Thursday, 26 June 2008

Sun, Sand, But No Signing

Well, it doesn't look like we'll be signing a contract for the Basdorf house with the Notar today.

The bottom line is, we are unhappy with the seller's contract. It's clear that they are a property company just interested in buying auctioned properties on the cheap and selling them on for as much profit as they can whilst doing as little as possible. Their contract is a one-size fits all whether their item of sale is a shop, a factory, a family house, or a plot of un-occupied land. It is sold-as-seen and the contract doesn't even stand by anything the estate agents told us about room size, whether the fitted kitchen actually works, or even if there is any asbestos or unexploded bombs underneath the garden. That's understandable as they aren't the owner-occupiers and have a business to run, but it doesn't make us feel comfortable about spending our life-savings on a property which, according to the contract, they can't guarantee won't be burnt down or blown up before we get the keys. We are digging our heels in to get a better contract and won't sign today.

But we're in Berlin! So, what do you do in Berlin? You go down to the beach of course! Near the new Hauptbahnhoff at the moment is Sandsation , an international sand sculpure exhibition. I really loved this; sand sculptures by artist from around the world with gob-smacking imagination in their creations, and it is in the centre of Berlin. It was a lovely summer day, and there were deckchairs from which to appraise the masterpieces, and free hand-outs of sunblock (meanwhile in England it is grey and rainy). 

See some of the sandsculptures here on my Beloved's website (and buy prints if you want!):

We then went for a walk along the banks of the Spree to Bellevue, a stroll around the lovely Englischer Garten im Tiergarten, then eventually lunch and Weißbier in Alexanderplatz with a naughty Eisbecher to follow. And so to the plane back to England where we landed in cold, grey, wet, Luton. Ah, back to the Heimat, oder?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Is There a Football Match On?




This morning we drove down to Luton airport to catch a mid-day Easyjet flight to Berlin, landing early evening. We stayed at the Art Hotel Charlottenburg; It was basic, quite a small room but ample enough. They seemed to have a Joan Miró / Piet Mondrian thing going on in the decor of our room, supplemented by strange light fittings from Ikea, and the hotel corridors and lounge had some interesting surrealist artwork. But the best part was, a computer in every room with free internet access! Maybe we'll get somewhere with the contract it is otherwise unlikely we will be signing tomorrow. The cafe downstairs also did a good range of breakfast options.

On the train to the hotel we'd noticed lots of people going overboard with the black, red and gold, some people draping themselves in the German flag. And then in Charlottenburg a lot of Turkish-looking people were similarly going for a predominently red and white colour scheme. We asked the hotel receptionist if there was perhaps a football match on or something.

Of course, that evening was the Euro 2008 semi-final between Germany and Turkey! We went out for a pizza and had planned to spend the evening in some quiet Biergarten, but every bar, restaurant, cafe, Imbiss had a plasma screen showing the match and a crowd of football supporters spilling out onto the street.

Public transport was getting to be a bit of an ordeal. I mean, I'm all for people letting their hair down and enjoying themselves, but when you are crammed into an S-Bahn carriage with noisy chanting football supporters drinking from bottles and blowing claxons, there are a few other places I'd rather be. So we took the tourist bus instead (100 and 200) and headed for the Zoologische Garten (the area around the Bahnhof of that name, not the zoo itself; Knut the polar bear was hopefully tucked up in bed by now, or he might have been spray-painted black, red and gold by ardent fans).

We found a comparatively quiet place for a bier, and guessed what the score was from the cheers and firework bangers going off from time to time.

Then came the final whistle and the place erupted! We couldn't believe how many people poured out of the 'quiet' bar we had been sitting outside. There were Germany supporters shouting their heads off and going mental (Germany won 3-2 by the way), irreconcilable Turkey supporters who looked as if their world had ended, and within minutes violent scuffles broke out right next to us. Quick as a flash the Polizei ploughed into the fray, pulling people out of the melee and slamming them against shop windows, all this right next to us where we were still calmly sitting and drinking our Weißbier.

We thought a quick exit was in order, and pushed our way through the chanting skirmish of emotional red and white painted faces, and jubilant black-, red-, and gold-draped bodies, trying to avoid stepping onto the road where cars were speeding past blasting their horns and waving full-sized flags from the windows. After nearly getting flattened by a phalanx of heavily armoured riot-police in gas-masks speed marching in close formation, we made it to the S-Bahn. Here we were faced with a tsunami of supporters pouring off every train that came in, and flooding into the streets around the Zoo. Fortunately, our hotel was in the opposite direction to where everyone else was going, so we made it back our nerves intact.

The hotel seems to be in a predominantly Turkish enclave, so luckily (for us; not if you were a Turkey supporter) there wasn't a wild celebration party lasting all night and the streets were quiet and subdued.

