We have arrived. It is February of this year, Munich, Germany. I’ve been apart from my new husband for 6 weeks, and I am finally reunited with him after so much distance, in our new ‘home’ our new life across the sea.
Traveling into the city on the S-bahn, one of the local trains, my hefty bags packed to the brim with every last drop of US goods I could muster. Our temporary home is a a hotel in the city, which is part of our extensive relocation package offered by his new company. Everything to me is new, unfamiliar, exciting, a dream come true……. to live in Europe, beginning a new phase of our life together. The seats on the train, how the people dress, the signs, all that is foreign here is exciting to me. I’m a blank slate, so happy to be with L again, and so open to all possibilities!
We arrive at the hotel and I am both elated and exhausted. We are set up to live here until we find a permanent flat in Munich, which we have heard from everyone is extremely difficult and competitive. Add in the fact that we don’t speak the language and are new to every way this country processes things, we feel truly like fish out of water, as if anything we do could be the wrong way or we will miss some crucial detail. Fortunately we have help with this as well, part of our relocation, and an agent to visit flats with us. Tomorrow, we see a flat together, no down time when I arrive.
Our room is on the top floor with a small kitchen and mini fridge, a couch, TV, table to eat, all the necessities to exist, nothing fancy. The decor is 70’s-esque with weird red carpeted floors and a staircase leading to a loft like bedroom, gold accents, a sad but functional kitchen. Large windows and a balcony, but the snow is falling so going outside and sunning is less than likely. L has been here 6 weeks without me, and I have heard some of his frustrations but I am blissed out, I am optimistic…… I have NO clue what time zone my body’s on at this point so you could give me a haystack to lounge on and I would think it was the shit!
The first weeks together are a blur, even those first days. we had an appointment to see a flat together on Sunday after I arrived, it wasn’t even 24 hours that my feet had touched the ground. Jet-lagged and dazed, I followed L as my trusty navigator around the city on the train system and he pointed out everything and anything he had discovered, so eager to talk, to share with me what he’s learned and to speak English finally, getting to express himself which he hasn’t been able to do for a month. He gave me directions, showed me where the trains go to and from, feeding me Butterbretzels which are buttered pretzels people eat like chips here ( the soft ones I’m used to at carnivals or sporting events back home). Looking back now, I retained basically nothing he instructed to me in those first few days! I was so overwhelmed. Now that we have been here a couple of months, those places, the train connections, the directions to get here and there are all coming together and I no longer get lost.
Days crept into weeks in our live-in hotel apartment, and the excitement and romance started to wear thin. The work of living in a new country and spending your days acclimating to the language, the ways of the culture, the people, and protocol regarding documents, visas, requirements to be in the country permanently was chipping away at the dreamy story I had created in my mind. For the first time since September of last year when L and I made the decision to embark on this adventure together, I found myself sitting in the reality of what this all means, the reality of what we had done and where we were, what we left behind to make this happen. It was hard, it was not romantic or dreamy, it was real. And where I was sitting, to reflect? …… My plastic pleather couch that sticks to your skin when you sit on it, and a couple cheap chairs you would find in a classroom. No comforts, no family, no familiar language, all possessions we hold dear slowly traveling across the ocean in a shipping container. A whole lot of change, all at one time. I never was one to do things lightly.
Our new digs, our “Live-In Hotel”. In truth, I should have thought harder about the meaning of the words “Live-In Hotel” when this offer came to light, but I wasn’t thinking, I was in full on “we are moving, just react” mode. It means…. wait for it….. you LIVE IN A HOTEL! Now, if you are being offered a job in your field already making 6 figures, from a long line of royalty, or made of money than maybe, just maybe the hotel you live in will offer you all the comforts you need to feel that its an actual “home”. For most people, its probably going to be a Hyatt, or some other form of mid level live in arrangement. In our case, we began living our first days and weeks in a new country in the equivalent of Motel 6 in the US, and that is being kind. As the weeks wore on and the place became more and more challenging, I watched people check into this hotel on the weekends and for vacation, by choice?!?!?! Why did you choose THIS hotel over others in Munich for your comforts? You must be crazy, constantly buzzed on German cheese and beer OR oblivious. I came so very close to telling them to turn around and leave, spend your money elsewhere.
The staff in this establishment were a saving grace, sweet and helpful. They were the only great part, and I felt bad for them, working there. They always offered help and assistance when I pushed a little, and you could usually get what you needed whenever you needed it (extra pillows, cleaning service, laundry assistance, extra glasses or dishes etc.) If they wouldn’t or couldn’t help you with something they seemed sincere enough in their apologies.
Cleaning service was done for us, 2x per week and that included things like dish soap and the toiletries that you need to exist in the day to day. You don’t think about these things, but when acclimating to a new country, the daily stuff you don’t have to struggle to buy you are grateful for. So, the small household goods they provided was a relief. Sometimes, the floor was vacuumed, sometimes the glasses were washed, every other time the bed was made? Sheets were the same as the ones we left before……. definitely inconsistent, and I say this because well, should it be consistent? I’m happy to clean my own house, I love cleaning, I admit I have high standards but I ALSO feel so weird about someone else cleaning my things. So here we were caught in a kind of-whatever I feel like-jank ass weekly-cleaning service. Its strange to feel powerless and know you have no place because where you live is not yours, and you have no say. You just follow the rules.
Before I arrived, my husband had asked for an electric hot water kettle which never made it to his room. He gave up on trying but knew that was not my style so I called until they sent one up. The guy was friendly, gave me the kettle and the base with a smile. As he left, I went to set it up and noticed, the base was white and the kettle was a different color. Sure enough, not for the same product, did not work. Not to worry, I phoned again. He comes upstairs an hour later apologetic and embarrassed with a new white plastic kettle and base. I was thrilled to finally have hot water that I didn’t heat from a small pot on the stove! (it really is the little things sometimes, I am easily pleased) I filled water from the tap, plugged in the kettle and waited. I set up our tea, poured in the hot water with excitemen and then…… huge flakes of what appeared to be torn paper bits floated in our cups! The water was more filthy and full of debris than when I put it into the hot water kettle. I looked inside and it had a metal part sitting in the water, it was clear it was old. In Munich, the water has calcium in it which binds to everything at very hot temperatures. In this case, we were offered tea with large bits of old calcium floating in the cup. Back to the pot on the stove!
Our bed. The bed story is epic, I don’t think my writing can do it justice. To say it was weird would be so unfair. It was a see-saw. The mattress was a strange shape because it fit in a corner they had actually carved in the wall, so it was queen size with the corners cut off at the top. The mirrors as the headboard went up to the ceiling with strange 70’s gold like paint spatter on the actual mirror itself. The first couple days seemed fine, then……I got sick, a true nasty cold, and things got worse. Each night L and I had a tough time sleeping and spent most of our time tossing and turning, not feeling rested in the mornings. I thought it was my sickness, which was incredibly uncomfortable, then I thought it was my sadness and getting used to being in a new place, I blamed him, the new diet we had, I thought of every excuse possible. One night we were sitting up in bed reading and L says,”I think the bed is tipping backwards, is that possible? Its at a weird angle.” I thought that was a strange thing to say, usually beds that suck dip in the middle, but dipping down at the headboard? At this point, sleep was terrible for both of us, and even after my cold had gone I had a lingering sinus pressure and discomfort that was new to me, which I again came up with a myriad of self diagnoses to explain it away. I said,”Lets swap our pillows to the foot of the bed, it can’t be any worse than how we’ve been sleeping so far, right?” and he agreed. BOOM! We slept through the night. Best sleep since we arrived?!!? The freaking bed was tipped with our heads lower than our feet, no wonder everything was draining into our faces and noses at night, all the blood rushing to our face?! Pillows remained at the foot of the bed, and we were saved from sleeping like bats for the remainder of our stay.
One of my favorite challenges was doing our laundry. They had a large laundry room in the base of the hotel and the prices were not cheap. The dials on the machines are in German with strange symbols for the cycles nothing like US washers and dryers. The temp is in Celcius and the warmer your water, the more likely you will have calcium issues that can damage your clothes over time. Who knew doing laundry could be such an ordeal? Add in that these machines like to eat your coins, with no explanation as to why, and your most basic daily task becomes an adventure. I had the machine eat my money, twice, and show no signs of starting up or working. One time I put it on a cycle I thought I recognized, felt proud of myself, and returned to my clothes soaking in water that had started to smell. I felt low wanting to freak over something as simple as doing our laundry but there were days that not understanding those most basic instructions made me feel crazy!
If nothing else, the experience of living in this hotel rather than just passing through and getting to return to what you call home, has taught me about being a foreigner and what others go through everyday, all the time. It is an incredibly humbling and isolating feeling to have your basic needs like buying groceries, cleaning clothes, finding a bathroom, asking for assistance or help, boiled down to difficult or impossible because of a language barrier. When I was alone in the hotel trying to find ways to get these tasks done, I was amazed at how hard they were in those first days and weeks and how much longer I had to work to understand a phrase or memorize how to say something in order to get what we needed. And….. it made me tired, it broke my spirit some days, it made me want to quit. Everyday I felt thankful for the experience of being uncomfortable, of being freaked out, because I have gotten to lead a comfortable life and this was a window into what it is for others their whole lives. I hope no one lives their whole life in this jank-ass hotel though, I don’t wish that on anyone 😉 there are so many other alternatives, now that we are here and we have our barrings.
More to come, so much more to share with you, with love….. ~ R