Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 11 – Conclusion

We’ve now been here for two months or so, and we’re both sure the move – however gruelling it could get at times – has been one of the best ideas we’ve ever come up with. The weather in general is fabulous, and it will only get more fantastic during the winter; life is slow and cheap; we have already met quite a few great people; and we already have many plans in the works (after we complete the most crucial tasks of renovating the flat and building a music studio, that is).

Downsides? Houseflies, an occasional cockroach and – contrary to our expectations – mosquito. We blame the latter on the damn water reservoirs nearby, but the situation will be under control once we take the time to install netting in all the strategic spots. Not that it’s much of an issue as it is, really – in comparison with the exsanguination experts of Izola, Slovenia, the local mosquitoes are, quite surprisingly, of the NON-tiger variety; rarely encountered; and not nearly as bloodthirsty or abundant, especially not during daytime. Cockroaches, on the other hand, can be absolutely repulsive, and I’d like to see how happy all the loudmouth vegans – I’m not talking about dietary choices here, but rather about people who can’t shut up about their veganism and about them and only them being life-preserving and enlightened, unlike all us evil non-vegans – would be about sharing their beds with one of these:

Unfortunately you can’t tell from the photo, but this plump specimen measured around 6 or 7 centimetres. But what’s a wee little cockroach or three in comparison to a Berlin winter…

The flat renovations are taking a while, mostly because we’re doing almost everything ourselves; and now that we have completed the most urgent tasks (renovating and furnishing the bedroom, bathroom, and especially kitchen, which was a massive pain in the behind due to all the odd-angle corners involved), we are no longer in an extreme hurry to get it all done. Of course, some things also tend to progress relatively slowly due to the infamous Canarian time warp, as well as because it’s simply impossible to get everything in one place – which is why we have, among other things, also become experts in locating this valve or that screw in a variety of local hardware stores. Thus one is often forced to become an angry shopper for entire days at a time instead of pretending to be a plumber/electrician/painter/builder/carpenter/whatever. But it’s all good – after a bit of hard work (and some annoying shopping), the results are all the sweeter: every little thing we accomplish around the flat is ours to enjoy, not some landlord’s. (And I’ve also managed to lose quite a bit of weight, to boot – but worry not, I have quite a few kilos to spare.)

Another issue has also been turning out well. Namely, when we saw the apartment building for the first time, we noticed that the planned car garages in the basement were unfinished and abandoned (and would definitely remain that way due to the access ramp that’s even hard to navigate on foot, let alone in (or on) a vehicle of any kind – don’t ask what they had been thinking, I don’t believe anyone knows, really). Thus the basement, accessible from the back of the apartment building, is currently empty, horrendously filthy, and in total disarray. However, we immediately saw what must have been (fortunately for us) a massive turn-off for any potential buyers before us as a potential chance to “appropriate” a part of the abandoned underground and turn it into a music studio. It turns out we were right, because most of the residents cannot wait, in fact, for someone to clean up the mess beneath the building and close it off in order to keep out the naughty kids who occasionally use the deserted “dungeons” as a nice “reverby” place where they can set off firecrackers (and get up to who knows what sorts of mischief). By now we have “attained” several allies in the building, including the guy who’s actually in charge of it as a sort of caretaker, so after he speaks to La presidenta, we should be able to start cleaning the place and building several rooms for everyone involved to use. If everything turns out the way we’re hoping, I’ll soon be able to get up in the morning and meander down to the studio in my underwear. After braving the eternal darkness, rain, and bitter winds of Berlin for half an hour every time I wanted to get something “musical” done for the last five years, that’ll be a massive improvement.

Speaking of music… Fortunately, everything we’d had shipped arrived here about three weeks later, and it was all undamaged, which was a massive relief:

Needless to say, I was extremely happy with the movers and can only recommend them to anyone facing similar logistical quandaries involving the transportation of sensitive equipment from Germany to the Canaries (the company is at http://www.en.mobiltrans.com/).

As for the rest of the bureaucracy… First of all, the matter of the real estate agent claiming we had somehow miraculously succeeded in short-changing the bank. Nocturnal Attorney reviewed the documents related to the purchase of the flat and told us the following: “Sure, give the real estate agency another 3000 euros – if you’re totally nuts. Just don’t speak to them anymore, and if they contact you, refer them to me. But make sure to claim all the documents as soon as you can.” Instead of charging us for the advice, he told us to buy him a beer when we get the chance.

Getting our paws on the final documents took a while, but not due to any menace on the part of the agent we had hired to get everything in order. The delay was apparently mostly caused by heat and the persistent local distortion in the space-time continuum: in the end it took the agent in question several weeks to produce the papers. But finally she did produce them – after shrugging off any complications that the real estate agent had been hinting at, as the real estate agency could no longer lodge any complaints. After all, the real estate agent had stated the “accidentally reduced” price on all the relevant documents, which we had then verified with Nocturnal Attorney; all the paperwork had gone through at the notary’s months earlier; and a month or two earlier the agent in charge of the documentation had already paid all the taxes and fees in our name. As we had already expected, it turned out that the real estate agent had made a mistake herself on the very first document she produced, after which everyone involved kept replicating the error – until it had already been far too late. Apparently – as she never called again – the real estate agent must have eventually realised that there was nothing to be done, not even if we all wanted to: it was now impossible to cancel the contract, as the whole process had been completed long before somebody finally spotted the problem. We did feel bad for the real estate agent, who probably lost her commission in case of this sale; but, truth be told, it had been nobody’s mistake apart from her own. Besides, as I may have already mentioned, I certainly don’t harbour much sympathy for real estate agencies, let alone banks: they have all been involved in skewering people and screwing them out of their life savings for ages, especially during the last “financial crisis”, and I really doubt they’ll lose any sleep over some petty change they might have misplaced along the way. Hell, it’s incredibly fortunate for us that they happened to come up with a special unintended discount in our case – not only because our budget was so limited, but also because judging from the stories we’ve heard around here it’s usually the other way around.

Anyway, in the end we bought our apartment for EUR 45,000 plus 3,000 in taxes and about a thousand in other related fees. The monthly instalment for our loan is significantly lower than our rent in Berlin had been. Needless to say, the price was far lower than it would have been for any comparable flat in Slovenia, let alone Berlin (not to mention that its location is slightly more favourable). Furthermore, as we had expected, the local real estate prices are still climbing rapidly, and a few weeks ago we noticed that a bank is now selling another flat in the ground floor of our apartment block. It’s the same size as ours, but without the two terraces, obviously; completely empty and in dire need of renovations as well; and they want around EUR 76,000 for it. I don’t know if they’ll actually sell it for this kind of money or not, but I suppose we’ve even managed to pull off a nice investment, especially if we ever decide to sell what will by that time be a completely renovated flat – simply due to quite a bit of luck and some common-sense prudence, I suppose.

AH – and, last but not least – we’re getting fibre optics in a few weeks. Supposedly it’ll be a radical 300Mb/s symmetrical connection, which is simply insane and should definitely prevent me from ever bitching about the lousy local internet connections ever again.

This brings my longwinded intercontinental relocation tirade to its end. I know it’s a “tl;dr” wall of text that not many people will ever bother to read, but my main intention was to jot down these things mostly for myself, before I end up forgetting everything… And if some of the yammering somehow in any way helps anyone who might be thinking of doing something similar, all the better. I will probably keep posting occasional “updates” from the Canaries, but I’ll come up with another series of blog posts: the “Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair” series is hereby concluded.

