12 January 2016


Our miracle home in the woods

Having been in Germany before I realised that German's have a long-standing culture that brings with it traditions and ways of doing things.  That's part of what I like here.
What I didn't expect is to be blind-sided by the extreme of her bureaucracy, not once but several times.
A German friend once said "Things in Germany are complicated but they should work" and I understand now that it wasn't a one-off comment to the first challenge we had but an apt remark about officialdom.
We knew we wanted a bank account in Germany instead of using our money cards from home that charge exorbitant fees for use overseas.  We narrowed it down to 3 main contenders who looked to extend their services to foreigners.
The first, DKB were offensive in their communications and re-iterated that they would only do business in the German language when I at one stage needed to use English to clarify something technical.  So they were out.
The second, comdirect, had great social media support through Facebook (and an online application process) and were one of the reasons we still considered them despite having one of the lowest interest rates.  However the application department initially demanded we provide proof of registration at the local council office and needed to be corralled into seeing that applications from overseas do not require this, before suddenly it appeared the account would be approved.
The third bank is Number26, and for their easy online application form, we would seriously have been swayed to use them.  Examining the fine-print we discovered that at this time they are unable to facilitate international deposits/transfers into their accounts, which ruled us out unfortunately.
During the process of applying with comdirect we had huge internet issues that continued for weeks - it slowed down and went stale or we couldn't connect.  This meant that instead of instantly being able to download a copy of our online application form we had to wait for it in the post, and we couldn't entertain the idea of using the video identification process either. From initial application to when our cards finally arrived took 3.5 weeks.  In Germany you need a bank account for almost everything even buying a SIM card (although Aldi-talk does offer an option without).  Even moreso when you want to rent an appartment, hold down a job or take out insurance.   
So the number 1 tip is to apply before you arrive.
In general the lack of internet connectivity hampered a lot of things for us.  We couldn't find out what was open; how to get places; communicate with friends and family; try to find another place to rent, let alone post posts here or work online etc.  While this may be less directly due to institutional bureaucracy it was still related to systems and processes.
We did try to register at the local council office, but were told due to the law change that came into effect on the 1st November 2015 we couldn't choose to voluntarily register for less than 90 days, nor without a rental agreement.  Hence the change of tack with comdirect to the requirements for overseas applications.
We want to buy an old motorhome here to continue our travels through Germany and Europe, but while we are allowed to purchase a vehicle we are prevented from registering it due to not being personally registered with the local council office.  The only ways around it are to keep registering the vehicle as going out of the country, or to have someone else register the vehicle and legally take all responsibility for it which doesn't feel right to us but it might be the only thing that we have to hope for now.
The Germans we have talked to about any one of these challenges totally understand our experiences and wholeheartedly re-iterate 'Buerokratie' (bureaucracy) even going as far as the volunteer fire-fighter today who extended that to 'Beamtenburerokkratie' (Official/Government bureaucracy). While empathy doesn't help us directly, it does remind us it is not targeted at us and to keep trying when all we want to do is pack up and go home. 
02 December 2015

Tuebingen's Chocolate Festival as seen in the Market Square


2015 marks the 10th year of the Chocolate Festival in Tuebingen - the largest in Germany, welcoming 250-300,000 visitors (depending on who you listen to!).


We walked into the old town and this is an artist we saw who paints in chocolate and oil.  Dorte (or Frau Schetter as is the usual German reference) was just beginning to paint a large bauble made from marzipan and sugar that must have been at least 50cm in diameter.  She creates depth and texture, using the chocolate as a sepia-like medium.



Castor and Pollux both went back after lunch to participate in the Ritter chocolate workshop to make their own iconic square.  If you have a chance to do this I'd recommend it.  The presenter did a wonderful job giving a brief talk on what chocolate is made from, where the cacoa is grown; and she allowed me in to translate for the boys.  After that there are slightly funny but serious instructions given by another facilitator about how to make your chocolate square down to the licking of the spoon!   The mixing, pouring and settling all happens very, very fast. You then decorate your cardboard packaging while the chocolate sets and is returned to you.  It cost EUR3 which is donated to a children's charity. So worth it for the experience. 

