posts to try to clarify how it works here. A Brazilian guy reported that he was quite surprised to receive a complete instruction manual on waste separation when he was at City Hall. “It was almost a compact course,” he said.

A lot of people think that things are a little bit complicated here… I’m not sure of that. I could say people need to do a little bit more “homework,” but in general, it’s really not so complicated. You just have to put the garbage collection schedule on the refrigerator door (in particular for Yellow Sack, twice a month) and also learn the colors of all the trash cans to avoid confusion ( and avoid taking an earful from a neighbor who notices your mistake). Keep an eye out: blue for paper; gray/black for normal trash, green or brown for organic waste (such as leftover vegetables, eggshells, or even the foliage and grass).
It should be emphasized that the rules of waste separation are still not uniform in the whole country. There are several differences between regions/cities. For example, here in Bielefeld there is a “yellow waste sack” which we can pick up for free in supermarkets or at City Hall. In other cities, instead of these yellow sacks there is an yellow trash can and people don’t need to worry about the “Gelb Sack” schedule.

And what about your old computer or television? They should be taken to a special recycling center that is full of separate containers. There, we pay a few euros – something like 2 or 3 euros, depending on what is – to leave our trash. Or we can make an appointment with City Hall or a private company to come fetch the couch, the broken bed, and so on. It may also be possible to leave the trash for free. The link above has more information – it is in German, but Google Translate can help if you need it!

On these grounds, Germans are really proud that “nowhere else in the world does recycling work so well.” The country’s leadership in recycling is recognized by numerous studies and statistics. Earlier this year, the European Commission further strengthened the Germans’ status. They released a study that shows the country is one of the six most efficient in waste treatment and by far the leader in waste recycling.
For more information from Brazilians living in Germany, you can check out this Facebook group.

Thanks to Christiane for writing this post!

Finding an apartment in Bielefeld, part 1: Everything AND the kitchen sink

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Looking for your first apartment here in Germany can be a challenge, and it also happens to be one of the most pressing, time-consuming, expensive, stressful, and first things you will do in this country. Oh boy!

In the months leading up to your move, you might be fantasizing about your new home, maybe clipping kitchen curtains out of an IKEA catalogue….but be prepared: you’re going to need to buy more than that at IKEA. When Germans move, they take EVERYTHING. The furniture, the lights, and yes, even the proverbial kitchen sink.

This was quite the shock to us when we started looking for our apartment. We walked into one apartment after another with no lights, looking like an abandoned building. The landlord says “so, here’s the kitchen”, and all you see are some pipes sticking out of four blank walls. The bright side? You get to make the apartment your own. The downside? You have one more thing to pay for and then you have to build your own kitchen right after moving here. Thankfully, there ARE some apartments that include the kitchen…look for the word “einbauküche”.

I’ve had the “why the heck do you take your kitchen with you??” argument many a time with Germans. It usually goes something like this:

Me: Why would you take the kitchen? Moving is horrible enough already. First of all, it’s difficult to find an apartment, and needing to find one that would fit/compliment your kitchen only makes it harder. Plus, the cars are tiny, the stairwells are narrow, and most buildings have no elevator. Why not make it easier on yourself and just leave the kitchen behind?

Them: Because if I left it behind then I wouldn’t have a kitchen in the new apartment….

Me: But, if everyone…if they had….if you just….nevermind.

Check back for part 2…
Patty

Get On Your Bike

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Bielefeld has a number of nice cycle routes to choose from.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is hot, hot, hot. What better way then to beat the heat than to feel the breeze on a bike tour along Bielefeld’s network of green cycle routes?

Das Grüne Netz or Green network is basically a 25 kilometre circular route through traffic-calmed roads and green spaces with interesting sights along the way. It is suitable for families and there is the extra bonus that 24 playgrounds just happen to line the route and even a mini-golf course!

If you start off from Ravenberger Strasse, which is on “das Grüne Netz” like our family did last Sunday, and follow the road East you are soon away from the city and cycling along the path of the river Lutter and its three (rather picturesque)  ponds called, rather unimaginatively perhaps, Stauteich I, II, and III.  Before you reach Stauteich III, you will see the mini golf course on the left hand side. Past the ponds the landscape opens up to wide meadows. As you near the Meyer zur Heepen Hof, an 18th century wooden timbered house and mill, you are surrounded by forest.  This cycle ride was about 4 kilometres one way, and our 7 year old can manage it comfortably.

