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Trailing Spouses expat group

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We are a group of creative foreign spouses whose partners are either from Bielefeld or moved to work / study here. We meet regularly to discuss our expat experiences, offer support to each other and do art activities (no art experience required!). We are also open to new members –  you don’t need to be a trailing spouse, all expats welcome. Whether you are new in Bielefeld or have been here for longer than you can remember and are interested in joining us, we can be reached at trailing.spouses (@) googlemail.com

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Sunday Walks

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I first started this post in the autumn when the leaves were changing so this could be a suggestion for a winter walk, or save it for the spring.

We were driving by the Japanese Garden in October and stopped to take a look. It’s a very pretty  spot for some meditative peace and quiet. The idea is you can rest on the benches and admire the garden but you are not allowed to walk in it.

However it is right next to a large hotel and it’s also tiny  (I was expecting something a bit bigger). The location is beautiful though and you have nice views of the wooded hills from the garden behind the hotel pub where you can also get a drink.

We then carried on to one of our favourite Sunday walks, along the  Promenade (following the Hermannsweg) from the Sparrenburg Castle with good views of Bielefeld. Our first stop is the playground, after which look for a small path on the right going down with a sign to Freudental Restaurant. They have good cakes and a pretty biergarten in the summer, with  bobby cars for the kids to ride on. There’s also a small playground right next door.

This is also the start of the meadows – lots of open space with walking paths (where all the dogwalkers seem to end up) and a nice change from walking in the woods.

Happy walking!
Rachel

 

 

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!

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?

Thrift Shopping in Bielefeld

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Living here for a relatively short amount of time has made it difficult to know what to invest in, and how much to invest. This was the topic of one of our Trailing Spouses meetings in the fall, where we discussed everything from getting more involved in the community to saving up for the future financial well-being of your family.

However, in this post, I’m not talking about anything too deep. All I really mean is along the lines of: should I buy a spatula? Or is it worth it for me to devise my own scrambled egg-scraping device out of a plasticware top and some napkins, knowing that I will (or at least am planning to) be leaving the country in a few months?

We are now living in our second of two furnished apartments and, needless to say, the term “furnished” is used pretty liberally here. We have an interesting hodgepodge of pots, pans and plates, most likely accumulated from previous tenants who have come and gone. We also found ourselves missing some essentials (big knife that actually cuts things thicker than butter? Yes, please).

So what’s a trailing spouse to do when there’s no Wal-mart to be found? Here are some of the most promising places that I’ve found in Bielefeld where you can get the things you need for less.

Recycling Borse – For Americans, this is like  a Goodwill. I’ve been really impressed with the selection at both locations. It’s a great place to look for bikes, and even though we aren’t looking for furniture, I’ve seen good deals

Flohmarkts – Always fun!

Tedi – A good place for those little kitchen essentials (ahem…spatula, anyone?).

Kik – I almost cried when we wandered into this store for the first time. It’s like Big Lots, and anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Big Lots. I got a winter coat here when my to-be-shipped jacket went MIA. You can also get tons of things for the home here, which makes it a nice place to stock up on knick-knacks and wall decorations for temporary housing.

Aldi – Ok, so I guess we have these in the U.S., but I’d never been to one, so I had no idea. It can be pretty hit-or-miss, though it’s a good place to go for some of the essential groceries. Plus, Aldi owns Trader Joe’s, so you get to experience the demented delight of seeing Trader Joe’s products translated into German.

Lidl – A more established grocery store than Aldi, but still at low prices. They have an aged goat cheese here that will knock your socks off. As with Aldi, it’s fun to paw through the central “household good” bins and see what kind of oddities you come up with.

These are just the ones that are important for the things that we need, and this is by no means the end of the list. For example, we haven’t been on the lookout for large items like furniture, but I know there are other places that sell home goods on the cheap in town. So, what did I miss? What other thrift stores or general good deals should a Bielefeld trailing spouse be aware of?

Sam