First week in Germany

I thought I had this jet lag thing licked, but I woke up at 2:20 a.m. and am still awake (5:45), so apparently not. After a few hours denying it, I finally decided to get up and start this blog!

So, we've been here a week and a day and so many things have happened already (some good, a lot of bumps in the road as we're trying to get settled), so I'll start at the beginning...

As often happens in life, for a long time it seems like nothing much happens, and then a lot happens all at once. A few weeks before we were to leave for Germany, my dad's brother, Ron passed away unexpectely. We were not able to attend the funeral in Oklahoma and now will miss the memorial service in Chicago next month. That was a sad time. Also, two days before our flight to Germany, my Grandpa had major surgery to have a precancerous polyp removed from his intestine. The surgery went well, but the night before we were to leave he was given Benedryl and had an allergic reaction to it and went delirious in the night. I was very worried about him and wondering if I should still get on the plane. My mom had planned on coming with us to the airport to see us off, but because of the complications, she had to stay at the hospital in Kankakee and was very sad not to be able to see us again before we left. Papa recovered from that and now has pneumonia and is still in the hospital. So, it is still hard to be so far away right now.

We left a rainy, cloudy Chicago on Wednesday, Oct. 15 and arrived in a rainy, cloudy Frankfurt on Thursday, Oct. 16. Our sponsor is Traci, one of Wayne's co-workers and she picked us up at the airport. She's great, and used to driving hi-speed on the Autobahn, so it was a bit of a white knuckle hour or so ride in the rain to Kaiserslautern. We ate lunch at a great Mexican Cantina and then headed to Wayne's office (on a military base) for in-processing. We were very tired as we didn't get much sleep on the plane and when we arrived, it was like 3 am to us. We're 7 hours ahead of Central time here, but we go off of Daylight Savings Time a week earlier than the states, so starting Sunday for a week we'll be 6 hours ahead. That evening, after both crashing for an hour, with no car and no food in the refrigerator, we decided that we had to find some dinner. We were told that we could walk through a path in the dark woods to a place on the base that had Schnitzel night on Thursday nights. So we did. It was actually very bad Schnitzel, so greasy and french fries. Just what a pregnant woman needs, right? We ate salads too, so that made it a little better. That night I fell asleep until 12:20 a.m. and woke up for the rest of the night. I finally fell back to sleep about 7:45 and was awoken by someone knocking repeatedly on the door at 8:10. I thought it might be housekeeping, but it was a couple thinking this was their room and not sure why their key didn't work. So, that was that night's sleep.

Wayne is a civillian working under the Department of the Army (Advertising Director for the Middle East of Stars & Stripes, the military newspaper) and I am a dependent spouse. That's a new thing to get used to. Wayne is my sponsor, so even filling out an application for a library card, I had to put his name on the top of the form as my sponsor instead of mine. So, we've had lots of 'fun' with all of the military/government procedures. No one told us we'd need our marriage certificate, so I couldn't get my military ID right away. So, every time we entered a base (we currently live on one and Wayne works on another), we'd have to pull the car over to a special lane, open all the doors, wait for them to call in my passport and O.K. me, then we could enter. Doing this multiple times a day got old very quickly. Also, I couldn't make a doctor appointment (that acatually took until yesterday to accomplish), do my USAREUR driver's orientation or license testing, shop in the commissary (grocery store) without Wayne, use the fitness center or 'dining hall' etc. But, actually I still haven't been able to do much on my own yet because our car won't be here until maybe December and the only rental car available has a stick shift. Wayne's teaching me to drive a manual, but I'm definitely not ready to go out on the German roads with a stick by myself yet. But, I may have to be soon. I now have doctor's appointments when Wayne is at work or when he goes to Amaan, Jordan next month for a week. We need to buy a second car (a beater, but beaters here are nothing like in the U.S.--it takes a lot for cars to pass inspection here), unfortunately--I was hoping to get by on one, but where we live there is not one big city with a metro system, but many smaller villages surrounding a moderately sized city. And, it is likely this second car will also have a manual transmission.

Friday we had lunch with Wayne's boss. He took us to an American diner and warned us against the hamburgers, but I was very happy with my grilled chicken salad w/ vegetables after the previous night's dinner. That evening, he drove us home from work and stopped by the commisary (again, military base grocery store) so pregnant lady could fill the fridge and no longer have the awful feeling of "I'm so hungry and we have no food and no car to get any." The commisary is great. By military contract, companies have to sell us the food for just 5% over cost (and cost of getting it here), so most items were less than I was used to paying for them in the States. They do have organic milk (it's actually a little more expensive than I used to pay) but not organic produce or deli meat without nitrates. Overall here, it's been a bit harder to eat pregnant-conscious as I had been trying to do in the states. There is deli meat or sausage or fried in so much of the food here. But, overall we have had lots of good food. I cooked dinner the other night and Wayne's co-workers thought I was crazy b/c as long as we're living in the temporary housing, we get a per diem allowance that's way more than we could spend, so eating out is the norm for this period. We've eaten at two great Italian restaurants. I had pizza at one, and my fears about missing Chicago pizza were unfounded b/c the Italian style pizza (made by many Italians that live here now) is very good. Wayne had schnitzel at one of them b/c... when in Germany... and he said it was very good. I'm only good for schnitzel once in a while, so am glad there are many other ethnic choices in restaurants here.