Oh, before I forget: here are some photos…

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Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 10 – Farewell, Warthestrasse

The few weeks in the beginning of June were the last time we would be staying in Berlin for any considerable duration. Of course we would probably still visit occasionally, as we’d made some very good friends during our (almost) five-year stint there, but there would be no going back. Not really, once we gave back the keys to our apartment – as these days getting a flat in Berlin is nearly impossible. Should the force happen to be with you to the degree it takes to actually be able to rent one, it’ll most likely be ridiculously expensive.

The final leg of the journey before heading to Canary Islands for good was also the most critical and exhausting. First of all, we fidgeted nervously while we waited for the Houseverwaltung (the owners of our apartment) to come to a decision regarding our Italian pal, who was eager to take over our flat. Fortunately it all turned out well: they did increase the guy’s rent by a hundred euros or so, but he was still happy to take it, as it nevertheless beat the hell out of any other options. Secondly, one of the most critical issues, at least for me personally, was to finalise the arrangement with the intercontinental movers and pack up the studio.

Importing things to the Canaries can be an issue. Theoretically, Canary Islands are a part of the European Union, as they are an integral part of Spain; but they are an autonomous province and, as a remote region, subject to specific fiscal and economic arrangements. They are in the eurozone, but not in the VAT system. Instead of VAT, there is a local Sales Tax (IGIC) with a general rate of 7%, an increased tax rate of 13.5%, a reduced tax rate of 3%, and a zero tax rate for certain basic need products and services. Used household goods and personal items can be imported to the Canaries free of any customs duties and taxes, provided that they have been owned and used for a minimum of six months, and the importation must take place within one year of registering a residence on the Canaries and no later than three months after one’s arrival there. Furthermore, the “the items must correspond to the social and economic status of the client“, which probably means that you can’t import truckloads of expensive gadgets if you’re otherwise broke, as the customs might find that slightly suspicious (more information: http://webportal.atlasintl.com/Customs%20Docs/spain.pdf).

In order to pull this off, I had to prepare a detailed list of everything that would be transported. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem and would simply consist of jotting down “dishes”, “pots & pans”, “books”, “clothes”, or whatever… But I did own about 3.5 cubic metres (yes, we measured the heap) of relatively expensive musical instruments and electronic equipment for my studio, and I was obliged to state every microphone on the list. Thus I finally headed to the studio one day and spent eight hours packing everything and including it on the list. After packing my wee collection of instruments, cables, microphones, computers, electronics, and hardware that weighs a ton in the oppressive heat that had been known to invade the city in the summer, I was utterly spent. I also prepared all the invoices I could still find after decades of collecting my precious assortment of musical “toys”, just in case (though the movers said that would most likely not be necessary, but better safe than sorry, I say, especially in case of malevolent bureaucrats).

To say that I managed to obtain a nasty case of muscle soreness would be an understatement, as I could barely stand on my feet the next morning. Nevertheless, we had to go to the studio one last time, as my fellow co-tenant there procured a confectioner’s van (I kid you not, it’s just that the guy works at a confectionery) in order to help me lug all of this crap to our flat. Monika, our pal and I managed to stuff everything into the van, measuring roughly four cubic metres, and the poor vehicle was almost full. All the stuff made it to our apartment in one piece and we filled a part of our bedroom with it:

Then Monika and I packed the rest of our personal effects and waited for the customs personnel to arrive: the movers had told us that we might receive a visit from the customs, and customs officers did indeed schedule an inspection… But these bureaucrats, at least, turned out not to be all that malevolent at all: apparently they ultimately decided that they didn’t really find the rather extensive list suspicious (or simply preferred to go for a beer instead of dropping by). The list made me quite nervous, though. Yes, these were my personal items and the vast majority of them were indeed older than six months; but I doubted that the customs were used to people importing four cubic metres of musical equipment and electronics to the Canaries every day. Nevertheless, they were completely disinterested in the whole affair and simply stamped the list without actually dropping by and checking anything. So far so good.

In a few days the movers showed up as promised – only three or four hours too early, so we were still packing the last of the stuff while they were already lugging it all to the truck. I was very anxious about the whole affair: after all, some of my instruments are rather expensive and most of them are precious to me personally. It would be a severe blow if anything got damaged. To make matters worse, due to our budget constraints we chose not to succumb to paranoia and pay for extra insurance, even though I couldn’t afford to buy hardcases for everything (I would have needed about twenty hardcases, which would have cost a small fortune), so most of the instruments were in carry bags that aren’t really meant to serve as decent protection against impacts. The movers certainly weren’t happy about it, at least initially, while we had still been discussing it all on the phone and via e-mails… But in the end, once they saw the vile heap, they reassured us that everything would be in order. Instead of complicating, they just charged us for a couple of cubic metres more than they actually transported (my estimate was approximately 6 m3, but they believed it was more like 8 m3), mostly because they wouldn’t be able to fill the transport ship container from bottom to top by placing the fragile items on top of one another, at least not without installing some supports. Mind you, this is no complaint at all: the movers were superbly professional and I do recommend them wholeheartedly to anyone moving from Germany to the Canaries (link: http://www.en.mobiltrans.com/). Apart from merrily paying for one or two cubic metres extra, I was more than happy to tip the poor guys quite generously as well (they gave the bass drum – filled with clothes, to make matters worse – and the horrifically heavy hardware bags an occasional evil eye as they sweated rivers down the stairs). They told us our crap would be arriving to the Canaries in a couple of weeks, said bye-bye, and drove the truck to Hamburg where they proceeded to dump everything on a transport ship – on their own, without my fidgety supervision, which, admittedly, did not sit particularly well with me, but it was what it was. The total price for intercontinental maritime door-to-door shipping was a hefty 2300 euros, but screw it – I’d never seriously considered not taking my precious earthly musical possessions with me, though I did toy around with the idea a few times. However, Monika told me not to even joke about this, as I’d probably go insane without my heap of music-related crap… And she was right: of course selling the equipment or storing it in Slovenia would have been a horrible blunder.

After all our stuff was gone, we finally really strayed into the twilight zone: camping in an empty apartment in Berlin with only a couple of suitcases, as we were in fact on vacation somewhere, was completely surreal, and without actually realising it I kept looking for this gizmo or that doodad around the flat that now reverberated with the sound of emptiness. As the weather in Berlin was beautiful at the time, we spent most days outside, chatting with our friends before leaving for good. During this time we also cancelled our German freelancer statuses and wrapped up the rest of the loose ends (except for our German bank accounts, which we would leave open until this September or October, purely for practical reasons: we’re currently still paying for German health insurance, while we’re waiting for a “strategic” change of legislation to come into force in Spain, after which we’ll register our business on the Canaries, cancel the last of our remaining German obligations, and close the accounts).

