Beobachter in English translates to “Observer”. In this series, I explore the momentous move I made in the beginning of 2022, coming from sunny California, to the industrial powerhouse of Europe: Germany.

Stepping off the 747 was just like arriving at any other airport; annoying, but you get through it. The week before our arrival, I had booked an AirBNB for one week for us to stay in while we figured out a more permanent solution. Our host thankfully spoke English, and we arranged for us to get us at the local S-Bahn station.

First hurdle: Getting to Stuttgart. The plane arrived in Frankfurt, and the second leg of the trip was to be done via high speed train. After getting through border control (which is always that fun feeling of having your stomach drop for no reason), you enter the luggage pickup area, which just like in the US has a bunch of carousels with the accompanying flight numbers attached to them. After finding the right carousel, we waited…and waited…and waited. After all of the luggage came out and ours were nowhere to be found, I flagged down a worker at the desk who, in broken English, explained that our luggage would be at the railway station. I interpreted that as “Your luggage would be at the railway station of your final destination“. With that knowledge safely tucked inside, we proceeded to the railway station, following the signs that were thoughtfully laid out. To get there, you have to go to the upper level, cross a very long bridge, and go back down a bunch of levels where the platform is. Somewhere along the line, I stopped and purchased a pre-paid mobile SIM card from a vendor – it wasn’t the best deal in the world, but at the time I needed a working phone, so I went with it.

As expected, the train arrived right on time. After clambering on with our personal bags and carry-ons, we took a seat for what was a two hour ride to Stuttgart. Looking out the window and seeing the cloudy sky contrasted by crops, I thought it was all quite pretty:

The train ride itself was pretty uneventful – what was not waiting for us at the other side was. After we arrived in Stuttgart, I looked around for a luggage claim, and that’s when the fact that there is no luggage claim dawned on me: there was no baggage claim here; our luggage was all the way in Frankfurt!

As the horror dawned upon me, I started using the automated ticket machines to see how much two tickets back to Frankfurt via train would cost; the news was not too encouraging: over 200 euros for the both of us, round trip. I decided it would probably be cheaper and easier to rent a car and drive all the way back to Frankfurt (~2 hours one way), get our luggage, and come back down.

With that in mind, we proceeded to meet up with our AirBNB host where we would spend a week before looking for more appropriate accommodations. To get to her from the main railway station, we had to use the inter city light rail, called the “S-Bahn”. After finding the right one to use, we bought tickets at the automated ticket machine on the platform, and boarded the correct one, heading towards the Stuttgart Airport.

Thankfully, a lot of people here know English, including our lovely host. We met at the Oberaichen S-Bahn stop in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, a suburb of Stuttgart itself. We then went back to her place, where she showed us our accommodations; small for two people, but it was what we wanted at the time.

Finished having put our stuff down, we then had to figure out what to do next. I started to look for the nearest car rental places – our host recommended the airport itself (logically enough). I called the Enterprise there and after having a bit of fun trying to explain what I wanted, I was able to get a reservation!

I then walked to the S-Bahn station (mind you, this was about ~4pm or so in the afternoon, so the sun was starting to dip his head down a bit) – bought another ticket, and then hopped on towards the airport. Getting there, I did manage to find my way to the rental desk, and was able to get the car – a newish Renault Twingo. Fun, I’ve always wanted to drive a Twingo!

The first thing you’re greeted with when driving in the rest of the world is a manual transmission, and this car was not an exception. Another interesting thing you’re greeted with are manual windows on all four doors – and to make it more interesting, they wind in the opposite way than you would expect (IE you wind them counter clockwise to open, clockwise to close). It has a start-stop system, and I never once found it to be too intrusive for one reason – the Twingo would let you slide the car into gear when the engine has stopped, so all you need to do to get going again is to depress the clutch which would automatically restart the engine.

So, the situation at the moment was not too good – I had no way of knowing if our luggage would even be there, or if someone else had taken it off of our hands for us. I drove back to the where we were staying to get my sister, getting used to the car and the German traffic system along the way. The car had a way for me to connect my iPhone with a cable to it to listen to music, but I do not recall if it had CarPlay. Setting course to Frankfurt International, we got on the Autobahn and headed off into the cold night, three cylinder engine humming away behind us.

However, that is not the best of ideas that I have had…a 13 hour flight takes a big toll on the human body, and now being asked to operate a car for over two hours is an even bigger ask. I had to pull aside twice – once at a roadside car park, and the second time at a petrol station – to take a nap. The petrol station experience was interesting – after napping, I went inside for a coffee, and found that the lady there did not actually speak English! That did come as a bit of a shock since everyone up until now was able to speak at least a bit of English to me. The order was sloppily made and I did get my coffee, which enabled me to continue the trip up north.

Yes, the almighty Renault Twingo. I found out later on that these cars are basically badge engineered versions of the Smart ForFour - so they're rear engined, rear wheel drive with three cylinders. If that is not a baby 911, I'm not sure what is!

After arriving at Frankfurt and finding a car park at the airport, we then went inside in search of our luggage. We started at the most logical place, which would be the front desk; they told us that it would still most likely be at the railway station, and gave us detailed instructions on how to get there. After walking all the way down to the railway station, we found a single man there, who told us that our luggage was not there and that we should go to the baggage claim back at the airport as they might have taken it there as unclaimed baggage. Walking all the way back to the main building, now quite stressed, we found our way to the downstairs area, and found a door in which to ring to get back into the baggage claim area. We then found the Lufthansa desk and were able to actually get our luggage back, which made me quite relieved!

After paying for parking, we then loaded the car and pointed Google Maps back towards home base. It was during this 2 1/2 hour drive that it started to rain, and I learned:

  1. The speed limiter of the Twingo is just 180 kmph (~105 mph), and
  2. You’re not always going to be the fastest guy on the road, and you do need to pay attention and not hold people up.

I was passed by quite a few Mercedes and BMWs – and even a Golf – simply because I couldn’t go any faster. Even in the rain, people were still passing me handily.

After driving and driving, we got home safe and sound, and the following day dumped the car back at the airport.

Next week, I’ll recount the awkward first few days here, including finding a place to live. Losing my luggage was so far the most expensive screw-up, but as you’ll find out, it wasn’t that expensive after all.

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