A Week in the Thüringer Wald

A couple of weeks ago, I joined a group of students for a week in the Thüringer Wald, or Thuringian Forest. Our trip was their first group outing since Covid, and it was a delight to be in a reasonably rustic environment with young people who were both comfortable in that context and genuinely glad to be there.

This campground relies significantly on volunteer labour for renovation work and there was a great deal to do. This wasn’t the type of trip where we were doing that, but I think it would have been good fun.

It was dark at night and we were able to see the Milky Way and the Big Dipper, though my photography skills and equipment cannot attest to that. We also made a fire every night, making for a much warmer evening than we would have had otherwise. There’s poetry in sitting under the stars in the cold, but there’s comfort in sitting under the stars with a fire.

While the afternoons were largely free, we had activities planned each morning. A real highlight was the hike led by the campground director, Dagmar. She taught us about the bark beetles that are killing the young trees here in the beautiful Thüringer Wald. The devastation is occurring rapidly in part because of the monoculture that was once common here for logging. It was really sad to see so much empty hillside and to think about the consequences, such as landslides and flooding, that occur under these conditions, also making it really difficult to grow new trees. And trying to do so when they’re being attacked by bark beetles is, as we learned, no easy task.

It’s also interesting to contrast the immediate environment of the valley where our camp was situated with the forest conditions around a village just 15 minutes away by car. (And, for that matter, the stunning environs in yet another part of the Thüringer Wald where I’ve been twice to climb.)

One thing I am really enjoying about Germany is how much it looks just like you might expect from a travel brochure. A walk on our penultimate day from one town to a bus stop in another town was a lot of work on hills but they were really pretty hills.

On the last day, only about an hour from school, we spent the afternoon by a lake. There’s so much here that is a fairy tale – berries and mushrooms in forests that people just happily pick, for example – and it has been so lovely experiencing it all.

This part of the state of Thüringen (Thuringia) is right on the border with Bayern (Bavaria). You know that place. Home of Oktoberfest. Indeed.

After so much time on the Little Red Dot that is fully part of my heart, it’s a real gift to be somewhere else. I’m looking at the world with different eyes and for that, I am grateful.

Moving During a Pandemic

This post sat in the back of my mind as I ran through list after list of what I had to do in order to a) move out of Singapore and b) move to Germany. The fact that it all happened during a pandemic meant that I had to be a little more flexible and wait a little longer for things to be finalized on the Germany end, but it was the added uncertainty that taught me the most. (You can skip to the final paragraph now.)

This post aims to bring you a quick and dirty guide to my highly specific circumstance: Moving from Singapore to Germany during a pandemic. Foreigners leaving Singapore or arriving in Germany may also find this helpful. Let me know if you’d like to chat!

Part I: Leaving Singapore

Leaving Singapore is straightforward. There are things that must be done but the order is relatively flexible except for the last step. As a foreigner in Singapore, your employer takes care of everything having to do with the government and you take care of your house and finances.