The twilight-zoney atmosphere was compounded by the fact that a few days before our final flight, Monika was contacted by our real estate agent, who claimed that we had short-changed the poor, poor bank and actually paid EUR 3000 less for the flat than we’d been supposed to. She threatened that they’d annul the whole procedure, but judging from all the documentation in question we believed that would be pretty much impossible: all the paperwork had already gone through, supposedly; but unfortunately we hadn’t taken possession of it all yet, which was a problem. Furthermore, we had indeed been aware of the 3000-euro discrepancy between the list price and the price on all the relevant paperwork, but after checking that with Nocturnal Attorney we had been positive that this was either due to the difference in gross and net price (the taxes and related fees corresponded to the difference pretty much to the last euro) or because the actual final price differed from the one initially listed in the advert. Monika informed Nocturnal Attorney of the complication immediately, phoned the real estate agent, and told her we would by no means be discussing this further until we arrived to Tenerife personally and spoke to our lawyer. As soon as she heard the word “lawyer”, the real estate agent stopped threatening us and started whining about this in fact being her mistake – which had already been obvious to us. So for the next few weeks we would be oscillating between feeling bad for the agent and the “fuck real estate agencies and banks in particular” attitude. Of course, the issue would keep weighing on us until we could clear it up.

On the morning of 21 June we finally bid farewell to what had formerly been our street, clutching a couple of heavy suitcases (including precious digital archives on a bunch of hard drives that I’d been unwilling to dump in a transport ship container, as they contained several years’ worth of unfinished musical projects), laptops, sandwiches, passports, and one-way plane tickets. As we walked down Warthestrasse for the last time, I would have reflected on our time in Berlin and all the fascinating people we had met and hanged out with during our (almost) five-year stay, had I not been paying so much attention to canine landmines that might be lurking on the pavement and fantasising about greener (and cheaper) pastures.

In the evening of 21 June we arrived to Tenerife for good. FINE, let’s not be overly dramatic and settle for “until further notice“…

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 9 – Expedition to Slovenia

My cousin, his girlfriend and their canine companion arrived in a fancy new VW van that I couldn’t wait to try out. It turned out that driving it was so enjoyable I had no choice but to appropriate the wheel for most of the ride from Berlin to Slovenia. My cousin, who was somewhat sleepy due to the few days of relatively moderate merrymaking in Berlin, had no objections. Cruising swiftly and comfortably through the plains of Germany as well as over the Alpine parts of Austria got me thinking that I certainly wouldn’t have anything against owning one of these things… But then again, I don’t really need a van, nor do I find the idea of paying almost as much for it as for our new flat on Tenerife particularly attractive. Unless I just bought one and lived in it, like so many people in fact do on the Canaries. Anyway – thanks to my cousin’s local connections, renting the VW van for a couple of days was very affordable, so this leg of the whole epic “quest” went through smoothly and without making too much of a dent in our budget.

Unloading the junk we wouldn’t need on the Canaries was not the only thing we had to take care of in Slovenia. We had already “exited” the Slovenian system a while ago, but we still had to inform the Slovenian authorities and tax administration of our new address, which we could now do with the newly-acquired Spanish documents.

What had seemed like a couple of run-of-the-mill bureaucratic chores began with a hilarious (or severely annoying, depending on how you look at it) affair of inscribing our new address into our passports. The fact that our address now contained a tilde over an “n” caused premature balding, greying, and nervous fidgeting in an unsuspecting administrative unit official. After a multitude of calls to higher-ups, consultations with the police, and a prolonged coffee break, the official confirmed what I had already suggested at the very beginning: that the horrifyingly unnerving “ñ” should simply be transcribed as “n”, because otherwise, supposedly, “the scanners wouldn’t be able to make sense of the address”. It was completely beyond me why anyone should optically “scan” anything in a biometric passport; or how foreign authorities are able to scan the Slovenian č, š, and ž; or what Slovenian scanners make of, say, Norwegian diacritics.

When the passports with the necessary changes came back a day or two later, the poor official realised she had made a mistake of overlooking a stray ñ in the relevant forms, which resulted in our passports now containing what was (theoretically?) considered a “scanner-incompatible” address. The official then proceeded to suffer a minor nervous breakdown: unsure what to do with our newly improved (or invalidated?) passports, she succumbed to panic instead of proposing any solutions, but we told her that we’d take the much-needed documents as they were, as I was completely sure that we’d never ever have any problems with anyone gazing upon the infernal tilde and immediately foaming at the mouth. Needless to say, of course we haven’t encountered any problems with that to date: if the authorities do ever scan anything at all, then they surely read the damn chip with the relevant information. After all, what’s the purpose of biometric passports otherwise (let’s leave the collection of more or less plausible Big Brother conspiracies aside for a moment)? Besides, who cares if the address contains a “ñ”, a “đ” or an “ø”. In fact, the Slovenian alphabet doesn’t contain any xyw-s – or ü-s or ß-s, for that matter – and nobody has, to my knowledge, perished or been prevented from entering Slovenia because of these evil letters to date. But yes, I do imagine how orthographic diversity might present an insurmountable glitch in the rather restricted programming of bureaucrats.

Fortunately, neither the official at the tax office nor the clerk at the bank, where I had to update my address as well, didn’t even blink as they simply typed “n”. For crying out loud…

With the newly-improved documents and a forwarding address registered everywhere that it had to be registered by law, we were now once again free to vacate Slovenia, which we did merrily after visiting our families, attending a really great (if somewhat belated) get-together with my oldest pals and fellow musicians in Maribor, and staying with a friend in Ljubljana for a few days.

The trip back to Berlin did not go smoothly, though. We booked an airport shuttle from Ljubljana to the Treviso airport (with the GoOpti airport transfer service, which I can only recommend wholeheartedly), because for some reason all low-cost airlines had cancelled their flights to Berlin from the Austrian Klagenfurt and Graz airports, which would have been much more convenient for us. Unfortunately our van got stuck in two monumental traffic jams on the Italian highway: the first one was caused by a truck spilling wheat all over the road; and the second – the two-hour stop – resulted from two trucks crashing into each other immediately after the first mishap (probably both drivers were distracted by all the gluten a few kilometres earlier, which must have caused spasms, anxiety attacks, or near-death experiences in the multitudes that are so suddenly stricken down with gluten intolerance these days).

Needless to say, six of us who were travelling to Berlin missed our flight. One booked a room and decided to stay near Treviso, while the driver took the remaining five of us to Venice in time for the next Easyjet flight (which was very kind of him, as rescuing us was certainly not his duty). Unfortunately that flight had already closed, but we did get tickets for the first available flight – which would depart early next day. Thus we had no choice but to spend a night in Venice. As cheesily romantic as that sounds, four of us chose to simply stay at the airport, as nobody apart from a particularly adventurous Macedonian with extra energy left in his batteries was particularly eager to lug the luggage onto a boat to “actual” Venice, only to potentially screw something up yet again and even exacerbate the situation. The adventurous Macedonian did head “downtown” (or downsea?) in order to spend some extra cash, but returned exhausted in the middle of the night without having anything worthwhile to report (apart from the fact that beer there was no more expensive, but not cheaper either, than at the bar nearest to the airport). Meanwhile, the four of us just loitered around the airport building and its immediate vicinity, passing the time by chatting, sniffing out electrical outlets that actually worked, as well as locating a suitable bench, carpet or any quiet spot where we could pass out without being trampled on. Late in the evening I even got some translating done, while laptop batteries lasted (no, we had not found any unoccupied electrical outlets that worked), after which I had the fortune of dozing off on a marble bench with my head stuck in a flower bed. The night smelled like a chapel of rest. Good times!

