Shipping Costs for the Trailing Spouse


A few people have asked me how we got all of our belongings from Germany back to the U.S. Unfortunately, there is no truly cheap way to do it – especially when, after purchasing our separate set of plane tickets, we learned that my husband didn’t even get a second checked bag on his Air Berlin flight. Here are a couple of places to start:

1. Check your airline’s policy on extra checked bags. For example, if you’re flying economy on IcelandAir, the price for extra baggage is pretty clearly more expensive than shipping Deutsche Post, but this isn’t always the case.

2. Check the Deutsche Post rates. You can pay a flat fee for a box up to a certain size and weight. This ended up being the cheapest option for us.

The less-exotic part of international travel (Mpopp)

The less-exotic part of international living (Mpopp)

We weren’t shipping furniture or any other large items. Families with larger, more valuable, or more numerous items might find freight shipping to be a good option. Also, before we packed, we ended up giving a lot of clothing and home goods away to places like the Rote Kreuz (the Red Cross) dropboxes and Oxfam in Muenster. In Bielefeld, there is the Recycling Börse, as well as many dropboxes throughout the city for clothing donations.

Any other recommendations for affordable ways to ship things to the U.S. or other countries?

University Welcome Center

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The Welcome Center at Bielefeld University offers a wide range of services for visiting academics and their families. Eleni and her team offer a warm welcome and speak great English.  I recently attended their  international spouse & partners coffee morning which was really informative and a great way to meet other international spouses like myself. The next coffee morning will be April 11th 10 am, details will be on their website and you can also email welcome@uni-bielefeld.de if you would like to attend or with questions.

Pechua Kucha – Nov 22nd


Come join us this Thursday, November 22nd at Verve. We have been invited to do a presentation about our Trailing Spouses art collective at this month’s Pecha Kucha event. Now what is Pecha Kucha I hear you ask!

PechaKucha Night was devised in Tokyo in February 2003 as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public.
It has turned into a massive celebration, with events happening in hundreds of cities around the world, inspiring creatives worldwide. Drawing its name from the Japanese term for the sound of “chit chat”, it rests on a presentation format that is based on a simple idea: 20 images x 20 seconds. It’s a format that makes presentations concise, and keeps things moving at a rapid pace.

More info here – http://www.pecha-kucha.org/  or in German  http://www.pechakucha-bielefeld.de

We will be delivering our presentation in both English and German – (10 seconds for each per slide!). There will also be other presentations which can cover just about any topic.

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


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.

#Things I found out way too late


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!



Thrift Shopping in Bielefeld


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?