Moving to another country with just two suitcases and a backpack of camping gear has opened our eyes to how much is involved in setting up a new household.
Soon after we agreed to lease the Nymphenburg apartment, it started: What are the pieces of furniture we need right away, and where are the stores that sell them? Where do we get mattresses, washing machines, lamps? All our Twin Cities consumer knowledge was useless.
Beth consulted Toytown Germany, the forum for expats in Munich, and came up with a list of furniture stores. We did visit one, Möbeleum. But in the end, we decided to start at IKEA, like most Germans.
The transporter van Torsten rented was 10 feet tall and 19 feet long, quite a bit bigger than he’d expected, and he had an interesting time driving it through the narrow streets of Munich, dodging bicyclists and making sure we didn’t sideswipe parked vehicles.
And since Torsten had just driven on the left for three months, the windshield wipers kept coming on when he tried to signal a turn.
The plan, in Torsten’s mind, was to pick up furniture in the morning, drop it off at the apartment and start assembly. That’s why he let himself get talked into a phone interview at 3 pm — he figured he could always stop putting stuff together for a chat with a company.
Alas, when the phone rang, we were still at IKEA and in the middle of selecting and configuring a complicated bedroom wardrobe — Torsten had completely forgotten about the coding interview. So he had to do it on the sales floor, pacing between the cabinet door section and bathroom sets.
By the time we’d selected, collected and loaded pieces for the giant wardrobe, patio furniture, a bed, two night tables and a kitchen island plus dishes, silverware, pillows, etc. — it took two trips through the checkout line — it was 8 p.m. and we’d been at IKEA for nine hours, fueled by Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and strudel.
Then we headed for our new apartment, on the way passing the glowing-red Allianz Arena, which that night was hosting the Champions League quarterfinal between archrivals Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
We carried our loot into our apartment, illuminated only by lights from the bathroom — the only lighting we have so far — and flashing signals from the van. A neighbor named Sebastian showed us how to prop the front door open and even asked if we needed help. What a guy! We said no, but we hope to get to know him later.
By the time we dropped off the van at a somewhat creepy old industrial complex that’s now an art and performance space, and taken the train home, we had spent more than 13 hours on a shopping trip to a single store.
The same week, Torsten also had a grueling morning with the German bureaucracy. He’d tried to figure out online exactly what was required to make Beth a legal resident of Germany, but eventually he gave up and went to the Ausländerbehörde (foreigner’s office) for some quality face time.
We knew that with the recent influx of immigrants, there would be a crowd, but he was not prepared for how big that crowd would be.
An hour before the doors opened at 8:30 a.m., there already was a crowd of 100 asylum seekers at a dedicated entrance and 40 people waiting at one of two other entrances. That number swelled to fill the entire square by the time the doors opened and the pushing started, followed by wild sprints through the building.
It felt like a Black Friday sale, with the prize not a $50 discount but a chance to make a life in a safe, stable country. It was eye-opening to get this first-hand experience of the immigration situation in Germany.
And that was only to get information. We have to do it again to submit the actual paperwork.