Note to self: don't still be in Berlin on Sunday when the German team plays Spain or Russia in the Euro 2008 Final.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

London Calling

Today we had a day-trip by train to London with the mother-in-law (or she would be if my Beloved and I were married) and her partner.

We met up with our nephew (again, if we were married he would be mine, but what the heck, I feel proud of him even if we aren't 'legally' related) in Leicester Square. He has moved to the Big City and works for Twentieth Century Fox on Soho Square, meeting with media types for business lunches and rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.

The poor lad had only just flown in that morning after a stag party with his mates in Prague. Even though he was obviously knackered he still took us to a nice eating hole and gave us a tour of the Covent Garden area (or as the MIL said, 'can we look around the garden centre?'). Well, never has there been such a tourist trap and a glut of purveyors of tat as the Covent Garden environs, but there's a buzz and a vibe of excitement and of languages and cultures mingling that strangely is missing in rural Derbyshire.

After relieving our host of his filial duties, and I guess he went straight back to bed, we wandered down through Trafalgar Square to the Embankment and across to the London Eye side. There we marvelled at the inventiveness of the many living statues (or mandarins as the MIL called them; I realised later that she meant mannequins). Maybe after our move to Berlin I could busk as one for a living, as I've never seen any there.

After dinner in the St Martin-in-the-Field crypt and a walk around theatre-land we eventually made our way back to the new St Pancras station in the evening (and what a magnificent job they've done of the station!).

Tired out we landed back home near midnight, with four angry pussies wondering why we hadn't been back earlier to feed them. At least tomorrow we can have a lie in - oh, but wait, we're driving down to Luton early tomorrow to catch a flight to Berlin!!!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Contract!

I'm really excited! The Notar in Berlin has sent us a contract, and we've booked an appointment Thursday next week to sign it with the sellers!

In the meantime, we've enlisted someone to translate the contract for us from German into English. Apparently the meeting consists of the Notar reading the contract out (in German) and getting the assurance from both parties that they understand it before we sign. The Notar has told us to expect this to take between one and two hours! We could have given someone over there power of attorney to stand in for us, but as this is such a momentous occasion in our lives, we've decided to attend in person.

So, it's off to Berlin Wednesday, and if all goes well we will come back home Thursday night owning a property in Basdorf. Well, not actually legally owning it just yet; we become the legal owners when the Notar checks that there are no impediments to the transfer of land, then updates the local Grundbuch, which is like our Land Regsistry. This can take a few more weeks yet.

One thing I didn't realise, in Germany you are the outright owner of your piece of German soil. But in the UK the land always remains the property of the crown. That's why we talk about owning the freehold to land; really we are just lending it from the Queen. I wonder how they'll work it out if the UK ever gieves up the monarchy and becames a republic? The Queen might claim all her land back, evict everybody, and stick a big sign up at Calais saying "Keep of moi land!"

This morning we had a survey by a removal company of all our belongings we want to take to Germany. Now we've just got to figure out how to get the cats there!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Armer Kerl! A Cautionary Tale about Worming Cats


Simba!

We're sitting here twiddling our thumbs whilst the legal Menschen sort out the contract ready for signing. There's nothing much we can do other than get ready for the call to the Notar's Berlin office and sign it.

To give me some practice writing German in the meantime, here's a tale from not long after we moved to the rented house. It is written mostly in the Imperfekt or 'narrative past'.

Es war einmal in einem Land weit weg ... Korrektur, es war letzten Januar in Matlock, wo vier kleine Katzen lebten in einem neuen unbekannten Haus.

Leider hatten sie auch Bandwürmer, und sie hatten Bauchweh. Sie brauchten Tabletten, und sie waren überhaupt nicht glücklich mit der Idee, aber es musste getan werden.

Wir freuten uns auch gar nicht darauf.

Also, langer Rede kurzer Sinn: Alle Katzen außer Simba, der unsere rötlich-gelb Kater, wurden behandelt.

Eines Abends fingen wir Simbi im Schlafzimmer mit einer Tablette. Meine Partnerin hielt die aufgeschreckte Katze, und Ich gab ihm die Tablette. Er schluckte die Tablette, aber was ist los? Simbi rang nach Atem! Sein Mund war weit offen! Er steckte seine Zunge heraus! Er rieb ihm der Mund mit seiner Pfote!

Dann erinnerte ich mich an: Ich kochte ein vegetarisches Curry zum Abendessen. Ich schnitt Chili-Paprika. Vielleicht wusch ich mir die Hände nicht genug? Oje! Armer Simbi! Meine würzige Finger verbrannt seinem Mund!

Simbi trank etwas Wasser, und es ist nichts Schlimmes passiert, aber bis heute er wird nicht meine Finger lecken.

