Eric's Germany Journal

This is part of a journal I wrote while living in Ulm, Germany, from December 12, 2002, to September 17, 2003.


Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Kathy Wolfson, who will be subletting my apartment during some of the time I am away, gave me a ride to the airport. (The sublet arrangement was a shock to Kathy's newlywed son, who lives across the hall.) Logan airport is really messed up now. The route to terminal E is extraordinarily convoluted, and the terminal itself is lined with airline signs along the curb, but the positions of the signs are useless because there is no airline presence at those locations, and there is just one common entrance to the terminal through the construction.

Once inside, there was a one-hour wait at the ticket counter. I heard that was because airports in other cities were closed due to the weather, and many people on the Frankfurt flight were rerouted through Boston. However, the Munich flight was not full, and the seat next to me was empty, so I had some room to spread out. The flight was uneventful but a little late because the usual tailwinds were not present.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Lars met me after I passed through Customs. Who is Lars? Well, let me fill in some background. Some European agency contracted BAE to build a plane. BAE subcontracted EADS Germany to build a radar assembly. EADS needed a high-performance software engineer and could not find one, so they contracted LA International (in the United Kingdom) to find one. LA International found me. EADS will pay LA International, and LA International will pay me. However, LA International does not have a presence in Germany and does not want to be my employer, so they want a Germany umbrella/management company to be my legal employer. LA International recommended Acotes. Acotes will pay my salary, taxes, and health coverage and take a fee for that. I should net 70-75% of the pay from LA International after German taxes and Acotes' fee.

Hotel Ibis
Hotel Ibis.
So, Lars is an employee of Acotes who helped me get settled in Ulm. After meeting at the airport, we drove to Ulm, dropped my baggage off at Hotel Ibis (because it was too early to check in), and went to the Einwohnermeldeamt to register my residence in the city. The government wants to know where you are living, who your parents are, and what your religion is, among other things. The office has five service windows which are divided up by the first letters in people's last names. Of course, this resulted in one window with a long line, one with a short line, and three vacant windows. Guess which one I was in.

After registering, we checked into the hotel and headed out to open a bank account. That wasn't easy; the first bank wanted us to make an appointment. We went off to another, and now I have a German bank account. I couldn't put any cash into it, though, because the bank didn't have the machine to test US dollars. After opening the bank account, we went back to the government offices to get a tax card, which tells the employer how much tax to withhold. I'm not sure why a bank account was a prerequisite to that.

Entrance to the Ulm Christmas Market
Entrance to the Christmas Market.
On the way, we passed briefly through the Christmas Market.

An EADS office building
An EADS office building.
Sometime during the day, we had lunch at a small Chinese restaurant. Later, we tried to visit EADS, but they wouldn't let me in because I'm not an employee yet. Lars thought the building was impressive, but it looks like a drab industrial office building to me, and certainly not large enough to be impressive.

Then Lars dropped me off at the hotel. I managed to get an Internet connection made, but it took some trial and error. There are F and N connectors in the wall phone outlet that do slightly different things, and I needed a connector adapter, a tax impulse filter, a change to the phone number to dial, and a change to the modem settings to tell it to dial without hearing the usual US dial tone. I wasn't able to connect to the German ISP I signed up with, so I called my New Hampshire ISP.

After that, I feel asleep pretty quickly. I had been awake around 28 hours, minus an hour or two on the plane. I slept from 6 to 11. After 11, I tried to sleep for an hour, but that night was pretty bad. I had major pangs about wanting not to be here. I felt crippled, not knowing where anything was or how to communicate. Plus, I did not even have any local cash. So I stopped trying to sleep and got up for about an hour and a half. I worked on the Internet connection for a while and was able to figure out why I had not been able to connect to the German ISP. I fixed that, and now I have a good arrangement. I will be able to send email and access everything through the local ISP, and my usual email address will continue to work and be readily accessible to me.

