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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Why I'm Not Moving Back to the USA

My thesis defense will take place exactly one week from today. As soon as that day is over, there is no longer anything requiring me to stay in this country. Still, I am not moving back to the U.S. and I don't have plans to do in the future.

As anyone that knows me (or reads this blog) would guess, I have long-term plans to stay in Germany. Although I miss my family and friends every day, I truly believe that my quality of life is much higher in Germany than it is in the U.S.

Why? Well, let me list a few reasons!

Germany's unemployment rate recently hit a record low, and while such figures are difficult to compare internationally, most sources agree that the U.S. market is not doing quite as well. I believe that this is especially true for university graduates.

I have previously written about how too many Americans go to college and how the U.S. could benefit by adopting a more comprehensive apprenticeship system. This is still something I strongly believe in, especially when I see so many of my college-educated friends doing administrative work that shouldn't require a college degree.

In Germany, on the other hand, less people choose to study. This means that the job market is less saturated with college graduates searching for the same kinds of jobs. This also means that I actually stand a chance at finding a job where I will use my Master's-level education and be compensated fairly for my educational background - something I do not think would happen if I were to move back to the U.S.

Health Care
Ever since moving to Germany, I have praised the country's public healthcare system. As a student, I only had to pay about 80€ a month for health insurance with less out-of-pocket fees than any American health insurance I have ever heard of.

When I start a full-time job, my health insurance fee will increase considerably, as it is calculated as a percentage of income. Currently this percentage is around 15% - half of which is paid by the employer and the other half by the employee.

Paid Vacation & Sick Leave
Americans work longer hours, get less paid vacation time, and retire later than Germans. Even though I have only worked part-time jobs in Germany so far, I have received at least 24 days of paid vacation per year at each of my jobs (24 is the legal minimum) and paid sick time (I just had to show a doctor's note if I am sick for over 3 days in a row).

The other important aspect to consider here is that German employers also expect their employees to take all of their vacation time. Nobody gets a bad reputation with the boss for taking a couple weeks off at a time because everyone does it! Meanwhile, due to the work culture in the U.S., over half of Americans don't use all of their vacation time (which is typically only 10 days per year to begin with). Yikes.

Parental Leave
The U.S. has no law guarantees full-time workers paid parental leave. Although I'm not planning on taking advantage of this anytime soon, I am happy knowing that I will never have to make the hard decision between family and career in the future as long as I stay in Germany.

Germany currently provides 12 months of paid parental leave (during which the parent receives about two-thirds of their total income) and this is increased to 14 months if each parent takes at least 2 months. Pretty nice, right?

Politics, public transportation, university tuition, recycling... this list could go on and on. But basically, it all comes down to the fact that I believe my quality of life will be higher in Germany than in the U.S. Will this change in the future? Maybe. But for now, I am very happy with where I am and where my future in Germany is headed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

3 Americans That are Only Famous in Germany

When it comes to fame, Germany has its own set of rules. The Germans have shot lots of foreign-born singers and bands into international stardom throughout the decades - the most famous example being The Beatles.

Even today, there are Americans that can't walk the streets of Germany without being recognized, yet hardly anyone in the U.S. has ever heard of them.

Here are three of such Americans that are more famous, if not only famous, in Germany:

Bruce Darnell

It's hard to turn on German TV nowadays without seeing this American man's face. Bruce Darnell is currently famous for serving as a judge on German reality TV competitions, but he actually started out his career as a paratrooper for the U.S. Army. After leaving the army in the 1980s, he came to Germany as a model. Apparently, Bruce rubbed elbows with the right people over the following decades, because he was soon BFF with Heidi Klum and became nationally famous when he served as a judge on Germany's Next Top Model.

If you live(d) in Germany, you may know him for his grammatically-incorrect catchphrase "Das ist der Wahrheit" (it should be die Wahrheit):

Although I usually hate watching talent competitions, I do really enjoy seeing Bruce and hearing his awesome American accent (which my German fiancé tells me I should practice doing because the Germans seem to love it).

Dana Schweiger

Even if you live in Germany, you may have not heard of Dana Schweiger, but you have definitely heard of her ex-husband, Til Schweiger, and at least one of their children (their daughters Emma, Lilli, and Luna have been in quite a few Til Schweiger films).

If you're American, then let me explain: Til Schweiger is a famous German actor, director, producer... blahblahblah. Basically, he has his own production company and loves making movies for himself and his daughters to star in. Also, his facial expression never changes from what you see in the above photo.

Dana and Til have been divorced since 2014, but Dana is still semi-famous in Germany and is currently on the TV show 6 Mütter, where she talks about raising her celebrity kids.

Since Dana has lived in Germany for decades, she can speak German pretty well. However, as you can hear in the video, she does still have a strong American accent.

