I wish I knew (before I moved to Stuttgart)
What is this?
"I wish I knew (before I moved to Stuttgart)" is an informal collection of information for people who are moving into to the Stuttgart military community. These tips came from people who have lived here for a while.
Thanks to U.S. Special Operations Command Family Support Group members for providing some of the content and categories.
The tips on this page are designed to make your transition a bit smoother and aren’t in any particular order
Take it one day at a time. Your first month will be a learning curve, but every day gets easier!
Establish a network of friends. It helps with the transition, as well as once you've gotten settled. Your sponsor and your Family Readiness Coordinator are great places to start.
Have fun! Stuttgart is a great place to live, with wonderful opportunities to travel and experience other cultures.
After-Hours Medical Care
If you have a medican condition that can't wait when the clinic is not open, you will need to go to a local German hospital. Always remember to call the MP Desk first (0711-680-5262, 24 hours per day, seven days per week). They will have a translator call the hospital for you and can also sign an ambulance onto the installation if needed.
If you are out and about and have to go to a German hospital, call them as soon as possible. They will notify the translator and also TRICARE and the Patient Liaison.
Do not try to use public transportation without a ticket. The ticket checkers are hard to spot, and it will cost you an immediate fine. Remember that all tickets need to be punched before you ride, both going and returning. Look for the orange boxes near the escalators or on the platform.
It is legal to bring your dog or cat on German trains, but make sure that your pet doesn't get nervous in crowds. The trains are generally very full during morning and evening rush hours.
When purchasing a ticket for the U-Bahn or S-Bahn from the automatic ticket machines, look for the little country flags on the screen before you start and press the button next to the British flag. The screens will display in English.
The website for the German train system (within and outside of Germany) is www.dbahn.de . The one for the Stuttgart regional train and bus is www.vvs.de . Both have English pages, and you can book tickets online or check schedules.
Travel & Entertainment
If you're looking for local or seasonal events that will take you out and about, then the Community Relations webpage is a good place to start. When you return to this website, click on the Culture Link on the front page.
There are many other resources that offer information on things to do in and around the Stuttgart area:
Dogs are generally welcomed everywhere in Germany, to include most hotels, stores, restaurants and bars (you cannot, however, take a dog into a German grocery store). It is always best to call in advance if you are not sure of the policy.
Pet passports are not difficult to obtain, and are a must if you intend to take your pet to European Union countries other than Germany. You can get the passports through any German veterinary office. The passport is not valid, however, for taking your pet back to the United States; guidelines for stateside travel can be obtained from the Vet Clinic.
Around The House
Many of the crew members who will be working your household goods delivery do not speak English (or German). There should be at least one crew member who does speak English, but he or she cannot be everywhere at once. To help facilitate getting everything to the right room, make a list of all the rooms in your new house, and assign a corresponding number to each. Tape a piece of paper with the right numbers on the door or doorframe of each room. As your goods come off of the truck, use a thick marker to mark each box with the correct room number (this is also a great job for your kids, if they are old enough). All your stuff will almost certainly make it to the right room!
If you use transformers, turn them off when not in use, as they pull a lot of power.
Whether living on-base or in town, you can plug your 110v lamps into 220v outlets without using a transformer. You will need only a plug adapter and European light bulbs (do not try to use American bulbs – they will blow up).
Doors and windows in homes on the economy generally do not have screens.
Most German houses do not have air conditioning (nor does on-post housing). While most of the year here is fairly temperate, it does get hot for some weeks in the summer. Window A/C units and fans from the States will use a lot of electricity with a transformer (off-post) and window A/C units of any type are not allowed in onpost housing. German standing fans are your best bet, and fairly inexpensive to acquire. Check the SCSC Thrift Shop on Patch, or even near the housing dumpsters (many people just put them out for the taking when they PCS).
US digital alarm clocks that are plug-in and not battery-operated will not keep correct time here, as the cycles are different. Advice: Purchase your alarm clock on the local economy.
