Before we moved to Switzerland in July of 2014, we’d heard whispers about a rather peculiar custom in certain parts of Europe – the practice of lugging one’s entire kitchen with them when moving to a new home. Though we were a bit surprised to find that it is in fact common in Switzerland for a renter to have to buy many things for a flat that are typically provided by landlords in the US, we didn’t encounter the phenomenon of apartments with naked kitchens in Switzerland.
In fact, we found a beautiful flat with a landlord who generously offered to leave us everything from the fancy ceiling lamps to the beautiful white lace curtains that had belonged to his family. With its high-end kitchen appliances, generous counter and cupboard space, perfect picture window above the sink, and a refrigerator twice the size of your typical European fridge, we’re well aware that our Swiss kitchen was a notch above most. While we didn’t take it for granted, we also didn’t appreciate nearly enough that we didn’t have to buy the kitchen when we moved in.
It wasn’t until Travis accepted the job in Göttingen and we started flat hunting last month that the memories of these rumored kitchen-less apartments resurfaced.
Lo and behold, they’re not rumors in Germany!
Finding the tradition an expensive and inconvenient nuisance as soon as we arrived, we did our best to find a rental flat with an Einbauküche (fitted kitchen), or at least the skeleton of one. Right up until the minute we actually signed the lease on our new flat, we were still holding out hope we would find a flat that was move-in ready. No sooner had the ink dried on the lease agreement than our excitement at finding a flat faded, quickly replaced by the crushing weight of two non-German speakers trying to buy a kitchen in December, when the entire country seems to be on vacation.
How exactly does one find a kitchen in Germany?
Would we need to buy it in pieces – appliances from one store, cupboards from another, and so on? Could we find a used one to save money? If so, how would we make someone else’s custom Einbauküche fit in our kitchen? The sink would have to have been cut in the counter top on the right to align with the plumbing in our kitchen, the cupboards would need to fit underneath a weird lowered portion of ceiling above that wall, and the oven would have to fit into the entire unit so it would align with the right wall adapter. Even after returning to our new flat to take detailed measurements of every surface, we couldn’t imagine how to go about buying all the right parts that would fit together in our space. It felt like an insurmountable task.
Hoping to save some money, we first started looking for a used Einbauküche. We’ll only be in Göttingen for two years and we certainly won’t be moving a kitchen with us back to the States, or anywhere else we might move for that matter, so we clearly didn’t want to spend much money on it.
Ruling out the few local secondhand shops that (unsurprisingly) don’t sell appliances – or entire kitchens – we scoped out eBay-Kleinanzeigen, which is a rather nifty German amalgam of eBay and Craiglist; new and used items are listed for sale on a site that resembles eBay, but buyers can contact the seller directly, it doesn’t have listing fees, and items aren’t purchased by auction. Dismayed to find only a handful of listings, we quickly browsed through our options, discounting all of them for one reason or another. Most were simply too expensive; even used, several were well over 1000 dollarydoos. Others wouldn’t fit our tiny kitchen.
Next up, we hit up a kitchen store selling new Einbauküchen. In less than five minutes, we had ascertained that even the fake fruit in the fake bowls on the fake counter tops was well out of our price range.
From there, we skedaddled to Sconto, a huge discount furniture store in town. A nice English-speaking sales associate showed us to several inexpensive kitchen units, and just when we started feeling hopeful we might actually be able to buy a kitchen on the spot and move in to our flat before Christmas, he told us they were so booked out that they wouldn’t be able to install it until after February 1st.
What the hillbilly?!
Hopes dashed, we were wholeheartedly regretting our hasty decision to rent a flat with no kitchen. Would it have been better to remain in expensive temporary guesthouses and gamble on eventually finding a flat with a kitchen? The jury’s still out on that one…
Once our frustration level dropped back to a manageable level, we drove to the town of Kassel about 1/2 hour from Göttingen to check out another kitchen store. Despite its potentially lofty name – “Norbert Kimm Elektro-Hausgeräte” – we arrived to find a sketchy building, windows barred, peddling incredibly overpriced appliances, some stacked outside in the rain with even more crammed into every crevice inside.
It was like an American pawn shop hawking stolen wares – an American pawn shop selling “THE BEST,” that is.
I suppose the one thing the store really had going for it was the incredible variety and size of their refrigerators. For the first time in Europe, we saw appliances as large as American ones.
After much hugging of large appliances, we left empty-handed.
The next, and last, stop on our frenzied Einbauküche shopping spree was to IKEA, a store I normally avoid like the Black Death. The few times we’ve suffered a visit to IKEA, I’m reminded of how much I dislike their cheap, particle-board and plastic furniture, cardboard couches, pieces devoid of warmth or comfort, mass produced material goods cranked out for the masses who’ll be back at IKEA in a year or two to replace whatever object they bought that’s already broken or falling apart. Anything actually made of solid wood is poorly crafted and grossly overpriced.
Ikea lovers, don’t be hatin’. You know it’s true.