David Hasselhoff

This list wouldn't be complete without the Hoff! The rest of the world loves to joke about the Germans' obsession with David Hasselhoff, and I am here to conform that these jokes are based on fact.

David Hasselhoff's fame in Germany all stems from the 1980's TV show Knight Rider, which I had actually never heard of until coming to Germany. However, my German fiancé (who was 3 years old when Knight Rider was cancelled), claims that he was obsessed with the show as a kid. So, that should show how popular it is. Also, I regularly see reruns getting aired on TV even today.

It was because of the show's popularity, and the Germans' yearning to see Kitt (his talking car from the show), that David Hasselhoff was invited to play at the Berlin Wall on New Year's Eve in 1989 - a concert that iconified him in German culture for decades to come.

Just look at the reception he got when he appeared on a German late night talk show a couple years ago!

Do you know any other Americans that are only famous outside of the USA?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Meeting Mrs. Nobody

It all began yesterday, when Mrs. Nobody lost the key to her apartment.

Mrs. Nobody is my next-door-neighbor, and I am calling her Mrs. Nobody because her real last name is just one letter away from the German word for "nobody" (niemand). Mrs. Nobody is also a fitting name for my neighbor because of her age and gender.

Although I had heard about the "invisibility" of elderly women before, I had never thought much about it. This was probably because I myself was guity of making these women feel so invisible.

Anyways, here is everything I knew about Mrs. Nobody before the day she lost her key:
> 70 years old
• Takes taxis everywhere
• Gives us candy and cookies when we take her garbage out for her

And that's about it! Considering we have lived next to Mrs. Nobody for over 3 years, I'd say this is pretty pathetic.

So, as I already said: this story began when Mrs. Nobody lost the key to her apartment.

It was 6:00 p.m. on a Tuesday, and Marco and I were both at home. Actually, we were sitting at the dining table, listening to jazz music, and talking about our plans for the week. No, this is not a normal thing for us, but it sure did make us look [at least somewhat] sophisticated for what happened next.

Our doorbell rang, and Marco got up to answer it. I could hear Mrs. Nobody's voice, nearly in tears, as she was describing how she lost the key to her apartment on the way home. Marco had to ask at least five times before she finally agreed to come in.

As she sat down at the dining table, she asked if we have a phone book.

"I need the number for Herman Koch," she explained. He lives about a block away, and he keeps a spare key to her apartment.

Since we are under 70, Marco and I don't have a phone book, but I was able to find his number online. Mrs. Nobody called, but there was no answer. She was obviously distressed.

"Okay, well, I will go then."

"Where are you going to go? You're not going to wait in the hallway! Just wait here. I can make tea." replied Marco.

"Oh no! No, I won't be a bother. It would be nice if I can wait here, but I don't need any tea."

So, we all settled in a bit, and Mrs. Nobody began recounting how she went to knitting class earlier that evening, and she must have dropped her key in the taxi on the way home. She was happy that we were home, because she knows that Marco comes from Southern Germany, and before she rang our doorbell, she was thinking that we might be down there.

Marco explained that we don't travel to Southern Germany as often as we would like to and then moved the conversation along by telling Mrs. Nobody that I am from even further away.

"You're from Chicago? That's nice! My son lives in Maryland."

"Oh really?" I said, quite intrigued at the first bit of personal information I was learning about my neighbor, "Did he move there for work?"

"No, he was born there."

Mrs. Nobody was just slowly laying out a trail of breadcrumbs at this point.

"So, you lived in the U.S.?"

She smiled a bit and nonchalantly replied, "For 35 years."

I'm going to be honest here: when I see an elderly person in Germany, I usually assume that they (1) can't speak English and (2) haven't traveled outside of Europe. But Mrs. Nobody was shattering these assumptions.

"And what did you do in the U.S.?" I asked, desperately wanting to know more.

"Well, when I first moved, I got my Master's Degree at Brown University."

My jaw dropped to floor, and Mrs. Nobody just started laughing. I looked at Marco across the room and said "That's an ivy league university!"

"Yeah, I've done more than most people think!" she said.

Mrs. Nobody went on to explain that she is used to people assuming that she isn't capable of very much or that she didn't accomplish very much in her life. Just last week, she said, her doctor wanted to learn a little bit more about her. She told her story of moving to the U.S. 50 years ago to get her Master's degree at Brown, and he had a similar reaction.

"I never would have thought that you studied at a university!" he had said to her.

"Well, it is something that people do." she replied.

Basically, Mrs. Nobody moved to the U.S. about 50 years ago (when she was in her 20's), got a Master's degree, married, had two children, and moved back to Germany in her 60's after a divorce. Still wanting to work, she got a job as a German and integration teacher (without any previous teaching experience). She ultimately retired due to "technical reasons" - i.e. she refused (and still refuses) to use computers.

Now she lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment and is known as "the woman who always takes taxis."

"It's not because I have a lot of money," she explained, "I just can't lift up my legs high enough to get in the bus."

