German Absurdity: Buying A Kitchen

German Absurdity: Buying A Kitchen

No I don't want to build a kitchen.
      No I don't want to own a house.
           No I don't want to own a kitchen in an already built house.

While many people dream of designing a dream kitchen they never imagine installing one. They only see the luxury of picking out materials and colors. They only think about shopping for tip top appliances and fixtures. They only imagine themselves in the finished space tasting sauces off of wooden spoons like in the movies. No one actually thinks about not having access to a habitable kitchen for at minimum up to ten weeks. No one thinks about sawdust and fiberglass littering ones home for months. No one smells the sweaty balls of multiple men lifting an oven off of the floor. But all of the above is what it takes to build a kitchen. Just a working kitchen not a chef's kitchen, a dream kitchen or a luxury kitchen. Sadly, most apartments and homes in Germany have no existing kitchen. No cabinets. No sink. No appliances. All you may see is a source for water and a few outlets for appliance connections. And you as the tenant or owner have to build your own kitchen from the ground up. The cost for this can be as low as 350 Euros if you do some economy all in one situation with a "hot plate", a small sink, two cabinets and a microwave. You can also spend in excess of 10,000 to 20,000 Euros building a kitchen that accommodates a growing family and space i.e. four walls, middle island, lots of storage and larger appliances. Either way you are being forced into what you dreamed about and it can become your worst nightmare.

Pinterest doesn't help you in Germany because the rules have changed.

There is no simple triangle format for your kitchen. You cannot account for a pantry, built in wine rack or a gift wrapping station. You have now left the zone of 1600 square feet to 55 quad meters and no you may not have a cubby for your Ninja whateverthefuck. You have no space! You need eight different kinds of trash receptacles. Maybe you just converted a pre-war home from gas to electric. You also have other problems like immigration, getting a job that isn't waiting tables and vehicle emissions. So your options at this point - Ikea and Ikea. At least Ikea can show you how to cram a lifetimes worth of crap into a sardine can. Even if you never intend to live in a cardboard box Ikea can at least inspire you to conserve and not go broke. But while browsing these blue box stores remind yourself repeatedly that you DO NOT have to buy your entire kitchen there. Because as decent as those models are they are going to be twelve times shoddier when you and your distressed spouse put that pressed wood together. And it isn't about the quality of the goods or the lack of instructions it is the fact that you have to carry 12034 parts up five flights of stairs in Berlin OR pay someone to do that. So the best way to handle getting your kitchen is to have a kitchen installer from start to finish. They will execute your vision and it can certainly be inspired from Ikea. We spent several weeks going to local Ikea stores, standard kitchen stores and appliance shops. We came with our own tape measures and a very large pizza pan on each visit. Because you will need to do the following to go forward ...

  • Measure the stairwell and or elevator in your apartment FIRST
  • Know the exact measurement and clearance of your garage door(s) SECOND
  • Know that whatever oven you choose can fit the largest pizza you can make at home (that is what the pan is for and if you feel weird about bringing one there is typically one used as decor or a gigantic fruit bowl around which simulates an American size turkey)
  • Take a tape measure with you everywhere and take actual notes on your phone or a notepad (I recommend the phone because I left my notepad at an Ikea never to be found again)
  • Shop around for appliances as you may have to get them from several different sources
  • Be honest about how you feel about installing anything related to a kitchen - i.e. you found the dishwasher but the kitchen company will not install it for you so what's next - imagine that
  • Remember Germany is not very customer service oriented so if you don't ask they may not tell you and timelines will change and at the last minute so are you prepared to eat Lieferando for months on end - you need to be honest with your installer and set some expectations up front i.e. you plan to host a dinner or go on vacation or you need home cooked meals to survive

All of the above happened to us and others and I assure you it can and will happen to you. And it never gets better interacting with Germans who find no fault in this process of "buying" a kitchen. It is treated as a price of admission of moving. Either you are removing your existing kitchen and trying to install it into an entirely new space - which could be smaller or larger or oblong or L shaped. You are doing this for the very first time which means you plan on having what you purchase for at least a decade. Or you are taking over another tenant or owners kitchen and customizing it to your liking. And of course a lot of Germans and other expatriates do renew their kitchens with upgrades or remodeling over time. But most Americans move into a space that at least has a workable kitchen and most of the time we move into a space FOR the kitchen. So the notion of having spent whatever and there is absolutely nothing to work with is upsetting for us. We don't see any fun in having to bear that expense and we feel that it is unduly. A lot of us do not find this process to be normal as it throws a wrench in getting settled. You cannot settle if there is literally nowhere to put your shit or make a cup a coffee. At times there aren't even floors or walls just a corner you assume can be a kitchen. And then you have to go into this process maybe not knowing the language or having the cash flow to do this.

