Deutschland – Stuttgart

On January 7, we landed in Stuttgart! The flight from Barcelona had been pretty crazy – the check-in line at the airport took us over an hour, and the plane itself had been pretty crowded. I suppose we can’t complain too much given that it had been a budget flight. What mattered now was that we were finally here! I’m happy to report that my phone began to work after I restarted it when we landed. We got off the plane where again we were not met with passport control or customs. Our bags were promptly returned to us (I was happy that my luggage had made it through all of the traveling), and we went to the Hertz kiosk to collect my rental car. I was a little proud to have recalled that Mietwagen meant rental car, and we were able to find it without much of an issue.

I was handed keys to a (nearly) brand-new Ford Mondeo wagon. It has only around 1000km in mileage on it, and includes some helpful features like built-in navigation, ultrasonics to avoid low-speed collisions, lane departure warning, and automatic lights and wipers. While it’s nice to be driving an American car, part of me wished I had been given something German although the body-style is certainly European. The car is also quite large, and I quickly learned how cramped European driving and parking can feel while trying to manuver the long station-wagon. I’ll give it some more time, but I may opt to trade for something smaller if I continue to feel uncomfortable getting around. After a little searching we found the vehicle and I was able to get it out of the garage after some careful driving.

Using the car’s navigation, we headed for my new apartment, where I was scheduled to meet my relocation agent around 4PM. We found the place and illegally parked in a doctor’s reserved spot (there were no better places to park). I met Sabrina, my relocation agent, for the first time (in person at least) in the parking lot and she was able to call my new landlord who let us into the building. The complex was built as a retirement home but the concept never caught on, so there are some unused common areas and a cafeteria-style dining area just outside my door and downstairs. The place has a dark aestetic because most of the unused space remains unlit, presumable to conserve energy. Maybe I’ll make use of it later when I need a quiet place to get out of my room for a while. We found the room, marked by the two pairs of shoes my landlord and his friend had left at the door. Right away, a cultural difference – my leasing agent asked me (now the host in my apartment) whether she should take her shoes off.

We entered the unit (shoes off – I thought it prudent to stick to local customs) and went through signing and inspecting the apartment. It was done more formally than I had been used to with any of my apartments in the US. We went through each room and he had taken pictures to document the condition. I signed for each room that the condition matched the pictures, and presumably that I would return the place to a reasonable state when I left. The apartment includes a semi-weekly cleaning service (livin’ swanky!) and is fully furnished including basic kitchen-wares, and many soaps and (most importantly!) laundry detergent was included as well. There are a lot of books, most of which are in German, and more decorations and table ornaments than I would like. They make the room look homey I suppose, but I opted to clear some of them so that I have some usable storage space.

After we finished up the agreement, we went outside where I was shown my parking and how to receive mail. My parking garage is a short walk away from the apartment – the parking just outside the unit is reserved for employees of the nearby hospital. I was slightly annoyed at first because I am not allowed to park in my garage from 8AM – 4PM on weekdays, but Sabrina informed me we could go ahead and get a city street parking pass to supplement my garage access when needed. I don’t have it that bad when it comes to parking – more on others’ later.

I moved my car and returned to the apartment to unpack and spent the rest of the evening catching up with Chelsea and taking care of laundry, both of which were sorely needed. I went to bed shortly before midnight to get ready for my first day at work.

Day 1 was no gentle introduction. I was thankful I had already adjusted to the timezone because it was a busy, hectic experience all day. My plan was to fill out immigration and take care of other logistics with the other trainees, then head into the office to meet the team and get a brief introduction.

