Our Local Grocery Store Wanted Me To Feel At Home

I turned past the frozen food aisle at our local grocery store the other day, and found that for arbitrary reasons, one of the endcaps is now the “American” food section. It’s hard to take a good picture with my phone (I’m still mourning the fact that I had to give up my iPhone), but I will tell you what is hard to see. The banner translates to: “Tasty food from the land of unlimited possibilities”. On the shelves there is microwave popcorn, barbecue sauce, hot sauce, maple syrup, marshmallows, heinz relish, squeezy cheez, campbell’s tomato soup, brownie mix and peanut butter.

Now if only they’d get salsa and corn tortillas…

The "American Food" display at our local grocery store.
The “American Food” display at our local grocery store.
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In and around Essen

A short update!

On Saturday we went to the Zeche Zollverein.  Which is a large industrial facility in the northeast of Essen.  It was formerly a coal mine, and coking plant.  It was shuttered in 1986 and purchased by the city of Essen shortly thereafter.  It was converted to a park/event space/industrial heritage site, and dedicated a world heritage site in 2001.

We went to visit, since it is one of the more famous places in Essen, and since Saturday was one of the best weather-days we’ve seen.  It turns out it’s a really cool place and we had a great time wandering about checking out the sites.  They have a “swimming pool” which is open seasonally.  It turns out the swimming pool is two shipping containers welded together with a deck around them.

Apparently they also have a shallow pond used for ice skating in winter!

I, of course, took photos.  And have included some of the better ones below.

Visas (or How I Ended Up at the Foreigner’s Office Carrying a Litter Box)

For a German visa, Justin’s company generously sponsored us for a “Blue Card”, the EU equivalent of a US H1-B visa. This is a visa intended for skilled workers, and can lead to permanent residency if you meet certain qualifications. We were lucky as well in that the relocation company set up our appointment, and was going to send someone to assist us at the Ausländer Behörde (translated as Foreigner’s or Aliens’ Bureau).

Our appointment was for 8 AM on a Monday morning. The office is across town, about a 30-minute walk away. Most of the transit here is in a radial pattern, and so there was no useful way to get there besides hoofing it. This being Germany in January, we trudged across town in the dark, hoping that it wouldn’t rain or snow on us. We had a backpack full of documents, as the relocation company informed us we needed to bring:

  • Justin’s work contract
  • Both our passports
  • Our apartment lease
  • Our marriage license
  • A translation of our marriage license into German
  • Biometric/passport photos of both of us
  • A certificate verifying we have health insurance

We also had Justin’s master’s degree diploma, as well as mine, just in case.

We arrived with five minutes to spare, and went through a metal detector with the rest of the migrants. The relocation agent texted Justin, stating she was stuck in the worst traffic she has ever seen, and would try to get there. She told us our appointment number, and explained we go up to the second floor to wait for our number to appear on a screen in the lounge area. After a few minutes of waiting (in true German fashion, the screens turned on and started showing appointment numbers at precisely 8 AM), our number popped up and we went to the office number the screen specified. A woman greeted us in German, heard Justin’s response, and immediately switched to English. Justin told her we were there for a Blue Card, and she asked for our documents. Luckily we brought the diploma, as she asked for Justin’s “credential” (this seems to be much more common in Europe than in America, a friend had to produce proof of her Ph. D for a postdoc in England). The staff member took our documents, and said we could go back to the lounge and she would call us back in when she needed us.

About 20 minutes later, she called us back in. She returned our documents and said we need to make an appointment to pick up our visas. We made the appointment and left with a letter stating we were now registered residents of our city. Our relocation agent still had not arrived, but we were pretty proud of ourselves for doing it on our own, and it seemed to go so smoothly! Of course, we got rain on the way back home.

Later that day, Justin got a somewhat-frantic call from the relocation agent. Apparently, despite walking into the Ausländer Behörde and asking for a Blue Card, we did not have the correct paperwork filed for a Blue Card. Furthermore, as a registered resident, Justin could no longer work without a visa – previously, it was similar to being on a business trip, he was getting paid back in the US for work done here. Obviously, this was unpopular with all involved. Human Resources sent Justin to work from home for a day to avoid legal issues they believed existed. Finally, calls by Justin’s boss and the company’s US HR determined he could still work legally, but we needed to go back to the Ausländer Behörde ASAP to get the right paperwork in for the Blue Card (we could only stay legally without it for three months).

A new, sooner appointment was made at the Ausländer Behörde. This time, as the appointment was in the afternoon, the relocation agent picked Justin up from work. I hoofed it over there early, because the pet store is down the street from the Ausländer Behörde, and I needed to get an actual litterbox for the cat – he’d been using a Rubbermaid container, and it was a little makeshift. I was a little worried that our appointment would run late and the pet store would close, thus I accomplished this errand pre-appointment. An unexpected consequence was that then I sat in a crowded waiting room at the Ausländer Behörde carrying a litterbox, and dragged it up to our appointment. Oops. Superficially, this second appointment went much the same as the first – we produced some documents, etc. However, it was on the third floor (our relocation agent said the third floor was better than the second for some reason), and this time, we got fingerprinted and a new letter was printed saying our visas were on the way.

This new letter was very important, because it must be produced any time we crossed the border. We headed back to the States for a wedding, and also to London in the interval prior to our visa arrival. This letter was also problematic, as it was printed on what we estimate to be about 85% recycled paper, and it felt like it might disintegrate with short notice. We carried it around gingerly in its own folder until this past week, when our visas and fancy holographic ID cards arrived. Yay EU residency!

German Customer Service

I am looking into taking German classes (I missed the start of the semester for the local Volkhochschule/community college), and I had this great exchange with a language school via email:

Aileen: “I am a newcomer to Germany and interested in taking an A1 course. Is it possible to sit in on a session of the ongoing A1 course prior to registering for the course starting 07 April?”

Local language school: “Hello Aileen,

it is impossible.

If you are in Germany you have to register online or in the office of the school and pay in advance to reserve a place in the course.

For the A1 course you have pay in advance 250 €, the rest of course price, i.e. 240€, you schould pay till 01.04.2015

Regards”

That’s not a typo on my part, they did finish the email with “Regards” and then no name and a generic corporate signature.

Also, as a sidenote, I don’t expect people here to speak English, but if you’re advertising German as a Second Language courses, couldn’t your website be in at least fairly basic German, with some sort of blurb in at least one of the other EU languages? How are you planning to reach your intended audience of non-German speakers if all your promotional and informational material is in German? Thankfully, my in-house German translator and I have narrowed it down to a couple of promising programs, only one of which has any material in English.