Last Saturday, we got a rental car, and hence more freedom. We strolled around the pedestrian only part of Kaiseralautern Saturday and looked in the stores. It seemed the Saturday thing to do as many Germans were also out strolling and shopping with their dogs and babies. Too bad our dogs are not well behaved enough to be able to do that! Heinrich would be barking at everyone. People bring their dogs into restaurants too, but again, no way our boys would be welcome. We chose a cafe to have lunch in and enjoyed it, though Wayne was a little offended that the waitress asked us if we'd like menus in English before we'd uttered a word to her. He said "how did she know we were Americans?" I'm sure there were lots of give aways. Wayne's department (advertising) had a conference this week. People were in from the England office, so we all went out for dinner. They picked the same restaurant that Wayne and I happened upon for that Saturday lunch. So, we parked in the same parking garage that we had on Saturday. After the dinner, we walked back to the garage at 8:15 to find it completely dark and locked by a big gate. GREAT. What do we do now? The rental car is locked in the garage with Wayne's brief case and important papers and cell phone. Should we get a taxi to take us back home tonight then back to the garage in the morning in time for me to get to my driver's orientation the next morning at 7:45? No way. Then we notice a few small signs in German. Yes, the garage closes at 19:00 (7 p.m.) and if we have 25.50 Euros, we can call a number for someone to come open the gates for us. So, we went and found a pay phone and did that. We were expecting a tow-truck driver type of guy, but, no, it was a very official looking clean cut proper German man who let us out. The we had to walk up the winding ramp that made me dizzy when Wayne drove up it, all the way to the top, and finally out of breath, we got in our car.

Thankfully, Monday my dad went to the courthouse in Wheaton and got a copy of our marriage certificate and faxed it to us, so I'm now official. Of course, Wayne's SS# got entered into the system incorrectly, so Monday we'll visit the ID office for the forth time to get new ones, but we've learned that most things take a few tries to get right. Case in point, even though we were told by the ID office that we were in "the system" and got a document to prove it, on the two times I tried to call Landstuhl medical center (same place they send injured soldiers from Iraq) to make a prenatal appt., I was told I wasn't in the system and couldn't make any appts. until I was. So, fortunately Wayne's boss said he could leave work early yesterday to drive with me to Landstuhl and try to get it worked out in person. The smartest one there looked Wayne up by his birth date, and magic, we were there. So, I am officially in the system there and won't have to worry about being told there isn't room for me when it's time to give birth and that I'd have to go "on the economy" (that means in the German economy as opposed to military facilities) to a hospital that probably wouldn't give me an epidural. That was not part of the plan, so I'm glad to not have to worry about that.

Wayne also got to leave work early Wednesday so we could look for a house. Right now we're staying in one of the Air Force Inns. It's nice in that we have a bedroom, bathroom, "family room" and kitchen. But, it will be nice to have our own place. We found a house on the internet that we wanted to see, so we called the immobilien (realtor, even for renting) and she showed it to us. It was great. Brand new--wired for internet and cable in every room, 2 1/2 nice bathrooms, 5 bedrooms + study, top floor had a cheery room we'd use as a playroom, fence yard for the dogs, great location at the top of a hill of a cute small town where I could walk to the bakery and shops with farmland right next to it. We called the next day and said we wanted that house and the immobilien told us that the landlord hadn't told her it had already been rented. We were heartbroken over that. It seems that the summer is the time to find a place as military is all moving out and in at that time and now there is not so much available. So, the search continues. We also need to explore more of the area. When we drove to Landstuhl yesterday, we found it to be a really cute bigger town and up in the mountains/hills more. So, I'd like to check that area out more. Also, we haven't even been to Ramstein base yet. That's where the have the nice fitness center w/ a pool. I am really missing my water aerobics classes, so I hope to check that out today too.

So, yes, it is beautiful here. The fall was a great time to come b/c there are so many really tall trees and the colors are spectacular now. Much prettier colors than in the Chicago area when we left. Also, it's a mountainous/hilly region. I'm not sure what it would really be called, but it looks mountainy to me. I guess it's officially more foothills of the Alps, but it reminds me of the Blue Ridge area in NC and WV. There are farmlands too and Kaiserslautern is in a big valley. It's very pretty to drive around here.

Last evening we went to Kaiserslauter's annual festival. It was really a carnival. We took some pics there, but I'll have to upload pics later. I thought I'd take some pictures of where we're staying from the outside, but Wayne reminded me that snapping photos on a secure military base is probably not the smartest thing to do, so maybe I'll just take some of the inside of our room.

So far, I've gone to Wayne's office with him a lot because there has been a lot of processing I had to do there, and of course, Wayne has to go to it all with me as my sponsor. I really like the people he works with, especially our sponsor and the HR manager. I'll be sad not being able to see them every day like he does, but have been told that the group does a lot together and they'll take me under their wing, especially when Wayne is travelling. The HR manager, Leigh, asked me if I was available Sunday, Nov. 16 to come to her house for a baby shower for me. I was floored because these people just met me, but Wayne says that's how it is here. I have noticed that I talk with "random" people a lot more here than I would at home. So, it is a neat opportunity to learn people's different life paths. I met a man that was born in the same Navy hospital in North Kingstown, RI as Wayne (guess that's pretty unusual) during my driver's licence orientation and testing and also a woman from Hawaii who is living here with her daughter and son-in-law on the base. Didn't even know that was possible.

Ok, that will probably be my longest blog entry since I had over a weeks worth of stuff to cover. I promise pics to come, and we still need to take lots more than we have been. It seems like there were more frustrating situations, but now, maybe from lack of sleep, or maybe just from the broad view of a weeks time, I can't remember them enough to add.
1 Response
  1. Lindsay Says:

    LOVE the blog K! I sorry for all your mis-fourtunes but some of them did make me laugh -I love the car story! I am also sorry about your uncle and grandfather - that is A LOT to go through before leaving the country!
    Please keep the blog going :) It is one of my favs - Im going to foward it to mommy Karen too - she asks how you are doing daily! Mom and dad are coming to Ann Arbor for a visit this weekend. Much love always to all three of you!
    Linds and Russell