Swapping Homes Anybody?


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Money- or your Life!

The wonderful house we swapped with a German family in the East near the Baltic Sea came with a boat house and a small craft that didn’t need a license. Engines over 5 hp on Germany lakes etc. do.
 My son and his friend, strapping young lads that they are, had taken the rowing boat out to begin with but hubby felt lazy and privileged to have a “motor boat’ at his disposal .
On our last night, a beautiful warm evening, he got it started and cleaned it from cobwebs. Normally, I’m not particularly seaworthy but this I could do, I thought hopping into the vessel.
We went along the little canal that connected to the adjacent lake where we had done a lot of constitutional walks, passing all these cute little vacation or weekend houses;  datschas - I presume they were called in the ‘olden days’. Owners were out on their porches  barbecuing, having a beer or just sitting out enjoying the balmy evening. My friendly greetings and “Guten Appetit!” mostly went unanswered; instead we got stares.
My family had commented on the fact before that the locals seemed to be rather reserved, looking away or looking at us outright suspiciously. Hubby had his theories about them being former communists who had lived in a supervised state where neighbors spied on each other and were naturally suspicious. Could that be the case almost a generation after the fall of the Iron Curtain? I wonder. The difference in behavior to other parts of Germany that I am familiar with was striking, however.
So here we were put-putting along.  At a tight spot in the canal we had to slow down from our snail space to make rooms for 2 canoeists. The engine died.”Not to worry, there is a second battery. I just have to switch over to that one.” To be on the safe side we decided not to continue our journey to the lake with only one battery and turn around instead. But the second battery never started. The canoeists enquired if we had paddles. I hadn’t yet spotted them, but gracefully there was a pair on the floor of our boat.
(View from our boathouse onto canal)
So paddling it was, back past the houses and people we had just passed. Their behavior and demeanor had miraculously changed. Some got up form their seats to throw a funny remark, “Machine kaputt?” or “Need a push?” Others interrupted their meal to get a good view of the spectacle.  All of a sudden we encountered a lot of smiles and laughter. We are not practiced paddlers…
One older guy, alone on his deck, pointed what looked like an antique pistol at us, “Money or your life”. He was probably just lonely or thought he was funny. I started to get peeved. Why had nobody bothered to engage with us before? There is something about Schadenfreude that we Germans are verifiably good at. The self-proclaimed pirate invited us to join him. “I’ll throw a couple of bratwurst on the Barbie for when you return” not realizing that we were on our way back already and wouldn’t paddle by again. Maybe he’s still standing there, waiting.
It was either that the batteries had not fully charged or the connections had come loose. We made it back through the sweat of our own hands. The behavior of our neighbors there remains a mystery, however. To do the people form Meck Pomm justice, our exchange partners, some of their friends and neighbor who we met were totally friendly; some even stepped out of their way to give us a helping hand. It remains a mystery until I get some enlightening comments from people in the know.

Fallen off the face of the Earth?

No- Just technical challenges in modern day Germany
In case you worried- thank you- I didn’t get lost in my own country or fall off the face of the earth. Blogging from the road can be quite a challenge. If you’re stationary and have a good broadband connection, not so much. I was experiencing the joys of  a data stick - and the technical problems that go with it. We never had that in the States. Maybe it was the mountains that surround us there that are responsible. A mobile data stick works on the principle of a cell phone where your reception depends on the signal and amount of bars that you get – or that you don’t get.
In the first week after my last report we traveled from eastern Germany via friends and family who didn’t have a viable connection either or where we just stayed for one night and I didn’t want to ask, ”Can I use your Internet?” instead of spending time with them.
Always planning ahead, we had ordered the first stick to the address where we stayed for 3 weeks. It arrived but we never got it to work. Like with the return of our damaged bags, there was an unbelievable song and dance to get it replaced. It duly arrived but this replacement didn’t work either. I think I still have a good command of my native tongue but these good customer people were as obtuse as if I spoke Chinese. Maybe they train them this way. We had to pay them for their good telephone support a mere 42 Cents/minute. Waiting in line for one to come on and listen to my grievances had to be paid for as well. So we heard the Euros clicking by.
Something that doesn’t often happen in the US. Ten Euros later, their data stick wasn’t compatible with Windows 7, according to their expert knowledge. Well, hello if that is the case and they know it, make it compatible, or please refund this customer.
Their position, however, was that once the data stick- −which is just a cell phone numbers − registered on your computer you have activated it and that’s it. They are not obliged to take it back and refund you. A fact we weren’t willing to swallow. 2 weeks and a stinker of a letter later, I got my money back yesterday.
We bought another one in a store where we coaxed a friendly employee into installing it for us by playing ignorant. Their policy also was once the stick is registered…Then you’re on your own. Good luck. We spent over an hour until the guy got it fixed. He had learned his superb English from the internet; not through an online course but by playing games online and interacting with English speakers.
Before I bore you too much with too many details let me finish off the first part of our trip to the former East on an episode in our eastern abode before we left. The data stick problems didn't allow me to upload photos or get on to FB to promote. The speed is just too slow to find FB or Twitter for that matter.
But I'm back in circulation now, thank goodness!