Living overseas has its challenges, and a commonly agreed upon one is finding that perfect place to live. To help those of us who are curious about the different options for living in Germany, readers have answered some of the most frequently asked questions about examples of on-base housing.
Amanda Papenfus has let us glimpse into her lovely home. Thank you so much, Amanda!
What military installation is your home located on?
Our home is located on Vogelweh, part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community.
What is the name of the housing area in which your home is located? Vogelweh
Generally speaking, most on-post homes are approved for occupancy based on military or government rank. If you would like, please provide the range of ranks that your home is approved for?
We live in the stairwells, which are approved for lower enlisted and senior enlisted. There are some townhouses in this area as well which are for senior enlisted and lower enlisted with multiple children.
What DoDDS schools are your home districted for?
Is there a school bus system available? Which school(s) your child(ren) will attend depend on where you live (not where you work). Besides Vogelweh Elementary School, the schools that are part of the Kaiserslautern community of schools include Sembach Elementary School, Sembach Middle School, Landstuhl Elementary/Middle School, Kaiserslautern Elementary School, Kaiserslautern Middle School, and Kaiserslautern High School. To find out where your child(ren) will attend, contact your School Liaison Office or Housing Office.
There is a bus system available for those who live outside their school's walking area but within the school district's lines.
Students will need a bus pass. Vogelweh, Kaiserslautern, and Sembach's School Transportation Office number is DSN 314-480-2877 or 6371-47-2877.
Please describe the “feel” of your neighborhood.
The neighborhood feels similar to a residential area in the States. It is very pet friendly. We have two dogs (a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and a Miniature Pinscher) and often see other dogs out for walks. There are several areas where bags are available for free to pick up after your pets. It is also very child friendly. We don't have kids, but our dwelling is near a playground, and there are often children out there.
I honestly haven't had much contact with the neighbors, but most of the ones I've met have been friendly. The neighborhood feels very safe. I can go down at night to take out the trash or take the dogs for a walk and don't feel like I'm at risk of anything happening to me. I don't know about the other housing on Vogelweh, but in the stairwells the doors automatically lock behind you, which adds an extra level of safety because you always know your home is secure.
Please describe the style of your home (i.e. detached home, duplex, apartment, age of the home, etc.)
We live in a stairwell apartment with four floors and two apartments on each floor. I don't know the year of the apartment itself, but the floors were just redone before we moved in and my husband told me that the man who did the walk through said they refinish the floors every five years.
Please provide general information about your home such as square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, number of stories/levels, special amenities, etc.
Our apartment is a two bedroom with one bath and is about 982 square feet not including the balcony and basement storage area. Before we moved in, we were given floor plans for two different apartments, and that's how we picked which one we wanted. (Note: that is not typical; we'd previously accepted a different apartment and then had to give it up to to my husband's work situation. Since they did not count that against us, we got two offers in our second offer instead of one).
We picked the one we did because it was larger overall and had a balcony and a separate mini-room for the washer and dryer instead of having it in the bathroom (like the other one) or the kitchen (like we'd had in Heidelberg). In addition to including the washer and dryer, the apartment included a dishwasher, oven, and refrigerator.
What places of services are available near your home such as restaurants, shops, commissary, playgrounds, parks, etc.?
On this side, there is the Armstrong Club which has a bar and restaurant inside it. The self-help “store” is on this side. The commissary, gas station, education center, veterinarian, bowling alley, and the car wash and auto service center are all located over on the Kapaun side which is just across the highway and not at all hard to get to. There are playgrounds located conveniently near the housing areas. There are also a couple wooded areas with trails where I have taken the dogs for walks a few times.
How is parking provided for your home?
Each dwelling gets one parking spot marked with the apartment number. Parking for guests and extra vehicles is located along the street and requires parallel parking.
Is there any yard space or outdoor spaces provided for your home?
Since we are in a stairwell, we don't have a “yard” per se. However, there is a lot of green space in between the buildings and on the ends.
What do you feel is special about your home or neighborhood – what makes it feel like “home” here in Germany?
The neighborhood itself kind of reminds me of a suburb I lived in in the States. Besides that, there are a few things that make the apartment feel like home. When we moved to Germany, we heard they don't really have closets, and we got used to not having much closet space in Heidelberg. When we got here, I was excited to find that we have a lot of closet space in the bedrooms, a basement that I can actually move around in rather than a dank room not much bigger than a closet, and I have a spacious kitchen with plenty of storage space and a pantry. We also have an American washer and dryer. It's nice to be able to do laundry without a German-English dictionary and guesswork and to be able to go back to the short wash and dry times I was used to in the states instead of an hour or more to wash a load and a couple hours to dry one.