So with her family so far away, most of her time is spent alone. And acquaintances that don't take the time to get to know will just assume that she led a boring and simple life - even though that couldn't be farther from the truth.

Oh, and remember when I said that one of the things I knew about Mrs. Nobody was that she gives us sweets when we take her garbage out for her? Well, look what was in front of our door this morning.

Present from my German neighbor

Monday, November 7, 2016

How Germany Views the U.S. Elections

The time has finally come. The U.S. presidential elections are tomorrow, and we will soon know who the future President of the United States will be. And if you are an American, you better go vote (I already did)!

Over the past few months, it has been just about impossible to turn on the TV here in Germany without seeing coverage of the U.S. presidential election. I can only imagine what it's like to actually be in the U.S. right now... *shudders*

But if you know anything about Germany, then it should already be pretty obvious that Clinton is favored among Germans. In fact, infratest dimap held a poll last month, which found that 86% of Germans said they would vote for Clinton and only 4% would vote for Trump.

The surprising part of this poll comes from AfD supporters. AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) is a right-wing populist political party whose rhetoric on refugees and immigrants very much mirrors Trump's statements about Mexicans and Muslims. However, it looks like even Trump is too extreme for them, as AfD voters were made up 14% of the poll's respondents. This means that the majority of AfD supporters would support Clinton over Trump.

Over these past few months, however, Germany's political leaders have been relatively quiet on this topic. Trump did claim that Chancellor Merkel "ruined Germany," but Merkel refused to retaliate. However, Germany's foreign minister did call Trump a "hate preacher."¹

If you follow Welcome to Germerica on Facebook, then you know that Germany's comedians have been more vocal about their views on the U.S. elections. Jan Böhmermann, the comedian who became quite famous after criticizing Turkish president Erdogan, covered the U.S. election in the Neo Magazin Royale episode from November 3, 2016. 

If you have the time, I highly suggest watching the entire episode. But if you don't have the time, you will get a gist of his message from the closing song that he created for the episode: 

Ultimately, whether you agree with the majority of Germans' opinion on who would make the best presidential candidate or not, I think we can all agree with the portrayal of both candidates on the current cover of Der Spiegel.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The State of Germerica #2

Back in June, there was so much going on that I decided to write a post about the State of Germerica - that is, the general state of what's going on in my life. Well, a lot has gone on since then, and I am not sure how to organize that all into a sensible blog post, so here we go again.

Today's post will proceed by topic. First up on the docket is...

Apartment Hunting
I want to move! As of November 1st, Marco and I have been living in our current apartment for exactly 3 years. That's a long time! Although we do plan on staying in Lüneburg for the foreseeable future, we are ready for a change.

Our current apartment has is on the 3rd floor with one bedroom, 59 m² (635 sq ft), and is located near the university. We are looking for a ground floor apartment with a small yard, at least 70 m² (750 sq ft), possibly a second bedroom, and a more central location near the city center and train station.

Here is a picture of an apartment we looked at yesterday, which had an amazing location and was very pretty, but the heating system looked too inefficient (and expensive) and it was on the 3rd floor:

Wish us luck as we continue with the hunt!

Master's Thesis
I turned in my Master's thesis on Thursday, October 28! Since then, I have been trying to relax a bit and not think about it anymore. Although, I should actually be contacting my supervisors to plan my presentation and defense. I will get to that soon.

In the meantime...

Job Hunting
I am slowly beginning the job search! I am feeling pretty optimistic about finding a fitting position at a digital media company in Hamburg.

Luckily, I'm not under any pressure to take the first thing that comes along because I already have a part-time job at the university. Which brings us to...

After agreeing to be in a video for my university in September, the university's communications department spontaneously offered me a part-time job to begin the very next week. My contract lasts through the end of March, which means I can take my time finding the right job for after graduation. After all, this will be my first big-girl full-time job in Germany!

Wedding Planning
As if all of that wasn't enough, Marco and I are still planning our wedding! I have written two posts about this process so far (wedding planning pt. 1 - wedding planning pt. 2), but we still have a few things to do before December 30th...

And that's it! Lots of changes going on right now in Germerica, and I am excited to see how different the state of things will be in 2017.

P.S. this post is participating in Gretch and Kristen's“What’s new with you?" link-up for November.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Top 5 Translation Tools (German<>English)

Being enrolled in a German master's program, I do my fair share of reading and writing [in both English and German]. I also do a lot of translation work for my student job at the university. So, I would consider myself quite knowledgeable when it comes to online translation tools and websites.

best translation websites for english to german

If you have taken a German class, then your teacher probably told you to never use a translation website. Instead, you should use a German dictionary.

Sure, that is a good tip for gaining a deeper understanding of the German language, but translation dictionaries are quick, easy, and the best (or only) option for certain situations. So, whether you are also a student in Germany, do translation work, or just enjoy watching German YouTube videos, here are my top 5 favorite online translation tools.