Next morning, trying to shake off the whiplash, the five of us finally arrived to Berlin. Monika and I sleepwalked home and took the day off to catch some much-needed shuteye after all the sleepless nights back in Slovenia and then the bonus misadventure at the Venice airport. All the boxes that we had yet to pack did in fact wait without complaining too much.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 8 – Bemused in Berlin

This time it was more difficult to return to Berlin than in February: both Monika and I were getting tired, and not having any actual functioning “headquarters” anywhere gradually progressed from bemusing to totally confusing. Once we were back in Germany, I started feeling perplexed and out of place, as if I were spending pointless days in a state of perpetual deja vu, and just a day or two after we’d arrived, Tenerife started looking frustratingly unreal as well. Fortunately I had an unrelated task scheduled that kept my mind off pointless brooding while we worked on resolving a few final issues: I had promised I’d make a couple of field recordings for the “Italian diaspora” we had befriended in Berlin. Here is one of them:


[Orazio Ferrari (double bass) and Giuseppe Guarrera (piano) performing “Le Cygne” by Camille Saint-Saëns.
The video was directed, shot and edited by Giulio Tarantino.
]

This little project kept me busy and amused for a week or so, while we tackled the final and most brutal tasks: organising the transportation of some of our stuff that we wouldn’t need on the Canaries back to Slovenia; organising the transportation of a substantial pile of instruments, studio gear, household items and personal belongings to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; and wrapping up the loose ends in Germany.

In Deutschland getting rid of any “subscriptions” to anything is as hard as it is to eradicate a particularly tenacious venereal disease. Various companies like internet providers – or providers of anything you might have subscribed for, for that matter – will cling to you (or your wallet) like limpets, or rather leeches, and you’d sooner scrape off a combination of syphilis and gonorrhea than some of these parasites.

In the beginning of April, before we left for Tenerife to sign the contract for the apartment, I had already handed over the rehearsal room where my music studio had been to some of the aforementioned Italians. Of course the landlord attempted to milk the new tenants for more money, claiming that they’d have to sign a new contract if they wanted to take over the lease if I, as the “main signatory” of the initial contract, was leaving. Fortunately another “main signatory” (a Slovenian whom we had originally rented the studio with) remained in Berlin, so he would still be in charge, and therefore changing the “main signatory” (as well as consequently altering the contract to something more expensive) was not necessary. However, once I returned to Berlin, it became obvious that the landlord kept sending me the bills instead of pestering the other remaining “main signatory”. When I brought this to their attention (telling them that I would by no means be picking up any mail from them any longer), the landlord once again brought up the idea of changing the contract. So even though I had already waded through all of this manure about a month earlier, I now had to spend yet another couple of hours arguing about it (in German, which is always loads of fun when you aren’t completely fluent in the language). Finally they figured out that they couldn’t really force a new, more expensive contract on the Italians, and they agreed to start sending all the bills to the remaining “main signatory” who was not me. (About a month or so later, the remaining “main signatory” informed me that the landlord is now trying to force the issue of altering the contract in the coming autumn, but it’s certainly not my problem anymore.)

The situation with the internet service provider was similar: they enforced a three-month notice requirement, so I’ll have to keep paying for the damn internet access until September, even though I’m no longer anywhere in Germany at all. I could have gotten around this by sending them proof of my new address abroad, but I had no intention of giving them my forwarding address. I’m no delusional paranoid conspiracy theorist, but I had no intention of giving any information to an ISP who had been only too happy to share my information with the copyright breach extortionists on the occasion when a friend from Slovenia had left his torrents running for a few minutes a couple of years ago, and the oversight had ended with an extortion letter that had required us to hire a lawyer in order to respond to it (and basically tell the extortionists to stuff it).

Our apartment lease required a three-month notice as well, and we had to wait until we’d actually signed the contract for our new flat in Spain before we could initiate the proceedings. Fortunately our landlord was prepared to consider handing the lease over to an Italian pal of ours, who, on the other hand, could hardly wait to “occupy” our flat: during the four and a half years that we had been renting it, the prices of flats in Berlin had increased so drastically that we had eventually ended up with one of the cheapest places around. The landlord’s property manager, who dropped by to check the apartment, was only too happy with the idea of simply handing the lease to someone else without any interruptions, and he was also visibly impressed with the state of the apartment (which was not really surprising, as five years ago, when we had moved in, the place had been an absolute disaster, one of the worst places we’d ever had the displeasure of renovating, while now it actually looked habitable). We, on the other hand, were eager to hand the flat over to our friend, as he had also agreed to buy the kitchen and the majority of furniture from us, otherwise we’d be forced to empty the flat completely before handing it back (and would thus have to either attempt to sell all the individual pieces of furniture or throw most of it away). In case we simply left without finding another tenant, we would also have to keep paying rent until the end of July. So the manager requested the usual heap of papers from the Italian, who happily provided everything, and we could actually start hoping that the whole deal would go through smoothly. The landlord had about a month to decide before we would actually be able to buy our one-way plane tickets to Tenerife, anyway; but one month certainly sounded better than keeping the apartment for another three months.

After our Italian buddy had pointed out the stuff that he’d be buying from us and negotiated the price (to my initial amusement and subsequent weariness, he focused on the proceedings with the passionate and tenacious dedication of a knickknack peddler at the bazaar in Cairo), I also, despite my wholehearted aversion to this sort of flea market operations, managed to sell the rest of the stuff that I didn’t want to lug to Tenerife (like my trusted bicycle and so on) via dedicated Facebook groups. Of course, the effort invested seemed to exceed any financial gain by far, but it was better than nothing.

Meanwhile, in the middle of May, Monika received word from Santa Cruz that the complete paperwork for the new apartment – confirmations of taxes paid, registries registered for, and the like – was “almost ready” and that we’d be able to pick up everything in a week or two. Monika told them we wouldn’t be arriving until the middle of June or thereabout, so they had plenty of time to get it done.

We also scanned a collection of required documents that we’d procured on Tenerife and sent them to the movers, who would eventually drop by Berlin with a truck and take our stuff to the transport ship in Hamburg. Before they confirmed everything, they also asked for a rough outline of a cargo manifest, which I provided, and we agreed to finalise everything once we returned from Slovenia, where we would be heading next.

Finally I called my cousin, known for his love of road trips. To my profound relief he immediately agreed to borrow a van back in Slovenia and come to Berlin in a week or two to pick up the crap we would not be taking to our new volcano lair, but could not throw away either (stuff like important documents that needed to be archived, books acquired during our stay in Berlin, winter clothes, and so on). The upside was that my cousin’s girlfriend was free at the time as well, so they’d be able to make a little bit of a vacation of it. Besides, he had been among those who had helped us get to Berlin in the first place, and helping us to get out was, according to him, only proper. Have I mentioned that my cousin rocks – on his guitar as well as otherwise?

Finally we went through our things carefully and packed everything that we’d be taking for a wee trans-European van drive.