Prior to this week, I never would have imagined buying anything save for their gooseberry jam, Swedish meatballs, and soft-serve ice cream. But after our visit, I have an entirely new understanding and heartfelt appreciation for the niche they fill!
Anyone who’s been to IKEA knows there’s no such thing as a “quick stop.” Once inside, you’re like a rat in a maze, winding your way through rooms full of things you might like to buy, furiously scrawling long and confusing descriptions of items on a little piece of paper to pick up downstairs in the warehouse, or if the item doesn’t have a tag, trying desperately to commit it to memory so you can find it again when you get to – hmmm, where will that item be, anyway? Nobody really knows.
Not expecting the fully merchandised kitchens to be of any use to us, we mostly skimmed through them until we unexpectedly came upon one for €199. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t high quality or built to last, but it was cheap. Well, cheaper, anyway, than anything we’d seen anywhere else. Unfortunately that didn’t include any of the appliances, but it was a start.
When we finally realized that each kitchen had a separate price tag just for the cupboards and framework and that we’d have to buy every piece of every appliance separately (meaning even the sinks didn’t come with faucets), we browsed back through every kitchen more thoroughly.
Once we had an idea of the price range of each separate item, we measured a variety of each to try to find a configuration that would fit our exact kitchen dimensions. With those in hand, we sat down at one of their computers for customers to enter all their item numbers to create an order. Not only was it only in German (we haven’t yet learned nearly enough German to place an order for a kitchen), but we weren’t confident we’d really selected pieces that would fit together.
Again starting to feel like the task was insurmountable, we finally tracked down a sales associate to ask for help. After waiting for a bit for someone who spoke English, we immediately realized this guy knew his stuff!
We had taken photos of the kitchen we most liked, the second cheapest in the store, and after showing it to him along with the measurements from our kitchen, we bombarded him with questions. He answered them all confidently and thoroughly. He had the dimensions of just about every appliance and unit memorized and began to sketch out the kitchen we had already put together on our list.
He gave us great tips, cautioning us to leave 5 cm of space on either side of the entire unit to make sure the doors would all open correctly rather than trying to have the unit extend wall to wall as we were planning. He walked through every aspect of the kitchen with us, right down to providing alternatives for counter top material (we opted for a solid birch counter-top that we both love!), substituting the stark white cabinet fronts with lined off-white ones that have a more rustic look, and letting us pick out old-fashioned cupboard pulls instead of the generic black ones.
Confident that we finally had picked the pieces that would fit in our kitchen, we again sat down at the computer, this time with our sales associate. We watched as he breezed through finding each piece and adding it to our list, carefully confirming we had thought of every single piece of plumbing for the sink and every cupboard pull before finalizing our order. Once tallied, the total came to a whoppin’ €931.
I’d say it could only have been worse if we’d had to buy the kitchen sink, but we DID have to buy the kitchen sink.
We then asked the associate about delivery and installation. Not only would delivery cost another €129, but installation would be charged by the linear meter, so we could expect to pay around €600 for that. Even if we put together as much of it as we could and just had their installers cut the hole for the sink and take care of the electrical for the stove, we’d still be charged by the linear foot. Since the price was prohibitive, it didn’t even matter that they were also booked into mid-January for installation.
Opting not to include installation, we also declined delivery when our associate offered to split our order into two, assuring us we’d be able to easily fit everything in our VW Golf in two trips. Not only would we save ourselves the extra fee, but we wouldn’t have to wait for delivery, which was booked out.
We paid, picked up our larger items from the warehouse team, and loaded up everything we’d bought except for the oven, which we’d pick up the following day. True to the sales associate’s word, everything was well packaged, compact and easy to stack, and though we had to lay even the front seat down for the counter top, I burrowed contentedly in the back seat with the boxes on the ride home.
After an exhausting couple of days of kitchen shopping, over 5 hours of them at IKEA alone, we finally arrived at our flat sometime before midnight and unloaded our new purchases. With yet another monumental task conquered, now we just have to figure out how to install our brand new kitchen – and soon!
Cost of our German Einbauküche
€931 – IKEA purchases for cabinet units, counter, sink, and oven
€100 – Contractor for entire kitchen installation, minus construction of cabinets, which we did ourselves
€100 – Nice, huge, used Samsung fridge from eBay Kleinanzeigen
€40 – Large 2-piece solid wood kitchen hutch/cabinet, also from eBay Kleinanzeigen
Know Before You Go
We could have shaved off several hundred euros if we hadn’t “splurged” on upgrades for the counter counter-top, sink, cupboard fronts, and cupboard handles. Without those upgrades, the kitchen would have cost about €750.
You can save a lot of money in delivery fees if you’re willing to load up and haul your boxed kitchen yourself rather than paying for store delivery.
If you’re a fan of buying used, like we are, keep in mind that the cost of having a custom EBK (Einbauküche ) re-fitted for your kitchen space could end up costing as much as, or more than a new kitchen.
Good options for unloading your kitchen when you move include selling it to your landlord or selling it directly to the new tenants if you happen to be in contact with them.