Embracing Butter

Relocation within Germany – you can do it!

moving photo unsplash

Let’s talk about moving. If you ever moved with kids, you know it isn’t easy. And if you’ve ever moved with kids within Germany, then I wish you blessings and all good things in this life and the next, because you deserve it. It ain’t easy!

I find normal life in Germany to be difficult enough some days, so my recent move almost pushed me over the edge. (Disclaimer: I’m from the US, so I see the world through ease-coated lenses where the customer is always right, where employees at supermarkets carefully bag and carry your bags of groceries to your car for you, and where we have drive-though bank machines, you get the picture … ). But I’ve heard people from other countries say that things here in Germany are difficult as well, so it isn’t just my soft American sensibilities.

By normal life being rough in Germany, I mean that everyday existence is just not easy. First, you have the weather that can be … challenging. In northern Germany especially, with its average number of nearly two hundred rainy days a year (seriously – my research shows 167 rainy days in Berlin and in Hamburg a whopping 190). Our new home, Hamburg, has a coastal climate, meaning you have shifting weather patterns and lots of wind. And it gets cold here. Really really cold.

Then you have the famous (or rather infamous) bureaucracy. Germans love paperwork, find safety in rules and processes, and can not function without some combination of all three of these unnecessary evils. Never have I had so many files/piles of papers or signed so many contracts. Here you sign contracts for schools, for childcare, music lessons, tutoring, gym memberships!), phone service, electricity. If you’re paying for a service, there’s a contract involved.

In Berlin, a city divided by a wall for decades, you add a whole other layer to the rough. West Berlin is generally clean and civilized. I give credit to the Brits, the French, and the Americans who occupied the former West Berlin for the fairly nice state they left the place in when they evacuated in the 1990s.

Then you have the East – where my kids and I lived – and with it the Wild German West meets Stasi. Walk around the less popular parts of former East Berlin and you can see the difference. More dirt, more grime, more graffiti, more loud. More people yelling at each other, or at you.  It was Russian-controlled during the Cold War, and let’s suffice it to say that there wasn’t a lot of love put into the area.

By now you  might understand what I mean when I saw that living in Germany in general – and in Berlin especially – isn’t exactly a walk in the park. So moving, which is a stressful event in and of itself, well … moving in a difficult country is just pretty darn difficult.

 I thought moving from Berlin to Hamburg would be easy. In fact, that reasoning is partly why I chose to move to Hamburg in the first place (the other is that the one man on earth I can’t live without happens to work there). Hamburg is about two hours away by train, meaning not far to drive or move our things, and close enough for us to come back and visit.

Moving was something I’d done at least a dozen – actually more – growing up. I was a military brat and a missionary kid, so packing up and relocating every so often was second nature. As an adult, I’d moved a few times as well. Moving to Germany from Georgia wasn’t easy but I don’t remember it being so exhausting either.

As it turns out, moves are complicated and difficult, even if you are only moving a couple of hours away. The work involved in packing, getting out of my apartment (that’s a story for another day), and the official business involved was exhausting.

To give you an idea of the paperwork involved (and by this I mean paperwork, as in Germany things have to be handed in signed and dated in paper and ink – email or a phone call does not suffice), I had to give written notice for the following (and probably some more items I’ve forgotten):

  • Apartment
  • Electricity
  • Internet (which you can not get out, even with a move, before the original cancellation date. I’m guessing you have to die to get out of a Telekom contract early)
  • Gym membership (remember I still get to pay for this for three months despite not being in the same city as the gym!)
  • Schools
  • Aftercare at the schools
  • Tutoring
  • Train ticket

Add it all up and it was a few very busy weeks. There was the official business of moving. The getting rid of things, which meant frequent trips hauling bags of items to the local refugee home, selling items on Ebay, giving things to friends, and finally, out of desperation, leaving items out on the street – because Germans don’t do yard sales.

Then you had the actual packing of me plus three and our household. It’s amazing how much stuff you can collect in a small apartment!. Then there was organizing the movers, and renovating my Berlin apartment before we left. Yes – tenants in Germany generally are expected to leave an apartment in pristine condition before leaving. Another toughie for this girl, who is used to slapping some paint up on the walls, giving a home a good cleaning, and then calling it good!

Honestly, writing all of this is tiring, so I’m calling it a day for now and will talk more about the emotional side of moving another day. Because aside from the physical and mental work involved with moving, it is a hugely emotional event, one that we tend to downplay.

But before I go, I want to share three simple tips for managing a move here in Germany  …

1. Accept any and every offer of help: I couldn’t have managed without the help and support of my friends and family. They chipped in with packing, organizing the mover, making sure random items I left in Berlin made it to our new home, and gave endless moral support (with the exception of one neighbor who gave me a lecture on how I had filled the trash bin too full and needed to empty it. Oh … Germans!).

2. Give away as much as possible before you move: the more you can let go of before you move, the better. Really. We had a lot of stuff – we probably gave away the equivalent of at least 10 large trash bags of items – toys, books, clothes, odds and ends. It’s not easy to part ways with your things, but if you only pack and take the things you hold most dear with you, you will be happy you did.

3.  Use the platform myhammer.de to book movers and professionals to do the dirty work in your apartment for you. (side note: I’m not getting paid to promote them). The site is in German but is user-friendly, and you can find people to do any and all jobs related to your move on it. For decent prices too. I found an amazing moving company and a decent painter via MyHammer, and both were affordable.


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