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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.
 
 
CHALLENGE ONE
 
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.
 
 
CHALLENGE TWO
 
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.
 
 
CHALLENGE THREE
 
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.
 
 
CHALLENGE FOUR
 
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.
 
 
WE ARE NOT ALONE!
 
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.

25 August 2015

 

In researching air fares, bus fares, accommodation and everything else that goes with travel you realise there is nothing standard about being a child, so it may seem futile to be writing about it.  However it is something valuable to know especially if you are in the budgeting phase of your journey.  There will be other 'hidden' costs, or those totally foreign to you, that being exact with what you can, will help rein in any contingency blow-out.

 

So here are a few GUIDELINES:

Airlines generally charge full fare at 12 years of age, discounted between 2 and 12, and free if under 2 and the child can be accommodated on a parent's lap.

In New Zealand 16 years old is the age most companies charge as an adult.  Family tickets are 2 adults and 2 children only.  Under fives (pre-schoolers) are mostly free.

Austria is über cool, allowing child prices under 19 years of age (ie from 0 - 18 inclusive).  

Belgium looks upon children under 6 as free, and children under 18 as portioned.

Iceland generally designates children to be under 6 if making a distinction at all, and doesn't allow family tickets - you pay for each person.

Germany are great for their family tickets, normally without limit on the number of children that are included and often allowing for these to be grand-children as well (German Rail).  Although the age in many commercial institutions is under 14 or 16 years, children can get the same concession up to 18 years and/or if they carry a student ID (even in tertiary).  There are also concessions for the disabled and those over 65 years old.

 

HOW TO STRETCH YOUR BUDGET:

  • Plan meticulously!
  • Do free activities and attend free events.  Often museums will have a free day per week or month.
  • Check online prices, as these may be slightly cheaper than in-person ones.  
  • Winter usually costs less than summer, if attractions and accommodations are still open - you will then need to check the specific dates that dictate the season.
  • Cook your own meals.
  • Book your airfare approximately 60 days prior to travel for the best rates.
  • Think about renting an apartment or staying in hostels to get longer-term discounts.
  • Use public transport and look for day/week or group travel discounts.
  • See whether buying a vehicle is more economical than renting (note though insurances, registration, plates, and ongoing variable costs like fuel etc).
  • If travelling in summer only, consider camping or buying a second-hand caravan or motorhome.  Camping grounds may charge per person or per unit.  Many are closed for winter

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