Studio on the move

My musical endeavours are currently, and until further notice, on hiatus, as in the middle of June the studio in its entirety ended up in boxes and cases:

A few weeks after all the gear had been placed on a truck and then a transport ship container, accompanied with my desperate petitions to the unforgiving universe that it refrain from making someone drop a particularly precious piece of equipment or causing any sort of disaster, everything made it to its destination in one piece:

Now I’ll just have to deal with the trifling matter of finding a suitable place for it all, and then I’ll be able to resume my fabulous career as a studio rat. Hopefully that happens before I’m too old to move on my own, let alone lug all of these damn boxes around…

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 7.2 – Introductory Bureaucracy 2

THE CAR

Due to import restrictions (and/or the transfer tax and an administration fee for second hand cars), used cars are rather expensive on Tenerife (but, on the other hand, due to the fact that the island tax is much lower than the VAT on the EU mainland, gas is very cheap comparatively). Furthermore, buying a car on Tenerife can involve loads of hassle with all the paperwork and relevant taxes. Finally, all potential debts are associated to the car, not the owner (parking fines, outstanding loans, even social security, taxes, etc.), and if you’re buying a used car from a private seller, you have to deal with the Ministry of Traffic and the related bureaucratic hurdles yourself (see this source for more information).

However, most used car dealerships will deal with all of this in your stead as well as usually offer some kind of warranty on used cars – but, naturally, the prices at used car dealerships are even steeper than those of private vendors. As we were already up to eyeballs in bureaucracy at the time – and because I’m extraordinarily far from being any kind of a car expert, let alone a car mechanic – we decided to stomach the additional cost and buy a car at a dealership. Of course, there were a few failed attempts – especially the one comes to mind where we decided for an advertised Ford Fusion that looked pretty good and was discounted to something almost approximating a normal price. Monika phoned the dealer and they claimed the car was still available. To our dismay we soon figured out that the advertised car had been sold ages ago because the company in question had not updated their website for who knows how long, but the employee Monika had spoken to earlier had failed to mention that (or notice it at all, I suppose). The employee was also rather disappointed when we actually came to the store and didn’t simply buy what was, in her words, “a similar 5000-EUR nine-year-old Citroen” instead of “the 3900-EUR ten-year-old Ford Fusion” that we had actually agreed upon.

By that time – after about a week of trying to find a decent car – I was so fed up with everything that we walked straight into a random nearby dealership, which turned out to be owned by a capable and pleasant (not pushy, for a change!) Argentinian, and simply bought a ten-year-old but well-preserved Seat Ibiza after a short test drive and superficial inspection (I elected not to pretend I knew anything much about cars, save for how to drive them, appreciate a good reliable engine, and enjoy seeing them in something as closely resembling good working order as possible). The dealer gave us a one-year warranty and took care of all the paperwork very painlessly and promptly (OK, he needed an additional day because he forgot about a special local holiday in the capital city of Santa Cruz, where the only Ministry of Traffic office on Tenerife is located, so his first trip to the Ministry was in vain – these local holidays or arbitrary fiestas, as one might call them, are a notable feature of the Canaries: every city, town, village and hamlet seems to have its own patron saint that needs to be celebrated on their own special day every year; nobody can even begin to remember all of these extraordinary holidays and associated parties; but you can most likely attend at least one of these merrymakings somewhere on the island each weekend if you’re so inclined). The car had some minor initial problems, all of them more or less trivial (like a fried breaker for the cigarette lighter outlet that I needed for GPS navigation and the dealer hadn’t thought of checking; a power window that broke almost immediately, probably due to dust in the wiring; and a broken lock on the gas tank), but to date the dealer has in fact fixed them all. He did attempt to pass off the broken gas tank lock with a “but who cares, I mean, nobody will steal gas on the Canaries” excuse, but fixed it nevertheless after we started rolling our eyes and laughing at his rather amusing attempt at avoiding the issue. For now the car has been running great and I’m counting on many cheap Seat parts being around in case I eventually need them – although I’m also, hopefully not too optimistically, counting on the proverbial reliability of the VW engine under Ibiza’s hood.

Getting reasonably-priced car insurance was a problem, though. Before we had sold our previous car, as we’d certainly not needed or wanted one in Berlin, my insurance record had been spotless, so I had benefitted from a full bonus. However, I hadn’t needed any car insurance for almost exactly three years. Monika’s sister, who happened to work at my former Slovenian insurance company, sent us a confirmation of this, but unfortunately the time limit on transferring the bonus to the largest local insurance company was at a maximum of one year. We made some phone calls and it turned out none of the other insurance companies would even consider transferring the bonus, at least not without a lengthy and complicated bureaucratic procedure. Not willing to give up on this just yet, Monika suddenly remembered we could ask our friend Jocular Banker (see Part 5 and Part 7.1) if the bank was willing to insure our car and possibly acknowledge the bonus. The first thing he said was something like “…but I have to tell you right away that our car insurance is far too expensive.“. After we shrugged and asked him to tell us about it anyway, he approved a full bonus without even looking at the paperwork Monika’s sister had provided (when Monika offered him the document, he just said: “Nah, don’t worry about it, I’ll just put eight years without any insurance claims here. Nobody ever checks this, anyway.“). He made some calculations, and it turned out that the bank was able to offer us a significantly better insurance package for much less than the major local insurance company, and they’d even space out the payments over one year without any interest. Great success – thanks to Jocular Banker.

INTERNET ACCESS

Our business (as well as quite our hobbies, particularly our music and my scribbling endeavours) largely depend on fast and reliable internet access. However, this turned out to be a bit of a problem (as we had expected, anyway). Even though we opted for Movistar, the largest Spanish telecommunications company, all we could get, for now, is a relatively lousy ADSL access, with speeds pretty abysmal in comparison with what we had been used to even in Berlin, let alone the superb fibre optic access available almost everywhere in Slovenia. The people at Movistar did try to sell us IPTV as an “obligatory” part of a certain mobile phone & internet access package they seemed to be pushing hard at the time, even though Monika kept telling them that all we needed was the fastest internet access they could provide, and that was it (we hadn’t had any TVs in our apartment ever since we’d moved from Slovenia to Berlin five years ago, which is still one of the best decisions of our lives – now we can truly appreciate TV for the brainwashing propaganda shitbox it actually is, whenever we happen to see one somewhere). Fortunately, the phone guy who arrived to hook us up about a week after we’d signed the contract revealed to us that IPTV is not really “obligatory” or “unavoidable” in any way. He called Movistar, had them change our package, and told us that TV would have sucked away half of our bandwidth anyway, had we actually opted for it. He also told us that fibre optics were in the works, but that, even though the cables should have been installed in our city about a year ago, this particular crown achievement of the local telecommunications industry would, in accordance with the infamous Canarian relaxed pace, have to wait for another few months… Or maybe years. We’re keeping our fingers crossed, but not too tightly, because we wouldn’t want them to fall off due to the long-term lack of blood circulation.

WATER

Last but not least: tap water. Man, was that a real pain in the posterior.

– During the initial inquiry about water at the Illustrious City Hall, they told us to inquire at the city waterworks.

– Next morning, at the city waterworks, we were told that our apartment building only had a single official water meter for the whole building, and that the rest was not their problem. We should drop by the apartment building’s “President of the Community” to clear up the matter.

– The President of the Community (or La Presidenta) told us that the water was a real pain in the posterior (no shit), because our apartment building still didn’t have “official water” “officially” distributed to individual apartments via separate meters. We’d have to drop by the Illustrious City Hall yet again in order to procure some sort of a temporary license for a provisional water meter.

– After waiting at the Illustrious City Hall for another couple of hours, Monika tried to explain the situation to an official. As the official wasn’t sure what to do, Monika called La Presidenta, who attempted to explain the situation over the phone. Still unsure what to do exactly despite having her ear gnawed off by our Presidenta, the official gave us an appointment in order to clear up the “water situation” – in a week or so, of course.