The girls chose instead to buy the equivalent in chocolate squares from the Ritter retail tent and wander around the festival themselves for a time.  My only regret was not realising that if you bought 10 chocolate squares you received a special bag - we bought 10 between us but not on one receipt.  The bag would have been useful for all the groceries we carry every day or two.


There was a super cool stand, A.M. Schoko (Venice, Italy) that was filled with rusted-looking products as in a junk yard.  We were told it took 10 hours to set up and that didn't account for the making of the products.  They really took an idea and ran with it which made them memorable alongside their Italian energy!





Another stand that allowed you to watch what they were making was Beckers with their chocolateROOM.  The children were fascinated by what looked similar to mallowpuff (CHOCOlino) being made and if they could have would have licked the plastic windows on the outside of the tent to get a taste!  We also learned more about the term given to locals who are native to the area here, derived from the name given to grape growers, and the confection dedicated to them - Gôga-Guts'le.


Beckers - dipping of the CHOCOlino


The stand however that stood out for their kindness and humanity, was Cioccolateria Veneziana (Venica, Italy).  If you pass by them in the Neue Strasse please consider supporting them.

03 November 2015

With thanks to A W Holder


One of the things that you are advised to take with you is a copy of your important documents: Passports, driver's licenses, marriage certificate, birth certificates etc and to keep them in a safe place.

Being that there are 7 of us, the number of A4 pages increases rapidly, and I wanted a way to keep them crumple-free and fold-proof for the journey.

That's when I hit upon the idea of rolling them and stashing them in a rigid plastic tube instead of the standard cardboard paper towel tube, so it could be thrown in the bottom of our packs without fear of damage.

I didn't know how I was going to materialise the idea so headed to a plumbing supply store, feeling a little diminutive for asking for help with such a concept, but was heartily surprised to be served by a lovely woman who was so supportive and took service to the nth degree.  

She counted out 25 sheets of paper from the printer and we took this with us to the pipe section to see what would work.  I conceded that the 18-23mm that I thought I could use wouldn't have been big enough and settled for 43mm (called a 40mm as this is it's internal diameter); and that is with rolling the long edge of the paper around itself instead of the short one too.  Remember that once inside the tube, the paper expands to fit snuggly.

One of the great things about going to a plumbing supply instead of a hardware store is that I didn't have to buy 5 - 6 metres of the pipe.  1m was enough to get out the 2 tubes that I wanted and I ended up getting a bonus tube too which I can see being used for colouring pages in Kita's carry-on bag.  The ends themselves were the expensive part.

Each tube weighs less than 250g (including documents) which is the average weight of a t-shirt or two.  In some ways it is a bit heavy when you have to consider that you carry every single gram but in the long run for the length of time we would like to be away and the importance of having the documentation handy if we need it it's a sacrifice that makes sense.

For those of you keen to make one for yourself you will need:

  • length of pvc piping (the long edge of an A4 piece of paper is 29.7cm so I allowed for 1 extra cm and cut ours at 31cm)
  • 2 end caps
  • Some sort of hack-saw blade if you are buying a longer length of pipe and cutting it down (I used a Leatherman!)
  • Some sand-paper for coarsely sanding off the cut ends (I used 150 grit)

We decided not to glue one end cap on one end and rather leave both 'loose' (which when you put them on they are not!) so that if there was an issue of getting anything out of the tube we could push from one end and pull from the other.  Technically they are not water-tight and I could add some teflon tape perhaps to one end or the other but I am happy with the way they are.  The ends need a bit of torque/twist to get them off but that's good for something that may get caught on other objects in one's pack and you don't want the ends popping off randomly anyway.

It was a great feeling to be able to go from concept to creation in one day, and have another item barely hit our still-very-long to-do list before it was crossed off.