For translating single words between English and German, Leo is my go-to. The article (der, die, das) and plural form of German nouns are always provided on the main results page (which is normally what I am looking for when I search for a German word). Also, by clicking on the table next to (most) words, you can see how to properly declinate/conjugate that word. To check pronunciation, just click the play button in front of the word.

LEO translation dictionary
If LEO fails me, then I turn to This is another standard, quality translation service. However, instead of writing [der, die, das] in front of the German nouns, they write [m, n, f] after it. It achieves the same purpose, but I prefer LEO's presentation. translation dictionary

Linguee is the translation tool that I spend the most time using by far. Unlike LEO and, which are just English<>German dictionaries, Linguee is a search engine that provides translation examples from translated texts and websites throughout the Internet. This makes Linguee really helpful for translating idioms and other non-literal phrases.

linguee translation dictionary

Google Translate
You should always be cautious when translating more than just a single word or phrase. But in times of absolute need, Google Translate can be pretty helpful for quickly getting a general understanding of what a longer text is about.

But, like I said, be careful...

google translate

Okay, Duden isn't a translation dictionary, but I had to include it. If you ever forget how to conjugate a verb or aren't sure of the correct spelling of a noun (darn Germans and their dialects), then Duden is the #1 resource. Also, you will make your German teacher proud by turning to a proper German dictionary instead of just typing it all into Google Translate.

Duden German dictionary

Let me know if you use any German/English translation websites that I didn't include!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Getting Married in Germany: Wedding Planning, Pt. 2

At the end of August, I wrote about the plans for our wedding in Germany, which will be held this year on December 30! There, I wrote that we had set a date and location, I had my dress, and we sent out invitations.

Planning a wedding in Germany

Here is what we've gotten done since then:

Our wedding is small and simple, but finding a great photographer whose style we really liked was important for us. We sent emails to about 15 photographers in our city. We were pleasantly surprised when our two favorites quoted us reasonable prices for a three-hour photography package (digital copies of all edited photos included).

Funny story: after making an appointment with one of the photographers, we happened to see him "at work," while we were walking through the city. We just watched without saying hi. When we met with him the next week, we really got along with him, so we booked him on the spot!

Groom's Suit
After going to several different stores and ordering (and sending back) at least 10 different colors and styles from online retailers, Marco finally found the perfect suit! He has also already purchased a vest and tie. I don't want to give too much away, but here is the picture that inspired Marco's outfit:

All he has left to buy now is a shirt and shoes.

The standard length of a wedding reception in Germany is 8 hours. Yes, my American friends, you read that right: 8 hours. So, our wedding reception is going to be 8 hours long.

With such a small guest list and a long time frame, we knew we needed good food and an open bar. Since Marco really loves to eat, we also opted for the buffet and a late night snack. We met with our event planner in early October to set the menu.

The following weekend, we went to the hotel's wine distributor to choose the wine that will be served at our wedding. That was a lot of fun, and I was definitely tipsy by the end of it.

Wedding Cake
My soon-to-be-[practically-step-]mother-in-law (i.e. my fiancé's father's long-term partner) has graciously offered to make our wedding cake. She already has plans to make a three-tier cake, which should be plenty for our 30 guests. However, just this weekend, she also told us she will make two additional cakes as well. All I can say is that I hope our guests leave room after the buffet!

We also plan on using my parent's Precious Moments cake topper, which they still have from their wedding. I think it's pretty darn cute.

Precious Moments wedding cake topper

Well, that's about it for now! Next up on our list of things to do: design/print menu cards, choose centerpieces, buy wedding favors, and get a sound system.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Month of German Bureaucracy

I had four appointments at the Bürgeramt in the month of September. Yes, you read that correctly: four appointments in four weeks.

Here's a review of each of those appointments, just to give you an idea of how amazingly thorough (and sometimes redundant) German bureaucracy is for us foreigners.

Appointment #1: Ausländerbehörde

My student visa was going to run out on September 30th. However, due to other bureaucratic circumstances, I had to enroll for another semester at my university. So, I needed to renew my student visa for at least 6 more months. When I made this appointment per email, I was told all I need is a new biometric photo, proof of enrollment, my passport, and 80€. However, when I got to the appointment, my case worker spontaneously decided that my Verpflichtungserklärung (which Marco signed 3 years ago saying he is financially responsible for me) is too old. So, I needed to get a new one.

Unfortunately, my case worker doesn't issue Verpflichtungserkläungen. Turns out, filling out these forms is a full time job for someone else on a different floor of the building. But I couldn't just go over to her office today. Come on, that would be too convenient! No, I needed to make an appointment, and the earliest available was in two weeks.

Beyonce understands how I felt (source).