– In a week or so, the appointment took place, but it involved yet another official, who didn’t know anything about anything, so poor Monika had to explain it all again. The explanation, however, began about an hour late due to the new official’s climacteric coffee break and her subsequent unfortunate accident with a scanner. (After she’d put in a bunch of clipped-together papers and, naturally, caused a paper jam, the device froze, so it obviously had to be reset. I kept trying to tell her to turn it off and turn it on again, but instead of listening to the prime directive of IT, she called the IT department, which, after fifteen minutes of fruitless torture, told her to turn it off and turn it on again.) By that time the poor official was so upset she no longer conveyed any impression of knowing what she was doing, and she also declined talking to La Presidenta over the phone: she just decided to fill out who knows what sort of paperwork, probably randomly dreamed-up, and told us that “someone would contact us eventually in order to hook up our water“. Of course, we asked what “eventually” meant: a day? A few days? A week? A month? The answer, my friend, was, quite sadly and rather impotently, blowing in the wind.

– As it is a bit difficult to actually do anything in flats without water – especially when you want to start fixing and painting the walls – we went to see La Presidenta again in order to bitch and whine about our lacklustre attempt to solve anything whatsoever at the Illustrious City Hall. Reasonably pissed at the Illustrious City Hall, she told us to go to the waterworks again in order to procure an “official meter”. Afterwards she’d call a plumber she knew (who had already hooked up all the other flats), and we’d just fix the water issue ourselves. By that time it had become plenty obvious that fixing things yourself was the way to go on the Canaries, especially if you ever wanted to get anything done at all.

– Next day we set out on a quest to the waterworks headquarters yet again – unfortunately for us, as we didn’t yet have a car at that time, located halfway between our city and Granadilla, a picturesque village higher up in the hills. This time, however, our quest took place during one of the very rare monumental annual storms on Tenerife, which began shortly after I snapped a photo of this neat little rainbow:

At the waterworks they had no idea why in the hell we would want to buy one of their “official meters”, as the virtually identical ones sold by the local hardware stores were much cheaper, they informed us kindly. Fed up with everything, Monika told them she didn’t give a damn, that La Presidenta wanted this particular meter, and that she – Monika, that is – wanted to buy one of their “very official meters” despite the very rude price. The waterworks staff just shrugged and sold her one. As I’ve already mentioned, at that time we still didn’t have a car, so, nursing the precious official meter, we ended up loitering on the doorstep, staring at the storm – a true downpour, a deluge, and a rare though welcome sight, locally. Soon we were joined by another local victim of the waterworks, after which yet another guy, apparently a Moroccan beset by water problems himself, offered us all a ride down to the city, for which all three of us were extremely grateful.

La Presidenta was happy with the counter, but her plumber kept failing to pick up his phone for days. By that time we had already arranged for our engineer friend to check the electricity (see previous post), so he also hooked up the goddamn water while he was at it. The friend in question may almost be a rocket scientist (and he is an airplane pilot as well), but he is obviously not an experienced plumber, so one of the first things we did after moving into our new flat was flood the furniture workshop belonging to one of our neighbours that he had on the ground floor. What a fine opportunity to introduce yourself to new neighbours! So Monika and I helped clean out the water – a trifling matter of approximately 160 litres that had poured into the man’s workshop, drenching some of his prized flea market possessions – while the engineer was attempting, quite fruitlessly and sort of nervously by now, to identify the correct pipe. The budding plumber that I am, I hesitantly dared propose that we unplug all of the unconnected pipes and blow or pour a bit of water into a faucet in our flat. It turned out that this was the correct plumbing logic, and thus we finally identified the correct accursed pipe and finished the job.

INTERMISSION

This particular leg of our grand scheme thus came to an end. We started fixing the usual stuff in our new abode – the cracks in the concrete, typical of this sort of apartment blocks and nothing to worry about, but if you don’t fix these while your flat is empty, before painting the walls, you’ll most likely never eradicate them later, after you litter your lair with furniture. We almost finished fixing and painting the bedroom walls… But then the “day of cheap plane tickets” arrived and we had to return to Berlin in order to take care of the rest of the outstanding issues.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 7.1 – Introductory Bureaucracy 1

In the beginning of April we flew to Tenerife in order to sign the contract and finalise the transaction. We hoped to get the most urgent things (like electricity, water, and, of course, internet access) taken care of in about three weeks (taking into account the proverbial Canarian warp speed). Of course, that turned out to be rather optimistic and we had to stay for more than a month. I’ll break things down by individual items, as dealing with each and every one of them was abundantly “entertaining”.

THE FLAT

The apartment deal was done in just a couple of days, which was a great start. Nocturnal Attorney (see Part 5) had already warned us that the bank would not guarantee that everything was in order with the paperwork for electricity, water, etc. – that we were buying the flat “fully aware of its condition”, even though we had just seen it very briefly and had no detailed knowledge about its past, its present state, or any of the paperwork associated with it, save for the clean cadastral records – so that was a bit of a gamble… But apparently this is the usual routine on the Canaries, especially when you’re buying bank repossessions. It’s just how the banks do it: they strictly adhere to the “take it or leave it” principle. As they have thousands upon thousands of flats to sell all over Spain, they don’t much care about any of them, save for those, perhaps, that they’re able to sell for far more impressive amounts of money than our flat. Of course, our place was nowhere near that “notable” league.

When Nocturnal Attorney told us everything was as sound as it would ever get, Jocular Banker (see Part 5) issued a hefty bank check that also incurred a very annoying 1 % fee. However, instead of charging the fee the bank offered to insure the flat for the next two years, and of course we opted for spending the fee on insurance rather than spending it on nothing whatsoever. We had intended to insure it anyway… And we also had a good laugh when we asked Jocular Banker if insurance also covered any volcano eruptions, and he said something along the lines of: “No, because if Teide erupts, we’re all screwed and none of us will live to give a damn, anyway.

Finally we met with an official at the local notary’s office and wrapped up everything. We also paid a reasonable fee for the agents to take care of the taxes and the rest of the paperwork, as we already had more than enough bureaucracy on our plates. The whole deal didn’t take more than an hour or two, which was a nice surprise. Immediately we were handed the keys to our new flat, a very sexy duplex on the roof of a three-storey building with nine apartments on the outskirts of the city, at a price of less than a third of what such a flat would have cost on the Slovenian coast, for example. With approximately 65 m2 of kitchen/living room, bathroom and bedroom on the bottom floor and a 15-m2 cabinet with two private 20-m2 terraces on the roof, we knew the flat could be turned into a truly great volcano lair with considerable though not excessive DIY home improvement efforts. And the view from one of the terraces, well…

THE ILLUSTRIOUS CITY HALL

Our first stop after we had received the keys and the contract was the local “Illustrious City Hall” (Ilustre Ayuntamiento), where we had to register as citizens. There we spent two hours conjugating random Spanish verbs (by that time Monika had taken it upon herself to start teaching me Spanish) while we waited for our turn. The registration went smoothly, involved a lot of “my dears” and “my preciouses”, and before long we were in the possession of the most crucial documents that we’d need in order to take care of everything else.

