Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Spring Break Activities and Adventures - Part 1

We started off Spring Break this year with a bang. Not really. Half of spring break this year will be consumed with completing driver's license activities described in this post.   Luckily, in German schools, Jackson gets 2 weeks of break for Easter holidays! And even more luckily, Matthew is off work for all of it!

We plan on spending the first week as a "staycation", enjoying local hikes and being tourists in our own town (which we sort of really are), in between driver's license appointments and hopefully checking some of those items off the long list. 

Since we had not planned to travel immediately, we were lucky to be in town on Saturday, the first day of break, when Jackson's teacher got married!  The class was not invited to the wedding, but the room mom coordinated for the kids to be standing outside the church with handmade flowers as part of the couple's exiting processional. Here are some pictures of the bride & groom and all the kids:

Jackson waiting for the bride & groom to exit

Yesterday, we visited Germany's longest & highest suspension bridge, which is about an hour drive from our house.  There are multiple hikes in the area, or you can choose a gravel path from the town to the bridge.  We took the path to the bridge & then opted to hike back to town afterwards through the woods & hills. (The path is super easy & would accommodate strollers too).

View looking back at the town from the path to the bridge. This area looked so flat when we arrived, but is really very hilly with deep ravines.

Being silly.  They weren't afraid of the bridge at all!

On our hike back. We all returned covered in dirt!

You can see the bridge at the top of this picture

So pretty. Much of this hike reminded us of our hikes in Colorado.

The town

Instead of taking the highways back, we drove through backwoods and they were beautiful. Twisty roads that felt like we were in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. And then we would round a turn and see castles and quaint little towns and remember that we were actually in Germany!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Do I really need a Driver's License?

The short answer is yes. Yes. In my brain, at least, I know that I do need a driver's license.  But it is so tempting right now to say no and just go about my merry way.

Life here has settled in. We are comfortable and enjoying spring. We enjoy our pedestrian life. And while we have a car, we have little daily need for it. Between the closeness of our current home to everything we need, public transportation to get to friends, and the difficult parking, I hardly ever drive.

Which is contributing to even more dread of the process of getting my German license.

When you move to Germany, you have 6 months to get a German License. We currently still have our US licenses, but if we were in an accident or pulled over, technically we would be driving without the required license once we pass the 6 month mark. Part of me says that's ok, I just won't drive. Except that my US license will expire within 2 years and then if I ever want (need) to rent a car or drive elsewhere, such as when in the US, I'll be up a creek. And getting my German license 2+ years after establishing residency sounds a little sketchy.

The crazy thing is that some US states have reciprocity or at least partial reciprocity, and if your US license is from one of those states, you simply go get a new German license.  I don't know what Georgia did wrong but we get none of that.  We must go through the entire process as if we've never driven a car before.

So, I'm preparing to suck it up as we embark on the lengthy and painful process of getting a driver's license in Germany.

About a month ago, knowing that our 6 month mark was approaching, I emailed our agent to ask what steps we need to take to get started. She sent me back a lengthy email with no fewer than 10 lengthy and sub-bulleted steps. She ended the email with a very German sounding: "And that is all". Oh. Ok. That's all.  No biggie.

Here's our list of steps to a license. Some are just logistical, but it's still a time consuming process.

1. Get our US licenses translated by taking them, with payment, to an office in town and picking them up a few weeks later. (I picked them up Saturday! ✔)

2. Purchase the study materials and app to prepare for the written test. To do this, you first pick a driving school and then go there to purchase.  I found a driving school, made the purchase, but have yet to study. Using the app is also dependent upon #3 where you receive a code.  Partial ✔.

3. Register at a driving school.  Although we've both been driving roughly for 20 years now, before we can register to apply for a license, we both must be registered at a school and have the paperwork to prove it. I am partially registered via the school's website, but must pick up my paperwork now, and negotiate with them the level of training that we will actually need. I have no desire to drive around for hours on end with an instructor (who I'm paying by the hour). Another Partial ✔.

4. Complete the Safety Course. This is a 7 hour course. All in German. I went yesterday and Matthew is going this afternoon. I have a renewed appreciation for Jackson sitting in German school every single day without complaining.

The course was taught in a room in the back of a salsa bar, and roughly 50 people attended. About a quarter were 17 year old kids getting their licenses for the first time, about half appeared to be immigrants of non-European descent, and a quarter were what Matthew joked were UOCs (unidentifiable older caucasians) like me.  Older being anything over 20. But they all appeared to speak German. And like good Germans (or wannabe Germans), all paid attention. Everyone dutifully put their phones away and participated in class.

We performed CPR on dummies, bandaged each other's arms, and had to practice rolling each other over on the floor. But most of the time was just spent sitting and listening.

It wasn't hard but I was exhausted at the end of the day. The instructor, who knew the material was boring, really tried to make the class interactive, so I spent my energies trying to make it appear like I knew what was being discussed without getting called on. :) At the end of the day, I succeeded in having only spoken a single word. ✔

5. Vision exam.  If you know the history of my eyesight and vision exams (specifically for driver's licenses), you'll understand why this was contributing to my stress.  And unfortunately, it's not something I can study for or practice. Amazingly, I passed (I think)!  The First Aid course I attended gave us the option take the vision exam at the same place as the First Aid course, so I took it and received a little piece of paper with a signature on it, which I take as a good sign. ✔

6. Get photos taken for the license. ✔

7. Register for the license at the Stadthaus (government building).  This is not actually getting the license, just registering that you intend to get the license - you still must pass the tests. We must bring proof of #1-6 with us to the registration, and we have an appointment scheduled for Wednesday morning of this week.

8. Once registered, we can schedule the written test. Thankfully, we can take the test in English. However, this will encompass all of the rules of driving, which differ just enough from the US rules, that it is incredibly difficult.  From what I hear, the fail rate is pretty high and there are rumors of people taking it up to 8 times before passing.

9. Complete any required driving with the driving school instructors. TBD on how much we will be required to do.

10. The last step (and the one I dread most) is the practical test in which we drive with an examiner.  Nearly all Americans fail, either from lack of knowledge of some road rule or just because we're Americans. I'm completely prepared to fail. More than that, if they ask me to parallel park on a hill, I might just get out and walk away. It won't happen. I have a hard enough time parking our manual transmission car on a sunny day without pressure or spectators, so the thought of doing it with an examiner is terrifying to me. So long as I don't hit a pedestrian, cyclist, or another car, I'll consider it a relief, even if I fail.
So that's it. When I was looking for driving schools last month, I found the one below online. I ended up picking a different school that is closer to our house with better weekend hours. Hopefully their diarrhea rate is also low...or perhaps it's a bad sign that their website didn't say.  I hope not to find out!

Translation courtesy of Google Chrome 

The door to our classroom, with the CPR dummies, defibrillator, and rolled bandages

The front lobby of the salsa bar. A belly dancing class of Hindu women started mid-afternoon in the room next to ours, which you can sort-of see through the glass window in this pic.