What housing expenses are included with on-post housing (i.e. utilities, rent, appliances, etc.)?
The housing is rent-free and is included as part of my husband's compensation. The utilities (electricity, water) are free of charge. There was a wireless modem already mounted to the wall in the apartment which made it easy to switch over our TKS from Heidelberg to here. (You must pay for internet on your own if you want it though). AFN is included without requiring a box. We get four channels just using the cord.
As mentioned above, an American washer and dryer were included (and in ours they have their own room; in the other one we were offered, they were in the bathroom). There is a German dishwasher. The 'normal' wash cycle is 130 minutes, but there are other settings that can be used.
The oven is also German. This took some getting used to. Housing provided a handy Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion chart which has been helpful. For some reason, although dots in between temperatures are shown on the dial, we can only set the oven to a few different temperatures. This has required me to pick a different temperature than usual and play around with the cook times.
Are you satisfied with the maintenance services provided by your on-post housing organization?
Knock on wood, we haven't had to use them yet. But I have seen several maintenance vans around, so I assume they are on top of things. The self-help store has been very helpful. I was impressed by our fancy tub stopper until I realized that it doesn't make a full seal. Rather than bother seeing if someone can fix it we just stopped in and asked for one of the plug kind they have for the sinks. The lady there was happy to give us one. (I checked the Ramstein PX for one before we thought of the self-help store. They don't carry them and told me to check Praktiker, so stop by self-help first). They also gave me pegs to fix some shelves that were missing them and will give you lightbulbs for ones that burn out if you bring them the old ones.
Finally, what advantages and disadvantages do you feel have been your experience living on a military post here in Germany?
There are a few advantages to living on post. We have base amenities close by rather than having to drive a distance to reach them. We don't have to hassle with a landlord, rent agreement, or German utilities. We also didn't have to worry about finding somewhere that would accept our pets since we knew they would be welcome in on-base housing.
As safe as Germany has seemed to be overall, there's an extra level of security in knowing the entrances to your residential area are guarded. In this location in particular, the doors that automatically lock are a nice security feature (of course I say that as someone who has not yet managed to lock myself out). They house key is also more like a hotel key, and the same key opens the mail box and storage area, so that is convenient also.
There are a couple of disadvantages to living on post. First, we're limited to what base has available. If you're on the housing list here, you get one offer with about 24 hours to get back to them, and if you turn it down or don't respond, you get one more. We had a bit of a unique situation in that my husband was offered and accepted the first apartment we were given and then was not able to move as quickly as housing would have liked due to his duty assignment. Because of this, they gave someone else the apartment and in our second offer they gave us two different apartments to choose from. It was nice because we were able to compare the different floor plans and pick the one we preferred, but that isn't common.
You're also limited in the bedrooms you're “authorized”. I have talked to some people who live off post, and some of them were able to get more bedrooms than they would have gotten on post well within their OHA (overseas housing allowance). If you have kids you don't want to have to share a bedroom and/or prefer to have extra rooms for computer use, working out, and so on, the opportunity to do that would be an advantage to living off post.
Finally, you miss out on that feeling of authentically living in Germany. While we're never going to have the full “expat” experience because we have the safety net of the military community to fall back on, people who live off post get to have a bit of a different experience that can be rewarding in its own way.
Please provide any COMMENTS that you feel would be helpful for others about living on-base.
If you live on base, it can be easy to be a homebody and not venture too far off post. While that's fine for the day to day, try to make an effort to get out on the economy. As much as we all love Ramstein's mall and eating at familiar places like Chili's, one of the great opportunities of being stationed in Germany is to be exposed to this country. There are a lot of great restaurants and stores around, and some of them are just as (or more) affordable than eating and shopping on base.
There are also many cities you can visit within just a few hours for day trips on the weekends. I have seen more German cities here than I would have in the states and have been to a couple other countries, and I still feel sometimes like we haven't taken as much advantage of the travel opportunities that exist here as we could have. I simply don't understand people who hate living here, and then you tend out to find out those people are the ones who stay home as much as possible. Get out there and enjoy the adventure!