Most German windows do not use curtain rods such as are common in the US (this is true for most on-post housing as well). Also, the walls in most German houses, as well as in on-post housing, are a cement type rather than dry wall construction. If you want to put up curtain rods, you may need permission from your landlord, as you will likely have to drill holes and use screw anchors to put them up.
You will have to decide for yourself what works best for your family when it comes to your 110V appliances and items such as grills and Christmas lights. Renovated on-post housing units do have 110 outlets in the kitchens and bathrooms, but off-post housing does not. Also, certain 110 appliances, when used with a transformer, either use more power than you may want to pay for, or will not work correctly (microwaves, for example) because of cycle differences. In some cases, buying German appliances can be more cost-effective in the long run.
Check the SCSC Thrift Shop on Patch Barracks before buying new German appliances or transformers; many people who are PCS'ing will consign or donate their German appliances before they leave, and you may find what you need at a very good price.
Just as with any military move, make sure you have an accurate list, photos or videos of your household goods, and receipts and appraisals for your valuables. Appraisals are important for full replacement value for damaged items, especially those you have had for some time; prices may have gone up significantly since you purchased them.
Stuttgart on-post housing has 110 voltage, so it is okay to bring your small American appliances and vacuum cleaners. Some, like the expensive stand mixers and other appliances that cycle (alarm clocks), may have trouble, but most work just fine.
If you live out in town, you can purchase heating oil through the Customer Service Desk at the Panzer Main Exchange. AAFES has a contract with a local company; the price does change daily. If you choose to use the program, fill out a form at the Customer Service Desk, pay for your oil and schedule your delivery. A 5% AAFES surcharge applies. You can also simply check the price and use it as a basis for comparison off-post.
Also for those of you who live on the economy: periodically get a signed "review" of your home from your landlord. When you PCS, a record of review will make it easier for you to get your deposit back, in the case of any dispute with your landlord as to the condition of your premises.
Please note that in writing money amounts, Europeans use a comma where we use a period and a period where we use a comma. For example, $35.00 is €35,00. $35,000 is €35.000. You do not want to make this mistake when paying your bills.
If you live on the economy, you may want to consider joining the German Renter's Club. For an annual fee, you are entitled to their lawyers' assistance with landlord/tenant disputes, and they can answer questions regarding your rights and responsibilities. Contact Mieterverein Sindelfingen, Untere Vorstadt 17, 71063 Sindelfingen. Tel: 0703-187-9544 or 0703-187-9661. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 8:00am to Noon, and Thursday from 2-6pm.
Renter's vocabulary: your rent is the Miete; you are the Mieter, and your landlord is the Vermieter. Kaltmiete is your basic rent without additional charges. Warmmiete is the rent plus additional charges. Nebenkosten, or additional charges, could include a parking space, trash, insurance, etc. Be sure to check exactly what is included.
If you live on the economy and request them, the Housing Office will provide you with an American fridge/freezer (larger than the German ones) and a washer and dryer. You will receive either a German or an American washer/dryer, depending on the water exchange and venting capabilities in your home. The German washer heats the water inside, rather than piping in hot water. The German dryer is a condenser machine that pulls the water out rather than heating your clothes dry.
The water in this area is quite hard, and calcium deposits build up very quickly. You should use an additive in your dishwasher along with your dishwasher soap tabs. "Somat" is the popular brand, and can be found in the commissary as well as locally.
Germany has fairly strict rules regarding what you can and can't do in your house or apartment. For example, you may not wash cars in front of your house on Sundays or holidays (or at all, in some areas). You may not mow your lawn, weed-whack or engage in any other loud activities on Sundays or holidays, or during posted "quiet hours". There also may be regulations as to whether and where you can install a satellite dish, and for storing items in and around your house such as bicycles, gas grills or mowers.
Depending on the town where you live, there may be regulations for on-street parking for residents and guests. You may need to apply for a resident parking pass (Anwohnerausweis) at the Rathaus. You will need to show proof of residency, such as your rental agreement or a utility bill, and your auto registration. Be sure the proof of residency is in German and contains your name and residence address.