  1. TAXES: Based on the terms of your contract, your employer will withhold your pay so that they can pay your taxes before the contract ends. You will then receive any remaining pay. You will receive an invoice from IRAS in advance and can alternatively work with your employer to pay the taxes on your own and then collect pay as normal. The important thing is to leave money in your bank account for expenses during that period without pay.
  2. INTERNET (and PHONE and also possibly TV): I had a pay-as-you-go plan so I didn’t have a phone contract to cancel and I’ve never had TV, but I imagine it works similarly to cancelling internet services since it’s all likely the same company. Note the early termination fee, regular termination fee, and required return of any hardware depending on your contract. You can walk into a service centre and give them a specific date to cancel service. You will receive a bill in your normal billing cycle and GIRO will remain activated unless you cancel it. Make sure there is money in the bank. In my case, the bill came three weeks later and was paid through GIRO another three weeks later, which meant I had to watch for the payment to clear.
  3. SP SERVICES: This one is annoying and there is an annoying way to make it possibly less annoying. You can close your SP Services account effective any day online or by phone. They will need to read your meters in order to bill properly. You can submit your own meter readings or wait and let them do what they do. As a default, your account will be automatically closed when someone else puts in an application for SP Services at your address. In my case, a friend took over my apartment and her application for service closed my account. This meant that I waited for the meters to be read and then waited for the final bill, which also included a return of the remainder of everyone’s favourite $500 deposit. Then it gets annoying. SP Services will return the deposit by cheque in the post. Depositing a cheque in Singapore is pretty easy, but it requires a trip to the bank during opening hours. Be careful about the address to which SP Services will send that cheque. Alternatively, you can go to the SP Services centre in Toa Payoh with your meter readings and they can process everything there, including the refund. The catch is that your account will then be terminated.
  4. FIN CARD: I was on an EP and can only speak to that. Your card must be returned to your employer before leaving the country. They will cancel it either after you have left or upon receiving the card, in which case you will receive a letter with 30-day permission to stay. In my case, I returned my FIN the day I flew out and notified my employer upon landing in Germany, at which point they cancelled my card.
  5. BANK ACCOUNT: The only way to close a Singapore bank account is to be physically located in Singapore. (Or to have filled out the form beforehand and sent it to the bank either by post or a trusted friend.) You can’t close a Singapore bank account from overseas, but you can transfer the full balance out of it. Once empty, the bank account will be automatically closed after a certain period of time, according to the employee I spoke to. There might be low balance charges but the only way you’d be expected to pay them is if opening another account with the same bank later on.
  6. EVERYTHING ELSE: Fun planning logistics. It’s all just paperwork and time. See here for an example.

Part II: Moving to Germany

This is where my moving logistics slowed down a lot. Due to Covid, my employer had to plan on two weeks’ quarantine before getting the ball rolling for Germany’s extensive paperwork requirements. Since I did not have to quarantine, I had a lot of time to do whatever could be done without German legal paperwork. In short, not much beyond visiting Ikea and checking out the climbing gym.

  1. APARTMENT: In order to do almost anything in Germany, you need a local address. I live in a university town where housing is hard to come by, so my school recommends taking over an apartment vacated by a teacher who has left. Not everyone took that recommendation and there are a variety of furnished, semi-furnished, and unfurnished flats among us. Be aware that most unfurnished apartments in Germany require you to put in everything from light fixtures to kitchen appliances. I’m told this takes many weeks and I had no interest in doing that, so I took over an apartment with a rare fitted kitchen.
  2. HEALTH CARE: There are a variety of options within the German healthcare system. For the sake of ease, I took what my employer offered as soon as a meeting with the representative was arranged. There’s an emphasis on preventative care here and incentives programs are common. After completing the paperwork, you will receive an insurance card by post.
  3. CITY REGISTRATION PERMIT: Every time you move cities in Germany, you need to register at the city office, which requires proof of local address through your apartment lease and proof of health care registration. You will need an application form and an appointment.
  4. BANK ACCOUNT: Getting a bank account in Germany requires the above steps to have been completed, and a bank account is required for just about everything that follows. Again, it was easier to take my employer’s suggestion than to shop around. For the first time in my life, I’m paying for a bank account, which is apparently normal here.
  5. RESIDENCE AND WORK PERMITS: The application forms are simple enough and these are required to make the appointment at the city office. I filled out the papers and my employer arranged the appointment. Proof of all of the above are required. A temporary work permit will be issued immediately upon approval and you will receive a letter when your residency permit is available for pick up at the office (during the not-so-convenient hours of 9-12 or 1-3 on Thursdays).
  6. PHONE and INTERNET: Options differ based on local area and although I was warned, I was still surprised to learn that German internet is generally slow and it takes forever to set up. A local bank account is required to purchase a SIM card and sign an internet contract. Two years is the standard contract length and I don’t yet know about contract extensions. SIM cards are roughly the same as anywhere else, but setting up internet is a pain because after signing the contract, you need to wait for a letter with the date that the technician will hopefully show up and turn the thing on. My appointment date was three weeks after signing the contract on a day that I couldn’t miss work; it’s a good thing I have nice neighbours.

Part III: Shipment by Sea

If you haven’t already clicked on the link above (also here) and you’re still interested in my move, this is a good time. In terms of sequence of events, this part is out of order as it overlapped the above and had the longest duration.

