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Up in Smoke – Be kind to your Electrical Devices

10 Apr Posted by in Family Life, Technology | 6 comments
Up in Smoke – Be kind to your Electrical Devices
Today’s post is written so that this doesn’t happen to you.


With every electronic device I have brought from the US to Germany, I have been very careful to use with caution.

The Computer, that’s an easy one. Cords can typically be swapped out and you may have a tab behind the computer that needs to be switched. (Like the red one shown here.)


The keyboard (electric piano) has 9V power


and a different plug can be purchased at even your local Real.


And then these plugs are different sizes to fit into the the device. 


The treadmill was a bit more complicated.


Just tell ‘em Large Marge sentcha…this thing weighs at least 20lbs and would probably convert an entire house of US electrical devices. (Please don’t really listen to the Science Dummy writing.)

But the point is, check the back of the electrical item before plugging in to any converter and if you are unsure, ask a friend who knows about electrical items and/or check the web for advice. And use reliable web sources…like…not me.

I plugged the VHS machine into the converter and it turned on, so I thought all was in order. Until my husband hit the play button on the machine and suddenly thin lines of smoke started to rise from the black box.

Me: Unplug it…Unplug it! Crap, where is the nearest fire extinguisher. Oh, that’s right. WE DON’T HAVE ONE!

Kay: Careful now… something could happen.

Me: Yeah, a fire could happen if you don’t UNPLUG IT!!!!

And this is the culprit.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with this converter other than the person trying to use it.

Me: We should have used the treadmill converter. Large Marge.

Kay: You know, I was actually thinking that, but didn’t say anything.

Me: Ggggrrr! (And almost in tears.) I didn’t even think of it. I was thinking the VHS machine should be like a laptop and I’ve used this converter several times for several hours with the laptop.

In my defense, this is the back of the VCR.


So why the heck do I still have a VHS machine anyway, you ask? Because of old videos from high school and college. High school plays and college TV projects (I majored in Communication with an emphasis in TV Production). But obviously no electrician experience in any of these classes!

After the machine went up in smoke, I went online to see if there was a way to retrieve the tape from the machine without damaging the tape or exposing our home to a potential fire hazard. (The machine stunk, but at least not as bad as burnt hair.)

Too afraid to re-plug in the machine as various blog posts suggested when a tape is stuck in a VCR (None of which, I found, had an answer for smoking VHS machines while abroad. And I’m a big chicken who didn’t want to try re-plugging in the machine with the proper converter), I decided to try and dismantle the machine. Despite the warning on the back, “Risk of Electric Shock. Do not Open.”

It would be like playing a childhood board game in the US, “Operation.” Accidentally touch a metal piece and “ZZZzzzz,” next participant please. My ideas just kept getting more intelligent that night.

And yes, I was sober… I think.

The machine was unplugged and I touched plenty of metal-to-metal with absolutely no shocks.

But now I have a big pile of self-made VHS tapes and no way to watch nor transfer the videos to another format. 


Suggestions anyone? We tried borrowing a machine from the neighbor that plays NTSC in addition to PAL, but either the TV wouldn’t sync or the machine is too old because it doesn’t work.

I was thinking of maybe contacting a local college or something to see if they could transfer the videos…but there are a bunch of tapes (over 30) and several hours worth.

And do I really want someone else watching my most embarrassing moments? Clothes remained on, you dirty minded people.

As far as moving to another country goes, packing and deciding what stays and what goes with you can be challenging.

Especially since the electricity isn’t even remotely the same going from 120 to 220 (the opposite direction is a bit safer).

As such, I’ve put together a little list of electrical things that I am glad I brought, things I’m not convinced about, and things I’m glad I didn’t bring.

Good ideas – Items that have no problem making the 120V to 220V conversion:

1.)    Touch pads (iPad, iPod, iTouch, Samsung Galaxy, whatever brand you prefer).

2.)    Laptops & Computers (I wish I would have bought a new computer before I left though).

3.)    Book readers (e.g. Kindle).

4.)    Sonicare toothbrush – Kay was able to find a European charger in lieu of the US one.

5.)    Basically any electronical device that can be charged by a computer is perfect to bring overseas and cheaper to buy in the US. We have bought numerous USB AC Adapters to go with our various devices.

