Archive for September, 2010

The German renting experience part II: Ikea

There’s no way to avoid it. If you’re in need of homewares, fittings or furniture in any urgent or economical way, you will end up at Ikea. This is especially true in Germany where an apartment is truly an empty shell; every light fitting, blind and ounce of storage space must be self-supplied. It’s not hard to see how Ikea established this global juggernaut. From the blue and yellow banners that flag you down on the highway to the one Euro hot dogs that send you off, the experience is perfectly packaged and skilfully executed. Resistance seems futile. My issues with Ikea all came to a head this week after our need for a sofa became a matter of urgency. We had investigated every second hand sofa within 100km of Leipzig and concluded that Germany has a very strange take on lounging. A superficial search on Ebay will confirm that most sofas look either like this


or this


Boxy and/or incredibly uncomfortable seem to be in vogue. Enter Ikea. We eventually admitted that the only comfy and reasonably priced sofa available in Germany seems to be the Ektorp. With our bodies sore and our behinds numb we headed off to Ikea Halle to commit the deed as quickly as possible. As we walked through rows of LIDAN and LILLHOLMEN, I felt my inner anti-capitalist die a little with every step. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the experience: eyes darting frantically around and mind racing. Do we really need SÄV? Would a MOLGE fit in our bathroom? Knowing a credit card would be useless even in Ikea (this is Germany after all), we checked with the nearest yellow-shirted body that a geldautomat would be available. A small marathon and two schnitzels later, we arrived at the checkout only to discover that the geldautomat was down and indeed, a card was unacceptable. We drove home empty-handed in disgust and drank a cup of tea on the living room floor.

Several days later we tried again, this time asking a German friend for help. Chris is our new hero. After ordering our Ektorp from the sofa desk and confirming a trailer was available to hire (free for three hours), we made it through the maze with only a modest collection of HEMMA and BESKADA. The rear end of Ikea is a different place entirely. Tired looking slaves shout three digit numbers to a mournful crowd, most of whom are probably regretting at least 50% of their purchase. Fresh faced couples shacking up, pregnant women loading boxes into car boots, men downing the last of their second hot dog.

Meanwhile the trouble started, no trailor was available. The keys were lost, apparently. A van was available at a cost of thirty Euros. Chris argued our case with passion, but procured only a fifteen Euro discount. We should be grateful for that, we were told. Since the offending van only had only three seats, Chris was obliged to drive Rose and myself home and enlist a flatmate to unload our Ektorp, leaving Tony to wander among the IVARS and KIVIKS. To my relief Chris seemed completely unphased and drove happily out the gates like any boy in a large vehicle. A few minutes later, the troubles started again. No headlights. Rather than risk a U-turn Chris drove us bravely home, explaining to concerned fellow motorists that our lights were kaput. After his removalist duties were done, Chris again took up our case with Ikea. No refund on the hire fee. Hot dog, anyone?

Though it relieves me to have this vent (what are blogs for anyway?) it’s a pretty minor thorn in the grand scheme of things. When it comes to Ikea there are much bigger issues at stake. How is it that one company making mass-produced homewares has come to dominate bathrooms, bedrooms and living rooms around the globe? How can this cause anything but the wholesale loss of stylistic diversity and an ever-increasing pile of discarded junk? How did they delude us into believing that a SKOJIG here or a MALM there would transform our homes from a frumpy collection of mismatched junk to a haven of order and minimalist chic? Even more worrying, consider Tony’s reflections after his hour of Ikea hostage: with the population of Germany falling not rising, and if people require roughly the same amount of furniture from generation to generation, then the rate at which flat-packed boxes pour out the rear end of Ikea is roughly the same rate at which stuff is dumped into landfill elsewhere in Germany, and everywhere else on earth.

This may sound rich coming from someone sitting on an Ektorp, its box and plastic wrapping still lying on the floor. I can only promise that every other item in our new home (save the light fittings and curtain rails) has/will come from second hand or handmade sources. In fact, I’ve got some pretty big plans for furnishing our home with the recycled and the handmade, replacing things that would otherwise have ended up on our Ikea bill that day. Who knows, maybe my inner anti-capitalist can be revived. At least my bottom will be comfortable while I plot my anarchist course.

ps The lovely cushions were made from antique patchwork squares given to me by a friend. Thanks Jean!

pps In the first photo you can see the rug I bought in Strasbourg




The German renting experience

Up until now we’ve had very few issues in the housing side of German life. In Stuttgart we lived in a fully furnished, Max Planck owned apartment which cushioned the experience, quite literally. Of course if anything did go wrong we had Frau Illig to sort it all out. But we’re not in Stuttgart anymore, and we’re not sub-letting anymore. We’re in a full on, bonafide, rented German apartment. On the one hand this has allowed us to chose a place based on our own preferences for location, price and taste; a little exciting I must admit. On the downside it means battling with the obstacles (bureaucratic or practical) that face a non-German speaking renter in Leipzig, including the glaringly obvious – no kitchen.