Computers, Phones & Mail
Calls to a cell phone from a landline can be extremely expensive. Also, if you have teens who like to call and text frequently, they may be better off with a cell phone that uses a limited Euro card. If you do choose to have a contract, for yourself only or for multiple family members, read the fine print carefully to make sure that the fees are what you consider reasonable.
Computers are available for anyone's use at the USO in Building 2915 on Panzer Kaserne and at the library on Patch Barracks. The USO will print the first five pages free; there is a cost of 10 cents per page thereafter. The library charges a small fee for printing as well. The USO also has a public use fax machine; the first five pages are again free, and there is a $1.00 per page charge for additional pages.
When moving in to either on- or off-post housing, try to get the previous tenant's phone number to pass on to your phone company; your phone hook-up will go much faster.
Something to think about is getting a Vonage phone for use during your time here. It must be registered to a US address (think family member or friend). You are issued a US phone # which people in the States can dial as they would any stateside number. It costs approximately $30.00 a month to call back and forth to the US, and for an additional $6.00 a month you can call most of Europe. Please note that you do need high-speed Internet to use this service (it hooks up through your computer). Also note that if you have a lot of problems with your computer service where you live, Vonage may not work for you.
Unlike in the States, in Germany you are charged for each and every call you make, whether it is to your next-door neighbor, another state or another country. Your home phone is "Festnetz" in German.
If your computer is dual voltage, you can plug it into both 220v and 110v; the latter requires a plug adapter for 220v sockets. You will likely have to flip a switch (from 110v to 220v) on your computer before you turn it on. Do NOT forget to check this before powering up; otherwise, you can instantly fry your computer.
You can usually plug monitors directly into 220v outlets with only a plug adapter, but again, check for a switch first. Printers and speakers normally require a transformer. Check the output volts on your setup before buying a transformer, to make sure the one you choose can handle the amount of voltage you need.
On a snail mail note, if you have to mail a letter to a German address (a bill, or a ticket, for example), you do not have to go downtown to get a German stamp. As long as your return address is your CMR, with box number and APO, you can get a regular US first class stamp and mail it at an APO or in a US mailbox on any base.
Here is a brief rundown of how the German billing system works for those of you who have TKS, Telekom or another German telephone/internet provider: when you receive a bill, you have two weeks from the date on the bill to pay in full. Should you not pay within that time frame, they will issue a Past Due Notice; you will have six days to pay. If you have not paid after a total of 20 days from the date on the bill, the company will automatically cut off your service until the bill is paid; then they automatically turn it back on.
If you go to a German grocery, the Exchange, or commissary store or other store that uses shopping carts, you must put a 1 Euro or a U.S. quarter coin in the handle to unlock the cart for use. You get the coin back when you return the cart and lock it in with the rest.
Always carry Euros! Germany is essentially a cash economy. Many German grocery stores, smaller stores, bars and restaurants do not take credit cards. You must pay in Euros or with a German EC (Electronic Cash) card, which you receive only if you open an account with a German bank.
You may want to bring extra pillows and linens for all your beds, especially if you have a preference as to brand, thread count, etc. The selection at most PX's is necessarily limited, and you may or may not be able to order what you want online.
For Navy, Marine and Air Force service members, you may want to visit your Uniform Shop stateside before coming to Germany. AAFES Clothing Sales has a very limited selection of items for services other than Army. The store also does not do special orders; you must do them yourself, by phone or online, and should factor in shipping time. You may also want to stock up if a Uniform Shop/Clothing Sales store for your branch of service is available somewhere you are TDY/TAD.
Keep a VAT form in your glove box, even if you are not intending to go shopping that day. It will save you the 19% tax, and you never know when you might find that great piece you've been looking for!
Online shopping can be a great way to get things that are hard to find and/or expensive in Europe; however, check shipping and handling costs before you order. Also, make sure the company ships to APO addresses before filling your "cart"; most do, but there are some that don't
Grocery stores and some retail stores do not offer free shopping bags.
