I’m often asked what the scariest part was about moving here. It was definitely the whole “getting on a plane and having zero idea where we would live once we landed” thing. We boarded a plane in Baltimore on July 11 with four suitcases of the bare essentials we would need to survive for the next two months. Gulp.
We got off the plane at Rammstein Air Force base and stayed in a German hotel that night. The next day, we got on a bus, sat on our butts for six hours, and arrived at Hohenfels on a cold and drizzly afternoon. We were welcomed briefly by the in-processing NCOIC, and ushered to the dismally tiny PX where we bought two slices of lukewarm pizza, to-go.
Unfortunately, there was no room for us in Army lodging (which is like an extended-stay hotel on post) and we were driven a few miles off post to a German hotel, Landhotel Schöll in a small village called Hormannsdorf. The room was exceptionally clean, but it was very small. With our suitcases, it was even smaller.
It took us all of 30 seconds to realize that there were no screens in the windows. And since Germans (for the most part) don’t believe in air conditioning, you have to put up with flies, mosquitoes, and whatever else can fit through that enormous gaping hole in the wall if you want some cool air.
I had some comical encounters with the woman that runs the hotel. My German isn’t great, but for the most part, I can get by. This woman simply didn’t want to give me a chance to try out my German. I would only say as much as “Ich…” or “Entschuldigung…” before she would cut me off with an abrupt “ahhhh!?” This would jostle my confidence and force me to switch to English. She seemed to understand English just fine, but she would always respond to me in German. I would go back to my room after these awkward conversations, think to myself, “what just happened?” and hope that the clean towels I needed were on the way.
My advice is to always try German first. Don’t just spew English with the expectation that they will accommodate you. It’s not going hurt to make an honest attempt. The Germans might get impatient with listening to you butcher their language, and they will switch to English if they know it, but you’ll feel better that you tried. Bavarians do seem to appreciate it–it must be that Southern hospitality.
Trying to understand the menus at the hotel restaurant was also quite an adventure. It took several nights of reading and re-reading the menu to feel confident in what I was actually ordering. We ordered something different every night, and were never disappointed. It was great to have a restaurant in the hotel, because we had no way to cook food in our room–not even a microwave, just an electric hot water kettle to make noodles and tea.
The village of Hormannsdorf, although beautiful, was not a great place to be stranded. It’s nothing but a cluster of private residences bordered on all sides by several miles of empty countryside. Lee was taking a van carpool to work each day, but besides that, we had no way to get around. If you’re thinking, “couldn’t you use public transportation?” keep in mind that busses and trains don’t run through every small village. It would simply be unfeasible. If you want to get around by train, you have to find a way to the nearest train station. We took a taxi to the train station once, but it was €28 one way. Hence, why we did it “once.”
Luckily, The Schöll was only our home for a total of 10 days. We received a housing offer for a three-bedroom apartment on post. Our first instinct was hesitant at best. To be honest, it was more like, “ughhh…are there any other options?” After all, we had been fantasizing of living in a little German village, in a little German house, surrounded by Germans. We heard only negative things about the stairwell housing on post: that it was crowded, noisy, dirty, and small.
My hair was practically going white waiting for the housing inspector (a stout little German man) to open the door for the first time. And then, I looked inside. Instantly, I was flooded with relief.
Our apartment was huge! Sunlight was pouring in windows on three sides, it was clean, it was quiet, and the kitchen alone was bigger than that box we had been living in. And, since we have the top floor, we don’t have to worry about heavy-footed neighbors.
It took six long weeks to receive our unaccompanied baggage (kitchen essentials and clothing), and another two weeks after that to receive our big shipment of household goods. I’ll never forget how happy I was to see a big, bald, sweaty German man at my doorstep.
“Are you Zimmer?” he said.
“Yes! YES! I AM! THAT’S ME! [dancing in place] I’M SO GLAD TO SEE YOU!”
You’d think I was chosen to be a contestant on The Price is Right.
In the grand adventure of life, I realize that possessions are just “things.” A bed is a thing, a chair is a thing, and peacock salt and pepper shakers are things. Lee and I hardly own anything of extreme significant value, and if some of these things got lost I wouldn’t die of despair. But, when you have been living in a foreign country without any comforts except your spouse, a few changes of clothes, and a MacBook, it’s essentially Christmas when boxes of familiar things arrive. It helped turn this new home into our home.