Archive for the 'apartment living' Category

Reverse culture shock, or rockin’ the suburbs

I’m struggling quite a bit with the new life lately. To quote a blogging friend of mine, I have a Leipzig-shaped “hole in my heart”. I know I complained quite a bit about the language barrier, the climate, the homesickness and the lack of Tim Tams, but in truth there was much about life in Germany that has spoiled me. I’ve been doing lots of thinking and I’ve decided my maladjustment has less to do with moving from Germany to Australia and more with moving from city to suburbs. 

Leipzig is a city in the truest sense. Apart from the lovely streets lined with Gründerzeit buildings, the first thing I noticed was how compact it is. One can drive across the city in a matter of minutes, no suburbs clamoring around it, no feeling of endless sprawl. Living in a proper city was a whole new experience for me. I could walk to the city center, enjoy its markets, museums and wonderfully inexpensive cafes. Living in a small flat (like everyone else), we by necessity had less stuff. A car was unnecessary thanks to public transport that would make any Sydneysider sigh, but whether you’re eight weeks or eighty years old, the way to travel in Leipzig is by bike. Another aspect of city life I loved was parks. Not CBD parks, where joggers and businessmen mingle, or suburban parks where a few kids play on the Astroturf. I mean parks that are the garden of the city. On a warm day in summer, everyone is there. Communal spaces are necessary when everyone lives in a flat.

Coming back to suburban Australia has been just a little deflating. It seems a strange, unnatural life. Firstly, there’s the temptation to have stuff. Suburbia is perfectly designed to turn us all into little consumers. We don’t share things. Instead, we all buy our own. We are left to imagine what life is like on the other side of the fence and we try to keep up with the Jones’. We drive to get around. We commute to work.  We love the idea of farmers’ markets and local economies, but the capitalist system drives us towards the cheapest option: the shopping centers and supermarkets.

Suburbia can be a very lonely place for full time mum in a new town. While I do love the freedom of a patch of grass to play on and a Hills Hoist in the sun, the price can seem quite high, sometimes. Of course, the answer lies in finding ways around the isolating, consumer-oriented ways of the suburbs. Stay tuned.

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.


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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