Finding a cheap Apartment in Bavaria, Germany (Europe 2010 – 1 May)

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I am posting this from my new place in Germany! Or, more accurately, my very old place in Germany. It has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride to get here, but I guess in the grand scheme of things, it was a little roller coaster.

I left the States on March 24 (seems like more than five weeks ago) and landed in Munich. After a couple of days there I spent the next couple of nights in Linz, Austria. After that I met my Czech friends in Brno and spent a couple of weeks with them, including Easter. All this you will read about in subsequent travel journals.

But I am so proud and grateful to have made it to this apartment that I want to start with that story.

Once my Czech friends had exhausted me with all the photo and other activities, I came to Bamberg, Germany, on April 9. My wonderful, long-time friends Hilde and Adi allowed me to stay with them – I have to give them full credit here: they had no idea how long I was going to stay with them, only that I was looking for a job in Germany.

View from Hilde and Adi’s terrace:

The idea was for me to come to Germany and get a freelance work permit, which also includes a residence permit. Then I could get any kind of work as long as I paid German taxes. I have been in touch with some language schools who had told me that, if I had said freelance permit then I could get work from them. A couple of these schools run online video teaching courses, which is what I want to do.

In addition, most of you know that I write for online magazines, which I planned on continuing in order to support myself while I acquired the freelance permit. And I have done that. It has certainly helped offset my travel expenses so far.

Turns out that some of the information I had researched online before leaving the States wasn’t quite accurate. Go figure. The information I had was that I should go to the Auslaendersbewesen (Foreigner’s Office) and get a freelance permit, then I could get an apartment and start seeking freelance work. Cake.

After visiting the German work permit office, things began to become clearer, if more complicated. The procedure for a freelance permit is as follows: get an address, register as having said address at the local court house, get insurance, get a tax number from the Finance Office, then get the residence permit from the Auslaendersbewesen. THEN get work. At least I hope this information is accurate.

The thing that has been the biggest obstacle has been that Hilde and Adi live in a little rural village outside Bamberg and there is no internet connection there. It isn’t just that they don’t have internet service, it’s that it isn’t available there if they wanted it. The lines haven’t been laid and the hills around it are such that cell phone signals don’t usually even get through. Add that to the fact that they also live two kilometers (1.6 miles) from the nearest bus stop, and you can see that I was feeling stranded and very, very frustrated indeed.

To further complicated matters, even if I got to the bus stop, there are no wifi hotspots in Bamberg. Imagine! In this most high-tech of countries, no going to Panera for the afternoon to work, etc. I have deduced that, since everyone has internet service at home, there is apparently no need for hotspots.

Without internet, no work for Karren. And no contact with sources that may have helped me find an apartment or any other info that would move things along.

In addition, out of the three internet cafes listed for Bamberg, only one actually still exists and it is just an area of a bookstore downtown with three computers. I can’t use my own laptop and their computers didn’t have word processors. I resolved to suck it up and not work for a few weeks. Aargh!

Anyway, Hilde, bless her, immediately set about helping me find an apartment. I have to admit that it went very quickly and smoothly right off the bat. We looked at ads in the classified section of the local newspaper. She called the most promising one. These ads are placed by real estate agents, so let me explain how apartment rental is set up here:

The apartment has a monthly rental fee called Kaltmiete (KM), or “cold rent.” Which is the basic monthly charge. Then there is Nebenkosten (NK), or “next-to costs,” which means extra monthly charges for water, sewage, trash pick-up, heating and anything else that is provided by the landlord. So an apartment at KM 200 Euros a month might have NK of 100, totaling 300 a month. Then there is a two-month KM security deposit and first month’s KM and NK up front. In addition to all this, the real estate agent gets two month’s KM commission plus tax, which is 19%. In this example, the 200 KM apartment would cost 1,164 Euros just to move in. In dollars that’s just over $1,500. Whew! I didn’t know any of this going on, mind you.

We met with the real estate agent on a Friday at the apartment’s address, which was on a relatively quiet street in Bamberg near the harbor area, a neighborhood that is fairly industrial-looking. There was a butcher shop on the street and a wine shop next to it. Between those two shops was a driveway to a courtyard area where there was parking. The apartment building had doctors’ office on the ground floor facing the courtyard, and a new fitness studio was being built on the other side of the parking lot. It was not very attractive, I have to admit.

But the apartment was! It was a spacious one-room studio with a built-in kitchenette. It had new laminate floors and was renovated a couple of years ago. Lovely. And internet access was included in the NK. I told him I’d take it on the spot. It was 195 Euros KM and 90 NK. Not bad for the location and quality of the place. It was not furnished, though, and there was an additional 250 Euros security deposit to cover the new flooring and a glass shower enclosure.

I was very happy! Hilde and Adi were also very excited and told me I couldn’t find a nicer place for the money in that location. We even drove to a furniture store that day to window-shop. What a relief to have a place! The real estate agent promised to call with details the following Monday.

