Driving Germany

Ah Autobahn how I love thee! My husband and I have both successfully passed our German driving course so I thought I would chat a little about driving in Germany. First, not everyone has to take a German driving course to get a driver’s license in Germany. In fact, our Colorado Driver’s license is accepted as a direct transfer here in Germany. You can go into the German “DMV” and just trade them out. However, the military requires that all active duty military, staff (including contractors) and their families take the written test. It is a 3 hour class followed by a written exam and you actually need to study before hand because German road signs can be tricky (mainly because the words are in German. Duh!). I am actually really glad we had to take the course because it gave me a much better understanding of the rules of the road here and I feel much safer.

Ok that stuff is boring. Let’s get to the entertainment. Fun German Road signs:

ausfarht-sign

Ok I just had to get it out of the way. A$$fart signs everywhere!

streetlight

This one isn’t a sign but a streetlight marking. If you see this painted on a streetlight what it means is that this particular streetlight is not left on all night. So it may be turned off at like 9 or 10 pm. If you park under this streetlight overnight you are expected to leave your parking lights on all night to make up for the no streetlight. Cars with European specifications can do this but US spec cars are not made to have the lights on all night so don’t park under these streetlights at night!

curb-park

Parking on the curb is permitted. I feel like this sign should just be everywhere because parking on the curb is the norm around here.

rough-road

Ok here is my junior high humor again. I saw this sign and I was like why is a bra laying down in the road? That is not a bra but a rough road sign.

water-exit

This sign just cracks me up. In the manual it states that this is posted in “areas where there is danger of the vehicle leaving the road and entering a body of water”. Um, what?? Like does the road lead directly into the lake or is this an area where your GPS is going to say “drive straight” but really that’s a river not a road. Apparently it has happened enough that there is a sign.

Ok final one.

minion

This is my favorite one. To me it looks like a Minion wearing a party hat. It actually means that this road has priority but only at this intersection so the other cars are supposed to yield to those on this road. Boring! Much more fun to think about Minions having a party.

All in all, German rules of the road are very straight-forward and easy to understand. The American system is way more complicated and has even funnier signs.

The big difference with driving in Germany is that EVERYONE follows the rules. Ok let’s say 99% because there is always that one guy, the tourists, and the Americans that are always bending the rules. This is more of a cultural thing but it makes driving on the roads really nice here. Everyone follows the rules and so you know what to expect. It also creates this very smooth flow of traffic particularly on the Autobahn. You are expected to move over for people merging. The whole “zipper rule” (you let one car in to the lane to merge and then the next car merges behind you like when 2 lanes are becoming one) is law so you are required to be nice and let someone in which in turns allows the traffic to keep moving. You NEVER pass on the right and slow traffic keeps right. No Colorado road blocks here (read 1 car is passing another car at 1 mph faster than car being passed resulting in back up of cars for a mile or 1 car sitting in left lane going 10 mph below the speed limit preventing anyone from getting past).

You do have to watch out for fast cars. Germans love their sports cars and since there is no speed limit on sections of the Autobahn they like to go really fast. They can sneak up on you quickly if you are not paying attention. On the flip side, it’s like going to an auto show everyday. There is always some really nice, fancy, and super expensive sports car zooming by me everyday. Fun to watch!

1st Check Up

Two weeks after arriving in Germany, we had our first check up with our German OB-GYN. I was very lucky in that hubby had a co-worker here in Germany who just had their first child last year. They had already done all the legwork to tell me about the best doctors and hospitals in town and were more than happy to share their info. The doctor they recommended is actually an American who studied in the US and then transitioned to Germany 15 years ago with her husband. She obviously is fluent in English and because of that she is very popular with expats and American military here in Wiesbaden (the base does not have its own OB-GYN so all military use the community services). It was very comforting to have someone who knows the US and the German systems and ideals very well and is able to communicate effectively with us and help guide us through the system.

Let’s talk about the first appointment. Don’t worry there will be no gross details in here. I am simply going to compare my US experience with the German experience. Everyone can safely read on.

We arrive at our first appointment and had to fill out some paperwork. We have private insurance, which is very uncommon in Germany. Almost everyone here has some form of the German universal health care plan. So for private insurance holders the plan is simple. The doctor’s office and the hospital simply bill you directly. You are in charge of paying the bill and then the insurance company reimburses you. The hospital and the doctor’s office do not get involved with attempting to get money from your insurance. Now initially this kind of seems like a bad deal. I don’t want to have to pay and then wait for the insurance company to pay me back and true it is not the most convenient. On the other hand with my experience working in the health care field, this plan is actually brilliant. Our hospitals and doctors offices in the US employ a whole division of workers whose sole job is to attempt to bill and collect money from insurance companies. They have to call these companies frequently and haggle for pricing and approval. They spend hours filing and refilling paperwork in order to get very minimal payment back from insurance providers. Here in Germany they have to employ very few people in their billing department. Someone has to send out the bill to the German Health Plan but the German Health plan always pays the hospital and there is no arguing over what is what. They don’t bill private insurance companies so this saves an enormous amount of time, energy and money. In turn, this keeps the bills low for all parties so medical services are much cheaper here and of the same quality.