I woke up and gathered the supporting docuements I needed for the appointments. Showered and cleaned up, then was out the door around 7:25. We were meeting closer to downtown for appointments. Although parking downtown is a mess, I also am not allowed to leave my car parked at my apartment past 8AM. I drove to the local U-bahn stop (Marienplatz) and parked nearby at a paid hourly garage. Getting into it was confusing – I felt like I was driving on a sidewalk (although it was a road) at least once and there was another tight turn to get into the garage itself. Satisfied with having parked properly, I walked to the U-bahn station and waited in a short line for the ticket machine. I got a little flustered when I mistranslated the machine asking me to remove my card, and I stood for a solid minute wandering what to do with a line forming behind me. Eventually I figured it out and was able to buy 4 trips (I think?) in zone 1 on the U-bahn. The map itself was easy enough to read, and assisted by my newly working phone, I confirmed the line and direction I wanted to take, and was treated to a short (~5 minute) journey to my destination. I think I may have stolen from the U-bahn though, as I believe I was supposed to have my ticket stamped indicating I had used a trip and I didn’t do this. I need to read up more on how the system works.

Having arrived at my station (Rathaus), I walked up the stairs and was immediately lost. I found my way within 5 minutes and met up with a loud group of Americans and knew I had found the other trainees. By this time I was about 5 minutes late and felt guilty as we had had an email which explicitly mentioned being punctual. Fortunately for me, Sabrina also ran late and the first appointment (taking passport photos) was delayed becase the shop opened late, so I was 5 minutes late to about 30 minutes of joking around and catching up. Shortly after Sabrina arrived, we gave up on the photographer and went to the burgerburo to begin our registration with the city. Here I felt pretty spoiled as Sabrina had already done most of the paperwork on my behalf, and we continued to discuss travel and the holidays while signing some forms to register so that the police have our address and that the government knows we exist in Germany. We left and went back to the (now open) photographer, where several people needed pictures taken. I however had my picture taken in New York, so I was able to grab a quick breakfast while we waited on the others. Pictures in hand, we returned to a government building to finish up some applications. Having the agents there to answer questions and provide translations was incredibly valuable. I’m not sure we could have done it without them. Rather than struggle through the complicated forms, we joked about how we were on a “Field Trip” with our backpacks and going around place to place.

Having finished with our applications, we headed to DeutschBank where we opened up accounts and filed some tax forms. Here again the relocation agents were helpful, and I was able to apply for an account without much of an issue. For lunch we stopped by a local bakery where I had what I’ll describe as a “bocadillo moment”. Travelling to Spain immediately before my time in Germany was not the best move from a language-learning perspective; I am mixing up Spanish and German vocabularly quite often but I’m sure this will subside in a few days. After lunch we signed a few more forms and had our passports returned to us with work visas! I could now legally go to the office in Leonberg!

I wasted little time and made it to the office around 2PM. There, I contacted the manager with whom I’ll be working and he came and fetched me at the door to our smaller building (the Leonberg facility is a multi-building campus). Rather than the introduction I had been expecting, I was rushed into an ongoing meeting. Fortunately, the project I will be helping out with is just getting kicked off, but it was still a bit of a rough transition to be in a meeting before I even knew where my desk was. I ended up staying until about 6PM as we went through some requirements engineering and high-level task prioritization.

I drove home without incident and we grabbed a quick dinner and headed for our local Aldi. There was not a whole lot there, we think they were low on stock because it was late in the day. Checking out at German grocery stores happens very fast and I have been told people get upset if you hold up the line. We did our best not to make a scene but we were very confused when the woman working at the checkout took our bananas and would not let us have them, explaining something in way-too-fast German for us to understand. I asked and was told you don’t need to weigh fruit at Aldi in Germany, so we don’t know what happened. We aren’t yet good enough for German bananas but we hope to someday make it there! Joking aside, it is nice to be getting settled in and we will finally cook our own dinner tonight for the first time in over two weeks.

Other trainees haven’t been quite so lucky as I have been. Several people ran into trouble with their visa or other paperwork. People were delayed coming over and in one extreme case, someone had to book a return flight they don’t intend to use just to get on their trans-atlantic flight. I am glad that my move, while full of surprises, has been comparatively smooth. Other people face worse parking and driving situations, too. One of the guys has just been paying parking tickets this week while things get sorted out, and another has to go down 8 stories of tight ramps just to park his car. All things considered, I have been quite fortunate.

I’ll be back later in the week with some updates on work and getting settled here, but I thought you might be curious about my first day. Until then,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone!

– Ben

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