Oh, to top things off, my case workers informed me at the end of the appointment that he was going on vacation for the next three weeks. So, my new appointment to renew my visa (that was going to expire on September 20th) was scheduled for September 21st. Perfect.

Appointment #2: Standesamt

This is the only appointment I had during this month that wasn't at the foreigner's office. Instead, it was across the hall at the registry office.

After paying the court fees for our marriage, we had to go back to the registry office one last time (this was time #3) to sign some official-looking papers. Unfortunately, our regular case worker called in sick that morning, so everyone was scrambling to find someone we could meet with. 

Suddenly, we were asked to come upstairs. Until then, we had always gone to an office across the hall from the foreigner's office - an area of the Bürgeramt (citizen's office) that I have become quite familiar with. In fact, sitting in the waiting room with its dirty white walls and crying babies has started to feel like home. After ascending the staircase and opening the big metal door to the third floor, however, I gasped in awe of what we had been missing out on.

The walls were painted a happy yellow. There were large wooden chairs in the hallway that looked more fit for a throne room than a waiting room. We went into the office of our fill-in case worker, and she had a full wall covered in photos and letters of happy German couples that she had married over the years.

I basically felt like confused John Travolta in the TARDIS (source).

"This is the VIP floor for German couples!" I remarked to Marco. I had never realized that until then, my non-Germanness had gotten us shafted to the foreigner's floor.

The rest of the appointment really wasn't all that eventful. The woman said that all of our documents were in order, we signed some papers, and we set another appointment to plan to the ceremony in early December.

Appointment #3: Verflichtungserklärung

Back to the Ausländerbehörde for Marco to take financial responsibility for me. It sounds dramatic, but it's really not (unless I smash a bunch of car windows with a baseball bat just before jumping on a plane to the U.S.). 

To fill out the Verpflichtungserklärung, Marco had to show his pay stubs from the last three months, his work contract, and our lease for the apartment. The woman then subtracted the rent from his monthly salary to figure out if he has enough money to "support" me.

After some arithmetic, we both signed a few forms, and I got to take a copy of my brand new Verpflichtungserklärung with me for my fourth and final appointment the following week.

Appointment #4: Ausländerbehörde (Again)

This was it: the last appointment. I went alone, and seeing as it was only one week before my residence permit expired, I was a little nervous. Luckily, everything went as it should. I handed my case worker all the necessary documents, and he made a lot of copies and fattened up the file they are keeping on me. 

The interesting part came when he asked me how long I need a visa for. Technically, I am only enrolled for one more semester at my university, which is 6 months. After that, I will probably just switch to a spouse visa, since I am getting married in December. I told him this, and he told me the best news I had gotten all month:

If I take a visa for just six months, I only have to pay 30€ instead of the standard 80€. Not bad! I also just get a sticker in my passport instead of a plastic ID card, which is nice. Now I just have to make sure I have all my documents together by the beginning of March to get my fifth (and final?) type of residence permit...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Registering to Vote from Abroad & Requesting an Absentee Ballot

If you are an American living outside of the U.S., you need to request your ballot for the federal election by October 8, 2016 (in most states), even if you are already registered to vote. 

Do it. Now.

If you don't know how to register to vote or request a ballot from abroad, then read on.

How to vote in U.S. elections from abroad.

Earlier this year, when the U.S. presidential campaign was just starting to heat up, I started to feel quite guilty about the fact that I have never voted. Having moved so often since the age of 18, it just always seemed so complicated and difficult. I was also kind of lazy.

But now I have taken the first step to changing that: I registered to vote.

I always assumed registering from abroad would be complicated, but my home country pleasantly surprised me! Here is how I registered to vote from Germany:

1. Visit
 FVAP is the Federal Voter Assistance Program for service members and other overseas citizens. This is the first stop for any overseas citizens that want to vote, whether you are already registered or not. 

2. Choose Your State
Voting procedures vary by state, so you will need to choose your state from the drop-down menu on the website.

3. Follow the Directions
Yeah, it's that easy. Creating a numbered list probably wasn't necessary...

When I was registering to vote, I was worried that I would have to spend a lot of time and money mailing registration materials back and forth between the U.S. and Germany. However, Illinois actually has a website that allowed me to download the forms, fill them out electronically, and email them to my local county clerk.

The hardest part was having to answer this question:The hardest question for an expat.
Can any expat really answer this question with complete certainty? Anyways, your answer will only effect whether or not you can vote in local elections as well as federal elections.

After sending my voter registration and ballot request form by email, I then periodically checked the website to see if my application was approved. Once it was approved, I received my ballot shortly thereafter.

If you are already registered to vote, remember that you still need to request a ballot for this election. 

If you are still feeling confused, here are some other resources to help overseas American citizens vote:

Let me know if you are voting in the comments below!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How We Met (His Side)

My German fiancé and I met five years ago in September of 2011 during my study abroad trip to Germany. Last week, I told my side of the story. As promised, this week is Marco's turn.

