Learning to love European housing

Before moving here, Lee and I shared a house with our best friend and various room mates over the past two years. It was your typical red brick ranch-style home, remodeled, half-finished basement, hardwood floors, centrally heated and cooled, four bedrooms, 1.5 baths, fenced-in backyard and privacy from the neighbors. It was distinctly American. And it was wonderful.

Fast forward a bit, and here we are in our new place. All the buildings on post are German-style architecture. But, since this is an installation for American soldiers, there are a few details added to on-post housing that make it a little more accommodating. First of all, most of our appliances are American-style. This is a good thing because German ovens tend to be on the smaller side. My favorite “American” feature about the apartment, though, is the abundance of dual voltage outlets. We don’t need adapters or transformers for the 110v electronics we brought from the States, and we can also use 220v electronics and appliances that we buy on the German economy.

There were several distinctly European things that took an adjustment period to get used to. I’m a firm believer that with a little patience and a little time, you can get used to anything–no matter how strange it may seem at first.

We moved during the warmest part of the year to a country where air conditioning doesn’t seem to exist. And not just in our apartment–I’m talking about everywhere. Restaurants, shops, hotels, you name it. The Germans just open their windows and deal with it, and the windows are very different than what we were used to. You can open them on a hinge like a door, or tilt them toward you so they are open at the top. Lee and I absolutely love these windows. They’re enormous and super easy to open. Our apartment gets a nice cross breeze when we open them up, and even on the hottest days this summer (around 85º F) we were surprisingly comfortable.

The tap water here is very hard. If you pour a glass of water from the tap, it’s cloudy. If you let it sit, you will see visible sediment at the bottom. It’s safe to use in every capacity, but I have a hard time ignoring it. The first time I showered here, I could feel it in my hair. After some time I was able to get used to that feeling, but some people use a special “anti-kalk” shampoo, sold at German drug stores. It’s absolutely necessary to use special salt in your dishwasher to prevent your dishes from getting caked in a chalky white crust (yum). We get a bi-weekly delivery of purified drinking water, so I use that in my tea, coffee, and ultrasonic oil diffuser.

German houses don’t have closets. To store things, Germans just buy more furniture. Our apartment already came equipped with large wardrobes in each of the bedrooms. Unlike closets, wardrobes are big, obvious pieces of furniture that take up significant space in a room. I can’t see much merit in their functionality, other than having built-in shelves for easy organizing.

The toilets flush via a button on the wall, and the tank is hidden in the wall. Germany is an extremely eco-conscious country, so you can choose between two options when flushing. The little button uses a very small amount of water to flush the toilet. The larger button provides a more “thorough” flush. This makes a lot of sense to me. I’m not sure why American toilets uniformly flush a massive amount of water when it’s totally unnecessary!

Our doors have levers instead of knobs. It makes the apartment look kind of sterile, like a hospital. But I don’t really care, because I can open any door no matter how much stuff I’m holding! I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve made a mess while juggling a mug of coffee and a couple handfuls of snacks while trying to turn a doorknob.

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