One Year Anniversary: Rachel’s Life in Germany

Three weeks ago marked the one year anniversary of my arrival in Germany. I had talked in December about perhaps having a little anniversary party, but 2018 came at me with more than enough plans. Suddenly it was February 1 and I had completely forgotten its significance.

Beautifully, two women here in Stuttgart not only reminded me, but made me feel incredibly loved and appreciated. I had a private blues dance lesson scheduled with each of them because it happened to be my afternoon off from my day job. The first was one of the first people I ever spoke to about coming to Stuttgart, was the one who checked out my first rental apartment and set up my first blues dance classes, and was very helpful as I sought my first work visa. She arrived with a meaningful hand-made card and my favorite local chocolate. The second has been friend, confidant, language teacher, and repeated moving van driver. She brought me a beautiful daffodil plant (which amazingly I have not yet killed!)

These lovely gestures got me thinking about what spending the past year in Stuttgart has meant to me, and how fortunate I am in my life here.

I will probably never stop getting asked why I could possibly have chosen Stuttgart after having lived in a city like New York. At least I’ve gotten better at answering.

Community

I love belonging to smaller communities. Part of that is just getting to see some of the same people every week (it sounds so banal, but try going without it for a few years!) However I also think it enhances my sense of connection to the group.

The Stuttgart Blues Kitchen dancers are indescribably delightful. We dance together, help each other learn, share food, celebrate each other’s birthdays, go on outings to a mountain or someone’s vegetable plot, and sometimes just sit beside each other on someone’s couch to watch movies. We have lots of different people who propose and organize activities, and there’s plenty of enthusiastic yeses.

The kizomba scene and I didn’t really click (let’s say we made it past the third date but gave up due to a lack of chemistry), but I have appreciated exploring other scenes. The Brazilian zouk dance community is slowly blossoming, and it has been so rewarding to host practice sessions where we can build our skills before traveling to a festival. I am part of a food-sharing community that meets weekly to assemble an enormous meal from rescued food, bringing me into contact with artists and travelers and activists. I’ve enjoyed going to meet-ups for expats, for LGBT folks, and for gin lovers.

Enough

I appreciate having very few triggers for FOMO here. Living in New York is exciting but there’s always so much happening that it’s kind of a slog to even sort options out and make a decision. It’s rare here that I find myself torn between too many dance socials or friends’ celebrations or cultural events.

That said, I feel like there’s a rich variety of options. Stuttgart’s population is 40% foreign, so it feels very cosmopolitan. There are always enough interesting events happening. Better yet, here’s always someone I can call to make plans for a trip in a few months, a food festival in a few weeks, or a spontaneous dinner meeting.

Stuttgart isn’t very large, but that has a lot of advantages. I appreciate that it takes only 30 minutes to go from my apartment to the main train station. It’s so convenient to have not only grocery stores, pharmacies, and a bakery a short walk away, but even my GP (doctor), an optician, and a DHL store. It’s great to be able to invite people over and know friends who live on the other side of town won’t find it a chore to attend. And I love being mere steps away from a forest criss-crossed with walking paths.

Home

One of my aims in coming to Stuttgart was to create a home. After years of traveling, with my 30th birthday coming up fast, I was ready to put down roots. And slowly but surely, I have been.

The search for a place of my own was long, discouraging, and had me close to giving up and hoping to find a place with good roommates. It was a huge boost to finally luck into an apartment that was not only affordable and close to the forest, but actually a wonderful place to live – and the kind of place I could never dream of having in a major city.

Literally every day I am in my apartment I am actively grateful. I wake up and open the rolling shutters to a lovely view, even when the weather isn’t ideal. I like to spread my beautiful duvet across my bed and know I’m coming back to its comfort that night. I step into the shower and get hot water in mere seconds. I have not yet gotten over how convenient it is to have pull-out faucets in both my bathroom and kitchen sinks. I only have to walk down to the basement to do laundry. I hang my clean clothes on hangers, organized by color or type. I walk into my living room and appreciate the wide open space, perfect for dancing, as well as the newly covered couches. I come home with groceries and delight in putting them away in my wonderfully arranged kitchen. I might not have the fastest Internet connection, but I haven’t once needed to reset my router since moving in four months ago.

Stability

I fought to get a self-employment visa here, but these days I’m grateful I was put in a position where I needed to pitch my current bosses the idea of actually hiring me. Splitting my time between working for a German company and working for myself is going well. I like having some work that helps people but doesn’t really impact me personally. I appreciate being able to make a budget and plan for my bills. Having public health insurance is well worth the hit to my paycheck every month.

I also like the people I work with. My co-workers are hard-working but have a sense of humor. They’re also up for offering a bit of help outside of work. One co-worker helped me ship my knee scooter off to its future owner. One of my bosses took some time to help me figure out how to fix an annoying problem on this very site that had been plaguing me since I had to rebuild it back in January 2016.

I’ve said it before, but living on the road was exhausting in ways I couldn’t fully recognize until I stopped. After a year of more or less settled life, I wonder how I ever managed before. When I plan a weekend away, I see how much time goes into booking, packing, traveling, etc. Unlike my few months in Philadelphia or Brooklyn, this time I feel no renewed itch in my feet. I want to stay.

I like having my home and my routines. I love having a favorite place to get fresh bread or buy produce. I have a fitness studio membership and I actually use it. I still lose things regularly, but now I’m almost certain I’ll find them again. I watched the trees slowly change color and lose their leaves, and now I notice the days getting longer by the changes in the patterns of sun and shade on the walls.

I find that my priorities have changed significantly since I arrived here in Germany. I feel like I’ve been in a battle to “slow down” for years now, and I’m still struggling, but now I feel sure that I’m moving in the right direction. I do my work well and then I leave it alone. I don’t spend time on marketing or worry when I have students cancel on me. I invest time in my friendships and in taking care of myself. I still like going out and trying something new or meeting new people, but I have a much more secure place from which to venture out.

So now I just have to convince the government to let me stay! I’ve been working on my taxes since January. I’m scheduled to take the “Leben in Deutschland” (Living in Germany) test on April 11 and a B1 certification test on April 13. I plan to start my renewal application by the end of April so that I won’t end up in limbo when my visa expires at the end of June. If all goes well, I’ll be granted another two years to enjoy my chosen home.