Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nailed it!

So another milestone has been reached this week in Germany. I am pleased to say that I am now a licensed driver! After my vacation I began behind the wheel lessons. The first lesson was definitely shocking-I didn’t crash or anything, but for the first time to be in road traffic behind the wheel was a bit jarring. A chance to apply all the facts I learned over the last six months, and let me tell you, checking boxes on a computer screen is a lot easier. I had to get used to all the other traffic around me (cyclists, scooter drivers, buses, dog walkers, old couples with bags from the bakery and the occasional pack of children). I also had to keep an eye out for signage, monitor my speed limit and make sure to check over my shoulder before every maneuver. 

After a few lessons everything became more comfortable, and on Friday halfway through the exam I realized that nothing had gone wrong (OK, perhaps it took me an extra few seconds to decelerate to 50 kmh after driving on a ‘fast street,’ into a village-but I totally noticed it and slowed down without having to be told). The tester (a third party examiner and the driving instructor are in the car for the practical exam) was very pleasant and she pretty much talked to my instructor the whole time so I just had to play chauffeur and not hurt anyone. Mission accomplished! Not looking to get a car any time soon, but there is a car sharing program here that could be quite nice for once in a while drives.  

The semester is in full swing. I’ve had two weeks now at the new gig and everything is great. Next week is a holiday here, so that’ll be enjoyable. The weather has suddenly turned downright wintery. It’s been quite mild and fall-like this month, but within the last few days the night temperature has dropped below zero and during the day it’s under 10. And as of this morning, we've changed our clocks back an hour, so it's going into, 'the dark season.' I don't mind though.

And what would an end of October post be without some pictures of trees with fall colors? 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A summer of firsts

Looking back on my third summer here in Germany I’ve realized it’s been a summer of firsts for me. It’s the first summer I didn’t have to go to the immigration office as my visa is good for another year (woohoo!). I passed my theoretical road test on the first try (double woohoo!). And I just got back from my first typical German holiday.

So about the theoretical exam; I know I’ve written several posts about it describing how nervous I was and how difficult the content would be. Truth be told, the software I was using to prepare ( turned out to be perfect. Admittedly, I had to put in a fair bit of work. I started with it last year but then cooled off after a few months. I then resumed back in April and worked pretty consistently for a few hours several times a week up until September. In the days after my California trip I was studying at least four hours a day leading up to the exam. I must say, it paid off. 

I was nervous going into the exam-I knew the test would be on the computer, but I had no idea what the layout would be, if the questions would be variations of the ones I so diligently committed to memory, or even if maybe there would be topics I hadn’t discovered yet. But seriously, any expats in Germany looking to get their license transcribed who need to take the theoretical exam (in their own language), without going to driving school, I would sincerely recommend that website because the actual exam was no joke exactly like the software. I sat down and blasted through the 30 questions in 15 minutes. I started to go back and check my answers, but like any multiple choice test I've taken, and having graded enough of them myself, I decided your first choice tends to be the safest. So I submitted my work and moments later saw on the screen that I had passed.Though it’s an occasion to be proud of, I am not 100% road legal yet. I am now allowed to drive on German roads, which means I have scheduled my first behind the wheel lesson. I still need to pass a practical (driving) exam, and in theory could do that whenever, but figured it’d be best to get a few lessons in first to get an idea of what the examiner will be looking for.

So on to my other first, a typical German holiday in Mallorca. For those unfamiliar, Mallorca lies in the Mediterranean Sea and is part of the Balearic Islands (including Menorca, Cabrera, Ibiza, among others). 

Mallorca has developed into a prototype of mass tourism with all the comforts and attractions expected by tourists. It welcomes millions of visitors per year (nearly 10 million in 2006), 80% of whom come from foreign countries. From the graph you can see that the largest group of foreign tourists is German with the British coming in second.

So to put it in a nutshell, tourists abound! That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. We stayed in Sa Coma, a town on the eastern coast of the island in the municipality of Sant Llorenç des Cardassar. The weather was warm and sunny, the beach was minutes away, and I had with me a guide who had visited the island plenty of times and thus knew where to go and what to see. I must admit, the bulk of the six days we spent  were either on the beach or by the pool. I went through 2 books, numerous podcasts and a bottle of sun screen. 

Of the millions of visitors who flock to Mallorca annually, more than half of them are “package tourists,” which means that their flight, transportation to and from airport and hotel costs (usually including food) are all together. This has advantages and disadvantages, particularly for the local economies as the money spent at a hotel chain doesn’t necessarily get pumped back into the local economy directly. If you book an “all inclusive” package, then you pay extra, but drink for free at the hotel. To those looking to enjoy a sun and alcohol soaked vacation, this seems like an obvious choice. However, it also means you’d probably spend most of your time at the hotel choosing from the shrunken drink menu of the all-inclusive package. I found it better to walk around and find local joints where to enjoy a few drinks. On one such stroll we went to a restaurant my guide had frequented in his youth. The food was outstanding and the service was just as good. The server, a friendly older Spaniard, asks where I’m from, I say, “California.” He then proceeded to drop a little knowledge on me. For the Californian readers, you may recall as an elementary school student learning about Father Junípero Serra and all the missions he founded (I’ll avoid describing treatment of the locals in said missions for now). Well, would you care to venture a guess as to where he is from? If you said Mallorca, then you’re correct! 