6.)    Any device that has low voltage (i.e. 4.5V, 6V, 9V, 12V)  power can typically be converted by buying a cheap new plug if the cord is detachable from the device.

Items to evaluate – These depend on whether or not the plug can just be swapped out. If the cord can not be separated from the device, strongly consider whether or not you bring it as a converter will be necessary:

1.)    Cameras – My DSLR I would never part with. I currently use my little white converter to re-charge batteries.

2.)    Computer Monitors – My cord did separate from the computer and we could have just swapped it out. But it broke in the move and had to be disposed of properly here.

3.)    Televisions – The cord didn’t separate from the monitor. It stayed in the US. I was told that not all European DVD players would sync with a US TV anyway. I haven’t personally confirmed this. Not only is the voltage different, but the frequency is as well. If you buy a TV in Germany, it has the ability to work with 220V as well as 120V and the frequency (50Hz/60Hz) is also adjustable so if you move back to the US, you can use the TV there too.

4.)    Sound Systems (Bose) – I didn’t want to part with it. We have a converter and I found an online code to unlock the system so I can watch DVDs regardless of region. 


Apparently Bose systems here work in the same fashion as TVs; the German version is compatible in both countries without a separate converter.

5.)    Treadmills – the converter is extremely heavy and a bit excessive. Treadmills are expensive here, so although I saved money, not sure the converter we have for it was the best idea.

Not recommended – These items may be more expensive overseas, but you will be glad with the quality of product when you buy it in 220V instead:

1.)    Blow dryers, Curling Irons, Flat Irons – Any hair devices. (Shaver might fall under the small voltage category, but I don’t own a US one, so not entirely sure.)

2.)    Blenders, coffee makers, microwaves, or other kitchen appliances that may be close to water, don’t even consider bringing.

3.)    Vacuums – Haven’t tried nor would I want to. Cords seem to be longer in the US, but moving around a converter from plug-to-plug seems more tedious than the idea of vacuuming.

4.)    Digital Alarm Clocks – I just didn’t want to deal with another converter being plugged in all the time.

5.)    DVD player – It would have needed a converter; for the amount of money DVD players cost these days, I decided to leave it in the US.

6.) Washer and Dryer – Unless you are in the military (which may open alternative doors), not only is the electricity not compatible, but typically houses here are not setup to provide hot water to the Washer (German Washers heat up the water through the machine, not from the hot water tank) and Dryers aren’t typically setup to have an external exhaust as they do in the US.



  1. Melissa04-11-12

    Just found your blog the other day via ExpatMom in Guatemala. I’ve lived in Europe, Asia, Australia and now South America and I have NEVER understood the electrical thing so I’ve fried a few electrical things along the way!

    We just moved to Brazil and left most electrical items back home since it was just too confusing. Brazil’s electric current varies from 100 to 240 volts, and from 50 to 60Hz and there can even be variations within one Brazilian CITY!

    Hope you figure out a way to transfer your tapes!

    • Mommy04-11-12

      Ok, I don’t feel so bad now. LOL Yeah, I figure what electrical appliances I do have will eventually be grandfathered out. But crazy that Brazil’s electricity changes even by city! I can’t imagine. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Carolee04-11-12

    Hi there!
    Normally all you need is a video recorder/player that plays NTSC and automatically “reads” the video type. They are usually pretty old though considering hardly anyone watches videos now. You may just want to try out another recorder. Good luck!

    • Mommy04-11-12

      A neighbor back at home still has a VCR…I’m hoping to somehow get it here and see if I can make it work without frying it. LOL No, really. I’ll probably slowly bring the tapes back to the US and figure out a way to convert them there. I’m such a sap when it comes to reminiscing.

  3. Mona Raub04-12-12

    I have a VHS player and a DVD recorder. I would be able to covert them to DVD I believe.

  4. Melissa04-13-12

    I just heard of this the other day and thought of you:

    I wish I would have known that this existed about a month ago when we moved! I just got rid of a VCR and a bunch of Disney VHS tapes that I bought at a rummage sale. Since the tapes are so bulky, I didn’t want to bring them to Brazil. My girls are pretty mad about not being able to watch Cinderella and the Little Mermaid! I don’t understand the Disney vault deal. I would have bought them all on DVD if I could have.

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