  1. Get quotes from movers.
  2. Select a mover based on quote.
  3. Work with Singapore-based movers and German school to determine the date I am likely to receive my residency permit. My shipment cannot land in Germany without the residency permit because said permit is required for the shipment to clear customs.
  4. Put together highly specific and itemized price list for insurance.
  5. Organize, pre-pack, pack.
  6. Watch in awe as movers build boxes out of flat sheets of cardboard and pack the rest.
  7. Wait.
  8. Inform German partners of Singapore moving company when residency permit has been approved.
  9. Wait.
  10. Try not to nag German movers.
  11. Receive notification on Monday afternoon for shipment’s delivery Wednesday morning. Not convenient and cannot be changed.
  12. When the movers arrive, make quick decisions about what they should unpack and therefore what packing supplies they will carry away. (Small apartment with no space to spread out and needing to get to work meant that the movers unpacked the furniture and left me with eight large boxes, all containing a ridiculous amount of packing material.)
  13. Unpack as neatly as possible in stages due to lack of floor space in small apartment. This is Germany so there are also no closets or built-ins, meaning everything must have a home before anything else can be unpacked.
  14. Recycle packaging in stages. Recycling is collected every two weeks and there can be no overflow in the two bins provided for the whole house of eight apartments. I put up an ad online to get rid of the boxes and then spent a full hour folding the packing paper into squares. There is still a full Ikea bag of paper squares for the recycling bins to be emptied again.

Phew! If you’ve read this far, I’m impressed and I hope that it was helpful (whether in a move or just passing time). In the event that all I’ve done here is relayed a sequence of events that left you with more questions than answers, there are plenty of comprehensive “how to move” lists available across the internet. Regardless, I thank you for reading.

I will close with a summary of what I learned throughout the months described above: There is no point in fretting over what I cannot control, and there is a lot to be said for realistic expectations. By this I mean, expect that things will go wrong. Expect to be frustrated. Expect to feel misplaced, anxious, worried. And then put those feelings aside once the work is done because that energy is better spent somewhere else.

Weimar, Germany – July 2021

Rain Showers and Pretty Flowers

We’ve had a lot of rain lately, which I have not really enjoyed. After six years in Southeast Asia, I’m used to rain that’s warm in a world so humid that it almost feels like a shower. I’m romanticizing a bit because there really ain’t no rain like tropical rain; I’ve never been wetter in my life than the many times I was caught in the rain, even for mere minutes, in Malaysia or Singapore. And there was a time I put on a bathing suit and went outside to be in the storm just because I could. So I am very used to rain.

What I am not used to, however, is cold rain. I’ve been caught in the cold rain here on my bike several times over the last couple weeks and it’s quite a different experience, one that requires a hot shower to warm up. My Canadian blood has certainly thinned and I’m slowly adjusting – very slowly.

Watching the rain this afternoon (and riding my bike in the drizzle because cycling remains the easier, fastest way to get to the climbing gym) led me to go through some photos that I took on two beautiful, warm sunny days. A rainy day seemed like a good time to share them.

Several weeks ago, for something to do, I attended BUGA in Erfurt, a biennial horticulture show that changes location each time it’s presented. Erfurt is the closest real city to Weimar, so I got rather lucky. And I didn’t even know it until I had a look on Wikipedia for this post.

A riot of colour, and I think the images speak far louder than my words ever could.

More recently, I rode/walked/pushed my bike up a very large hill just up the road past my school to visit Schloss Belvedere, a former summer royal residence dating from the early 18th century.

The castle was interesting enough, though I gave up on the audioguide included in the entry price rather early on. The grounds were absolutely the highlight, and I was really tickled when I happened upon a tropical paradise garden where people were sitting and chatting in sun chairs. It felt like a secret resort but it’s not – it was free and open to the public, as are all of the castle grounds.

There was also a beautiful “Secret Garden” sort of garden . . .

. . . and after seeing a few other people pick an apple off this tree, I did, too! It was a little early for apples, and coming from Upstate New York I knew this before I bit into it, but I haven’t done that in so many years. I hadn’t thought that there might be apple picking around here even though I’ve been buying apples and other produce from the local farmer’s market as I often as I can.

We’ve had a lot of rain lately, but I can see the sun struggling to come out. It’s not warm here, but I’m trying to adjust. Just another part of this adventure.

BUGA, Erfurt – July 2021

Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by someone trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place