I swear this is why lieferservice exists....

If you take at least two days every week for a month visiting places you may set your sights on a kitchen. Most kitchen stores as well as Ikea offer an all in price for an entire room including its appliances. For some this is the way to go to just get it over with but remember it is yours. You will be maintaining everything yourself, moving it or selling it down the line. So you may fare better customizing the kitchen to your liking up front. In that you may like the overall look of the model room but want to change a fixture or two or prefer a different appliance. This is where your tape measure will come in handy. You also want to test the overall fit for you and whoever will use the kitchen. This is important as you cannot change things every year as your child grows or add more space for additional small appliances. You have to imagine the possibilities during the process otherwise you will get stuck with something you may outgrow too soon. So do the following with your notes and or tape measure...

  • Check the height of the counter & cabinets and make sure it is reasonable to your height and reach - some larger kitchen stores will have a hydraulic display to check heights for preference and you would be surprised what you like or what is seriously uncomfortable for a shorter or taller person in your household!
  • Get swatches and touch samples of materials and think about your cleaning and using for long term for cabinets, counters, work spaces etc. 
  • Check that storage meets your needs - like pre-fabricated drawer compartments look nice but what if your utensils or dishes do not fit in those? 
  • Ensure that your existing kitchen supplies work with the appliances you choose i.e. do your pots work on induction? does your fancy coffee maker stow away in that cabinet? 
  • Check the energy ratings and warranties of all appliances - do not settle for what looks good but is non efficient!
  • The sink and faucet will be important - do you need two? will you hand wash dishes or just use the dishwasher?
  • Really inspect the trash systems available to you and how they can accommodate your homes waste needs FYI there are no garbage disposals! 
  • Will laundry be in your kitchen space? Do you have to eliminate an appliance like a dishwasher because your washer will take that water source?
  • Are your water meters and other utilities accessible once you build your cabinets? We had to have a hole cut in our cabinet so our water meter could be read twice a year.
  • Do you really need that immovable island, fancy range exhaust or pull out drawer pantry as they will be the MOST expensive items in your kitchen? Are there any alternatives for you?
  • Will you eat in your kitchen? - at a bar like space, at a table inside of your completed kitchen etc? Measure that out - the height for seating, the space for a table for two, four or more.
  • Will you require a small OR large refrigerator, freezer? or a deep freezer somewhere else like in the cellar?

So in our case we found most kitchen stores including Ikea would be up to ten weeks out for installation. So we found a company that did it in under three. However, they delayed on us for an additional two weeks. The installation was under a day but we supplied our own oven and refrigerator as we found both on Amazon way cheaper. Had the installers brought that fridge up the installation probably would have took an additional day. We purchased an American style fridge and XXL oven as we like to entertain.We did not do a complete model room and we opted out of a lot of features like an over the range exhaust, a built in microwave and an island. We found that the exhaust we preferred was 1,300 Euros and the island would have been an additional 2,000. We have large windows so that is our hood when we cook smelly things but we left space to purchase one at a later date. We used an existing microwave shelving it above the housing for our oven. We bought and built two butcher block tables from Ikea this way we had moveable, additional storage and a bar like setting for eating. We also chose one sink with a tiny bar sink and a two bin receptacle only for mull and glass as we house pfand, papier and verpackung elsewhere. Both of the latter options freed up so much space for us. And no our existing pots didn't use induction and our utensils didn't fit into those cubbies. The kitchen company we chose sent a crew out to us twice. They came once to see the potential kitchen space and measure things out. So we made sure to have the butcher blocks and refrigerator in place. The second time was for the installation which would be complete in hours. We had a great team of seasoned installers. We provided frühstuck for them and most of their work was done in the hallway outside of the apartment. Most of the cabinetry and counters were pre-cut to measure but other odds and ends were cut in our hallway. The installers did have questions for us throughout the process so one of us had to remain there at all times. And of course no one spoke English and communication is necessary when someone is explaining how to use an appliance or how to disassemble the kitchen in the future. Thankfully for us our team was very tidy and there was minimal clean up once the job was complete.

In comparison to the stories of others our kitchen experience went rather smooth. But our existing pots didn't use induction and our utensils didn't fit into those cubbies. We learned the hard way as our first meal required running to a Tchibo on a Saturday afternoon for a cheap set of induction ready pots & pans and our cooking tools are now housed on the countertops. Those cubbies do fit spices though! All my baking things like American heavy duty cookie sheets and Williams & Sonoma muffin tins were also too deep for the oven despite its "XXL" size. And without the vent/exhaust we have no dim kitchen lighting so that sort of sucks. And our stand mixer doesn't fit anywhere in our kitchen either so it resides on a shelf in our living room next to all of our family of cookbooks in two languages. All of the above 7,000 Euros later.

Don't be us.


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