That was on a Friday. That next week I managed to figure out a way to use my online email drafts function as a makeshift word processor, which has enabled me to work at the bookstore downtown, albeit more slowly than usual. So I’ve been trekking it to Bamberg each day for the last couple of weeks and writing there. Hilde and Adi, plus their various and sundry relations in the village have been generous enough to give me rides to the bus stop or to Bamberg each day so that I’ve only had to walk the 2km home in the evenings. I don’t mind it because the weather has been wonderfully sunny and cool, plus I’ve enjoyed the exercise.

I have been so grateful to work, but the chairs there could be a little softer! Still, I have no way to post photos or anything else off my own Macbook, which is why there have been no travel journals until now.

On Wednesday Hilde called the real estate agent because we hadn’t heard anything from him. He said that it wasn’t for sure that the apartment was mine because so many people wanted it. But, if I could bring him my pay statements from the last three months plus a letter from my employer saying they are employing me BY NOON THAT DAY, then he would add the info to the application for the landlord.

Crap! All the info I had about my writing jobs was online! Hilde called the bookstore and asked if I could print something out there from the internet. No, they didn’t have a printer for customers. So we jumped in the car, amid great stress and angst, and sped to Bamberg to try to find somewhere to print something. Long story short, we ended up going into a Vodafone mobile phone shop and begging the guy there to let me print something out. He did, and was very accommodating about it, though I’m sure he wasn’t supposed to do that. I tipped him 10 Euros for his trouble.

We then sped to the real estate agent’s office and dropped off the info. By this time I pretty much knew I wasn’t getting the apartment after all. If they had so many applications, a foreigner without a residence permit wasn’t going to fill the bill, I’m sure. The roller coaster had dropped.

I went to the bookstore and wrote that day anyway, but I felt more like hiding under the desk instead. When I returned to Hilde and Adi’s that evening, Hilde told me that the agent had called and that I hadn’t gotten the place. Surprise, surprise.

However, though this generous woman was getting her near-death of a cold, she had called another ad in the paper for me. While that particular place had been taken before she’d called, this second real estate agent said a place had just come up on the online listings. This new listing was in Bischberg, the small town where the bus stop nearest Hilde and Adi is. It’s where I wanted to live in the first place. It was four-room apartment with proper kitchen and bath and the KM was just five Euros more than the studio apartment in Bamberg! Sounded perfect as far as we could tell.

We had an appointment with this agent on the following Friday afternoon. That morning, thinking I would need the paperwork again, I asked Hilde’s niece, who lives next door and happened to drop by that morning, if she knew of any place I could print something from the internet. She said her daughter had a connection and printer and that I could come over immediately and print out whatever I want. In addition, she was taking her husband to the doctor that morning and she would gladly give me a ride to the bus stop. Things were working out for me once again!

I acquired the necessary papers and ride to town and worked a little. Hilde met me at 12:15 to meet the real estate agent. God bless her for chaperoning me like that!

I instantly liked the agent much better than the first guy. Also, we were able to see the apartment an hour later. We met the landlady, Frau Duetsch (PLEASE don’t say douche!), an 85-year old woman with perfect skin and hearing. The apartment was the top story of her house on Bischberg’s main drag. The street-level is a flower shop and apartment for the flower shop proprietor, the second level is Frau D’s place, and the third is the rental apartment. This is a common setup in Europe.

Frau D showed us the place, a really, really old place with loud, creaky wooden floors and very low ceilings. It was way, way uglier than the studio in Bamberg. And it was furnished in early vintage Samantha Stevens with “old lady” slipcovers and tablecloths. But it WAX furnished. And it has a large patio on the top floor adjacent to the bedroom.

It seemed that Frau D was trying to sell the place to us! Even though I was a little disappointed with the appearance of the place, it’s in the location I wanted, it’s very secure, it’s furnished, it’s big enough for two people, and the price was definitely right. Plus she only wanted one month’s KM as a security deposit and shaved off some money from the NK because I won’t have a TV. And she would call to have the electricity transferred to my name so I wouldn’t have to do any of that.

I took the place! We set the move-in date as May 1 and signed a contract. She didn’t ask for the salary paperwork at all. There is no required lease term and I only have to give two month’s notice when I move out; most places require three. I have to admit to not being quite so excited about this place as the first, but it’s functional and will be a good starting place.

The day after that we had dinner with Hilde’s daughter and her husband. Werner is a retired techie and told me that I should get a “Web and Walk Stick” from the phone company which would allow me internet access anywhere in Germany for about 30 Euros a month. It’s like an air card that I plug into my laptop so I could work in cafes, parks, airports, virtually anywhere except the village where Hilde and Adi live!

So here I am at my German address, writing to you on my Web and Walk Stick! I’m going to change it to residential service if I can, though, because it isn’t as fast as I need. Anyway, once I removed all the “old lady” textiles and rearranged some of the furniture, I like the place a lot more than I did on first impression. But I still have a lot of work to do!

Next week I go to register as a resident and begin the freelance work permit process. I’m sure you will be hearing about how that turns out!

Here’s a photo of the outside of my new digs. I’m the windows on the top floor above the flower shop:

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