One year later: My new life in Germany

Child flying on a suitcase
Child flying on a suitcase

One year later: My new life in Germany

by Tamala Malerk
Stripes Europe

Yesterday, as I was mindlessly scrolling social media, a reminder post to check my “memories” popped up and I discovered that it had been exactly one year since I moved from the U.S. to Germany for our first OCONUS move. Much like any time we move with the military, there are days where it seems like we just got here yesterday and some days where it seems like we have been here for years. That post got me to reflect on how my life has changed in the past year.

It was not like that one time I went to the UK and France for nine days.

In 2019, I had the opportunity to go abroad for the first time and I learned what I felt was a lot about European culture and public transportation. I was waaaayyy overconfident that those nine days would prepare me to LIVE in Germany.

Living “on the economy” is not as scary as I thought.

My spouse and I have always chosen to live off-post. We have no children and BAH provided more house for us off-post than on. When we were set to move to Germany, we were told initially that we would have to live on-post and that sounded great because we didn’t speak German. However, there was no room for us on-post and we were told instead we had roughly ten days to find something off-post.

We saw about ten places in-person before we found one that was not already taken (thanks, a decent drive to post and within our budget (we viewed dozens of places on the website and reached out to their landlords without getting to that last step). The on-post housing department provided German-speaking agents to help us with our rental paperwork, inspection and communication with our landlord. The on-post VAT and finance offices helped us set up our utilities.

The cellphone kiosk in the Ramstein BX helped us get our German cellphone plan established. The man working the counter that day made the process seamless and provided us with great restaurant and beer recommendations. Our landlord connected us with the person who set up our internet and is now our actual representative, rather than having to rely on an automated customer service line.

Now that we are settled, it is a lot like when we lived off-post in the U.S. with a few changes…

I have four different trash cans in my house and only one of them holds garbage.

Germans are serious about their recycling. Housing on-base or your local neighborhood will designate color-specific bags or bins for you to use to sort your trash and recyclables. In my village, blue is for cardboard and paper products, clear bags are for glass products, yellow is for recyclable plastics and containers, green is for compostable items and clear/white can be used for all other trash. For those, like myself, who don’t compost, trash and compost items can be combined. German trash and recyclable collectors come on their designated days every other week to collect. As a bonus, I can bring my glass bottles to my local Wasgau grocery store and recycle them there for store credit or a cash refund. This seemed a little much when we first got here, but now it is second nature and I feel much better about the size of my personal carbon footprint.

Appliances are smaller.

We moved here from Fort Hood and looking at the size of my German dishwasher, refrigerator, washer and dryer, the phrase “Everything is bigger in Texas” took on a whole other meaning. All of the appliances here are so small. The refrigerator that comes with my house is the size of the freezer on top of the refrigerator I had in the States. The fridges are so small here that the housing office brought us a refrigerator with the rest of the loaner furniture because Americans are not used to having such a small fridge. I am still getting used to doing smaller clothing and dish loads.

But mostly, the “day-to-day” is pretty much the same.

While moving to Germany changed my life in several ways, my everyday life has pretty much not changed. I was finishing a degree when I first got here and then was fortunate enough to find a job. I still have to work, clean the house, go grocery shopping and everything that all families have to do to live their lives. The caveat is now I get to spend my weekends and days off exploring local German, French, Luxembourgish and Swiss cities.

You have to travel.

It is so easy to get caught up in just living your everyday life that it is quite easy to spend your weekends sleeping in, watching Netflix, doing chores and staying home, and many weekends I do just that. But I also make myself explore new places. Every three or four-day weekend, my spouse and I try to explore a new city or country. I love learning about the histories and cultures of the surrounding areas. I also love that I can state that I have eaten McNuggets in six different countries.

You also have to know when to stop.

It’s a fine balance of exploring new places and resting, and to be honest, I am still figuring it out. One of my tips to anyone is pay the extra money to have flexible cancellation. My spouse and I planned a week-long vacation to four different Switzerland cities: Zurich, Lucerne, Interlaken and Bern. Our days started early, we walked about ten miles exploring each day, and we would crash late each night as we tried to do and see everything. I started developing a bad earache the last two days of that trip. I knew I had until 3 p.m. to cancel the hotel in Bern for the next day. I finally admitted to my spouse that I was “tapping out” and felt horrible. Then, he surprisingly went “oh, thank goodness… I am so tired,” and we were able to rest for a day in between getting home and both of us going back to work.

Moving to Germany has been an amazing experience and I can’t wait to see what year two brings.




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