Without further ado, here is Marco's side of the story, written by the man himself:

The night I met Courtney started when I went to watch soccer at a sports bar with a few of my coworkers. VfB Stuttgart was playing SC Freiburg. I just looked it up online, and it looks like Stuttgart won (although I don’t actually remember the game).

After the game, we went back to my friend Jakob’s apartment for some drinks. Unmistakably loud party noises were coming from the parking lot behind my friend’s apartment building. We looked out the window and saw a crowd of American exchange students hanging out in the parking lot, playing beer pong and enjoying the freedom to drink in public. It looked like fun, so we decided to join their party.

When we went down to the parking lot, I was standing next to the beer pong table and of course I immediately noticed the pretty girl with the incredible beer pong skills. After a while, she asked me to be her teammate for the next round.

I don’t remember everything about the party, but I do remember Courtney getting the hiccups. Someone told her that you can get rid of them by doing a handstand, so I held her feet while she did a handstand against a wall.

Later, we went to an Irish pub. We had to walk through the city to get there, and Courtney offered to give me a piggyback ride. I was impressed that she was able to do it. I also carried her for a little while.

After leaving the bar, I walked her to her apartment, which was in the same building that Jakob lived in. When we got to the building, I asked for her number. She gave it to me, and I texted her the next morning – but I didn’t get an answer for a week!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Our 5th Anniversary | How We Met (Her Side)

I met my German fiancé five years ago, in September of 2011. In those five years, we survived a long distance relationship, moved in together, got engaged, and are now planning our wedding! The one thing that I have never talked about on this blog, though, is how we met.

Today, I will share my side of the story. Then, if you come back next week, you can read Marco's side. 

I came to Germany for a semester-long study abroad program on August 30, 2011. Although I was at a German university, all of the Americans took classes together. So, I spent all my free time with my fellow American study abroad students too.

As you can imagine, much of those first weeks in Germany revolved around partying. A few other American students and I lived in a residence hall near the city center, and there was a big parking lot in the back. So, on one particular Friday night, one of the students took his closet door off its hinges, set it up outside on some cases of beer, and we started playing beer pong. Below is a picture from early on that night. Yeah....

That's me on the left (i.e. the only girl in the picture)

The Germans are fascinated with red solo cups, as they don't really exist in Europe outside of Hollywood college movies. So, this party was basically a magnet for any German college students passing by. And Marco was one of those Germans that happened to pass by.

A new game of beer pong was starting, and I was standing at my side of the table alone. I turned around, saw Marco, pointed at him, and yelled, "You're on my team!"

So, we started playing beer pong. I don't remember much of the game. The only part of our conversation I can remember is when I said to him, "Guess where I am from!" To which he replied, "Chicago!" And I totally flipped out at the fact that he guessed right.

A little while later, we all decided to go to the local Irish pub that us study abroad students frequented. Marco came with, but I don't remember paying much attention to him at the bar. However, I do remember walking with him on the way back to the residence hall at the end of the night.

Our conversation mostly revolved around the word Einhörnchen, until I asked him what his last name was. "It's the German word meaning 'rich,'" he replied. My German was so bad at the time, I honestly did not know what the German word for "rich" was. So, he told me I'd just have to look it up later.

Once we were back at my dorm, he asked to exchange phone numbers. We did. I think he even texted me that night to let me know he got home safely. I had a prepay phone, and I didn't know how/where to buy more credit, so I didn't reply until over a week later... Oops!

Make sure to check back in next week to hear Marco's side of the story!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Getting Married in Germany: Costs and Fees for Foreigners

How much does it cost for a foreigner to get married in Germany?

I searched this exact question quite a lot after my German fiancé popped the question back in November. And although this question depends on your citizenship and the German city you are in, I still struggled to find any answers.

So, now that I have registered my marriage and payed all the fees, I will tell you how much it cost for me, a US-American, to marry a German in Germany.

Here is a breakdown of all the necessary costs and fees my fiancé and I had to pay in order to legally register our marriage at the German registry office (Standesamt):

1. Document Fees: 78€
As a US-American, I needed a new copy of my birth certificate with apostille. This cost about $25, and getting them mailed to Germany via certified mail was $30.

My German fiancé needed a new copy of his birth registration (Abschrift aus dem Geburtenregister), which cost 12€.

We also each had to get new copies of our registration certificates from the city (Meldebescheinigung), which cost 9€ each.

2. Translation of Documents: 50€
My birth certificate had to be translated by a certified translator in Germany. Although it was just a single sheet of paper with about 50 words on it, it still cost 50€. Note that translations cost exponentially more if there are more lines/words on your birth certificate or if you have to get additional documents translated.

3. Registration Fee: 80€
This is the normal marriage registration fee that the registry office charges every couple. In my city, the fee for two German citizens to marry is 40€, and a marriage with at least one foreign citizen is 80€. Don't ask why, it will just make you crazy.

