Friday, 18 April 2008

Ich möchte ein Bankkonto eröffnen bitte

Today we had an appointment at 10am with Deutsche Bank at their imposing branch on Unter Den Linden. We need a German bank account to pay for the services of people like our personnel surveyor, for the house sale, for paying the utilities companies when we move, and ultimately to pay our wages into when we get a job. If the pound continues its free-fall descent into Euro parity, it would also be prudent to convert our money from the house sale into Euros asap before all we can afford is an allotment shed (in a 'Schrebergarten' - these conspiculously ring Berlin when seen from an S-Bahn window, and what a wonderful institution! Food sustainability, a recreational retreat, and a lung for the city. Wouldn't want to live on one though).

The nice woman at the bank spoke very good English (though she was at a loss for describing where we worked: a local government council. We settled on 'Bezirkamt'). All we needed was our passport and a Council Tax statement to prove our home address. And there we are, we now have an online German bank account. It feels like we are almost German citizens at last!

Now we felt more like Germans, we popped over the road to the Deutsches Historiche Museum.
This is five euros well spent; you could spend a day here, and if you do I'd recommend seeing half the museum up to the 1918's onward wing, have dinner in the restaurant (not cheap but a stunning dining space), then see Germany's recent history. The collection is certainly comprehensive, from the Celts through the Roman Empire, Gothic migration, The Franks, Charlemagne and the Carolingian empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the rise of Prussia and Bavaria, the Reformation, the Thirty Years war, the German Confederation, Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, oh and so on and so on. It was also interesting seeing a non-Anglo-centric take on history'; for example, it wan't necessarily Wellington who defeated Napolean at Waterloo, it was more down to Prussia's General Blücher. Also interesting was seeing an engraving taken from a painting in Derby Art Gallery by local lad (to here) Joseph Wright of Derby. Funny how he turns up everywhere: I remember the frisson seeing one of his works in Le Louvre, Paris.

The recent history exhibitions were fascinating, and because they deal with the rise of Nazism, emotionally engaging in a scarey way.
In fact, rather than learning about the German people
welcoming Herr Hitler into leading the Third Reich, it was enlightening to see exhibits about
the opposition in Germany to his abhorrent fascistic ideas.
I think it is rather brave to have exhibits of Nazi memorabilia in a Berlin museum, and I wonder how much they have to notch up the security to protect them against neo-Nazis acquiring them for their personal mastibatory fantasies.
Oh, did you gather I think fascism is the most evil idea ever dreamt up by
insane monsters ever? Well there you go, I show my cards. Big surprise.

The modern history exhibits go on to depict life in Communist DDR, but whilst interesting, the DDR Museum by the Spree does it so much better and comprehensively.
One eye-opener though was the East German counterpart of the IBM PC.
Who would have thunked it? I wonder if it could run Linux?

A visit to Dussmann's bookstore and record shop (one of the largest in Berlin) and then Spätzle and Apfelstrude in a restaurant under the Fernsehturm bided our time pleasently until we had to fly back in the evening.

The flight back by Ryanair was not so good; the pilot spoke over the speaker-system and sounded incomprehensible, indeed almost like he was drunk. A very bumpy landing and then the plane had to sit on the tarmac for ages as a bus to the terminal was arranged. Then they could only take passengers out from the front doors (we were in the back), and meanwhile it was getting hotter and hotter and the air denuded of oxygen.

Finally we arrived back in Matlock about 2am. Ah, nice to see the cats again. Did you miss us? MIAOW!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Das ist kein Keller, es ist ein Planschbecken!

Heute, es regnet! In fact, es ist chucking it down!

We had arranged to meet our surveyor at 10, prior to meeting with the estate agents at 10:30. First, we explored Zepernick and had a coffee at a pleasant little cafe next to the library/Police Station/council building. Zepernick seems like a self-contained small community with everything you might want, including a Tierartz (vet) for the cats. No WH Smith's or Boots though (good!). Yes, I really could live here.

The surveyor when we met him couldn't speak English (aside: don't let anyone fool you that everyone in Germany can speak English. Outside the touristy places they definitely can't. Edit: this might just be true in the former DDR; in my experience a second language by Germans of my generation is most likely to be Russian), and our German is none too good, but as we wandered around Zepernick as we talked, it was clear that the house we were about to revisit was in his opinion ready for its foundations to be washed away and for it all to collapse in a heap of rubble! We went back to the little cafe and over a coffee he explained that the house had a severe damp problem and it was going to cost dearly to undo the water damage and shore it up and damp-proof the cellar. Was there any point in keeping our appointment at 10:30?

Well, out of courtesy at least, and for the surveyor to point out to our own eyes the problems, we did meet the estate agent and surveyor, back at the house. We had a gift for the house owner: we had visited a Hundertwasser Haus in Vienna and my Beloved had taken a wonderful photo of it. We gave the owner an A4 print of the photo as a keepsake (well, it was the only good news she was going to get from us today).

The house seemed to have got smaller since the last time we had been there. I think we'd been looking at it with our hope-goggles on before. Actually if the estate agent's floor area figures on the specification were correct, it had shrunk since it was advertised, because our surveyor measured a good 10m2 less Wohnfläche (living area). Maybe all the rain shrunk it? (We later noticed the measurements on the estate agent's website had mysteriously diminished too).

It was maybe a good thing that it was raining (the recurrent joke the Germans liked to crack was that we had brought it from England, ha ha), as when we went down into the cellar we found a good inch of standing water had found its way in. A pump was straining to extract it via a pipe through the cellar window, but wasn't succeeding. Yes, a clear sign of damp that, having to bail out the foundations!