To many Germans I’ve spoken to, the byo kitchen system seems fairly logical. A kitchen is much like a sofa. Why would you want to use someone else’s? To us, the byo kitchen system seems like silliness bordering on insanity. Once we swallowed our indignation (no mean feat) we found a number of ways to approach the kitchen issue. Second hand kitchens are in plentiful supply, the challenge is to disassemble/transport/reassemble/install them, the latter involving considerable plumbing and electrical experience. We started off with a basic outfit bought for a song on Das Schwarze Brett (The Blackboard). We quickly realised it wasn’t going to meet our needs or fit our peculiarly shaped kitchen. Days passed. We ate cereal out of glass jars. We amassed a small collection of electrical equipment, plastic cutlery and white goods that stood forlornly in the living room while a bucket under the taps served as a sink. After hours of research and several heavy discussions, we purchased a second-hand modular kitchen on Ebay and enlisted a handyman to collect and install it, all thanks to the generosity of a kind family member. At long last the empty space lined with tiles is gone. Bravad units now stand majestically in its place. *Sigh*.

Images via Design*Sponge

Goodbye Stuttgart, hallo Leipzig

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”.

This is how Dodie Smith began I Capture the Castle. I’m not in the kitchen sink. In fact, I only wish I had a kitchen sink. I’m on the living room floor. After nearly two weeks in a strange sort of limbo, we’ve arrived in beautiful Leipzig to a lovely (though empty) apartment. We arrived in the dark to a house with no light fittings, furniture or kitchen. Mercifully, some kind friends greeted us with shepherds’ pie, a small desk lamp and a survival pack of groceries. Very slowly the remaining pieces are falling into place.

As you may have noticed, things have been a little quiet on the posting front here lately. I make it a blogging rule not to apologise for infrequent posting; I’m not so narcissistic as to imagine that you can’t get by without my musings and I must obviously live life as well as blog about it. That said, I’m eagerly anticipating a return to the blogosphere now that the upheaval of the past few weeks is subsiding. I hope to show you our lovely new apartment, our street and Leipzig itself once the boxes are unpacked. It’s all so beautiful, I can’t wait to share it. In the meantime, I’ll start looking for my camera.


In all the ups and downs of this week there was a trade off: I made it Strasbourg after all. My lovely friend Floriane agreed to come along and we made it over the Rhine and back just in time for the tooth issue to escalate. Floriane and her husband Mathieu (also a physicist at Max Planck) live directly above us with their beautiful new son Théodore, also called “Dee-door”. Being French, they’ve been known to make trips over the border to stock up on cheese, wine and other much missed delicacies. Flo and I have spent many happy hours laughing over the stranger aspects of German life, comparing our hometowns on Google Earth and shrugging our shoulders over the world of condensed matter physics.

The day of our trip to Strasbourg dawned clear and bright. Flammkuche and Kugelhopf were the order of the day, and having my own personal translator made the whole experience that little bit more authentic. The small Wednesday flea market yielded a few treasures including a traditional kugelhopf basin, now safely in Leipzig. But the find of the day was a beautiful rug for our new living room floor. The seller gave a lengthy and impassioned speech about quality, the evils of Ikea and the unwillingness of customers to pay a modest price for an authentic item. I was completely convinced by this tirade (as translated by Floriane), much to her amusement. I immediately handed over my cash and the rug was promptly loaded onto a pram. Strasbourg is incredibly beautiful, with a stunning cathedral and Alsatian architecture. Its buildings seem to tell the very story of its strange French/German history. Théodore and Rose expressed their mutual fatigue and displeasure with vigor on our return journey, but somehow we made it home with two prams, plenty of cheese and one very authentic rug. C’est Bon!


It started with a toothache. Since my post last Saturday I’ve seen two dentists, three doctors and two specialists, I’ve had two X-rays, two courses of antibiotics, two ultrasounds, a CT scan and MRI, all of which has landed me back in the dentist’s chair. After some talk of surgery and hospital admission, it turns out I have a garden variety abscess that got way out of control but will soon be resolved. In my experience Germany deserves its reputation for excellent health care. Every health professional has been thorough, gentle and kind, and my lack of German has consistently met with patient understanding. For all of the above I paid a grand total of thirty Euros! Inevitably, the urgent tooth issue coincided perfectly with our big move from Stuttgart to Leipzig. A big thank you to the wonderful people from Leipzig English Church who unloaded the moving truck in our absence. I’m now looking forward to smiling, laughing and kissing my little girl goodnight.


Do You Have a Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth Pops by shortbreadnyc


Toothache Love Note

Toothache Love Note by maydaystudio


Little Tooth TEETHING TOY - natural wooden teether for infants and toddlers

Little Tooth Teething Toy by littlesaplingstoys


Horrid Hair Pins

Horrid Hair Pins by HandmadebyAlison


Funny Denture Soaps - NEW

Denture Soap by sunbasilgarden


tooth fairy kit - coral

Tooth Fairy Kit by paperandtwine



Cheeks and Chilled Almond Soup

An update on the toothache situation for those who may have been concerned: it turned out to be a problem with a gland in my cheek, rather than with my teeth. The worst of the pain is over, but alas my face has swollen to the size and shape of half a watermelon; I look much like I’ve swallowed a whole grapefruit and pushed it to one side. Only when one loses the power of facial expressions does one realise how important they are, especially when faced with a language barrier, or a toddler. Of course, the only thing left to do is eat soup. Inspired by the low price of nuts in Germany (when compared to Australia), I had a go at Skye Gyngell’s Chilled Almond Soup, based on the classic Andalusian dish. I even managed to find the “perfectly ripe fig” – a sure sign that autumn has arrived. It’s not exactly comfort food, better suited to a balmy summer evening. Still, it gave my mouth a well deserved rest.

From A Year in My Kitchen

About Me

A girl with a camera, a toddler and a sewing machine. Making sense of Germany... and life in general.

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