Friday, February 20, 2009

Going Without: Update

Well, within 24 hours of my previous post here, the internet connection kit arrived in the mail, and the television guy came over to set up the dish, and we finally got a washing machine.

German washing machines are really interesting, and somewhat of an enigma to me. They have a very odd combination of energy efficient and energy consuming features. Axial (front-loading) machines are the norm, which makes sense, since these are much more energy- and water-efficient. And the machines have a gazillion settings for temperature, extra rinsing, prewash, lint removal, heavy items, light items, wool, you name it, so you can customize your wash settings. Finally, they tend to be pretty small: we have one of the largest non-commercial washing machines you can get, and it holds 7 kg (about 15 lbs). This is actually pretty convenient, since, of course we did not get a (mechanical) dryer, so we have clothes hanging in the living room on the indoor drying rack, and I am not sure it would be so fun to have a really large load of laundry draped about the house. It's only charming till you sit on a wet sweater.

All of these energy saving, Germanly efficient elements are super; however, the only setting on the machine that uses cold water is the wool-sweater setting, which also doesn't spin or agitate as much. The coldest "normal" wash temperature is 30 C (86 F). Mysterious lack of energy awareness, there. Also, wash cycles are measured in HOURS, not minutes. The "basic" wash setting is called 40-60 Mix, and it is 2 hours, 20 minutes from start to finish. This doesn't seem very energy efficient to me. What the heck is the machine doing for two and half hours, anyway? Stuff gets clean, you can be sure. The elastic in your socks might die after a week and half, but, by golly, it's clean!

Not much to say about the t.v. and internet, but the car search continues. We would really like to get one of these cool little van/car things they have here. They are like a compact car base with a little extra height and rear seats that are a bit higher than the front, sort of a microminivan. If you're curious, we are looking at (used) the Opel Agila and the Suzuki Wagon R+. Mercedes A160 or Toyota Yaris Linea are also in the running, but mostly too expensive for our budget. Looking for a used car is really annoying, especially without a car! We have looked at a few cars close by, but there is always the suspicion that there might be one cheaper in the city, but then we'd have to go to Hamburg. Not that Hamburg is particularly far by subway, but it seems all the used car dealerships are in places far from public transit. Funny how that works.

I will post again as soon as I find the USB cable for the camera. There are pictures of where we live as well some nice shots of the three of us. Then I will comment then on the weather, the landscape, our house and other fun stuff. Till then...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Going Without

This weekend will mark the end of our third week in Germany. It has been a strange time for me, not so much from culture shock as from the relentlessly unsettled life we have led since September, when we first started getting ready to move. We spent those months dividing our life into Before and After, shedding numerous belongings, organizing our remaining belongings, taking a lovely three-week holiday at my parents house in Delaware, then, on Jan 17th, 2009 flying to Germany. There was a sense of passage on that day, as we finally passed from Before to After, and After became the present.

We spent the first week in Hornaue at Stefan's parents' house while we waited for our shipment to clear customs, after which we moved into the house in Hoisbuettel. It seemed like so much stuff when we packed it--nearly 100 boxes on three palettes comprising almost 300 cubic feet--but as we unpacked, it seemed like less and less. We brought most of our cookware, but no dishes or kitchen appliances; plenty of books, but no bookshelves; a few boxes of out-of-season clothing, but no furniture; our mattress and bedding, but no bed.

Odds and ends of furniture have appeared at the house over the last two weeks as friends and family have donated or lent them. In addition to our four folding banquet chairs and Eris's high chair, all of which we had shipped, we have acquired an Ikea-style television stand and side table, an eighties vintage recliner, a crib for Eris, two German bed frames, a couple of chests of drawers, and a small bookshelf. We did buy a coffee table and a dining table on a recent trip to Ikea. Although we don't have a couch, the coffee table was on super-duper sale, and someday we'd like to have a couch. We needed to get the dining table as it was getting a little hard on the neck eating at the kitchen counter while sitting in our banquet chairs.

An interesting twist is that we don't have any closets in this house. All of our clothes are in the aforementioned chests of drawers and bookshelf. Nor do we have a basement--all of our books and excess clothing are currently stored in the upstairs crawl space. But we have so little stuff that storage is only an issue for the clothes we are using. Storage we will eventually need, but that need pales in comparison to the basics we are missing. We don't have a washing machine and we live in a rural village with no laundromat. We don't have a car and we live in a rural village with reliable but infrequent transit. We don't have broadband internet access. We don't have a landline telephone. We will have neither of these for weeks. We have two (donated) televisions, neither of which works because they are pre-digital. We have a stereo receiver that doesn't work and a couple of speakers that may or may not work, but we can't test them because the receiver and televisions don't work. We don't have a microwave or blender or food processor. We don't have any tools. We have a borrowed tea kettle.

This is not meant to be a lament of the things we do not have, rather an illustration of the continued state of unsettledness we find ourselves in. I don't understand the radio, can't watch television, and, without high-speed internet, can't easily navigate public transit or look up places to shop. Although we have technically passed from Before to After, it is indiscernible--I am still waiting for things to happen so that the next things can happen. We need a car so we can go places to get things, we need a washer so I don't spend so much time washing-wringing-hanging, we need the internet so that I can learn something about where I am and where I need to go. Although I am living here, I am not yet participating in life here.

This could be a moment to realize how little we really need to get by, but it is also a moment to recognize those things we rely on to feel comfortably settled and engaged in our surroundings. Mobility. Information. Communication. And clean clothes.