ELECTRICITY

We spent far too much time trying to follow the very vague directions and locate the electricity company, so by the time we actually found the place, it had already closed. As most local shops and offices adhere very strictly to opening times that allow for a generous afternoon nap, you can only achieve so much on any given day. That’s just something you have to get used to on the Canaries: due to everyday siestas it’s not easy to complete more than a few chores at a time that involved any shops or offices. I suppose this prevents everyone from doing anything too quickly and contributes to everyone’s peace and longevity, which sounds as cute as it is annoying when you’re in a hurry. We decided to try again the next day.

A day later we got to the electricity company on time, but unfortunately their computer network was down, so they weren’t able to work. Of course, they were not exactly devastated by the news: they told us “not to worry” and to just drop by later. How much later remained to be seen, as it depended on the whims of who knows what weather phenomena (and their influence on IT guys, I suppose). So we headed for breakfast and coffee and beer and read sci-fi for a bit and chatted and waited in order to see how long we’d have to wait. An unspecified number of hours passed, as did another siesta, before we were able to sign the initial paperwork. We also had to make an appointment a week later – an appointment where we’d finally get to make an appointment with someone who might actually turn on the electricity eventually.

A week later we came back and were told that someone might actually turn on the electricity within five working days. That meant another week, because “within five working days” meant, of course, that an electrician would drop by on the sixth or maybe the eighth day. More than a week later – there was a weekend and some sort of a holiday in between – we received a text message, claiming that the electricity had just been turned on. Overjoyed, we went to check it out only to find out that we had no electricity. After a phone conversation with a relatively disgruntled electrician, who claimed that he had done everything correctly – and yes, we had realised that we’d had to turn on the breakers in the flat, for crying out loud – Monika managed to persuade the guy to come back tomorrow. He actually did, and after he’d checked everything he claimed that everything was good on his end, and that it wasn’t his problem if the flat was still dark. Great. Fortunately one of our friends, otherwise an engineer, was able to figure out that the previous owner of the flat must have switched the wires and started siphoning community electricity after he’d stopped paying his bills and had thus been disconnected. The friend swapped some wires around and – let there be light.

INTERMISSION

Hmm, now that’s a pretty neat wall of text already. With all the entertainment going on here I suppose I’ll break this “leg of the relocation project” into two parts… Next time: internet access, the car, and the Kafkaesque water problem.

Video by Orazio Ferrari & Giuseppe Guarrera

I’ve recently had the pleasure of doing a field audio recording for the video of Orazio Ferrari (double bass) and Giuseppe Guarrera (piano), performing “Le Cygne” by Camille Saint-Saëns. Even though we kept complications to the minimum (the duet was only recorded with two overhead mics), I’m very happy with the result. The video was directed, shot and edited by Giulio Tarantino.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 6 – Winter Hibernation

One of my least favourite things about Berlin is the unavoidable hibernation over the winter. Come springtime, everyone explodes from their lairs, and during the summer you just about manage to fool yourself into thinking that life is not really so miserable: you start hanging out with people, sitting outside, enjoying prolonged barbecue sessions in one of Berlin’s many parks… But then September or October gradually but unavoidably enshroud the city in drizzling darkness and most people seek refuge indoors, where they remain until the end of April or thereabout. So you once again confine yourself to your quarters only to lose contact with everybody and emerge seven months later a cabin-fever-riddled hermit with atrophied muscles, pale, sunken-eyed, vitamin deficient, disillusioned, dazed and confused.

On the other hand I’ve recently come up with a working theory that the seven-month annual hibernation is what keeps this city together and preserves its remarkably easy-going, tolerant attitude: because during the short five months when the general population is actually able to emerge from their holes and people can even spend some free time in physical proximity to each other are not enough for everyone to start getting on each other’s nerves badly enough for armed conflicts to break out. I suspect that, as far as Berlin is concerned, any further climate change may result in riots and bloodshed.

Winter hibernation it was for us, then. After we’d returned to Berlin in the beginning of February, we promptly collected all the paperwork we had to send to Tenerife, got it officially translated into Spanish, proofread, numbered, dated, collated, initialled, stamped, signed, sealed, bound, and dispatched. Then we waited, but the winter of 2017 was one of the dreariest we’d experienced in Berlin. Our attempts at spending the time relatively productively were made extremely hard due to our constant fretting over how everything would, or would not, turn out. Going over all the details of the intricate plan and its various stages repeatedly only made everything worse, as we were unable to do anything at all until the paperwork went through. I had planned to make use of the downtime and finish my next novel and upcoming Cynicism Management album, but soon established that I had zero inspiration and subzero energy for either, so I caved in and simply postponed both of these (suddenly comparatively trivial) endeavours until further notice, rather than keep obsessing over my inability to get my ass in gear. I figured that finishing both the novel and the album by the end of this year would have to be good enough (not that anyone but myself is eagerly waiting for either), but I have yet to see whether I’ll actually manage that.

It took the mail three weeks to get to Tenerife, probably by a combination of horse, carriage, and single-masted sloop. By that time we had got seriously nervous, as the online tracking only registered the mail as “dispatched from Slovenia”, and then nothing at all for several weeks. Finally we received confirmation that the forest-murdering heap of documents reached the real estate agent’s office in Santa Cruz, only to be forwarded to the bank’s real estate department’s head office in Madrid. Back to the horse-drawn mail coach and rowboat it was, then. At this point one may be tempted to ask why we hadn’t sent the paperwork to Madrid in the first place… Well, actually we had proposed this, but had been told that the mail had to go through the Canary Islands office, for whatever arcane reason.

It took another two months or so for Madrid to digest the information. Then they demanded that we sign yet another form, but at this point they reconciled themselves with scanners and PDF files rather than resort to stamped, sealed and bound parchment scrolls, so it only took them about a week to analyse and scrutinise the e-mail.

When everything was confirmed, we were finally able to give the required three-month notice to the owner of our apartment in Berlin and book plane tickets to Tenerife yet again.

Grumblin’ Ole Geezer’s Volcano Lair: Part 5 – The Flat Hunting Expedition

At the beginning of January we were already so sick and tired of the Berlin winter that going to Tenerife on a flat hunting expedition felt like getting away for a bit of an urgent vacation someplace warmer and brighter. As realists rather than unwavering optimists, though, we were mentally prepared for a rather tough and nasty month ahead, possibly even failure. We managed to book an affordable room in the coastal town of El Médano via Airbnb and landed on Tenerife with lots of determination, a chunk of money in the bank, and not much else. A week into our expedition a couple of good friends from Slovenia, who have lived on Tenerife for years now, took mercy on us and let us stay at their place. Our day-to-day expenses were thus significantly reduced, and they also provided us with lots of information as well as an occasional car ride. For that we’ll be eternally grateful.

Buying a flat is not something one normally expects to do very quickly, and we had already taken the island’s skewed perception of time into account as well. Nevertheless it took us a while to wrap our minds around the radically relaxed Canarian pace (I doubt the average “northerner” ever truly gets used to it, in all its various dimensions), as on the Canaries everything indeed strictly adheres to the proverbial “mañana, mañana” routine. We found several affordable apartments in the towns around the general area we’d opted for, but the infernally sluggish pace of even arranging for a single viewing was nerve-wracking. Of course, I won’t bore anyone with details, not even myself: I’ll just say that the initial enthusiasm soon gave way to routine phone calls (if somebody around here tells you they’ll call back or send you an e-mail, don’t put too much stock in it), information gathering (fortunately Monika speaks perfect Spanish, otherwise we’d be completely screwed), and, above all, waiting. Lots of waiting.

