• Cecil Lewis Jr.

My Downsized Life

Updated: Jan 3

It was 8 years ago this week that I moved into an apartment in Landshut, Germany. In 2009, the company I was working for was purchased. As part of the purchase, I took a role with the new firm to transition our customers to the new company and continue selling our software. Most of our customer base at that time was in Europe. Hence from 2009 to 2011, I was spending the brunt of my time abroad.

The company had a technical specialist located in Landshut. Landshut in close to the Munich airport and since my colleague lived here, this became my European base. During these years, I spent several weeks per month living in a local hotel and traveled throughout Europe for business. As our business began to grow in Europe, my trips became more frequent with longer stays. The costs of my hotel stays were far exceeding the cost of having an apartment and at some point, it was clear it would be more cost effective to acquire an apartment.

Those days of living in a hotel are thankfully a distant memory now. Although I felt I had somehow ended up in a village that looked like something you might find at Disneyland, it was no fun to live in a hotel, in place I didn’t know the language and I had no family or friends. Hence, my entire existence was mostly work related. Let’s just say, no one likes lonely. Unfortunately, during those days, I got a big dose of it.

The whole experience of looking for an apartment in Germany was quite interesting, to say the least, in that I had no knowledge of how the rental system worked in Germany. I remember while at one of the first apartments I looked at, I said, “where is the kitchen” (German = Küche) and was informed that it is not common for an apartment or house to include the kitchen with the rental or sale. (I am talking about the whole thing; cabinets, counter tops, appliances, and plumbing). Yep, the renter takes it all with them when they leave. I also noticed that the ceiling lighting consisted of a wire hanging out of a hole with a lightbulb on the end of it. Yep, they take these too. And finally, they do not have built-in closets (German = Einbauschrank). They use what we would call in America, an armoire or a wardrobe. (I must be honest, I just had to Google what we called these…..hmm I have been here way too long).

After looking at a few places, I found my apartment and it had a kitchen!!! So on April 1st, 2011 the contract was signed. It is (2) room (German = Zwei Zimmer) apartment, with a full bath (German = Bad) and a kitchen that was exactly ½ the size of the laundry room in the house I had at the time in America.

On the topic of my apartment kitchen. My refrigerator is the size of a wine fridge or college dorm refrigerator in America. Many of the homes I have been in here in Germany that have a larger refrigerator than mine, are still much smaller than the standard American refrigerator. The concept is that you buy food as you need it (not stockpile it – it fresher and does not lead to so much waste).

Speaking of food waste, there is no garbage disposal in my apartment. I have been informed that this is a safety thing here in Germany (I don’t get that reasoning, I would assume most people would know not to put there hand down there!). For a while, I was using my toilet as my garbage disposal, but I was informed my work colleague, Rene, that this is a “no-go” in Germany and that I needed to take perishable items to a compost container near my house or simply throw it away with my other garbage. I really didn’t see what the problem was. I thought that whether the food I wanted to get rid of was coming from a Tupperware container or scraps from the plate or through the human digestion process, it was going to end up in the same place. Okay, I don’t do this anymore. And finally, I also do not have a dishwasher. There is no room for it. So, I have to kick it old school on this one (dish-pan hands).

My apartment is housed in the roof (German = Dach) of my building on what is the 4th floor in American terms. In Germany, it is classified as the 3rd floor. (well because the ground floor is zero - makes sense, I suppose). I guess one could say I live in the attic, I personally like to refer to it as the penthouse. In that it is in the roof, it has exposed wood beams that look like the beams that would have been inside a large ship in the olden days. It has no air conditioning (as most places do not in Germany; German logic = why have something that uses excessive energy that you only need a few months a year).

The house my apartment is in. Yes, I live over an ice cream shop.

I knew the building was old as many buildings are in the town, but I was not sure how old. I actually live in an area called the Neustadt (translation = New Town). One time I called the building manager (Hausmeister) to complain about some cracks in the walls, which she politely replied: “what do you expect from a 600-year-old home”. (I think the only home in American that might be 600 years old is an Indian teepee)

In America, we measure a home in square feet and in Germany, they measure in square meters (German = quadratmeter). My new apartment was 68 m², which is just over 700 ft². To put this in perspective, in 2009 the national average sized home built in America was 2,164 ft² or 201 m² and the home I had in American at that time was more than double that (huge mistake, I’ll leave it at that).

