It’s The Little Things

I was talking with my sister yesterday via the miracle of inexpensive international calling that is Skype, and I was telling her about some of the smaller differences between Europe and the US, things that are just interesting to me because they’re different.  To someone who’s been in Germany for more than a year or two, these are the kind of differences that probably don’t get much notice, but to me, they’re huge and fascinating.  Here’s a few of them.Plumbing:

toilet flush

That little button on the right side of the top is the flush control.

Urinals and toilets here are different.  Not so different that it’s difficult to use them, but even just the flush mechanism.  In the US, there’s typically a handle that pulls up a flapper inside a tank.  The mechanics of it may be the same inside the tank, but here the flush button is usually on top for tank styled toilets, and it if you press the button the other way, it will stop the flush.  There are also toilets where the tank is set into the wall, and the flush button is a big panel-  I haven’t the foggiest idea how that works, but I’ve seen it in several places.  Heck, even the stall doors in public restrooms are different here.  They’re more private than in the US, and there’s a little occupied/vacant indicator built into the door handle.  I think that’s kind of nifty.

Phone jacks:

Phone jacks in the US are a tiny little modular affair, less than half an inch wide.   Here’s what they look like here in Germany:

phone jack 1phone jack 2

Door knobs:

doorknobWhile interior doors aren’t much different, front doors here have a tendency to have a knob that does not turn.  The entire purpose of this knob is just to have something to grip in order to open the door.  The actual latch part of the assembly is built right into the keyhole.  The lock is different also-  the normal setting is locked from outside but not from inside.  There’s a keyhole on the inside of the door too, and from either side of the door you can extend the deadbolt halfway with one turn of the key or all the way with a second turn of the key.  I had to go through the settings with the door open so that I could see the deadbolt positions before I fully understood the door lock.


This is my favorite difference so far, when it comes to normal house stuff.    The windows here are just cooler, no pun intended.    In the US, windows usually open via an upward or sideways sliding motion, or they can be tilted up with a hand crank.  Not so, here.  The window handle has three positions.  In the downward position, the window is closed.  In the horizontal position, you can open the window inward.  The third position is the one that made me go “Neat!” – when you flip the handle upward, you can tilt the window in so that it pivots on the bottom two hinges.  This gives you ventilation without having the entire house exposed to the rain or wind or snow, not unlike a car sunroof, but done vertically.  From left to right, these pictures are closed, open, slanted open:

window - closedwindow - open

window - slanted

The best part of the windows here though is that it’s very common for there to be external rolldown shutters on very window.  In other words, the windows have built in shutters on the outside of the building that you control from inside.  Here’s the shutter on my bedroom window, and the strap mechanism that’s used to roll it up and down:

Window - shuttershutter strap

I have an apartment!

As of Friday the 2nd of December, I have moved out of the hotel and into my own apartment. I was in the hotel for three weeks, and the only thing I really miss about it so far is the Internet connection- I don’t have one yet in the new apartment. I’m still waiting for Kabel Deutschland to come install my blazingly fast Internet.

Finding an apartment here in Regensburg has been extremely, extremely tricky. I started looking online before I even travelled to Germany for the first time, but apartment-hunting online is always a challenge.

Here are some things that are different about apartments between the US and Germany:

  • In America, apartments are big managed affairs with a single leasing office- you walk in and choose a cookie cutter floor plan and just get the next available unit. Here, most apartments have a single owner and you’re renting from them.
  • An unfurnished apartment here typically has no appliances- not even a refrigerator or stove. If you want those items, you have to look for a unit with a built-in kitchen.
  • Apartments here do not have closets. This is why those big wardrobey things from Ikea with the sliding doors are so popular. And yes, I’ll wind up buying one.

I started to view apartments in person as soon as I could during my first week here. I had several problems right from the start. For one thing, I don’t speak German yet. This made a lot of things very confusing to me. There’s a line on the apartment search website I was using which translates roughly as “Rent without Bail.” This didn’t make any sense until a co-worker looked at it and explained that was a poor translation for a deposit.

My co-workers were an immense help to me during this process. They helped me figure out where things were. Several of them showed me listings and sent possible apartment info my way. One of them made phone calls for me and translated paperwork for me. Two of them actually went with me to look at apartments. I would never have been able to navigate this without them.

Every time I viewed an apartment, with only one exception, there were always two or three other people viewing the apartment at the same time. Apparently, the University changed their enrollment rules this year, so there are twice as many students enrolled as there normally are. They all started in September, about two months before I got here. And they all wanted one bedroom apartments.

This relegated me to using the services of an Immobilien, the rough equivalent of a leasing agent who takes a substantial cut. It nearly doubled the cost of getting an apartment, but that extra bump in price is the only reason the apartment I finally got wasn’t taken by a student.

The only apartment I saw that didn’t have several other people looking at the same time was a place a few kilometers from the city center, too far to walk to much of anything. It had all the appliances, inluding a pretty great cooktop and a washer, and it was huge. However, it had grey carpets and as soon as I walked in, I felt depressed. I’m pretty sure that’s why it was still available, to be honest. Which brings us to the apartment I finally rented.

Living Room

The place I got is close to the city center, it’s convenient to bus and train stations, and it’s pretty much exactly where I want to be and the rent is very reasonable, now that I’m done with the Immobilien’s fees. It’s got a living room, pictured above, a separate bedroom, a bathroom with a stand up shower rather than a tub (which is my preference any way,) and a place for me to install a clothing washer. The floors are brand new in that light wood you see above. There is a small built in kitchen, open to the living room. It provides a stove and a half-height fridge, pictured below.

Stove and Fridge

The apartment is mostly empty at this point- I moved in on Friday and it’s only Sunday. And Sundays are impossible days for getting anything done, because nothing is open here for shopping on Sundays. The one thing I did manage to get into the place before I moved in was a bed, an Ikea Malm:

Ikea MalmI spent Friday night assembling it before I finally went to sleep. I may have to post my thoughts on Ikea another time. Maybe after I get one of those wardrobe things I mentioned earlier so I can actually store my clothing in some place other than my suitcases.

As an aside, posting here will be pretty light until I get the Internet connection hooked up in the apartment- even now, I’m sitting in front of the San Francisco Coffee Company in the Arcade in order to use the Internet connection. And have some nice peppermint tea.

Beats sitting on the floor in my completely empty living room, I guess.

Man, I need some chairs.