Anyway, it was a truly relaxing vacation. I enjoyed plenty of sunshine and will now proceed to cover up the tan I acquired with layers and scarves as all of a sudden it’s fall in Germany! The new semester is upon me and I have plenty of work to get done. I’ll conclude with a few highlights of the trip. Hope everyone had as nice a summer as I did!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Californian fix

So I'm back in the homeland. I'll keep the post picture oriented as I feel images tell more than me explaining what I've been up to. Suffice it to say, there's been no shortage of sunshine, family, friends, grilling, Mexican food and/or good times. I still have a few days ahead of me , but I just wanted to share the excellence that is my vacation so far.

The journey there...
Of course, a little grill action.

Crystal clear day at the beach with my sis


Support your local record store, the internet is slowly shutting them down.

Pool party with some homies.

Joy riding in dad's car

A fantastic concert

Balboa Park with my mom

A baseball game

And plenty of time with this little peanut.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Another day in Germany, another permission to acquire.

Word of the week: Fahrerlaubnis

Get ready because you’re about to enter another one of my adventures with German bureaucracy! I’ve at last reached the final stages of getting my German driver’s license, which necessitated a trip to my favorite place, the Bürgeramt (I don’t know, city hall?). In my two plus years in Germany I’ve become quite familiar with the stifling bureaucracy that permeates almost every aspect of life as a foreigner. In the beginning, there was the ongoing battle for my Aufenthaltserlaubnis (permission to reside), then the continuing struggle for Arbeitserlaubnis (permission to work), today I discovered the need for another type of permission (erlaubnis), namely that to drive a car.

I’ve talked about the steps to get a license, but I’ll give a quick and dirty run down of the circumstances and what hoops I had to jump through. As a foreigner with a driver’s license, I can have my California license transcribed (umschreiben lassen). Since there is no reciprocity for a Californian license in Germany, probably all of Europe-although I think I read somewhere that it would translate in Belgium…anyway, since that license isn’t accepted, I am obliged to take the theoretical exam and the practical (behind-the-wheel) exam. If I do this before three years after my entry to the country, then I don’t have to go through the whole program of driving school and required behind-the-wheel lessons, which saves time, money and above all stress. Fortunately, the theoretical exam is offered in English, so I found a website ( with sample tests that I found really helpful in preparing. I’ve been pretty diligent over the last several months and decided I’ve reached a point where I am ready to get the ball rolling.

So, first document to get squared away was a vision test. Went to my local optician and took care of that, €7 and a few minutes later I am cleared to drive (with glasses). Next was a certification of first aid training, which was also relatively painless. It cost €50 and was over in one Saturday. I actually found it quite useful and think it’s good that everyone is required to go through that, it was only basic stuff (recovery position, CPR, bandaging a wound, making an emergency call)-on the sign-up sheet I was last and saw the birth dates of some of the other participants a couple of whom were born in 1995, I felt a bit old. Next step was to have my Californian license translated. To do this I had to go to ADAC, for the American readers, it’s like the AAA of Germany, an automotive club. That took two weeks and cost €38. Next I had to get a Meldebestätigung (basically a formal registration where my adress in Germany is)-actually I already did that way back when I first arrived, but just for that extra bit of fun, when you want to apply for Fahrerlaubnis the Meldebestätigung can’t be more than three months old. So that was taken care of in about 5 minutes and €6. So, now I’ve got all my documents together, I’m chomping at the bit to just get through this circus of paperwork and drive a freakin car already, but not quite yet. 

The next step was to find a Fahrschule (driving school). After a little research from my German I found one that has trainers who speak English, which means I can take behind the wheel lessons in English-which is comforting. My German is manageable, but I would prefer to go through all that stuff in English. So, went to the driving school to register with them. This cost €60, but then I got the final piece to the puzzle of transcribing a foreign license- the Antrag auf Fahrerlaubnis (application for permission to drive). This is when I discovered I’d need yet another step before taking the tests. The woman at the driving school told me to submit all my documents, plus this application, along with a biometric passport photo to the Strassenverkehrsamt (DMV). I went there today and had a bit of a wait before I got to the window to hand over my Unterlagen (paperwork) to the Beamter (clerk). After carefully checking everything, stamping my application with several stamps, signing and dating it, she then collected €42 from me and told me I’d receive Post (mail) in 4 weeks, presumably after another Beamter has read signed and stamped the very same application, at which point I can take this letter to my driving school and make an appointment to take the theoretical exam. 

So this Fahrerlaubnis is not a driver’s license-it basically allows me to drive on public streets once I pass the 30 question theoretical exam (€40). After I pass that, then I can take a few behind the wheel lessons (€30 per lesson) before the practical test (€90+€120 fee for TÜV, don’t even get me started on that). I figured it would be useful to get a feel for the road and have the instructor run through what kinds of things I should do in the actual exam. 

So now all I can do is sit and wait to get the letter and continue studying. I am cautiously optimistic about the exams. All in all, I’d say the process will take another couple months until I am licensed (assuming I pass both tests on the first go)-at which point I will have to surrender my California license, which I am sad about. In theory a German license is valid in the states, but I can imagine a situation where a Cailfornian cop would pull me over, take a look at my German license and ask, “What’s this?”

Life as a foreigner in Germany is filled with experiences like this. Lots of collecting documents, certifying documents, then submitting the documents to be further verified by someone else. This costs time and money, but it’s just how the system operates here. But eventually I’ll be on the road, until then I’ll keep reviewing!

The slew of documents I had to submit

 Always a bit of a wait at the Bürgeramt
First aid dummy I learned CPR on. 


To close, some questions from the theoretical exam.