We took a detour from the route to go to Heepen, a little village in Bielefeld to be rewarded for our efforts in a great Italian Ice cream shop there.

It is a good idea to bring a picnic/snacks with you, as cafes on route are few and far between.

There is a leaflet that describes the route in the tourist office, but, unfortunately,  it is only in German/Dutch at present. There is, however, an interactive online map online and an app to download called teuto_navigator , where you can at least see the route.

To be honest, although it is nice to have the map, at least on this stretch of the route, you just have to follow the joggers, Sunday strollers, and other cyclists populating the route. In our experience, there are always enough people around to ask if you get lost.

Bike Hire

I have just seen on the Bielefeld Uni website there is an amazing offer of free bike hire (deposit 50 Euros) for up to a year for international students, scientists and scholars. Has anyone  used this service?

Here is a bike hire service near the main station, recommended by Bielefeld.de.

Does anyone have any other experience of bike hire in Bielefeld?

And by the way, tomorrow (Sun. 9th Sept) is Stadtwerke Run & Roll day in Bielefeld, which is also good news for cyclists. Every year at the beginning of September part  of the motorway is blocked off to traffic for various sporting events and family activities so you can head down there with your inline skates, bikes and trainers etc. Here is map of where the event takes place.

Yoga in Bielefeld

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Since Coralie just shared a whole host of ideas for hobbies and things to keep busy, I thought I would expand on one that’s important to me: yoga! I’d been doing it on and off for about four years while living in Virginia, and kept finding reasons not to look into it here in Germany.

Soon enough, you too will be doing yoga on tree branches. (Photo courtesy of Echo Valley Ranch via Flickr)

I finally started to going to classes in Bielefeld, after nearly a year here, because of the English course currently offered at Loft Yoga. As Coralie mentioned, it’s a lovely studio with very nice teachers (and students!). This course will be over in a few weeks, but there has been talk of offering more in the future. Going to an English-language class has been a great way to get over my initial fear of attending a new studio, and I think I might almost be ready to jump into a German-language class. Keep in mind, I’m confident I can “verstehe” everything in a German-language class – when I say “ready,” I mean emotionally, psychologically, etc. As of this posting, the initial class costs 5€, and you can buy cards where classes cost 10€ each after that.

Other yoga options that I know of:

  • One of my English students recommended Yoga Vidya to me. It has branches in other towns, including Dortmund.
  • Uni Bielefeld offers a range of sports classes, including yoga. I believe that if you’re affiliated with the university as a student or worker, you can pay only 15€ per class. Despite asking multiple people who worked there, I was never able to figure out how to pay and sign up, so I gave up on this pretty early on during my tenure in Germany 🙂 You can take a look here at the schedule – if you want to attend a class, it may be worth it to just show up and ask the instructor. Be warned, yoga and Pilates fill up fast and they are large classes (40 or more people, if I remember correctly)!

What other local places do you know of that offer yoga and are Trailing Spouse-friendly?

#Things I found out way too late

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This is an embarrassing post, yet I will publicly shame myself to prevent any future trailing spouse from suffering the same fate.  Living in a foreign country where you do not speak the language comes with many challenges, not least of which is finding out you’ve been doing something wrong for an unbelievably long time.

You see, my husband and I had been having some laundry problems for the past few months…things just didn’t seem to be as clean as they used to be.  I tried cleaning the washing machine multiple times; vinegar, washing soda, you name it!  Still there were problems.

A quick tangent: When we moved to Germany, we had to get used to living without a dryer for the first time.  As a result, our clothes always seemed stiffer and not as soft as we’d like them to be.  I had never used liquid fabric softener before, because when you have a dryer you just use dryer sheets.

Anyway, I went to market the other day to buy liquid fabric softener.  As I stood there looking over my options on the shelf, I realized in horror that I have been using liquid fabric softener instead of laundry detergent for the past 2 years.

I have yet to fully accept this reality.  How could it have taken this long to realize the problem?  How could I have not seen “weichspüler” on the bottle?  Well, perhaps it’s because it’s nowhere to be found in plain view:

So, where is it written??  Oh yeah, there it is:

Thankfully, we now own our very own, very large bottle of “waschmittel”, and our laundry problem is solved.  How embarrassing!

If you have any stories about things you learned way too late, tell them in the comments!

 

Patty

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