Sunday, February 28, 2016

House Hunters International

In my last posting I promised to tell you a little more about the process of moving to Scotland and specifically about the "joy" of house hunting:  

On Tuesday nights we have a show on TV that is called "Goodbye Deutschland" and is about people who decide to leave Germany to live in a foreign country. Sometimes you have perfectly normal people doing logical things like a young doctor and his wife and kids moving to the North of Sweden because they pay young doctors really well there. They plan, they move, they settle in with some ups and downs and all is good. This is kind of nice but does not make too exciting TV and so most of the people going expat on the TV show are chaotic human beings who randomly choose a spot on the map, pack their things and go to a place where they have no job and do not speak the language. Usually they have no money left after moving to make it all a bit more thrilling and of course there is a lot of dramatic music in the background. I hate-love this show. 

Everyone who knows me a little also knows that I like to plan out my next steps and that I am good with it. So to no surprise I am planning this move to Scotland for a long time already and every time I went through my to-do-list I was like "I need to organize this because we aren't at Goodbye Deutschland here." When it comes to the basics it is pretty easy to beat most folks in the show though. I do speak the language. Well, let's say I understand most Scottish (took a good while but I am getting there) and I do speak English. I also have a job. I am really well prepared with all the boring stuff like bank, insurances, pension funds, move logistics and budgeting, too. I hate Excel but god damn ... I make good use of it at the moment. 

I also tried to plan the most crucial piece of the puzzle a bit ahead and that was finding a new home. It is hard enough when you try to move within your own town but if you try to do so in a different country it becomes a real challenge.
I started the process a few months ago by staring at Rightmove adoring flats I could not rent because my move was still many weeks away. My idea was that this would help me to figure out what I could get for my budget and where. And it worked. Kind of.  

The thing is just that moving in the UK is a pretty short notice thing. Most flats are available right when they go online or become available within the next max 4 weeks. That is different from Germany where all is a bit more planned ahead. So for example the viewings for my flat are next week although it becomes officially available not before May 1st (I move for April 1st but I have to leave time for renovations which is much more in tenant responsibility than in the UK). That is how far in advance it often goes in Germany. 

So looking at Rightmove told me I would need to go to Glasgow in February if I would want to rent from March / mid of March, which I wanted because a bit of overlap helps tons with the logistics and so I did. 
Before I flew to Scotland I collected a whole bunch of paperwork like landlord reference, work reference, character reference, work contract, last three pay slips, a few utility bills, scanned copy of ID and passport, certificated translation of my German credit history report and score. These things are important if you want a flat and even more important if you have no credit history in the UK and the referencing companies have trouble tracking you down. We are not at "Goodbye Deutschland" here ;) and I had researched that before and it indeed helped. I also knew about the energy efficiency rating scale, council tax bands, broadband readiness, utility costs and I also know Glasgow quite well. House hunting should be a piece of cake, you'd think, with all this ... .

A few days ahead of travel I started to shortlist properties and to call letting agents. Forget emailing them - almost no one ever answers. Sadly between me calling and me traveling I saw a lot of places on my list becoming let agreed because house hunting in the UK is really a day to day thing, but I still had a few appointments for viewings set and I had the Rightmove app on the phone to get all interesting new entries. Oh ... and one thing is important to say:
Against all odds I was looking for unfurnished flats although UK citizens barely ever rent unfurnished, but I am German. German people NEVER rent furnished. It is not usual here and the idea of sleeping in someone's bed and napping on someone's couch creeps us out. We also do not buy as easily as UK people because buying property especially in big cities in Germany is completely unaffordable. Cultural differences ... 


On Monday the 15th I finally started my viewing marathon. It was sunny and I was full of optimism. The first flat was not located too badly ... a few blocks away from the Kelvingrove Museum down towards the river. Not the nicest place in Glasgow but still okay. The flat was freshly renovated which was great but although it had two bedrooms I swear it was not bigger than my one room studio at the moment. I was bumping into walls all the time. The house itself was also not in a good shape and smelled damp. So maybe  ... not so much.
Next stop was a flat I had high hopes for. It was just in my range still and in a pretty high scale city center apartment building. When I arrived I was really excited about how central it was. If I would rent this one I would never ever need to join the taxi queue again. Then the letting agent opened the door and what I had to see there cannot be unseen. Two student boys were still living in the apartment (they were not home) and the whole place was knee high covered in rubbish. There was no place to put your foot on. While me and the other people attending the viewing were standing there jaws dropped the panicking letting agent said something about potential and deep cleaning but this got irrelevant latest when we opened the door to a poo covered (I am not kidding) bathroom. We all ran outside. It took me hours and lots of soap and intense hand cleaning before I could eat again and I had lots of high voltage drinks to make sure my body was clean from the inside, too.