Documents required to marry in Germany

4. Oath of No Impediment: 25€
The Germans have this thing called an Ehefähigkeitszeugnis (certificate of no impediment to marriage). If that doesn't exist in the country you are from, you need to take an oath that you are able to get married. Since the U.S. doesn't issue such documents, I had to take an oath at the registry office, which cost 25€.

If you are really unlucky, your Standesamt may require you to take this oath at your country's consulate. This costs more, and you will have to travel to the consulate (for Americans, this means Bremen, Frankfurt, or Berlin). Luckily, I didn't have to do this.

5. Court Fee: 95€
After all the documents are turned in and the forms are signed, everything gets sent to the higher regional court (Oberlandesgericht) for approval. The fee for this is calculated according to your salary, and (according to our registry office) can be up to 500€.

My fiancé turned in his most recent pay stub (he works full-time at a public university, so you can probably guess his salary by looking up wages online if you really want), and since I am a student (and had no job nor scholarship at the time of registration), I just turned in proof of my full-time university enrollment.

Luckily (hahahah), we don't make very much money collectively, so we didn't come close to the maximum possible fee. Rather, we were pleasantly surprised when it was only 91€. We also had to pay 4€ in postage fees.

Total: 328€

There you have it. In total, my German fiancé and I have paid 328€ in order to legally marry in Germany. If I were German, it would have only been about 60€, but it is what it is.

For more information on the marriage process in Germany, check out the following posts:
- Required documents for getting married in Germany
- Registering a marriage in Germany

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August Favorites

Seeing as its the last day of August, I figured I would try something new as I reflect on the month: share all of my favorite things from August with you!

This month I spent a lot of time stressing over paperwork and applications, then attempting to de-stress every evening in front of the TV. So, I have a mix of things I discovered and rediscovered over the past few weeks that all basically belong to the genre of "sit on the couch and eat junk food." Enjoy!

Movie: Victoria

I watched this movie on a whim one evening while browsing Netflix without knowing what it was about. So, I was pretty confused when the actors were speaking both English and German, and I actually paused the movie to look up some information about it before continuing. But after seeing that it has amazing reviews, I kept watching. And I am glad I did!

Victoria was shot in one-take, which is quite impressive to begin with, but it also has really compelling plot and interesting characters that immerse you in the story. Victoria is especially interesting for bilingual German/English speakers because both languages are spoken throughout the film.

The story is about a Spanish woman, Victoria, who lives in Berlin and meets three German men while out partying one night. The next two hours are about how their night of partying turns into a bank robbery. For any foreigners that have spent a night partying in Germany, the beginning scenes where the German men are trying to talk to Victoria in English may give you flashbacks (but hopefully you have never experienced anything like what happens in the second half). I also watched this movie right before bed, but it left me feeling pretty shaken and it was hard to go to sleep. So, I wouldn't recommend doing that.

TV Show: Chef's Table

Chef's Table is a documentary series produced by Netflix, with each episode telling the story of a world-renowned chef. Marco and I like to watch this while eating (although it usually makes us feel kind of bad about the crap we are eating compared to the amazing dishes we are seeing), but the show is very interesting, and I think the stories of the chefs are incredibly inspiring. I highly suggest it as a dinner show if you have the horrible habit of watching TV while eating dinner like we do.

Song: Oft Gefragt by AnnenMayKantereit

This song was played pretty often by German radio stations a few months ago, but I still really like it and started listening to it again recently. It's a love song for the singer's father, which is enough to make anyone feel a little homesick.

Ich hab keine Heimat, ich hab nur dich
Du bist Zuhause für immer und mich

Food: K-Classic Cookie Dough Ice Cream

I ate mine before I thought to take a picture :/ 

You guys! I found a cookie dough ice cream that's not Ben & Jerry's (so expensive!) and is available year-round (not just during "American week")! Kaufland's house brand, K-Classic, has this cookie dough ice cream for just 2.50€, which is less than half of the price of Ben & Jerry's. I was also very surprised with the amount of cookie dough in the ice cream. I know most people reading this probably think I am crazy, so I will end this rant about cookie dough ice cream by just saying that I highly suggest it for my fellow cookie dough-loving Americans in Germany.

Recipes: Einfach Tasty

If you have Facebook, then you have definitely seen those short recipe videos from Tasty. Well, I just recently realized there is a German version: Einfach Tasty. If you live in Germany, these are nice because you will no longer see ridiculous recipe videos with ingredients that you would never be able to find in normal grocery stores.

Here is one that Marco and I recently tried out:

Dieses Hasselback Hühnchen kann wirklich jeder zubereiten!
Posted by Einfach Tasty on Monday, August 22, 2016

What are some of your favorite things from August?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Getting Married in Germany: Wedding Planning, Pt. 1

Neither my German fiancé nor I have ever really cared much for weddings. So, for the first six months of our engagement we never really talked about our wedding at all.

