In many ways, we feel lucky. Torsten has a new job he likes, and we live in an apartment most Münchners would envy, in one of the nicest neighborhoods of a city that’s regularly ranked one of the world’s most livable.
But of course, we grumble.
Why? Usually because our apartment in Munich is not like our house in Minneapolis – imagine that. Like many city apartments, ours has only a dorm-sized fridge, an electric stovetop that takes forever to boil water and then to cool down (we’ve already melted plastic onto it), a doorless shower that splatters water on the floor, windows that don’t have screens to keep out mosquitoes, and enough room only for a doll-sized washing machine and no dryer (everyone here uses drying racks).
Germans are famous for their well-tooled machinery. Their home design, not so much.
At least we’ve solved the mop crisis. Beth could not believe the lame mops sold here – they have no wringing mechanism — and wouldn’t buy one. Our floors got dirtier and dirtier until finally, Torsten spotted an American-style mop at the Auer Maidult, a festival famous for its housewares stands.
When Torsten’s mother arrived for a visit, she confirmed that there’s no trick we didn’t understand – German women (let’s face it, it’s women) really do reach into the dirty water of their mop pails and wring them by hand after each pass over the floor.
Other than its eccentricities (to us), the apartment is really nice, with high ceilings, wood floors, huge windows and a large patio that faces a small back yard with lilacs and a tree-size weigala that’s covered with pink flowers.
And pretty much everything else about life in Munich is delightful. Within two blocks of our apartment, there are two bakeries and two pastry shops (no foreigner can understand why Germans aren’t fatter), plus a grocery store, a drugstore, a flower shop, a bookstore, a wine shop, an Italian delicatessen, a beer garden and a bunch of restaurants – Italian, French, Greek, German, Turkish, and a Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall that sells Thai red-curry chicken that feeds us both for $9.
Also within two blocks: three tram lines and two bus lines. The wait is rarely more than three or four minutes; often, a tram or bus is pulling up just as we get to the stop. Munich’s transport system is amazing – you can get anywhere in a jiffy.
So what do we do all day?
Well, Torsten goes to his new job at Veact, a startup that sells services to car dealerships. He had a hard time getting back into the work groove after more than four months off, and a hard time concentrating on work when he still has a bunch of bureaucratic and home details to work out. But he likes his colleagues, and he’ll get a chance to improve leadership skills when he fills in for his boss, who’s taking a three-month paternity leave this summer (hurray for German family laws!).
Beth updates her website, handles details for our Duluth Airbnb and then heads for German class, 3¼ hours every day. Her first class was an hour away and had a disorganized teacher and unfriendly vibe, so after three days, she switched to a closer Volkshochschule class, at the Sendling neighborhood library.
Her new teacher, Jelena from Serbia, is great, and she likes her 14 fellow students from 13 countries – Romania, Australia, Spain, Chile, Peru, Portugal, Nepal, Nicaragua, Italy, India, Mexico, Ukraine and China. They all speak English, which makes Beth feel pretty small, learning only her second language.
She does all of her homework and hasn’t missed a day. And the library’s free Internet came in handy until we finally got our own last week. We also got light fixtures installed, so even though there’s still an echo in our living room (our sofa, chairs and rugs won’t arrive for another three or four weeks), we no longer feel as if we’re camping.
And in our two months here, we’ve discovered that Germans are not really reserved – in fact, they frequently strike up conversations with both of us, often on trains, trams or buses. They’re talkative, sometimes loud, and helpful to a fault – when we ask a question, they ramble on and on to make sure we know everything there is to know about the topic (Beth, who still struggles to understand German, wishes they would condense a little).
They also seem much more engaged in the world around them than many Americans are. Yes, teen-agers spend a lot of time on Instagram. But people still read newspapers, and Torsten was astonished to overhear a class of grade-schoolers on a field trip discussing the previous day’s elections – in a state at the other end of the country.
Children as young as 6 make their own way to and from school every day, by bike, city bus or subway, and rarely are seen with a parent hovering nearby. As a result, they’re confident and self-possessed – it’s fun to see.
If we could describe Munich in one word, it’s calm. Life isn’t perfect here, but in general, people are unworried, unhurried and enjoying life. It’s just what we were looking for.