Posts by Country

Monday, May 6, 2019

Frankfurt Visa Run

The new year started out with a crash... in the first week I had my first ever motorcycle accident. I like to think that the circumstances were extraordinary seeing as, at least in my opinion, the city was somewhat responsible - I certainly wouldn't have crashed had the conditions been somewhat reasonable. It was raining "wie aus Eimern" as the Germans say, or "cat's and dogs" as we in the Anglo world like to say. I went to move over into the next lane without thinking about the fact that the train tracks running through the whole city were extra slippery thanks to the heavy downpour. So, of course, my tires slipped, and I lost control. I swerved back and forth a couple of times before veering sideways and flying off the bike. I then rolled a few times and somehow managed to watch the bike as it slid along with me. Luckily, I was moving just fast enough to avoid being smacked by it. An observer called an ambulance as I lay there trying to figure out if I could actually move. I had a strong pain in my arm that had me thinking it was broken. As I stood up my head was spinning, so I had to sit down a bit. Eventually I realized that the pain was emanating from my wrist - I had sprained it. After the medics checked me out, I found that the bike still ran despite a slight smell of gas. Aside from a few scratches, and a mirror having been broken off, it was in surprisingly good shape. So, I continued on and was only a little bit late for game night.

Now, you might be wondering why I sort of blame the city for my misfortune. Well, years ago Copenhagen had a similar setup with train tracks in the streets. Of course, they love their cyclists there more than their trams, so they removed all of the tracks in the streets in order to avoid such problems. You see, not only do vehicles slip on the tracks, and get into accidents as a result, but cyclist also often get injured when their tires get stuck in the grooves of the tracks. With this in mind, it would seem only reasonable to keep trains separate from other vehicles. Am I biased? Perhaps, but, of course, that doesn't mean I'm wrong.

Over the next couple of months I worked a lot and made plans for a trip to Amsterdam with Garret. I also filed my German taxes for the first time which was a blast... Not only is German a complex language to begin with, but their tax system isn't exactly simple either. Most people pay a few hundred euros to avoid doing this, but I figured I'd give it the old college try... why not? Sure enough, I managed to find a good internet guide and fill out the right forms. In the end, I was able to get the right deductions and put the money I saved toward paying a tax rate that ranks in at about the second highest among developed countries. I figure it's still worth it though, especially since I only pay that rate on a few thousand euros.

You'd think that after that the worst would be over, but no. This is Germany - bureaucracy is just part of life here. Actually, most countries are pretty bureaucratic in general when it comes to visa stuff, especially in Europe - Spain, for example, wasn't much better. It seems like just yesterday that I was at the good ol' Ausländerbehörde (immigration office) applying for my visa. Indeed, that was only a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, my passport only had a year and a half left... which meant that they could only give me a visa for that long as opposed to the usual three years that you get for work visas. Nevertheless, my first mission would then be getting my passport renewed. Wouldn't you know it though, the consulate here in Düsseldorf decided they no longer felt like issuing passports. So, I had to go to Frankfurt to apply there even though that's three hours away. Of course, you might think that one would just be able to apply through the mail and, technically, you would be correct. You just have to include a check for US dollars issued by a German bank. Thing is, German banks don't issue checks in US dollars. I tried them all. Any explanation from the consulate? Nope. They don't care. Nor do they update their website to reflect this reality. They also no longer accept credit card payments through the mail.

So, I went to Frankfurt... only to discover that the only do walk-in appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays - not Mondays. That was not an option for me as I had to work, which meant that my six-hour journey would have to be repeated. They wouldn't even take my money without an appointment. The guy at the desk actually seemed to think that it would be possible, but then he called up and they said no. You're not even allowed to have someone else drop off your application. Making an appointment is not so straightforward either. I called in because I couldn't book the appointment on the website, but they assured me that is was possible. They then looked it up to explain how to do it, but then stopped and said, "oh, actually it's not there..."

I was eventually able to book an appointment (for a month later) by going through the "Apply for an Adult Passport" option (which doesn't apply to me) instead of the "Renew Adult Passport" option. A month later I went back to Frankfurt, got to the consulate early, which was good because I had to hide my overnight bag in the bushes (they don't allow you to take it in or even leave it with security), then waited till an hour after my scheduled appointment for what was, as usual, only a two minute process. What a joke! Glad that's over... at least until 2029.

