Tom moved to Esslingen from the US in 2004 for a new job in the automotive sector. Nowadays he is a happy early retiree who happens to offer guided tours for the city of Esslingen. In this Expat Interview he tells us how this transition happened and shares his insights about expat life in Esslingen with us.
Tom, what brought you to the Stuttgart area?
I had been working in Germany near Ulm and for personal reasons (ie. my future wife) wanted to be closer to Stuttgart. I was offered a job by an American company in Boeblingen, and was the only American working there. This resulted in a move to the Stuttgart area to be closer to work.
What did you do before you moved here?
I had been working as an engineering manager and sales engineer in the aerospace and automotive business for over twenty-five years, living in Los Angeles, California. As a sales engineer, I was able to work with many interesting companies like Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed, GM, Toyota and Ford selling them testing equipment to determine the quality of their products. Prior to that, I was a metallurgical engineering working on the Space Shuttle main engines at Rocketdyne, Rockwell International, the prime contractor on the Shuttle. In 2004, I got a job with Zwick (leading materials testing equipment manufacturer) in Ulm as an Automotive Market Manager, responsible for Zwick’s business development in this market sector. Boy was I shocked to experience a real winter in Ulm after all those years in California!
Oh I can imagine that being a shock! It can get really cold here during winter… Did you know anything about Esslingen before you arrived?
I had a good friend who had lived in Esslingen, but knew nothing about the city. I knew it was close to Stuttgart and Mercedes Benz.
What was your first impression of Esslingen?
When I visited the first time, I spent a whole day walking around the city and photographing it. I immediately became enchanted about the old buildings (half-timbered homes) and architecture and how many beautiful sights it had. And of course, the canals in the city and the location in a river valley were quite impressive. I was really quite amazed about the city’s market square, the Kielmeyer house and double-towered church. (St. Dionyisius – the parish church)
Was something very strange to you at the beginning?
Living and working in Germany in general was an unusual experience. Not only the language (which I had to re-learn after having had German in high school), but the customs and day-to-day life. It was a “total immersion” experience as I tried to acclimate as quickly as possible.
How long did it take you to settle in and what helped you?
It took me a good year before I settled in and began to feel comfortable with life in Germany. It helped that I made friends quickly with colleagues and also joined a sports club. That helped tremendously with the transition. In addition, I was committed to speaking, reading and writing in the German language, including some further education in German as a second language course. I should mention that I was an exchange student in Germany in the 70’s, so it was not my first time living in the country.
Oh really? Where did you stay in Germany when you were a student and what were your impressions of Germany at these days?
Wow, what an impression it was indeed. I was a summer exchange student with a wonderful family from Aachen – a very historical city where dozens of Kings were crowned from the Holy Roman empire and maybe that influenced my life and my love of history. I guess as a 16-year old from a small town in Michigan, it was something that taught me a lot about myself and other people. Germany in 1976 was different then of course with West and East Germany being two countries, only three channels on TV, English and Belgian tanks driving on the streets, worries about terrorism and Russia, and a different music culture (people were crazy about Genesis, Deep Purple, James Harvest Barkley and other groups). The best thing was that I could legally drink beer!
Is there something you like in particular about living in Esslingen?
I have lived in three different countries, and in over 15 places. Esslingen is one of my favorites because it has a combination of things that suit my present lifestyle. I live outside of Esslingen north of the city and enjoy the rural aspect of living there, view of the mountains (Schwabian Jura) the moderate climate with four seasons, and that in 8 minutes I can be in the city, or when necessary travel to Stuttgart and easy access to Southern Germany, Austria and Italy. The older I get, the less tolerate I am of traffic, crowds, parking etc.
What advice would you give other expats that are moving to Esslingen?
Try to learn the German language, get involved in all the various clubs in Esslingen or in your area and participate in the festivals, tours and adopt your new town with an open and inquisitive mindset. There are also now many groups on Facebook who organize activities for expats – a good opportunity to meet others who have come here.
You started working as a tour guide for the city of Esslingen. How come?
I was able to retire early and was looking for something to keep me busy, and out of my wife’s hair (laughs). I love history, culture, photography and am a bit of a story teller, so I thought that it would be fun to show visitors this beautiful city of Esslingen. I introduced myself to the Esslingen Stadtmarketing GmbH, and they happened to be looking for new guides. I am the only American guide, so my English is a bit different than that of my colleagues. I have learned so much, discovered so many interesting parts of Esslingen and in addition to offering the standard historical tour, am expanding my offerings to specialized tours of Esslingen (wine tour, medieval Esslingen, Church Crypt tour etc.) The city offers over 30 tours, which is impressive. I also enjoy meeting so many new people from all over the world.
What are the three main places/sights one should not miss when visiting Esslingen?
Wow, it is quite challenging to limit the recommended sights to three places as I need at least 90 minutes to show my guests the main sights on my tours. However, if I had to recommend only three sites that visitors should not miss they would be:
1. Main market square with the St. Dionysis chuch,
2. Klein Venedig (little Venice)
3. the Maille island with the Inner Bridge (second oldest stone bridge in Germany)
Tom, thank you very much for your time and for sharing your insights about expat life in Esslingen with us.
For more information about Tom’s tours visit his website: