Coming to Germany, I had only two suitcases of belongings in tow, and my cat. Those suitcases were packed with: clothes for warm and cold seasons (including a long wool coat and a 90s era brown leather jacket that looked like Indiana Jones had worn it while being dragged behind that truck in the ‘Temple of Doom’), a small number of generations of family photos, a favorite vibrator, those 10 pairs of Hanes boxer shorts for my man-to-be, a small selection of favorite DVDs and CDs, a little make-up, an umbrella with cats and dogs on it I bought at Kings Cross train station in London half a decade before (think: It’s Raining Cats and Dogs), and two pairs of shoes. I did mail two small boxes containing my art and creative writing, old US taxes, etc., and my genealogy notes before I left America. Upon arrival in Frankfurt , these were all my life’s posessions. It seemed like a lot! Especially to roll around that airport, with a cat in a carrier bag on top too.
So, what have I bought in the eight and a bit years since I came to Germany, that I consider now ‘good buys’? Here is my list, which anyone coming to Germany from America (or elsewhere) might find useful:
an international DVD player. I bought one from Amazon in the UK and my German guy rewired the plug so it would fit in a German electrical outlet. Silly me, I didn’t know that in Germany my yoga DVDs or favorite films I’d towed in my luggage wouldn’t play on a German zone DVD player! An investment of about 35 Euros that has been really worth it because I use that machine every week!
A dumb cell phone from Samsung for again, 35 Euros. This is not a ‘smart’ phone with an internet connection and all the bells and whistles. It’s a practical phone that uses a simple pre-paid, Ja! Mobil phonecard available at REWE grocery stores. As I know next to no one here and rarely use this phone anyway, this is a great savings over a landline phone with a monthly bill and ditto over a ‘smart’ phone. I can still send SMS or call for help, so that’s about all I really need. The cheapest pre-paid comes at 15 Euros and this kind of connection is, for those of you in Germany, great for people living outside big cities, where the O2/Fonic connection is weak. O2 is better for those of you who live in bigger cities! I had O2 for a few years after living in Cologne and found the signal so weak in my village that my house was a ‘Funkloch’…a no-connection zone. I don’t have a Funkloch with Ja! Mobil. How unhelpful that is when you are job hunting and waiting on a call! I had to go outside in winter and let the neighbors listen in!
Third on the Good Buys list is a Shiatzu ‘Massage Kissen’ for a tall backed chair, picked up at Aldi Süd for about 50 Euros, marked down. My husband and I use that back massager almost daily. A pair of hardish balls roll slowly up and down our backs, loosening up those tense muscles. Sadly, we had to replace it after three years (it died) and Aldi didn’t have any more on special, or at all even, so we bought a less satisfying one online from Amazon, but it’s better than no massage at all. Really nice after work, really nice in winter, even nice to wake up and sit there while sipping a cup of coffee.
A tablet PC and a large computer monitor with a keyboard. I’m old school, but I like to save on power costs, so I got a tablet PC (nice for watching films in bed when wearing some ear buds! Or playing Candy Crush) and then, missing a phat keyboard and large screen for all my Web surfing, word processing and shopping, etc., I definitely needed the monitor and keyboard to broaden my typing and reading pleasure. Still costs heaps less, even after initial investment, than using that big humming box that had to sit on my desktop too!
A Singer sewing machine. Here a new Singer goes for about 90 Euros. I bought one thinking I’d get back into sewing clothes, however, this machine gathered dust until recently, when I took up doing some patchwork. Still, every home needs a sewing machine. I have hemmed pants from the thrift store, added buttons and button holes to those colorful duvet covers originally from Ikea that don’t have any (and thus allow a lot of the duvet to creep out of the cover each night).
6. Shoe inlays. Say what?! No, I’m serious. If you live in Germany, and have German health insurance, you can get your feet looked at by an orthopedic doctor (this goes by fast, maybe 10 minutes max.), without having to see a house doctor first, and get a receipt for shoe inlays in three main thicknesses. You take this receipt to an inlay specialist, even my small town has one, who has you stand on a scanner bed and then makes a pair of inlays for your foot health and pleasure within a week. Just pull the useless, non-supportive shoe padding out of your German shoes, throw out those Dr. Scholls gell inserts, and lay these new babies in there.
A MUST for people who work on their feet all day or like to walk a lot. Not so practical for ladies who wear mid to high heels, best for flat to low heel shoes. In my town, these inlays cost 9 Euros for a pair of thinner ones or 20 Euros a pair for the thickest. I find they last a year with lots of wear and have made my walking and working life far more comfortable, not to mention helped my back, knees, ankles, etc. This cost is half the actual cost, as your German insurance covers the other half. No need to mail in any forms, just pick up the inlays, let the shop smooth them to fit in your favorite shoe, and you can get up to two pairs of these a year even. The thinnest work well in all shoes, the thickest need a wider shoe or a higher rounded toe box to fit in ok without squashing your toes/cutting off the blood flow. I recommend a soft constructed shoe so you have space to stretch the fabric/leather a bit for room if needed.
7. Shoes for Crews non-slip, oil and waterproof gastronomy work shoes. I am now on my third pair in six years of working in a temple of grease. Comfortable, the lace up version allows enough room for wearing those shoe inlays from No. 6 above. Note photo above: fries stuck in the shoe sole. SFC shoes come with atiny plastic comb to curry such goodies away. I just am too lazy to do so on a regular basis.
Here is where I can maybe help you save some cash in Germany.
1. wrong pre-paid phone card for the region I lived in
2. shoes in Germany seem very expensive compared to what I used to buy in America and even though the quality is not better either, how many shoes I have bought and returned or bought, suffered with and then donated to charity? I am not willing to admit this!
3. spontaneous buys anywhere (but we all know this one), anything from food that whispered from aisles not previously explored, to too many flower pots and a few wild printed blouses that weren’t even worthy of cutting down for a quilting project…all non-edibles went back to or finally to, the local thrift store
4. a sofa I never used. At 40 Euros, it sat stiffly with its spring seats in a room I cleared out to make ‘A Room of My Own’ but got taken over by my husband’s expanding home improvement project materials. That sofa saw more wood, tools and other building supplies parked on it than it ever saw of my buns. After 5 years, it sat out on the curb for the garbage pick up as I have since adopted the dining room corner for ‘A Corner of My Own’ as well as the dining table for non-mealtime hobby work.
5. a backpack I found just wasn’t big enough for my work clothes, lunch box, a book, etc. I reverted back to a bigger pack I’ve now had for over 15 years!
6. several books in German that I started reading and found not worth finishing. These, prepare to be shocked, got chucked on the fire in our fireplace because, let’s face it, they were second hand, and wood. I know that sounds like the Nazi era (burning ‘degenerate’ books and art), but the books were truly crap, no one would cry over them going up in flames. My former library lady self sort of thrilled as they burned, but hey, you know by now, I just don’t fit all your stereotypes.
So there you have it, except for a specification of ‘ugly’ buys. Those were mainly some bad Deichmann shoes that split out because they were made of plastic or some synthetic ‘leather look’ and the soles wore out on my many treks through the woods. Back to thrift store and also spontaneous buys, I would say some clothes I picked up were at times ugly. There is a very fine line between ‘retro’ looking and downright not working even as hipster styled items. A pair of powder baby blue Clarks brand Mary Janes come to mind. They are back in the thrift store dumpster, awaiting a new spontaneous shopper victim.