The company granted me 1,500 Euro’s (~$1800 USD at that time) to furnish my place. Keeping in mind, I had nothing except a couple of suitcases (German = Koffer) of clothes, I needed everything. So, it was now budget shopping time!!! I needed the key essentials for living. Here is what I was able to buy with 1,500 Euros.

  • Couch (possibly the cheapest, most uncomfortable couch ever made)

  • Bed/Mattress (Mattress is an IKEA special – 4 inches of foam - still have it)

  • Wardrobe (armoire)

  • Bedroom Curtains (although I should not have bothered, my neighbor has seen more of me than I am sure would have liked)

  • Dining table (no chairs)

  • Office desk & Chair

  • Lights

  • Misc. Items: dishes, pots/pans, silverware, glasses, iron (Bügeleisen), coffee pot, pillows, towels, bed sheets, bed covers, rugs

My colleague Jakob and his wife Eva helped me through the whole process of purchasing these items and moving in. Then they were kind enough to lend me a whole bunch of items they had stored away in their house. Dining chairs, coffee table, shelving unit, and a storage chest.

I lived a couple of years without a television and washing machine. I would walk across town to a laundry mat that was a laundry mat/casino (that’s something you don’t see every day). After a while, the company purchased a television to use a monitor at trade-shows and I kindly stored it at my house so I could have a T.V. (just the kind of guy I am). It was awesome when I connected it to the cable outlet in the wall and it worked. Yes, I broke into the free cable dance!!! Unfortunately, a couple of years later the “cable guy” came knocking at my door. I sent him away a couple of times, as an American we don’t let people in our house without an appointment and he must have clearly seen my American Flag hanging over the stairway to my apartment (this is true and it is still hanging there today). One day I finally let him in and now I had to pay for cable (I didn’t want the reputation of being the town cable bandit).

The walk across town to do my laundry was getting old, so Jakob located me a washing machine on eBay for 60 Euro and I now had the luxury of having a washing machine. The plumbing connection for the machine is in the bathroom next to the toilet. Very strange, but you can do 2 things at once. I still have this washer and it is working fine today (German engineering).

Unfortunately, I don’t have a clothes dryer, as there is no place to put it. It seems that not having a dryer is quite common here. So, for the first time in my life, I got to use this thing called the laundry drying rack and I also string a line between the exposed beams in my living room (German = Wohnzimmer) for large items like sheets and bedding. The whole air-drying thing actually works out okay, but my clothes and especially the towels are a bit stiff and crunchy when you first use them.

Over the years as I made friends in my new town, many of my friends have given me things when they were moving or replacing something in their homes. Don’t get me wrong, I was not some charity case, they just had items they didn’t need or have a place for, and I gave it a new home. My place is nice. I now have I great sofa and chair, (2) televisions and another wardrobe, a chest of drawers (German = Kommode), shoe storage and oh! some very cool guitars.

Meet, Taylor, Marilyn & T3

Still today, I have no air conditioning, no clothes dryer, no dishwasher and I forgot to mention – I have NO car. (yep, 8 years of walking and traveling to appointments in company paid vehicles with my colleagues and having kind friends who take me places I need to go once in a while). On that note, I could have a car here and I will probably get one. But the longer I lived here and lived without a car, it seemed the cost of having one versus how much I actually would use it, really did not make much sense.

In conclusion, 8 years ago, my career created a situation in which I had to change my primary place of residence. My lifestyle and what I considered my standard of living changed significantly in comparison to my life in America. But you know what? It is just fine, and I like it. This is what I call my downsized life. In life, it is very easy to get too focused on “things” and a lot of the things we have, we don’t use or even need. Yes, a lot of the things we have are nice to have, but we can also live without them. The changes in my lifestyle have taught me a lot over past several years and I am pretty convinced that whether I live here or in America or anywhere I will carry with me the lessons I learned from my downsized life.

OH! Blog Bonus…..my hausmeister told me I was going to get a balcony outside my bedroom, because there is no fire escape from my apartment. Ching!!!

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