As we went around the house and gardens we'd point at something and the surveyor would say "Weg damit!". The steps to the back door? "weg!" And the outbuildings? "Alles weg!" The garage? "Weg!", oh and the garage is made of asbestos as well. What?! If we weren't sure what 'weg' meant, then it was pretty clear taken in context.

Finally, outside with the estate agent, she asked if we were going to make an offer. I looked at the surveyor. His eyes were silently waving warning signals. Well, the house was on the market for 120K, so I chanced 70. The estate agent immediately said that would be acceptable. She replied too fast, I think!

Back at the cafe again (we were starting to get to be regulars), we went over the surveyor's estimates for work that needed doing on the house. We were talking high figures, plus we would have to be living in the house whilst the work was going on around us. I think we'll walk away from this one. Which is disappointing as we had geared ourselves up to returning from Berlin with a house sale agreed. Instead we took the S-Bahn up the line to Bernau, and had a conciliatory Moroccan dinner.

Tomorrow we would have an appointment with Deutsche Bank, and then we too would be unterweg.

But before that a bit of eye-candy at the AquaDom aquarium.
I really love looking at sea life and this place, though rather pricey, hit my aquatic buttons,
finishing up with an elevator up inside a giant fish tank.
Bliss! Bet the cats would like this!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Return to Berlin and Zepernick

This evening we flew back to Berlin from East Midlands Airport, this time on - gulp - Ryanair. The flight was without incident; I didn't have a panic attack even though the plane was a bit rickety.

We arrived at our hotel in Zepernick getting on for midnight. It was the Zur Panke Hotel & Restaurant Bowling Centre, a strange combination, but the room was spacious and warm. The proprietress had waited up for us, and I don't think she had many other guests, though trainers left outside the doors of other rooms (why? Were they that smelly?) suggested we weren't entirely alone. The next day though, we were the only ones for breakfast. Zepernick at night was very quiet, and it looked like they had even turned the traffic lights off.

Tomorrow we had appointments with a German surveyor we had employed to give a building survey of the house we liked in Zepernick, and with the Estate Agent and owner.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Do You Come Here Often?

I was musing over how German phrase books never seem to tell you what you really need to know, or what colloquial phrases you should know to sound like you're not ein dummer Ausländer  just off the Eurostar.

But then, I bet English phrase books don't really explain some of the expressions used in everyday life either.

As a service to foreign langauge speakers, and a suggestion to Berlitz that I am available as a freelancer, here is a list of some of the more mystifying phrases used in Britland. 
Pepper your conversations with these and you'll sound as British 
as the England Team manager!

1) Haven't we had cold / wet/ windy / snowy / blustery / freezing / grey / frosty / grotty / miserable weather recently? - useful in any situation when you're short of small-talk. And basically, you can take your pick of any word at random and be correct, except on the minimum two days of the year when you can say 'phew, what a scorcher!'

2) I'M the only gay in the village! - or indeed any phrase from the comedy sketch show 'Little Britain'. Now considered to supercede 'This parrot is dead', ' I'm sorry, he's from Barcelona', and 'Four candles' to show you have a British sense of humour.

3) Is this the right room for an argument? - sorry, that's also out of date (see 2).

4) Is there a chippy 'round here? - often heard said by people after leaving a pub, a football match, and Malaga Airport. Equals 'chip shop' and not to be confused with a branch of Nordsee, the latter not usually to be found selling mushy pea and curry sauce pie float with pickled eggs and deep-fried battered pizza.

5) Did you spill my pint? - don't ever, ever say this; just be aware that it is an invitation to go home in an ambulance. Of the same threat level as 'are you looking at my bird?' or 'do you support Arsenal?'. The correct response is to avoid eye contact and keep your head down. Don't panic and throw all your money at him (for it will invariably be a he) whilst making a dive for the window.

6) He or she is ... knitting with one needle; not the sharpest knife (in the drawer); eating with one chop-stick; a can short of a party pack; one floor short of a bungalow; a card short of a deck; a tuppence short of a shilling [ask your grandad]; a few fries short of a happy meal; a brick short of a load; two clowns short of a circus; missing a few buttons on the keyboard etc etc. - all meaning that he or she isn't all there mentally. In fact, they're not only a sandwich short of a picnic, but missing the lemonade as well.

7) Tut! - not really a full phrase, but the usual exclamation made if some other person pushes to the front of a queue, behaves boorishly, wears a cummerbund at a white tie dinner, or blows up the Houses of Parliament. Often followed by 'typical!'.

8) Two pints of lager and a packet of crisps please - you can say this any time you're with me in a pub, thank you. The advanced version is 'and a packet of prawn cocktail crisps' if you want to be flash.

9) In the fullness of time / when we get 'round to it / at the appropriate juncture / when the time's right / sometime in the future - all of these phrases (and many more including, strangely, asap) mean 'never'. I am sure many times a for example US - English business meeting has broken up with the Yanks expecting something to happen the next day whilst the Brits were equally sure they've expressed it's a ludicrous idea and will file it away in the dustbin.

10) More tea vicar? - I don't think this phrase has ever been used seriously in the history of the English language, but it perfectly encapsulates English attitudes; the Church of England; afternoon tea and cucumber sandwiches; and a polite deferential manner whilst totally failing to address the horror that has just preceded it, e.g. in levels of severity someone has farted; the dog is humping the vicar's leg; a naked man has just run across the lawn; the entire house has collapsed under a crash-landed UFO.