Category Archives: Germany

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

Jewish in Germany

I can count the number of times I’ve cried during prayer. Before Friday night, that number was one. At a Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) event when I was in college, we said the mourners’ prayer aloud, which I had never done before. The mourners’ prayer is recited by those people Judaism strictly defines as mourners, and then only under certain pre-conditions. To say this prayer was to move our remembrance in a direction I had not been before and have never forgotten. Until Friday night, that was the only time I’d cried during prayer.

Last Friday, I went to Erfurt, the city (population 214,000) nearest my small town (population 65,000). Erfurt is home to the only synagogue in the state of Thuringia. The presence of police were the first clue that I was in the right place, and it was only then that I noticed the Hebrew words and large Jewish star above the door. A couple was sitting in the park across the quiet street, the man wearing a kippah (or yarmulke if you prefer, though that spelling has never made any sense to me).

I sat on a nearby bench and waited. When they got up, I followed them inside. I gave my name and some general information to the elderly security guard who clearly knew everyone who was expected that evening; their names were on a list in front of him and he crossed them off as each one arrived. He pointed me towards the rabbi, with whom I’d exchanged emails the previous week. We talked for a moment and then he offered me a siddur (prayer book) with translations in German or in Russian. I’d been told that most of Erfurt’s Jewish community is comprised of Russians who left Russia around the time it became Russia. The small Jewish day school I attended as a child was much larger in the mid-nineties for the same reason.

In the few minutes before services were due to begin, elderly men talked to one another, some in German and some in Russian, others switching back and forth. One man read a Russian newspaper. The few women chose seats in one of the two reserved sections and some of them smiled at me. I wondered at the worlds these people have seen, to have come from wherever they came from, and the forces of the universe that brought them here, to the most unassuming shul I’ve ever been in. Three white walls, one blue wall, decorated windows, large wooden benches, the Ark where the Torahs are kept, the Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) that I always take a moment to look at where it hangs, as always, above the Ark.

The rabbi told me he’d announce the page numbers and he did, in German and then in Russian. But I didn’t need the announcements. It seemed like no one did. There’s a regulars crowd at every shul and this was clearly it. All of the prayers were said in the order that I know, as they always are. The beauty of Ashkenazi Judaism is that I knew all the variations of all the tunes, as well. I knew this to be true as soon as the first page was announced and the singing began.

And I knew some other truths, as well, as soon as I started to cry.* The tears surprised me, and the welling in my throat while writing this has surprised me.

Had you told me, at any prior point in my life, that I would be in a shul in Germany davening Kabbalat Shabbat, praying to welcome the Sabbath, I would have laughed. Had you told me that I would be in a shul here in Germany davening Kabbalat Shabbat and that the first moment of prayer would have brought tears from a reservoir I didn’t know I had, I would have given it a moment’s thought, looked for the place these tears came from, and concluded that it didn’t exist.

I would have been wrong.

When I spoke to the rabbi after the service, he understood what I was trying to say. He filled in “here in Germany” before I got to it.

Yes, here in Germany.

Before I moved here, my mum lamented that it had to be here, Germany. My sister had only good things to say about her travels and my brother had only the opposite. My grandparents likely had opinions but kept those opinions to themselves. My surname is German, as I keep being told. My family is not. It takes so little time to explain that here, far less time than it has taken anywhere else. I am living in a town that has tiny historical signs across the street from buildings that Hitler built, both to educate and inform and to prevent bad actors from demanding these places. I am living in a town that has a park dedicated to witnesses of the Holocaust and that’s all that each massive portrait of an elderly man or woman says: Zeuge. Zeugin.

Yes, here in Germany.

Knowing this, I stood in shul and, during the first moments of prayer for the second time in my life, I cried.

*Just to paint a picture that will properly capture this moment in time: I was crying while trying to sing and I was wearing a medical mask, as required indoors in Germany during the Covid-19 pandemic that has now stretched on for a year and a half with no sign of letting up. This left me reluctant to remove the mask to wipe my eyes and blow my nose lest I look ill. I was a guest, after all! I thought of comic strips and couldn’t help but laugh inwardly.