How to get your own table at the monthly Siegfriedplatz flea market


On the last Saturday of every month, the always-popular Siegfriedplatz hosts their own flea market.  This time of year many of us are going through transitions, whether they be moving (as I am) or simply doing some thorough spring cleaning.  If you want to participate in the Siegfriedplatz flea market, you will need to engage in some German preplanning a month ahead, but the process is streamlined so even the non-German speakers should not have a problem.  Here’s what you need to do:

1. Address a return envelope with a stamp and your home address.  Do not seal the envelope.

2. You have the option to either pay 15 euros, or to bring a cake + 5 euros.  On the back of your envelope, write either “Geld” (15 euros), or “Kuchen” (cake + 5 euros).

3. Put your envelope in the letterbox at the entrance door to the Siegfriedplatz.  You MUST do this on the 1st of the month in which you want to participate, between 08:00 and 20:00 (don’t take your chances doing it outside of these times- we all know about German punctuality).  For example, you must submit your envelope this Wednesday, May 1st, in order to participate in the flohmarkt on May 25th.

If you do everything correctly you will receive your envelope in the mail with an invitation for the flohmarkt, and all the information you need to know.  If anyone has one of these invitations that they can post and translate, that would be great!

One more thing- I’ve noticed at flea markets here that people rarely put prices on their items, and you must ask the seller how much things cost.  If you have trouble communicating in German, consider just putting a price sticker on everything.

Happy spring cleaning!

Special thanks to Dagmar Linnhof for explaining this whole process to me. More

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


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!


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.

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


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…

#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!



Rhine in Flames 2012

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My husband and I are festival people, and if there’s one thing Europe has, it’s lots of festivals!  Last year we went to the Rhine in Flames festival in St. Goar.  St. Goar is a beautiful little town on the Rhine river, right smack in the middle of the stretch of river with the highest density of castles….30 castles in 30 miles!

The Rhine in Flames festival is essentially an annual fireworks show.  During the summer months, the festival begins on one end of the Rhine and moves every few weekends down the river, celebrating as it goes.  At sunset, tourist ferries crowd the river, decked out in festive lights.  That alone is a sight to see!

A cannon in the darkness begins the festival!  Castles on either side of the river simulate a midieval battle with fireworks.  Barges on the river also shoot off fireworks.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because Rhine in Flames 2012 is here!  The festival will be in Oberwesel September 8th, and then in St. Goar September 15th.  More information can be found on their website: http://www.rhein-in-flammen.com/


No, the other kind of football!

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Last Saturday, my husband and I were walking through the Jahnplatz when we spotted some guys in American football uniforms!  They invited us to come see them play the next day.  This was exciting for us, as we didn’t realize anyone actually played American football here.  I’d finally gotten used to ‘football’ meaning ‘soccer’ in my mind, and accepted that nobody else in the world really cares anything about our sport.  But here they were!

Naturally, we went to the game.  They are called the Bielefeld Bulldogs, and their home base is Rußheide stadium, which is easily accessible by several bus lines.  Even though it was a rainy day, the stands were covered so it didn’t deter us.

The guy at the Jahnplatz was a recently-graduated American, who played in college and then moved over here to help grow the sport in Germany.  He told us that only 4 Americans are allowed on each team, and only 2 can be on the field at a time.  At the game, we noticed that the Americans are identified by a huge “A” on their jerseys, and on their helmets.  It actually felt a little weird to see that, being labelled and regulated like that.  I hope that if the sport grows over here and there’s more training for Germans, they won’t need to do that anymore.

We had so much fun!  The stands were packed, and our home team is currently undefeated!  They won 70:6, a score I’ve never seen before!  There were even cheerleaders.

Check out their website: www.bielefeld-bulldogs.de/  or their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bielefeld-Bulldogs/

And if you’d like to come to a game, let me know!


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