The next day I started with a fresh portion of good spirit and went to a place close to St. George's X.  The flat looked bright and big on the pictures. I got out of the subway and smiled down Great Western Road towards Squid and Whale and walked on. One block, two blocks, three blocks. Hmmm ... there it was - a fairly well maintained apartment building, 10 min walk from the subway. The flat in this case was really bright and big, BUT ... the house was surrounded by quite big high rise buildings and although just minutes walk away this was not pretty West End anymore at all. I am no chicken but it was not a good place to be at day and I could not even picture going down there alone by night. I will also work from home and the "quiet" in the description did only count with closed double glazed Windows because almost right above the house was the M8 which made for a beautiful sight also. Not. 

At this point I started to panic because new offerings were dropping in only very very slowly that week, too. The next day I decided I had to start to look at furnished apartments as well to maybe find a home for the first six months and to keep looking while living in Glasgow already and so I expanded my search.
One place was in a good location but it was really run down because the poor flat was obviously seeing new tenants every six months. At least the letting agent there was nice and gave me tons of helpful information. I also scheduled one more viewing in for Saturday - my last possible day to find something. It was a flat in a good West End location and although it was furnished it looked doable, but as you can imagine the timing creeped me out. Last minute is not my style really. 


I kept looking. One highlight was for sure a big furnished flat right on Byers Road. That is no location I would want to do long term but for the first few months? Why not. Well .. well .. The house was great but the flat looked like a bulky waste landfill. I carefully asked the letting agent if the sacks of rubbish and all the broken furniture like the stranded wreck of an office chair would be removed. He said "No."  Okay. After a little break he told me that no tenant had ever complained and that this would rent in no time. Right. Good for you, letting agent. I lost it though when I looked in one of the bedrooms and was greeted by a dead cockroach that had done its last breath on the dirty mattress and was now rotting there on its back with its tiny feet pointing to the ceiling.
The afternoon was a bit better because the little flat in Thornwood I viewed was surprisingly cozy (and unfurnished) and I liked the neighborhood a lot. It was not exactly perfect but much better than all the other places and so I kept it on the list. 


When I met with a friend for drinks and dinner in the evening my balance sheet for the week did not look good. I had nothing anymore on the list than the not really right Thornwood place and the furnished place to view on Saturday with no guarantee I would get it if I would like it. I tried to make "Plan B" and "Plan C" to not freak out and I admit if I would have not had my loved ones - family and friends - supporting me over the week and cheering me up there would have been lot more tears and panic. They also encouraged me to take the leap of faith if the situation could not be resolved while I was in Scotland.

Little did I know I was only one sleep away from pure magic. 


Friday morning I woke up with no plans for more flat viewings. I was just looking forward to meet my friend in the afternoon and to watch Aidan Moffat's movie at the Barras in the evening.
While I had breakfast I decided to update my Rightmove search one final time. And there it was. THE FLAT ....  that beautiful flat. Unfurnished, freshly renovated, tenement building, high ceilings, dark wooden floors, walk in wardrobe, beautiful new bathroom - and in my budget. I looked at the address and made weird shrieking noises because I was staring at a dot on the map right behind the Botanic Gardens 5 min away from one of my fave AirBnB places to stay at in town.
I called  the letting agent and she said they would get the keys only Friday night and there were no viewings at the weekend. That is when I went full force and high speed explained my situation and begged for mercy. Thankfully she had a heart and agreed to meet me at the flat on Saturday 11.30 am.

The rest of the day was wonderful. I spent quality time with my friend, watched an amazing movie ("Where You're Meant To Be" - go watch it!) with friends at the wonderful Barrowlands.  I enjoyed the live set of Aidan Moffat and his special band for the movie and event including James Graham of The Twilight Sad. There were lots of laughs and hugs and it was all I love so much about Glasgow. 