Then I went back to sleep and slept for six more hours. The temperature in my room is good on average. Unfortunately, the heat vent is near the ceiling, so the top of the room is hot and the bottom is cold. Who puts a heat vent at the top? Architects in a cold country should know better.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Several sources said German breakfasts are hearty, and the hotel charges €8 for it, but it seemed somewhat scanty to me. (Euros and dollars are about the same right now, so €8 is about $8.) Some breads, fruit spreads, yogurt, cereal, cheeses, deli meats, coffee, and juice. Nothing hot except coffee, only hard-boiled eggs, and no pancakes, waffles, potatoes, or corned beef hash. There are plenty of bakeries around town, so I may drop the hotel breakfast.

After breakfast, we tried to change my dollars for euros. The bank that had been recommended to us also did not have the necessary machine, but they referred us to another branch. I suggested to Lars that we try the Reisebanke (travel bank) in the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), which we were near, but he wanted to go off to the recommended branch, which was halfway across the city. Oh, well. After getting euros, we had to go back to my new bank to deposit some of them.

Ulm says this church has the highest spire in the world. The pillars are not bent; I stitched three pictures together. The pictures do not do the height justice; the building is imposing when you are near it.
Münster seen from a distance
The Münster seen from a distance. The spire is 161.6 meters high.
Lars had caught a cold, so he went to his hotel to rest. I walked around the city on my own. Ulm is very walkable (in dry or warm weather, more below), and it is impossible to get lost. The Münster in the center of town is a church with the highest spire in the world. The photographs do not do it justice. You can figure out where you are in town just by looking for the spire. Additionally, the city center is ringed by larger roads (compared to most in town), so you cannot leave the center without being aware of it. The very center of town is a pedestrian shopping district.

At noon, we met the real estate agent and visited two apartments. The first apartment felt comfy, but the two apartments were comparable. I picked the first. That went pretty quickly, and I now have a nine-month lease for an apartment in west Ulm. That just means I have to pay for nine months, not that I have to stay for nine months. See my calling card for the address and a link to a map. The building is about 200 years old. [I asked again when I knew more German and was told it was 300, maybe 360, years old.] The apartment may be about 600 square feet, and the rent is €540/month. That includes heat, electricity, water, and waste service. There is a washing machine and a dryer in the apartment, which is good, because there is no self-service laundry in the city. There might be one in Neu-Ulm, but that is a long trip just to do laundry.

I will move in on December 31. The apartment is about a kilometer from EADS and is about two blocks from a bus stop on a line that goes straight to EADS. A streetcar (Straßenbahn) goes from there into the city. I have to figure that out. The route seemed to be a streetcar all the way on the map, and both the bus and the streetcar are numbered 1. Maybe it is usually a streetcar but part of the route is temporarily serviced by bus due to construction work. For my first week of work, I will be taking the streetcar from the hotel to EADS and passing by the site of Einstein's birth everyday.

My home away from home
My home away from home.
Along with the apartment came a 12-page booklet, in German of course, detailing the waste disposal categories, rules, zones, and schedules. There are six categories. I've got two weeks to translate that, or I could get fined.

After renting the apartment, we had to notify the Einwohnermeldeamt that I would be changing my address. Lars decided to do that by fax rather than making a third trip. However, I'm not done at the government offices. Within three months, I have to go to the Ausländeramt (Alien Registration Office) to get an Aufenthaltserlaubnis (residence permit). We also had to visit the bank to tell them about my new address. Plus, we set up automatic transfers to pay my rent.

We also ordered phone service. I do not yet know when that will be connected. I hope it will be done before I move in, because I do not want to lose my Internet connection. I should receive the phone number in a few days.

In the early evening, I went back to the Christmas Market, and I revised my opinion of it. It is fairly extensive. I lost track of my location and where I had been several times. There is chocolate, other food, clothing, toys, puzzles, jewelry, a ride, and more. Some of my research had prepared me for German street etiquette: Push through crowds and accept being jostled. I bought a map and some postcards in the tourist office, and I bought some chocolate in the Christmas Market.

For dinner, I tried the café next to the hotel. I managed to order in German and still get a vegetarian meal—cheese tortellini with vegetables. It was very good. All the food outside the hotel has been very good.

