Friday, May 11, 2012

Kitchens, closets, and light fixtures: German housing deficits

My Ikea Kitchen in About 100 Boxes
As if being homeless through August wasn't enough, I spent the first several weeks "camping" in my new home in Germany. Even today, I still feel woefully under-equipped. You see, the lovely house I'm renting in Germany didn't come with some of the most basic provisions of modern-day housing. No kitchen. No closets. No light fixtures.

Where to Hang the Clothes?
We knew that houses in Germany would not have the convenient built-in (and often walk-in) closets we were spoiled with in the US. We are actually very lucky to have a small closet in one of the bedrooms. But for the most part, the storage of clothing in German bedrooms requires the purchase of hanging wardrobes ("Kleiderschränke"). We've acquired a couple moderate sized ones from Ikea for the kids' rooms, but the larger size and solid-wood style I want for my own room is going to require more of a budget than I have saved so far. Hence, most of my clothes are stuffed into dressers or in boxes and bins along the wall and under the bed. I feel a bit like I'm still living out of a suitcase.

Let There Be Light!
No Light Fixtures
It's a good thing that I'm a candle addict and typically have a dozen or so lit most evenings, anyway. Because one of the surprises here was that none of the rooms had lights! Apparently, light fixtures are considered a matter of personal taste, and therefore treated like any other furnishing. The previous tenants had unmounted, unscrewed, and otherwise removed every light fixture from every ceiling in the house - and this is considered perfectly normal and ok. Since we came from the United States, we did not bring any lamps with us, because 1) light fixtures are deemed built-in parts of the real-estate and required to stay installed in the house; and 2) the electrical system is completely different, so our lights would not have been any use to us in Europe anyway.

So far, we've purchased a few inexpensive standing floor and table-top lamps (thanks, again, Ikea). But we have yet to decide on most of the ceiling lamps we'd like. Thus, if you try the light switch in any given room, it probably won't work, and if you look up, you'll only see dangling wires.

Everything, *Including* the Kitchen Sink?!
The kitchen was an empty room, with water hook-up and some wall tiles
Ever hear the term "they took everything except the kitchen sink?" Yeah, well, here, they took that, too! And this is not some case of post-foreclosure looting. This is normal for Germans. Like light-fixtures, kitchens are entirely a matter of personal taste. So in  most houses and apartments, they move with the tenants. Cabinets, counters, appliances, and sink! Here is what our kitchen looked like when we first moved in, and for about seven weeks as we "camped out" in it....

Folding tables, a camp stove & cooler for the interim
Off we went to our favorite economical home furnishing warehouse (Ikea, again) to select, plan, and order our new kitchen. Friends warned us in advance to make sure we paid for the assembly and installation service - and this was probably the best advice I've ever gotten in my life. The kitchen arrived in about a hundred boxes with a thousand small parts. It took a team of two professional kitchen builders three days to put together, especially since the 100-year old house we are renting doesn't have a single straight wall or square corner, and the counters needed to be custom cut around a fireplace chimney that juts into the room at an odd angle.

Our first appliance was a small combi oven

However, being addicted to food even more than I am to candles, and having a hoard of hungry kids unwilling to fast for 40 days.... completing the kitchen was my first priority. And I have to say, I am very pleased with the results.

To make us all feel a little more at "home," I first painted over the bright pink/red walls with the same warm green we had in our last house. Then I chose cabinets, counters, and a ceramic sink that would work with the existing white wall tiles and terracotta floor tiles, and go with the house's "country villa" charm.

Here are the "After" pics...

Lest We Lose Sight of What Really Matters...
I confess, I feel a bit snobby, complaining about not having closets and light fixtures, never mind a beautiful kitchen, when millions of people around the world live in poverty without clean running water or electricity. So this little exercise in learning to live with a bit less than I used to have has been a good reminder that I am blessed beyond measure. It's been good for me and my kids to appreciate the bounty of gifts we do have and remember that what matters most, is that we have each other.

Have a wonderful day!


  1. A lovely post.
    You'd gotten me worried after being quiet all week, thought you'd abandoned us, then I remembered the 4 kids and the stress of schooling!

    1. Abandon you? Never! Thanks for your thoughts & comments!

  2. Hey. I've been following you, albeit silently. I tagged you in a blogger/networking game on my site, I hope you'll participate. Fellow Expat Mom in Munich. :)

  3. Wow, Diana, Thanks (I think!).
    I'll take up this game, but it'll be probably a week or so before I get to it all. I think the hardest part will be composing new questions...But I'm up for the challenge; it sounds like fun :)