Saturday then I went to see the furnished flat and it was really okay. Then I stopped at the Smile Cafe on Queen Margret Drive, which is the best place in the city for real Italian coffee, and had a chat with some lovely local ladies. I told them that I was trying to move to the neighborhood and they sent me with crossed fingers to the viewing.
I walked down to the flat along the Kelvin Walkway. It is SUCH a beautiful neighborhood really. In front of my house I waited for the letting agent. She arrived and we tried to get in. It was like in a movie. There was me being really desperate and none of the keys worked. We had to ring doorbells and then fighting TWO big doors before we finally made it after 30 minutes into the flat. It was still as beautiful as on the pics. It was just IT and so I of course applied. 


On Sunday I went back to Germany and on Monday evening I got confirmation - the landlord had accepted my application. THE FLAT is mine.

I will go back for a week mid March to pick up my keys and organize things and then right after Easter I move. I have found a new home - the place to live and it is all I wanted.

HAPPY END :)   


Ready for summer - the communal garden of my new house: 


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Home


Home ... a word I always had a vaguely schizophrenic relationship with. On one hand I am very focused on my home base, my routines, my regular life with its fix corner posts. That is what always gave me the strength to go out there every day and also to travel and find out more about the world.

On the other hand I never really had this emotional connection to the piece of land you would call home. You know .. that thing when people have roots and know where they belong to. I did not put a foot into Wesel, my hometown, since my mom died and the events right after and I did not miss it for a second.

I loved studying in Münster and I still like the city when I go and visit my sister and her family there. It is lovely but for me it was an episode - great for a certain stage of life. 
I finally never wanted to go to Munich but when I ended up getting a job here I went and it wasn't bad at all. It is a big, very pretty, very safe city with great surroundings. I had good times and I cannot say a bad word about Munich. But home? Like "I arrived where I belong to"? Never. 

Then there is traveling and it brings you to new places and I discovered a lot of very nice ones. Some out of the many I visited are sticking out. There is Croatia that took a piece of my heart and soul and kept it and will always do. We also got Pittsburgh. This amazing city and magical place which hosts a lot of the best people I ever had the pleasure to meet. I would have made it my home a good time ago if it was  a) easier (no luck in the green card lottery for me over years) b) closer c) not in America. I am sorry for c) and I actually think the USA are an amazing country for many reasons, but when it comes to the social and political system we Europeans just shake our heads in disbelief. I'm sorry, but I cannot leave my family and especially my nieces behind on the other side of the planet to live in a country that considers Donald Trump a serious presidential candidate (to summarize it in a nutshell). That is no offence to my US friends - I know a lot of them think just the same and we'll see how many will become expats if this nightmare should come true. 

Finally then up from May 2014 life took an unexpected twist and turn when I crossed the Scottish border for the first time. I had never even really considered Scotland as a travel destination in the past but music changed my plans. And I kept coming back and back and back and back ... . 11 times  to date. And finally there it was - that feeling that I am where I belong to. It did not come with a big bang. It just grew slowly and steadily until it started to feel pointless to fly back "home" as in back to Munich. It got even more pointless over the time as lots of my friends in Munich moved away locally or are at totally different places in their lives now - which is perfectly fine and normal but a process that cannot be stopped. 
At some point I looked at myself and I was standing in a club in Munich listening to a band I really liked and I knew maybe 2 people in a 400 people club - if even. A few weeks later I stood in a club in Glasgow and just out of fun I counted the people I knew at that 150 people venue and it were over 30. Not all close friends of course but still. Clearly time to take things in hand and to initiate change. 

I won't bore you with too many details but some time last year the pieces started to fall into place. There was the budget I needed to make things happen, I could - thanks to the pretty awesome company I work for (please visit snapfish.co.uk / snapfish.de / snapfish.com depending on where you are) - figure the job situation out, signed all the paperwork (lots of it), finally cancelled the lease for the Munich apartment and now it is official:

Up from April 1st 2016 I am a residential, full time Glaswegian. I will live in the city that sneaked its way into my life, my heart and my soul. That cold and rainy place full of crazy folks talking in weird accents that I would not want to trade for a golden palace at a warm & sunny beach (well .... at least not for more than a wee holiday that is). That place that is embedded in one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. 
If you have never been there you should come and visit me, really. BUT be warned ... once you have seen the sunset over the island of Arran you will have a very hard time to leave again - just like me who always wanted to live near the sea and now I will ... from six hours down to about 45 min to the next beach. I can't wait! 

