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.