Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ooooo- eel!

Well, this is all about trying new things, right? This was pretty new! Smoked eel! A few weeks ago, Atec had their summer party at the lake cottage of the owner's parents. The boss's dad is mostly retired and loves to fish on the lake. Even on the evening of the party, he went out to check his traps. Low and behold, he brought in a bunch of eels slithering in the bottom of his boat! This was the same lake I had just been out kayaking on, unaware of the abundance of freshwater eels below the surface! Yikes!

Eel is a delicacy in this area. On Friday, Herr Hans brought in a trunkload of smoked eel and sold them to Atec colleagues on their way out of work! These are the three that were lucky enough to come to our house! They were wrapped up in this white paper and my first question to Aaron was, "Do they still have their heads?" You can see the answer.

But here I am, seven thousand miles from home in a country whose language I don't speak, trying to be a house wife for the first time- and I'm going to let a skinny little smoked fish scare me? Oh no! So, get out the crackers and let's eat eel!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Meine Arbeit mit Atec ist gut. (My job with Atec is good.)

An interesting path led me to be employed by Atec Pharmatechnic in Sörup, Germany. In 2006 and 2007, I travelled to Atec for a Pfizer project. I found the work environment of a small European company to be a lot different than that of a large American corporation. The focus seemed to be on customer satisfaction and creating a quality product. While at Atec, my interactions with the owner of the company (Hans-Werner) were positive. And exploring a different country (a different continent!) was an exciting adventure, even if only for short business trips. Jackie and I always liked the idea of visiting Europe, and we agreed maybe it was time for a change. After my last Pfizer trip, I called Hans-Werner and inquired about the possibility of working with Atec…

I made that phone call in September of 2007, and my first day of work here was June 2, 2008. Negotiations with Hans-Werner were easy, but figuring out all of the details was a long and arduous task. After Jackie and I completely dismissed the idea at the end of the year, Hans-Werner called again in January. I guess moving to Germany was meant to be.

My first four weeks here were spent away from Jackie. It was hard to make the transition without her, but it allowed me extra time to spend at work and to pave the way for our life in Germany. We joked about me returning to the “mother country” to establish the homestead before she arrived.

My responsibilities at Atec are diverse. My first project is to develop a model for the equipment commissioning and qualification process. This includes writing policies and procedures for equipment (such as stopper processors) that Atec builds for pharmaceutical companies. I also will be acting as a project manager for North American contracts. My first contract is with a company in Puerto Rico!

I like thinking outside of the box and having the freedom to run with my ideas, and so far my proposals have been well accepted. After my first presentation, Hans-Werner wanted the documents to be ready for our customers the next day, even though I thought they were only first drafts! Needless to say, I have been busy and the variety of my responsibilities has kept each day exciting.

My employment status with Atec is unique. Atec has plans to start a subsidiary company in the United States, providing qualification services to pharmaceutical companies. So, I am not actually employed by Atec Pharmatechnic, but by my own company called Atec Qualifizierungs. The idea is that when Jackie and I move back to the US, I will continue working as the manager of this subsidiary company. Only time will tell!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Red Tape!

It seems pretty straight forward - if you are going to live in Germany, then you are going to need a residency permit. How hard can it be?

To get a RESIDENCY PERMIT in Germany, you have to prove you will be employed in Germany. Makes sense, why let someone into the country if they can’t support themselves. So, get a work permit! To get the work permit all you need is proof of your health insurance. But to get health insurance, you have to see the local doctor for a check up. Really? Okay, see the doctor. Since you don’t have health insurance, you better stop by the bank for money to pay for your health check-up. What, you say? You don’t have a bank account? Well, get one, how hard can that be? To get a bank account in Germany you absolutely must, without fail, have a RESIDENCY PERMIT, no questions asked.

Oh, stop by and register with the local authorities, if you think of it. They will need to see your German driver’s license…

City mouse, country mouse

A lot of the differences we are experiencing in Soerup have more to do with moving to a small village than the fact that this village is located in Germany. I spent my first ten years in rural Illinois, but since then I have been a suburban or urban girl. Aaron was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs. As adults, we have lived in Madison, Wisconsin, and Kalamazoo, Michigan, both cities of at least 100,000. So, to live in a town of 3,000 and to smell cows when the wind blows a certain direction is something new for us both!

Everything is so close! All three of Soerup's grocery stores are less than a mile away, so we can easily ride our bikes or walk. And Aaron's workplace is also less than a mile away so he comes home for lunch every day. It seems that all you need for daily living can be found right in town without getting in the car.

We are in the midst of agriculture. Last week we took a walk and one block past the grocery store we ran into a dairy farm! There are many cattle pastures around, as well as some sheep and horses. There are a lot of wheat and corn fields and I have heard about the canola fields that bloom bright yellow in the spring.