In the meantime, the first priority was to get our N.I.E. (identification number for foreigners), because you can’t even open a local bank account without it, let alone buy an apartment. We were told we had to go to Las Americas, a city some 25 kilometres from El Médano, to get it at the local police station, and that we better get there very early, otherwise the appointment slots for the day might all be filled. We took the advice seriously, but due to poor bus connections we weren’t able to make it there before ten, approximately: we did take the first morning bus, but it took the “scenic route”, meandering through every village and hamlet. So we arrived about an hour after the office at the police station opened… And it was already too late. The nice police woman told us we better get there at 7 in the morning at the latest, two hours before they start giving out the “tickets” for the appointments, because sometimes they supposedly ran out of slots in under half an hour. “No, you can’t get a ticket for tomorrow today,” she beamed. “Oh, there aren’t any buses from El Médano so early in the morning? Well, why don’t you ask a friend who works in Las Americas to drop you off?

Of course, how come we haven’t thought of that: like each and every foreigner who needs an ID number for foreigners, we had a horde of friends in El Médano who worked in Las Americas and commuted there every day at 5 a.m.

Stuck in Las Americas until the bus back, after accomplishing nothing whatsoever for who knows which day in a row, I succumbed to the first bureaucracy-induced redout of the season, and as all the anger management techniques I could think of failed miserably, including counting slowly to 999, I had no choice but to resort to bitching for half an hour to no one in particular. During the venting episode I hatched a theory why they distributed the N.I.E. numbers at police stations: so that the people who had been standing in line for hours only to be turned away and told to come back another day didn’t start slapping unarmed bureaucrats around.

However, the one thing we could do before showing up for our accursed ticket again was to pay the fees associated with the N.I.E. in advance, which you’re supposed to do at a bank. The nice policewoman had told us how much these fees would be, but, of course, we didn’t remember the price precisely to the last cent, figuring that of course the tellers at the banks would know. We went to a bank only to discover that one could only pay these fees during a short window of a couple of hours early in the morning. So we went to a bank in El Médano early next day, where we waited in line for the better part of an hour, only to find out that that particular bank did not accept this sort of fees. We headed to another bank that did, but after we’d waited for another hour (way past the “fee payment schedule”, but fortunately they elected to overlook that), they told us they didn’t know how much that fee was. We could have said anything, because nobody would check, but that would probably get us in trouble with the nice policewoman. And no, they didn’t have any price lists, nor did they believe the information could be found online somewhere. So, again, we accomplished absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, further redouts were averted, as we simply gave up on doing anything useful, sought solace in gallows humour, and decided to have a beer and stare out to sea instead.

At this point we started taking a piece of advice we’d received from a friend very seriously: “Don’t apply your mainland logic to anything you’re trying to do on Tenerife, because it’ll usually turn out to be completely flawed.

Our next attempt at obtaining the coveted identification number involved buying a bottle of the most expensive wine we could find in the local store, because we elected to bribe the poor guy in whose place we were staying. He gave us a lift to Las Americas at five a.m. the next day. Thus we managed to show up at six in the morning, and we were definitely not the first sufferers there. At around eight – about an hour before the slot assignment began – this was what the line in front of the police station looked like:

After several hours and a high-speed trek to the bank in order to pay the relevant fees in time, we finally managed to get our paws on the priceless documents. The policepersons were smiling and nice and, on the first-name basis with Monika, they said her Spanish was great. We soon ended up chatting about the wonders of linguistics and discussed who had studied what. One of the policepersons was an English major. Lovely, though frustrating for everyone else in line… But apparently the police were sick and tired of N.I.E. numbers and had more interesting things to discuss.

(It turns out I won’t have to learn the Spanish constructions for addressing people formally anytime soon, because not only is everyone on the first-name basis on the Canaries, but almost everyone you meet, even officials, immediately starts calling you “my love”, “my dear”, “my girl/boy”, and the like. Even I noticed the phenomenon, despite the fact that my knowledge of Spanish is currently virtually non-existent. I asked Monika if this was a Spanish thing, but she said that it definitely wasn’t and that it had to be a Canary thing. Other foreigners later confirmed that it is indeed so and that it’s as funny as it’s endearing. It’s kind of hard to argue with a bureaucrat who keeps calling you “my precious”, though. At least the policepersons refrained from doing that, exactly, but they were by no means able to go along with Monika’s unwitting attempts at keeping things formal for more than two initial sentences.)

Finally the apartment viewings started as well, as one by one the real-estate agents eventually started emerging from the woodwork, and eventually – after about a month or so, all in all – we found two apartments we really liked. As soon as we actually saw the inside of the second one of these, we both fell in love with it, especially because of its two terraces on the roof of a three-storey apartment building in San Isidro, a decently large town some 5 kilometres from the coastal resort of El Médano. Even if the apartments in the coastal towns weren’t far too expensive for us anyway, we’d have opted for San Isidro instead: it is an actual small city, not a tourist resort; and it is mostly populated by immigrants, a situation we’ve had great experience with during our five-year stay in the Neukölln district of Berlin. After all, we were moving in order to live and work somewhere else, not to go on eternal vacation… And as immigrants, what better place to do that than in a city full of other immigrants. Furthermore, unlike the coastal villages in the area, San Isidro is a real city of 20,000 people, with all the amenities, facilities, as well as comparatively good public transport. Hell, it’s even in the process of installing fibre optics (though, taking the Canarian pace into account, that’ll take another year or four).

As soon as we decided for the flat – a bank repossession which had been empty for years – it turned out that we’d have to collect a heap of documents, proving the origins of our funds. On the one hand that’s normal, in line with the EU legislation, and intended to safeguard against money laundering, but the task was exacerbated by the fact that the bank that owned the flat was, contrary to what one might expect, not at all happy that we wanted to simply buy the place rather than take out a loan with them. Thus they were by no means making the transaction easy. It makes sense: their best case scenario is giving someone an expensive loan, repossessing the flat once the borrowers (hopefully) default, and selling it again.

Playing it safe, we acquired our own cadastral records for the chosen flat and ran them past a lawyer, our friends’ acquaintance. Organising a meeting was rather difficult, as the lawyer whom I soon started calling “Nocturnal Attorney”, mostly operated during the night: allegedly all the commotion during the day distracted him. Finally we managed to meet, he verified the documentation, explained a few things, checked the supporting documentation we’d gathered in the meantime, typed up an explanatory note for us, and gave us the go-ahead.

It was time to pay the reservation for the flat, which means that the bank took it off the market, after which we had one month to provide all the documents, officially translated into Spanish. These sorts of transactions on the Canaries involve bank checks, not wire transfers, so we went back to the bank where we had opened a bank account and got it done. Our bank on Tenerife is the funniest place (well, that’s an original sentence I’ve never thought I’d come up with), thanks to Jocular Banker, a guy who convinced me that my choice of banks on the basis of a neat logo and colour scheme was the right one. (What do you mean, I’m being ridiculous? Sorry, but that’s all the info I had when we had to choose our bank, except for the fact that I dislike Santander because of their various well-known machinations and their role in the recent – or still ongoing – financial crisis. Santander was also the bank that sold us our apartment, which they had earlier repossessed from some poor guy, and capitalising on somebody else’s misery is all I ever want to have to do with them.)

After a trip to Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife, the preliminary contract was signed. We returned to Berlin in order to take care of the rest of the paperwork and wait for it to go through.