Having accomplished some things on my own, I slept better Friday night.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Einstein fountain
Why is Einstein's head poking out of a seashell? Perhaps in the spring we will see the fountain functioning.
Monument marking former site of house in which Einstein was born
This marks the former site of the house in which Einstein was born.
Today I was completely on my own, and I got a lot done. I got information about the transmit system; located and photographed the Einstein fountain-statue; located various stores; bought a transit pass; bought postage stamps; photographed the Einstein birthplace monument; and walked to my new office, my future apartment, a mall, and back to the hotel. I'll discuss some of those further below.

I have found just about everything I need to survive, so I am feeling better now. Even so, the simplest things take a lot of effort. I have to figure out where what I want is, what words I need to ask for it, what time it is available, and so on. I am never going to learn German because many of the words I look up are not in any of the dictionaries I brought. I did find the word Champignon, though. Avoid that; it's a kind of fungus. Some of the restaurants are more candid and use the label funghi to warn you off.

In walking through town in the morning, I discovered there is a farmers' market there on Saturday morning. I bought some fruit for lunches and some bread. I would have guessed the produce was local except that the pineapples seemed out of place. I did have one problem in the morning: The cold and wet makes the brick streets icy. The sidewalks are very slippery in some places, even with good shoes.

Müller logo
Müller storefront
Müller department store.
There is a department store, Müller, that is like US department stores, but subtract most of the clothing and add a miniature supermarket section (such as household products like cleansers, pet food, convenience food). In addition, it has an entire floor for model trains and related or similar things, and that department was fairly active.

I returned to the hotel in late morning and found I had mail. Just like real life. The bank sent me a letter about the PIN for my ATM card, so now I have to translate that, because I see "PIN" in it but not a number that looks like a PIN to me, unless they use six digits here.

While I was walking from EADS to my apartment, a car pulled up beside me to ask directions. Boy, did they have the wrong person!

The mall is much like US malls and is a good size. The US chains Staples, Foot Locker, and H&M are there. Those are the only names I recognized, but the store Real Markt is much like Walmart. There is an Eis Café in the mall with ice cream in flavors not seen in the US, like Nutella and apple. I may do much of my shopping at local shops though. There is a small grocery near my new apartment and a small shopping plaza. There are bakeries all over the place.

Inside the Ulm Christmas Market
Inside the Christmas Market.
In the evening, I went back to the Christmas Market to get dinner and chocolate. I had to pass many booths selling dozens of kinds of sausage on various rolls, some of them unwieldly long, before I found one selling pasta. The display was not labeled, and my pocket dictionary had no entry for pasta, so I ordered by pointing. That worked, and the woman scooped the pasta onto a dish and handed it to me with a fork. A real china plate, not like the paper plate you would get in the United States. There was no obvious place to return the plate, and I had no way to ask. So, I looked for somebody else with a plate. Right away, I saw a woman with an empty plate moving purposefully, so I followed her. Unfortunately, I lost her in the crowd. I finished eating and looked for somebody else. I found another person just finishing, so I followed him. It turned out he didn't know what he was doing either. He tried to return it at the counter and was turned away. I had more success with the third person, who went around the back side of the stand. There was a window where you hand in the plates and utensils and get cash back.

I also bought some chocolate for the next few days. Another booth was selling roasted chestnuts, and I bought some of those too.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Modernistic white building
This part of the Stadthaus contains the tourist bureau and some other space for civic activities.
I went to the Stadthaus to take a tour of the city. One guidebook says there is a tour every Sunday at 11 a.m., but the Stadthaus was closed. Most stores are closed on Sunday, but some bakeries and cafés are open. The Christmas Market was also open, so I wandered around there some more. With fewer people, it is easier to see the layout and get around. I found some flavored marzipan rolls I had missed before and a few vegetarian dishes: vegetable soup, crêpes, and pizza. The marzipan flavors are rum, cherry, apple, and some flavor I haven't tasted yet and can't find in the dictionaries. It was drizzling, so I didn't wander around the city any more. Since the Christmas Market lasts only another week, I may eat there a few more times this week and then try more of the cafés. Once I move into my apartment, I'll be able to cook.

Later entries ⇒

© Copyright 2002 by Eric Postpischil.