Planning a wedding in Germany

Now don't get me wrong. Both Marco and I have a great respect for marriage, which is why we are getting married. We also love seeing people that we love get married. But all the wedding hoopla? Eh. Not for us.

Since we registered our marriage at the beginning of August, however, we have had to dive right into wedding planning. And with both of our laid-back attitudes about the whole thing, I have been pleasantly surprised with how smoothly it's all going. Here is everything we have gotten done so far:

The local German registry office let us reserve a date for our civil ceremony already (even though our application is still sitting at the regional court and could be rejected). But assuming that doesn't happen, we are getting married on December 30th!

Ceremony Location
Our local registry office has five locations throughout the city for civil ceremonies. They are all located in beautiful and historic buildings, but one definitely stood out to us from the rest: the water tower. The Lüneburg Water Tower was built in 1905, but hasn't actually served as a water tower since the 1980s. Now it is a museum and viewing platform of the city.

Here are some images of wedding ceremonies held inside the water tower:

After the ceremony, we can roam the water tower and take pictures. Here some pictures from inside the water tower and on the platform:


Wedding Dress
My dress is actually the very first wedding-related thing we got. I knew I wanted to go wedding dress shopping with my mom, and the last time I would see my mom before the wedding was when I was in New York in July. So, my mother and I went to a wedding dress shop one day and walked out 30 minutes later with my dress. Best of all, the dress fits perfectly, and I only need the bottom hemmed.

Over the past couple weeks, I have also purchased shoes and a stole. So, my outfit is almost complete!

We need to send out about 40 invitations. Exactly half of the recipients speak English and the other half speak German. So, the standard wedding invitation templates were not going to work for us. We were also horrified with the prices at most wedding invitation websites. So, I decided I would design our invitations myself and order them through Vistaprint.

I am no graphic designer, but I am still happy with the result. I added the Lüneburg skyline at the bottom, with a heart marking where our wedding ceremony will take place. Our invitations are personal to us, and nobody else has one like it!

(the details are written on the back in English & German)

Reception Location
After setting our date and choosing our ceremony location, the next step was to pick a location for the reception. Knowing our wedding would be small (>30 guests) and knowing we didn't want to waste spend a lot of money, we kind of figured that we would just end up booking a private room in the back of a restaurant somewhere. So, we started doing some internet research to figure out what restaurants in our city offered appropriately-sized rooms.

What we didn't expect is that the famous hotel in our city (famous among German women over 60 for its prominence on a German soap opera) would have several awesome venues for us to choose from, and that their wedding packages are very reasonably priced!

Ultimately, we chose the Mühlensaal (mill hall), which is in the city's old mill. Today, the building is known as the Lüner Mühle (Lüne mill), but a document from 1391 refers to the building as the Klostermühle (monastery mill), as it was originally owned by the monastery.

How many Americans can say they had their wedding reception in a building built in the 14th century?!

In the picture below, you can see me standing in front of the building. The entire second floor of the building is the reception hall - below is a restaurant and above are hotel rooms.

And here is a view of the building from the other side. As you can see, the building hangs quite precariously over the water, which means there are some great views from inside the reception hall.

That's the status of our wedding planning for now! Up next on our list of things to do: hire a photographer, pick out Marco's suit, get wedding rings, and get my dress altered. I'll check in again next month!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Intimate Dancing | Mistranslation Monday

Mistranslation Monday has been missing from the blog lately. Unfortunately, this is not because my German is getting better. It's more likely due to the fact that I took a vacation to the U.S. and have been speaking a lot of English lately.

So, today's Mistranslation Monday doesn't come from myself, but my lovely friend Adele from Lithuania.

As you may know, the German fiancé and I are currently planning our wedding. Since we will only have about 30 guests, we have been discussing whether or not there should be dancing at the reception. When Adele came over last week for coffee, I asked her what she thought.

[Note: we speak German with each other, so this is a translated version of our conversation]

"I would dance!" she told me.

"Really? You would feel comfortable dancing in front of our families, even if nobody else was dancing?" I asked.

"Sure, but of course I would bring my boyfriend on the dance floor with me, then we could dance as a team." She replied.

Or, at least that is what I heard. Marco, on the other hand, heard something else:

"Sure, but of course I would bring my boyfriend on the dance floor with me, then we could dance intimately."

"You're going to dance intimately in front of our families?" Marco yelled from the other room, trying to hold back his laughter.

For my German-speaking readers, here is what Adele really said: "...dann können wir in Team tanzen."

But due to her small grammatical error (in Team instead of im Team), what she said sounded the same as the German word for "intimate" (intim).

So, I apologize to all of our wedding guests in advance if Adele and her boyfriend make you feel uncomfortable with their intimate dancing at our wedding reception. :D
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