Thankfully, over the course of my two visits I was able to stay with friends and visit some places.

One day we went up to Großer Feldberg in Taunus. After a short drive, followed by a short hike, we arrived at a large rock formation and a beautiful view. It was a pleasant surprise as I hadn't realized what my hosts the Osts had intended when they suggested that we take a drive in the hills.

The city also had some "Sehenswürdigkeiten" or "things worth seeing". Before leaving Frankfurt, I went on a walk through the Altstadt (old city) where I found some really nice landmarks. I saw the Römerberg Ostzeile - reconstructed traditional half-timbered buildings originally built centuries ago - and I had what is apparently the city's best Currywurst. It was good - they always are; I don't think there's ever any discernible difference when it comes to Currywurst... they just taste like curry!

Back in Düsseldorf, I got back to work. In April I got a new business course at Siemens up in Krefeld - 45 minutes away by scooter. Fortunately, I was able to get Reisegeld (travel money) to make it a bit more worth my time. I reckon this contract has added some padding to my regular income, so I suppose it's worth the extra effort. Plus it's a nice drive. Also the first hour there is consulting work which basically ends up being office hours for me - something I really miss from my first teaching gig in Hong Kong.

Oh, and the month of May also saw one other big score... see the video below.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Guten Rutsch!

The end of my first full year in Germany ended quite well. As I said at the beginning of my last post, I got quite a bit of traveling in. Just three weeks after getting back from the States, I was again unterwegs or "on the way" - this time to Switzerland to visit my friend Stefan.

On Monday, December 24th, I packed my bags and went back to the airport to catch my flight down to Zürich. Stefan showed up shortly thereafter and we headed over to his friend Carl's for the night. The next day he had a job in Kandersteg; Stefan is a freelancing handyman, so he's pretty much always driving from one job to the next.

Thankfully, his first job landed us at a ski resort! After he sorted out some business with a local restaurant, we took the cable car up the mountain to do some "sledging" or sledding as we say in the Anglo world. As we, both over 6 ft (192cm), slid down the mountain on a single sled, we used our feet to steer and tried our best to stick to the sledding path. Unfortunately, at one point we got a bit distracted trying to film the ride, and we missed a turn. The following stretch was pretty intense as we basically almost fell off the mountain. We weren't the only ones though. A family behind us was also veering out of control while trying to deal with what was probably a black diamond run for skiers. We managed to make our way back up to the normal slope though, which was itself pretty steep, but doable.

Upon reviewing our video footage, we managed to spot the point where we made our wrong turn. The sign was light pink and, thus, barely visible in the light, snow-covered environment. That night we stayed at Stefan's friend Simon's place down a bit further south. Simon lives on a farm on the side of a mountain, so it was a pretty cool place to walk around.

The next day we went to a martial arts dojo where Stefan had a rather big job tearing apart a whole training room; a job that would take the next few days to finish. On top of that, he also had another job where we had to construct a custom crane using winches in order to move some massive bags of concrete chunks - definitely a bit of a mission!

Three days later it was time to head back to Düsseldorf for the night. After one night back, I got up the next morning and went to the airport again. This time I flew to Lyon in order to join some friends for New Year's or, as the Germans call it, "Silvester" (no, not the cat from the cartoon!). Unfortunately, I had some issues (no online check-in, wrong line, long security line, etc.) and I almost missed my flight. Luckily, after convincing some people in line at both the check-in and security to let me cut, and running through half the airport, I managed to catch the shuttle to the tarmac just as it was pulling away.

Once in Lyon, I booked a Oui bus to Grenoble and grabbed a local coach from there to La Côte-Saint-André where my friend Pau lives. We then ate cheese and played board games until dinner, ate dinner, then played more board games! The next day we went to the pool to swim and sit in the sauna a bit, then went back and played board games again (Pau has a couple shelving units loaded with games). Finally, the following day, after I walked the dog (spent most of the time chasing after it after it slipped out of its collar), we headed up to Lyon to spend Silvester eating Raclette with some other friends.

The next morning we went to Grenoble to do some skiing, but we didn't really have time, so we drove back down and visited the city before heading to the airport. All in all, it was a "Guten Rutsch" ("happy new year!") as the Germans like to say - a phrase that literally means "good slide". Something we did plenty of back at Kandersteg!