Shipping to and from the States can be expensive and time consuming. Christmas packages nearly always need to be mailed a week or two before Thanksgiving. The Post Office publishes a "Mail By" guide every year with the dates by which packages must be mailed to get to the US for Christmas. Also, consider shipping time when ordering gifts that you want to have here before the holidays. For gifts to Stateside family and friends, consider ordering online and shipping directly to the recipient; it could save you time and money.
Most towns have at least a weekly open-air market from spring until fall; some are year-round. Fresh vegetables, flowers, meat, cheese, wine and other local specialties are only some of what is available.
You may use any German bank Geldautomat (ATM/ "green machine") that takes your ATM card to get Euros. Exchange rates are not created equal; German banks typically offer an exchange rate that is slightly better than what you get at an American bank. If you are making a big purchase or if you pay your monthly bills in Euros, using the green machines may save you some money.
Christmas wouldn't be Christmas in Germany without the Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Markets). The ultimate website is www.weihnachtsmarktdeutschland. de. Or, you can go to the Culture Link by clicking on the Home link on this page.
Shopping for sport shoes, socks, shin guards or other sports equipment your child needs may be limited at the Exchange. The local stores have a selection of sports items, and you may find inexpensive soccer and other sports shoes if you shop around. You also may want to consider ordering online if there is a specific brand or size you need. Whatever you decide to do, we suggest that you do not wait until the last minute to purchase your child's sports supplies.
Do not throw plastic or glass bottles away (sodas, juices, yogurts, beer bottles, etc) as you can turn many of them in to grocery stores (look for the automated machines) to get money back to spend in the store! Some people will even look through American dumpsters and collect returnable bottles (look for the word PFAND on the label). Pfand = cash for you! Most stores automated machines will kick out a voucher you can use when you make your purchases and take that amount off your purchases. Instant savings!
The Exchange has a limited supply and selection of Halloween costumes. Check on the Internet, and order as early as September. You can also pick up costumes in the local stores during Fasching season (German equivalent to Carnival or Mardi Gras).
If your child has his or her heart set on a particular themed birthday party, the supplies may not be available here. This is another thing you may want to order online, and early.
Local grocery stores offer frequent shoppers cards that you can get at their information desk. You can collect points, and then redeem them on their website for free stuff. Check the desk when you visit; usually the person manning the desk does speak English.
Typical store hours in Germany are not like those in the States. For anyone used to the 24/7 American shopping ideal, this may come as a shock. Stores are usually open from 8:00 or 9:00 am, and close at 6:00 pm. Many smaller stores close for lunch, and on Saturday, many close between 2:00 and 4:00 pm. Stores are not open on Sunday.
There is a Flohmarkt, or flea market, every Saturday morning at the Karlsplatz in downtown Stuttgart. You can take the train to the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof, then walk up through the pedestrian zone.
All Things Automotive
When parking in a pay German parking lot or garage, you must take your ticket to a "Kasse" (Pay Here) machine (usually somewhere in the lot or at the entrance to the garage) and pay for parking before you try to drive out of the lot. If a store or restaurant validates parking (and this may not be full validation, only partial), you must get your ticket stamped, and still bring it to the Kasse to be stamped before you go to your car. The gate will not accept your ticket and open unless you have already paid or had the validation stamp scanned in the machine. Bottom line: always know the dollars and liters left on your card.
The blue parking disc that you receive for showing how long you have been parked in a parking space is not only for use in town. You are required to use it for many on-base parking areas as well, to include the Post Office and Commissary on Patch. When in doubt, put it out!
When parking in a pay German parking lot or garage, you must take your ticket to a "Kasse" (Pay Here) machine (usually somewhere in the lot or at the entrance to the garage) and pay for parking before you try to drive out of the lot. If a store or restaurant validates parking (and this may not be full validation, only partial), you must get your ticket stamped, and still bring it to the Kasse to be stamped before you go to your car. The gate will not accept your ticket and open unless you have already paid or had the validation stamp scanned in the machine.