And people are friendly! Since we mostly get around town on foot or bike, we are greeted by nearly everyone we pass. Even kids say "Moin!" (the northern German equivalent of "Hi!") Neighbors know each other and you can't go anywhere without seeing someone you know. Amazingly, this has already been true for us!

I know for many of you who grew up in small towns or still live in small towns, this is not exciting stuff. But for us, it is certainly part of the adventure!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Our Haus

So this is our new home in Soerup! It is a duplex owned by Atec Group and we now occupy the left side! As you can see, it is a very Euro modern style, which is funny because it sits in the middle of a very traditional village neighborhood! It is also a big change from the style and lay-out of our house in Kalamazoo.

It has been interesting to settle in. While we Americans are used to big open floor plans, it struck us that every room in this home has a door. There is a door at the entryway, there is a door on the kitchen, and a door on the living room. So everything seems quite separated. I think it makes sense for energy efficiency in the winter because each room can be heated individually. All the doors will also make it convenient for jet-lagged guests to sleep in while I make coffee and plan great adventures for us!

We are adjusting to our new kitchen as well. Of course, we were very spoiled to have a newly remodeled kitchen in Kalamazoo! The appliances here are small. The refrigerator is like a large dorm fridge, not even as big as most apartment fridges I've seen. The oven looked so small that I took the dimensions when we were here in March and realized that many of my cookie sheets and baking stones would not fit! A sad moment for the cookie baker! But, amazingly we were able to fit everything in the kitchen that needs to be there!

Another interesting difference in this house and others I've seen here is that there are no closets! Not a single rack for hanging clothes and almost no hidden places for junk! We had a trip to IKEA soon after we received our container and bought clothes racks. We have three bedrooms upstairs and one is rather small so we have turned it into a walk-in closet. We are also embarassed to realize that we have WAY more clothing than is normal by German standards. They don't need as much space for clothes because they just don't have as much. That seems to be true about a lot of things- less is more!

We also discovered that light fixtures and bathroom "furniture" is considered personal property to be taken with you when you move. So, we had no bathroom mirrors or cupborads and no lights at all. The IKEA trip solved the bathroom dilemma but we have decided to hold off on light fixtures. The days are quite long here in summer- the sky is not dark until after 11:00 PM and there is full daylight by 5:00 AM! (I dread what this means in December but for now it is nice to have natural light).

So, today marks three weeks that I have been here. I am starting to feel settled into the house. I will post more pictures of it soon!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Hardest Part...

Many people have asked what the hardest transition has been or what is really different here. Far and away the most challenging and exasperating part of this new life is not knowing how to speak, read, or understand the German language. It is a most vulnerable feeling to look at a sign and not know what it says. I never paid attention to food labels before, but I am now so grateful for a photograph of a tomato or kidney bean on the front of a can!

And when people speak to you (as it seems they do with frightening frequency here) they have an expectant look on their faces, almost as if they want you to answer them. It is hard not to feel like a total fool when you can't make out a single word of it.

I have a newfound admiration for my two-year-old niece Nova who is learning to speak English with great speed and enthusiasm. Oh to be free of inhibition and pride! But I am becoming humble as I realize that I have to speak German badly for a long time before I ever speak it properly!

Thank goodness for Frau Brueggemann, who patiently teaches us German in her home for four hours a week. She studied English in school for nine years and gained her fluency in English while in college in Great Britain. So, she speaks English with a British accent and in that dialect. Kind of funny for us Americans! I can only imagine how painful it is to hear us struggle through each sentence, but she is always encouraging and kind . I think we are lucky! She lives in the next village over, so we ride our bikes there for lessons on Tuesday and Friday mornings. She is keeping us busy with homework every other day of the week.

We have actually been fortunate that many people in Germany speak English. Since Aaron's company does work internationally, many of his colleagues are very competent and comfortable in English. One of his colleagues and his wife live in our neighborhood and have been quite friendly and welcoming. However, Maren does not speak English. I can't miss the irony that the one person who has reached out to me in friendship is someone with whom I can barely communicate! She does part-time day care so has free time and took me shopping last week in Flensburg. Tomorrow we have another trip planned! As difficult as it is and as much as I struggle, I can't say no to an offer of friendship. And hopefully, by the time I can speak with her she won't be exhausted by the effort it has taken!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Guten Tag!

Well, what do you know? Here we are in Germany! So many months of planning and discussing- now we are here and have a computer (and almost all other belongings) so we can catch everyone up on the last two whirlwind months and keep you posted on all our adventures and misadventures on this side of the big pond!