Und sie lebten glücklich und zufrieden bis an ihr Lebensende, das Ende.

Monday, 16 June 2008

An Inspirational Poster for Your Desktop

The traditional working environment posters used to be along the lines of 'You Don't have to be Mad to Work Here But It Helps' (which I thought was a bit insensitive when I saw one in a secretary's office on a visit to Rampton Hospital back in the eighties (in my role as an NHS IT Manager I might add)).

From the nineties onwards though there was a steady creep, and I regret to say I think it might have been from the USA, of inspirational posters put up by the management to motivate the workforce. Sadly, they pushed the old jokey ones out of the offices of our land. It has been ages since I spotted 'To err is human, but to really cock things up requires a computer'.

Typically these inspirational posters have an arresting image, and an inane homily about personal growth or achievement underneath them, for example "Destiny is not a matter chance, it is a matter of choice.", "Pereserverance: What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.", "Wisdom: Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win." - I mean, what? Can you run that one by me again please?

Thankfully, in these postmodern, cynically ironic times, motivational posters seem to be going the way of the weekend paint-balling teamwork building courses and management-speak bingo (ever played that?). What will come to fill the vacuum, I don't know. Hopefully photos of fluffy cats and bunnies.

Anyway, inspired (!) by the genre, I have created my own. Hope you like it!



p.s. click to biggify it.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The Answer to Life, The Universe, and Gordon Brown

Government wins by 9 votes to extend detention without charge to 42 days.

Now let me nail my flag to the mast from the start; I am a dyed-in-the-wool socialist. I grew up in the Margaret "how does it feel to be the mother of a thousand dead" Thatcher decade of dog-eat-dog and endured the grey Major years with a sad despondency. My belief is if we all pull together and give a helping hand to those who fall by the wayside then we can create a caring, supportive society not driven by dog-eat-dog profit and the focus on the bottom line.

When Labour came to power in 1997 you would have needed a crowbar to prise the grin from my face.

But chip after chip away at my hero Blair's pedestal (or clay feet), ending in his toppling with the Iraq war as dramatic as the iconic Sadam Hussein statue photo in Baghdad, has reinforced my belief in the anarchist graffiti that 'whoever you vote for, the Government get in'.

Maybe, I thought in my Pollyannaism, Labour under Gordon Brown might be a departure from spin-doctored smoke and mirrors socialism to something more like the real thing.

The final embers of hope have today died out.

The right to knowing what you are charged with when you are detained by the ruling power is a given standard outside of a Police or dictator state. I was appalled when this was extended to 28 days, I am sickened to the core now that it has been voted by our elected MP's, the vast majority Labour, to extend suspension of habeas corpus to 42 days.

Let's compare that with a few other Western or Western-influenced, modern, democratic states:
Australia – 12 days maximum
Ireland – 7 days maximum
France – 6 days maximum
Spain – 5 days maximum
Russia – 5 days maximum
Italy – 4 days maximum
Germany – 2 days maximum
United States – 2 days maximum (Guantanamo aside)
New Zealand – 2 days maximum
Canada – 1 day maximum
And let's not forget the irony that many of these countries look to the liberties of the English legal system, founded in the magna carta, for influencing their own systems.

Hopefully our House of Lords will stifle the bill. Which is itself an archaic unelected bunch of bishops, chinless descendents of illegitimate offspring of courtesans, and politicians kicked upstairs to keep them quiet in their dotage.

Will I be sad to leave these Isles? Well yes, the scenery, the people, my friends and family, but the cradle of Parliament? Forget it; Ich bin ein Europäer!

Edit: Actually, with this obstinate Labour obsession with the number 42, and over 70 dolphins trying to flee something last week near Falmouth resulting in 26 of them dying (BBC News item here), is it going to be long before a Vogon Constructor Fleet arrives in our skies?

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Happynekkidberlindance!



The sellers of the house in Basdorf have today accepted our offer! Hurrah! At last we seem to be getting there!

Now to sort out the paper-work, arrange der Notar / die Notarin, and make sure the finance is available.

Barring a major slump in the strength of the pound against the euro, we might actually make it!

So, so happy!

p.s. Here's a good site to find a Notar/in in Berlin who can do the transaction in your language: Bundesnotarkammer

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Three Options

So, we have a detatched house in Basdorf which seems to be in a lovely location, but has a bit of work to do to make it nice and a train running through the back-garden, a semi-detatched house in Zeuthen which again is in a nice location and is handy for the airport but needs much much more work until it is fertig, and a horizontally semi-detatched house in Falkensee which is in not so pleasant a location, but does have an English woman living above. We've also had a much reduced offer price for the Zeuthen house which begins to make it financially attractive if we can put up with the building work.

Decisions, decisions, decisions!