Life List – Let’s Tackle a Big One First

To Do (in) Life List Item # 19. Own real estate


Our Christmas present came early this year.

A few months back when I started putting together my Life “To Do” List, I included this one almost as an after-thought. As an kid from a from a middle class American family, this step was just assumed. A lot has changed since I left California and now these predictions about our generation not achieving the same life style as our parents are really starting to hit home. I wasn’t as shocked as some at the outcome of last years’ crisis, in part because I’d already accepted that I had set myself back more than just a few years by moving abroad and starting over from scratch. But I still figured I was bound to get there someday.

Over here in Germany it’s also a bit different. The German version of “The Dream” is to build a house, plant a tree, have a stammtisch and sire a son. But also prominent is the idea that you might skip the whole home-ownership thing and rent your whole life. In fact, in the major cities it’s usually more expensive to own and live in your own home vs renting.

In our case, what has really stood between us and owning an apartment though has been the uncertainty of where we’ll be in 18 months. Financial issues aside, it just hasn’t seemed worth it to go to all that trouble for something we would have to turn around and sell in a few years.

The Carinthian mountains and valley, and the Slovenian and Italian Alps.

Then it finally dawned on us: We do know where we’ll be, at least twice a year, on vacation. In Austria, tucked away in Carinthia is an alp with a little local ski resort where Oliver’s family has been vacationing for over 35 years. Their small apartment, about a 3.5 hour drive from Munich, was our escape whenever we needed some roommate-free time alone. It was where he took me, straight from the airport, when I arrived for my first visit*.

There it is!

The idea finally occurred to us when we were listening to a friend, in a similar situation, who had just shelved house-hunting in favor of renting, choosing instead to invest in a vacation apartment. With his family growing (at last count, three kids), they were facing significantly increased travel costs just to take a weekend vacation. When they learned their favorite hotel was building bungalows, they jumped at the opportunity to buy one. The hotel would even rent and service the apartment when they weren’t there, allowing them to offset a lot of the costs.

That turned the lightbulb on over our heads.

On our next trip to Austria, we asked around and immediately got a tip about an elderly couple that were looking to sell.  The apartment was almost exactly what we were looking for. It was on the right floor, right size, had a great view from the balcony, and was in  Oliver’s parents’ building. We’d actually hoped for an old moth-eaten place we’d have no problem ripping apart, but unfortunately this one is in perfect vintage condition. It’ll hurt a little to tear out such lovingly-maintained interior, but we’ll get over that.

The view eclipses the building itself.

From idea to reality, not a whole lot of time has actually passed. The previous owners spent one last farewell vacation in their beloved apartment of 40+ years and handed over the keys in November. This year, for the first time, the whole family, including my parents, spent Christmas and New Years in the Alps, and Oliver and I had our inaugural stay in our new apartment.

The sunrise is actually a motivation to get up early.

So this one gets crossed off the list, a lot sooner than I thought it would be, and in its place I’m putting the renovation, that’ll be another first and a pretty big undertaking.

Yay! I’m pretty excited about this little place and what we’ll be doing with it this year. I feel a bit more like I belong there now, and I’m looking forward to getting more involved in life on the mountain. I’m definitely “still foreign”, but less of an outsider.

The sunset and just watching the horizon here can become a major event.

PS: I keep mentioning the view and it really can’t be stressed how much it defines the beauty and character of the place. All the hotels and huts are centered around it. My pictures don’t do the place justice. My parents, with their ever present iPhones, kept trying to capture it, but I don’t think they did better than me. When I posted a series of pictures on facebook, my brother wrote and asked me, ‘Why is Dad flipping off the sunset?’

Screw you sunset. (Can't see? Look closer.)

Maybe he got a little frustrated after all. 🙂

Some pictures of the apartment will be posted soon. I’ll be talking about Austria a bit for the next few weeks, hopefully not too much, but I’m a bit enthusiastic right now, so bear with me.


(*Funny story. From the airport we drove straight to Austria to the apartment building. There a bunch of locals in the restaurant on the ground floor spied us arriving. They’d already heard all about “the American girlfriend”  and insisted we come in to say hello and have a round of schnapps. I’d never done a shot in my life. But with the rounds coming fast, I felt I needed to represent, held my breath and went for it. I was so impressed with myself for pulling it off without a grimace, again and again.

It was only years later that Oliver’s mother taught me how to discreetly discard shots once I reached my limit. This would have come in handy this night. After getting us away, he took me up to the apartment and went to turn on the lights while I took off my shoes. He came back to find me passed out on the bed, shoe still in hand. I didn’t move for another 14 hours.

A 16 hour flight + 4 hour drive + #? schnapps = bye bye, baby. Very romantic reunion indeed.)


7 responses to “Life List – Let’s Tackle a Big One First

  1. Congratulations! What a great feeling, to know that what you are working on will remain in your family forever. I always have trouble letting go of homes that I have renovated, feels like cutting myself off at the roots.

  2. Wow, herzlichen Glückwunsch!

    I am watching the sunrise creep out over the bay towards waves crashing onto the beach from a vacation apartment as we speak…but it doesn’t belong to me (and the day it does, if ever, will be sad).

    I am envious — not of the material acquisition so much, but of the resolve to purchase something like that. So far, we have been coasting on the renter’s lifestyle, because of the convenience mostly, and feeling lucky about our employment / residence situation, as compared to states-side friends and family and local German friends and colleagues with their own situations in states of flux as well.

  3. Congrats!! The place looks beautiful. Good luck with the renovation–but be glad it’s been well maintained, even in “vintage” state. That’s a big advantage–it will save you some nasty surprises in the long run, plus in the meantime, everything’s in good working order so the place is useable. I own an older home in the US (built 1925), and was glad for the same reason–there’s a lot I have (and want to) change, but it’s relatively trouble-free to live in for the time being.

    That said, maybe some of the vintage interior is worth saving or salvaging? When they tore down my grandparents house a few years ago (which was the same age as mine), I salvaged a bunch of odds and ends from it and have reused them in different places in my house. For example, there was a pair of old crystal-doorknob-type drawer pulls back in the pantry. They now grace the front of my brand-new bath vanity and jazz up something that was dead plain. Heck, when I was a kid, my dad refinished some old wood from a barn, and it made the most beautiful honey-colored fireplace mantel. Just sayin’. 🙂

    • Thanks, your advice is good. We’re looking for ways to either salvage or at least pass on some of the interior to someone who can make use of it. The idea of tossing it all is bothering us quite a bit.

      I’m going to pick out a few things to keep and include in the new interior, the rest we’ll probably unload at a flea market: pewter cups and plates, tons of knick nacks, a set of Villeroy and Boch china, two reindeer-hide lamps, 70 billion lace doilies and fake flower arrangements…it’s a good mix of treasure and trash (depending on how you look at it).

      The real shame are the built-in cabinet/shelving, they were made for the apartment at the time of construction, and as we’ve rented other apartments in the building in the past, we can appreciate exactly how great the condition is. We’re hoping we can find someone who would like to adopt our cabinets to replace theirs. It would be a terrible waste.

      As soon as the snow melts, I hope we can get started…

  4. Pingback: Ab in die Berge! Or, How We Went to the Alps to Change the World, One Tiny Ripple at a Time. « Still here, Still foreign

  5. Pingback: Renovation: A Recap | Still here, Still foreign

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