On-street parking usually requires payment as well. Look for the "Parkscheinlosen", a nearby metal box mounted Parkingon a pole where you can purchase your ticket. You must buy a ticket (good only for a certain amount of time; stated on both the machine and ticket) and place it in the window of your vehicle before you go to dine, shop, etc. If you don't have one, or if it expires, you can be ticketed.
Stay out of the left lane on the Autobahn unless you are passing; in Germany, the left lane really is for passing only.
Occasional frustration is a part of the driving experience; however, do not express your anger by "flipping the bird", following too closely or flashing your high beams at someone – you can be ticketed for doing so, and the fines are very high.
Slow down if you see the cars ahead of you slowing; it usually means a traffic camera, an accident or a stau.
Since we mentioned it, "stau" is one of the first German words you should learn. It means traffic jam, and is unlikeStau anything you are likely to see in the States outside of major metropolitan areas. Tune in to your radio for regular traffic reports (both AFN and local radio stations have them) and avoid stau if possible. Autobahn A8 directions Karlsruhe and Munich, A81 direction Singen, and the B14 to Stuttgart Zentrum are often heavily congested during morning and evening rush hours.
Your child will likely need a booster or car seat here until 12 years of age. If your child is under 12 and shorter than 150 centimeters (about 59 inches), he or she must be in a car seat or booster seat. If they are under 12 and 150 centimeters or taller, they must use a seat belt; no booster seats are allowed. If they are 12 or older, regardless of height, they must use a seat belt (no boosters).
Traffic cameras are very common in Germany, and not all of them are stationary. Some are mobile, and are moved place-to-place. You may or may not see the flash if you are photographed speeding, but you will get the ticket in the mail. Your fine must be paid in Euros, by wire transfer, which can be done at any bank, on or off-post.
Owning a GPS is invaluable in Europe. You can buy one in the States before you PCS (it may be less expensive) and purchase the European map disks, if they are not included. Depending on the brand you choose, you may also be able to download maps online.
If you purchase a used car here, especially from another military family who is PCS'ing, remember that many of these cars have German "specs" (specifications). If you are not sure, ask. Good indicators: speedometer in kilometers, gas gauge in liters. These cars cannot be taken back to the US without a conversion (usually expensive). If the car has US "specs", you can take it back to the States.
Talking on your cell phone while driving will get you a fine. You can be fined even if the car is stopped, but the engine is running. If you need to take or make a call, pull off the road and turn off your engine.
You can be fined for running out of gas on the Autobahn. So stop at the nearest Esso and fill up.
Always carry your stateside and USAREUR licenses, insurance card, and vehicle registration in your car at all times.
Having roadside assistance while living in Europe is strongly encouraged. There are a few in Germany hat offer towing and breakdown/road service in almost any EU country and some are authorized to assist on U.S.installations.
You must keep your local address, not your CMR, in your car. It must be printed on an official document. If you live on-post you can ask them to mail you your membership cards to your on-post German address. If you live on the economy, you can use any piece of mail that has your German address on it. You will need your official German address if you ever need to obtain a rental car through them.
Ship your car EARLY and rent a vehicle in the States so that your vehicle is already here when you arrive. Renting a car is expensive (and you'll get a tin can) in Germany, plus the military does not reimburse you for this added expense.
Moisture & Mold
German houses are very well insulated and mold growth on walls is considered the fault of the tenant. Furthermore, the larger German 'Schrank' and other floor-to-ceiling furniture inhibits air-flow next to the indoor walls and forced-air ventilation, which also might dry the air, is genreally not the norm. In the winter, if deliberate, manual, frequent 'ventilation' performed by opening all the windows a few times a day is not performed, expect to get mold behind your furniture and to have to pay for repairs when you move out. To minimize the potential for mold growth, consider the following:
Do not let any condensation form on your windows. Condensation is an indication that your indoor air is moist, which could promote or contribute to mold growth. If you have condensation, open your windows and doors for at least 10 minutes and wipe the condensation off the windows and frames. In cold weather this may need to be performed a few times per day.
Some newer German homes have automatic ventilation and humidy systems specifically designed to help prevent mold growth. You may want to consider that feature as you're looking for a place to rent.