Ok paperwork done. We get called back into the Doctor’s office and we walk into this big L shaped room. In the front part of the room is the doctor’s desk where she has us sit and we talk so she can get to know us. Yep we sat down and chatted with the doctor with no rush to get to the point and out the door. After we got to know each other, it was time to get an ultrasound done. The doctor had us just walk around the corner of the room and there was an exam table with an ultrasound machine. The doctor had me hop up and then SHE PERFORMED the ultrasound. In the US, we had to make a special appointment if we were due for an ultrasound and an ultrasound technician or other professional would perform the ultrasound and then the doctor would just read the results. Here the doctor just performed it all and all in one room. Boom! Done! I was also informed that here in Germany and most of Europe they do ultrasounds at almost every appointment. They see no harm in the ultrasound waves and feel seeing and examining the child at each appointment is important.

The next thing she had us do was what she called a “stress test” but it was more of a heart monitor for the baby. They strap it around your belly and then have you sit for 15-20 minutes while they monitor the baby’s movements and heart rate. I had a similar device placed on me while I was in labor in the US with our first child but it was never used before being in active labor. This device can also detect if your starting to have any Braxton Hicks Contractions (practice contractions) or if it seems your body is preparing for labor which is why they do this at every visit during your final trimester here in Germany. Everything looked good! This little girl is a mover. She never sits still in there. I hope that isn’t a warning for our future!

Ok then at the end, the doctor wanted to get some blood work done. Yikes! I was not worried about getting poked with a needle but worried about finding some outpatient lab to go get my lab work done. In the US, I would have to make an additional trip over to the hospital to the outpatient clinic and wait for what seemed like an eternity to get my blood work done. Have no fears! The assistant who checked me in and checked my weight, blood pressure, etc. she is also the lab tech! They drew my blood right there in the clinic and I didn’t have to travel anywhere else. It was amazing!

In the end, my first appointment was about 45-60 minutes. Everything was completed in the office. It was a great experience.

Quick Update: I wrote this blog a bit ago but never got around to posting it. We have been to several appointments now all with the same routine as mentioned above. We have had an ultrasound at every appointment though we do not get a 3D ultrasound but that’s a fair trade. We received our first bill in the mail it was 89 euros (just about $100) per visit. That is the total cost with lab, ultrasound, etc. at a “no insurance” rate since we have private insurance (so our insurance will be reimbursing us of course). In comparison, I just paid my final bills from my last doctor’s appointment in the US. The fiscal year had just restarted so I had to pay toward my deductible, which meant I had to pay $110 for lab fees and $140 for the ultrasound. The actual bill was much higher that was just my portion. Final point: Medical care in the United States is ridiculously expensive for no apparent reason.

One Month

We have officially been here for a full month. We are still in the thick of transitioning and things have been a little slow. Moving in the month of August is bad timing. August is a very popular month for people to take vacation (holiday) so things that would normally take a short amount of time to complete (like having a handy man come to the house) is taking us twice as long as everyone is out on vacation. However, we have had some amazing support from our relocation assistant and she has been able to help us through all the chaos.

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(Empty house waiting for our things to arrive)

We have moved into our home and our stuff arrived 3 weeks ago. We are still getting things out of boxes but we are slowly getting there. We were able to set up our internet which is why we are back to blogging! I think our downsizing worked out well as all of our furniture fits into the house nicely. However, we did not downsize our clothing and books enough. There is minimal storage (most houses do not have built in closets) so we have already filled most storage areas and still have 2 boxes of clothes to go! IKEA is becoming a frequent trip.

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(View from the Kitchen as our stuff arrives)

The other hurdle we are dealing with is the language barrier. We didn’t think it would be so hard since most people here speak English but we have found our nemesis: the automated computer answering service. Most people do speak English but when you call places such as the cable company you have to talk to that silly automated machine first. You know the one that says “Press 1 for customer service, press 2 for billing”, etc. Of course this is all in German and there is no “Press 1 for German, Press 2 for English” option like we have in the US for English and Spanish. The technique that I have been using is keep pressing 1. I attempted pressing 0 for operator but that didn’t work out so pressing 1 is my go to. It has worked out so far with the cable company. When that doesn’t work what I have done is sent an email to the company and that email usually gets passed around until someone who speaks English gets ahold of it and calls me back. Not the most efficient method but that has worked too. Which brings me to the word of the month: “Patience”.

Patience is a virtue we have been working on hard this month. We are “Type A” people who like to get things done. We make a list and start checking things off as quickly as we can to reach our final goal. Well that hasn’t happened the way we planned at all. Things are getting done but just not at the pace we want it to get done and are used to it being done. We are learning that things move slower and that is ok. We need to take a deep breath and take it all in.

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(Taking it all in)

On the positive side, we are in our new house, we have connections to the outside world and we are slowly settling in. I assume that as soon as we finally feel unpacked and ready baby #2 will arrive to throw everything back into chaos. That is what makes this an adventure though right! Off we go….