As you can tell I am happy and excited but I am also shitting my pants. I had the worst panic attacks of my life in the last few months and they are still going strong. And I mean real panic attacks. I'm really, really not good with massive change and that is pretty much as massive as it gets. I am very grateful though for my family and friends who support me so much in my plans and help me to make decisions and to keep the excitement up when I am basically nothing but scared and confused. I think I could not do it without them. 

So this blog will change now ... not that I would really plan for it, but I think it is a safe bet that "The adventures of a German expat in Scotland" will fill many chapters on this site. 
As soon as I have a moment of spare time I will happily share the first story which will be all about flat hunting in Glasgow and I can tell you already that is a very ... ahem ... special experience especially when your budget is really not bad but also not "Hey let's buy this cutely refurbished house in Hillhead from the pocket money" type of thing AND you have only one week on location to find yourself a new home.

Come back here soon .... because if one thing is for sure in life then that Scotland is ALWAYS good for a great story worth telling.

PS: Special thanks to The Twilight Sad and Chvrches for throwing me a welcome party on 2nd of April at the Hydro. This will be a lot of fun!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Twelve

Today on Twitter my pal George mentioned that he would like to know from a few people including myself what their twelve albums are that stayed with them over the years.  So I went through my record shelf and picked a dirty dozen. These are not what I consider the twelve best or musically most important records of my collection - that would be a different thing although there is obviously an overlap.

So let's go in alphabetical order .... 

Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes
... because it is (still) touching my heart and soul where it is dark and painful but important to go to. I am usually not a fan of female voices (sorry girls) but early Tori is an exception.

The Black Crowes - Southern Harmony And Musical Companion 
... because it changed me. It made music one of the most important things in my life. The name says it - it is a musical companion.


Biffy Clyro - Revolutions / Live at Wembley
... because it changed me back to the person that The Southern Harmony made me to and that I had lost in between. This is clearly not the best Biffy album - it is not even really an album, but it was my first and it had me under its spell in seconds. It stands for the beginning. 


David Bowie - Hunky Dory
... because it carried me through dark times and because Bowie is pure magic. Yes - IS - because the music is still here.


dEUS - Worst Case Scenario
... because it stands for long, fun nights in our favorite club - The Rolling Stone - and a really good time in my life. It is also a great record that somehow still sounds fresh. 

Peter Gabriel - US
... I threw a coin to choose between SO and US, because there is no other way to do it. I think everyone who was born in the early 70ies like me and cares a wee bit about music needs one of those two on the list. They are total game changers. Also ... Tony & Manu ... people, listen to Tony and Manu! 

Gibonni - Mirakul
... because Dalmatia (Croatia) - the land of the mountains and the sea - is where I can rest my soul and warm my bones and Gibonni is how Dalmatia sounds. This is his best record and he had some brilliant musicians recording it with him like Pino Palladino, Vlatko Stefanovski and Manu Katché. When I went to Zagreb many moons ago to watch Gibo's big Mirakul live show we had seats basically side stage and I could watch Manu Katché and Tony Levin (not Pino for the live show) playing for the whole night. It was awesome. 

Marmaduke Duke - Duke Pandemonium
... because it provides me with an answer to the question which record I would take on a lonely island if I could just take one. With its help I can cheat and listen to the Atmosphere AND the Dragon on that island without taking two records. It also never ever gets boring and it never fails to cheer me up.

Nine Inch Nails - Downward Spiral
... because it is genius. Period. Trent might be an asshole at times and he needs to urgently learn who Biffy Clyro are but it is still genius.  

The Screaming Trees - Sweet Oblivion 
... because I had a hard time choosing one album to represent the Grunge area. I am not the biggest Nirvana fan. Pearl Jam ... yeah. Soundgarden .. Badmotorfinger was a candidate. Or Alice In Chains? Dirt is definitely essential listening. But this album is probably best for catching the spirit of the time and it is damn good and stupidly underrated piece of music.

Sucioperro - Fused 
... because there are days in life - quite a lot actually - no other record can fix. None. It is a musical companion, too. 

The Twilight Sad - Nobody Wants  To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave 
... although it is not old enough yet for an "over the years" album but it is beautiful and it stands for not giving up. When you think you hit the bottom or came to the end of the road - try one more time. It's worth it. I am btw still almost embarrassed that I basically cried through the whole Electric Fields set last summer. I do not even know why. I could not stop but in the end that is what music is for, isn't it?

This list feels very incomplete. I had to delete several essential entries to keep it at the dozen, but it was fun. Thanks, George!