Small is beautiful

New life in a remote German mountain village isn’t so rough after all.


A few weeks ago, we moved to a tiny farm village in Bavaria, Germany. Boasting a population of just over 1,000 people, our village sits at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, and includes a church, bakery, butcher, a restaurant, liquor store and a handful of farmers. It’s the least likely place for a couple from Brooklyn, but they’re stuck with us for a bit.

Our new home is overflowing with Bavarian cuteness that makes us giggle every day. Chickens are in most yards, homes are graced with inspiring Bavarian artwork, and crucifixes greet each of the farm fields.

Yesterday, we were reminded of just how easy things can be living in a small town.

Having lived in Germany for six months, our grace period for driving with a New York City driver’s license has expired. We needed to head to the Landratsamt, the German equivalent of the DMV. With a vocabulary of only about 100 words in Deutsch, this is a terrifying thought.

“Another one, please” or “I’d like a double espresso” aren’t likely to be useful expressions in a DMV.

We’ve been to the worst government offices in New York City, paid our dues getting a visa in Berlin, and now we were faced with the unimaginable. A DMV office in a far away place where we don’t speak the language.

Only…we’re now in a small town. I soon found that small town life has its benefits. Upon visiting the Landratsamt website for our region, I found email addresses of employees listed. Figuring “it can’t hurt”, I blasted out a quick message explaining our situation. And got a response. From a human. In English. I imagine that no one in the history of the American DMV has ever received a helpful email — or possibly any email from a DMV customer service agent, never mind an email in a second language, answering specific questions about a DMV process, to a person who is not a citizen of the country. A man named Philipp detailed the address of our local office, and what kind of documents we’d need to have available.

Large unused space, awkward seating on the perimeter, and random plants wheeled to the center of the space. This is the inside of a German DMV.

We arrived the next day at the Landratsampt and were greeted with typical DMV awkwardness. A giant room where you grab a number, wait for the chime and your turn to be drawn.

In the corner, there’s a drill press, so that drivers can drill their own holes in their newly acquired license plates. Seriously. The sound of drilling fresh metal filled the otherwise silent room, adding to our nervousness.

Our number is chimed, and we sheepishly head to the assigned agent. We carefully explain our situation, and are immediately greeted with “Oh! you sent an email yesterday to Philipp!” Ummm…yes, that’s us. “Just go right outside this office, make a left, and I’ll meet you in the hallway.”

We were greeted by our new DMV friend, who introduced us to my email pal Philipp, and were pleasantly walked through the process of extending our driving permissions in Germany. Minutes later, we were on the Autobahn driving slower than all of the locals, on the way home, still baffled that this entire experience was so easy.

Melissa, with our new found permit to drive freeways without speed limits.

We may not have a doorman, Seamless, Uber, chinese food, pizza or a bodega…but we can get things done in a DMV within minutes, without speaking the language.

Small town life isn’t so bad after all.