Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘living conditions

Update on my living conditions

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I have now owned an apartment (Wuppertal) for more than half a year and am approaching the one year mark of my rental of another (Cologne)—and feel the need for an update.

For starters, things have not gone as planned—but mostly in a good way: According to plans, my current project would end with the new year, I would give up the rented apartment, and take a few months off to (among many other things) set up the purchased one. In reality, I have received several project extensions, spent almost all my time in Cologne, and have done almost nothing to the new apartment.

Correspondingly, I have a lot less to say about the purchase than the rental, but let us start with the purchase:

What little I can judge already about the apartment (it self) and Wuppertal more or less matches expectations, apart from the property manager appearing to be extremely incompetent. There is one major disappointment/annoyance in the bigger picture, however: I chose Wuppertal based on rational deliberations where train connections featured heavily*. Here there has been a three-fold disappointment (contributing strongly to my hardly ever being in Wuppertal):

*I often travel heavily for work reasons.

  1. There are major construction works going on around the central station, which make it harder and more time consuming to get to and from the station. According to the information published in and around the station it self, these works should have been concluded in 2017/2018*, and I decided that this was an acceptable time frame, especially with the promised resulting improvements. Unfortunately, it appears that the claim of 2017 was limited to the planned shopping area** (a nice-to-have), whereas the overall works, what would have been relevant for my planning, was on a very different time scale. As is, even 2018 is a highly optimistic estimate and a worst case could conceivably land in 2020… Knowing that in advance, I would very likely have made another choice.

    Lesson: Ignore public signs and pull more complete and reliable (in as far as this is possible where construction is concerned) information from the actual, official plans.

    *Officially: 2017. Knowing how construction work tends to run in Germany: 2018.

    **I would speculate that the misinformation arose through a wish to brag about this selling point for the project and too little concern for other effects.

  2. Deutsche Bahn (“German Railways”) have arbitrarily decided to cancel all (!) train traffic to and from Wuppertal for a period of six weeks (!) starting around two weeks ago. To boot, they did the same thing for roughly two weeks earlier in the year. While the cause (long neglected maintenance work) is worthy, the way of doing this is utterly unacceptable, especially bearing in mind that the railway lines involved are among the most commuter heavy in Germany. To the best of my knowledge, this type of complete interruption, for so long a time, is without precedence.

    Those who have tried the “Schienersatzverkehr” (“rail-replacement traffic”; effectively, travel-by-bus-while-we-pretend-that-it-is-still-a-train-line), appear to be less than satisfied with the travel time and comfort—even when just comparing the planned level of Schienersatzverkehr-service with that actually delivered. (As opposed to when comparing with the original travel by train.) I strongly suspect, but have admittedly not investigated, that this is also economically to the considerable disadvantage of the passengers, with no discount being offered for the lesser service or normally lower price level of bus traffic—and even with such a discount many would be left without compensation, e.g. because they travel with tickets valid for a month or a year at a time (or a similar construct*).

    Lesson: Deutsche Bahn is a passenger hostile horror. (But that I have known for many years…)

    *I do not want to discuss various ticket models, discount systems, etc., here, but those with pre-existing knowledge might want to consider e.g. the effective value loss of a BahnCard 50 for someone who normally travels a certain line once a week and now chooses to go by car, as a better alternative to bus.

  3. (A mere annoyance in comparison with the above; especially since regional travel was not a planning priority.) To my surprise, it turns out that not all the “regional” trains that travel past my local station, just a few minutes walk from my apartment, actually stop there. All the “S-Bahn” and “RB” trains do, but the much to be preferred “RE” trains are inconsistent. The RE to and from Düsseldorf, my point of reference when searching for apartments, does stop; the RE to and from Cologne, which is far more interesting at the moment, does not. I now have the choice between going by “RB” (takes considerably longer) or taking the “RE” (or a non-regional train) to the central station and then going by some other means* to my local station some four kilometers away.

    Lesson: Do not make the assumption that Deutsche Bahn (especially; but likely many other entities in general) handles things in a consistent and reasonable manner.

    *So far mostly by the local specialty of “Schwebebahn”; occasionally, by foot or by S-Bahn; theoretically, taxi or one of the other trains.

On to the rented apartment, specifically revisiting some items from my earlier post (see there for background information):

  1. There have been no real temperature issues so far. If anything, likely aided by the comparatively cool summer, temperature has been less of an issue than in most other apartments I have had.
  2. The noise levels, e.g. through out-door music, have been considerably worse than average—but nowhere near as bad as I feared. It is certainly an improvement over my old Düsseldorf apartment. Likely, I just had a bit of bad luck during the short time preceding my original post.
  3. (Unpleasant content warning) The “platform toilet” has proved to be far more problematic than expected: Often, notably after I had eaten fiber-rich bread, simply flushing (once) has not been enough to move the feces on from the platform. On a number of occasions I have had to flush half-a-dozen times (annoying, time consuming, and bad for the environment); several times, I have actually given up, grabbed a piece of toilet paper and shoved it on manually… It puzzles me how such an idiotic, and so obviously idiotic, construction ever saw the light of day.
  4. The electronic key is and remains a disaster. The problem has been mitigated by some experience, specifically that it pays to not turn the key immediately after insertion. Still, this combines the weak points, but not the strengths, of both regular and electronic keys. I am amazed that they have not changed this idiocy, with the long term savings easily exceeding the short term costs—even user friendliness aside. (Note that the key contains a battery that has to be replaced now and then; that maintenance requires more specialist knowledge, which reduces the number of potential contract partners; that the solution is likely inherently more expensive than an ordinary key/lock; and that since there are other general locks with keys in the rest of the building, it is not necessary to switch out the keys—just the one lock.)
  5. The elevators have mostly lived up to the early days, but there have been exceptions. Notably, there was one time when I first had to wait for a perceived eternity for the elevator to arrive, then had to share it with four people who all stepped out on different floors—and then had it halt at the 23rd floor, one short of my floor, because someone going down had pressed the wrong button… I would have been faster walking* the 24 floors. Over the last few weeks one of the elevators has also had problems getting the doors on my floor closed.

    *Recently, I have done this twice for the exercise/out of curiosity and plan to do it once a week or so for the remainder of my stay. While hard work, this turned out to be less grueling than I had anticipated: I took two breaks the first time, one the second; but, contrary to my expectation, was not forced to give up half-way.

  6. The view remains amazing, it self almost worth the rent—or it would be, had I not grown jaded over time. One of the problems of having something great is that a just appreciation rarely lasts. (But will I miss the water once the well has gone dry.)

    Even apart from the greatness of the view in general, there have been many specific instance where I have been brought an experience that would not have occurred with an ordinary view. A few examples:

    A few weeks ago, I had not one but two very long and extremely impressive fireworks in perfect sight on the river, possibly two hundred meters from my window. (During the local “Kölner Lichter” event.) Barring the people in the 25th and 26th stock, I may well have had the best view of these fireworks of anyone in the city. To boot, there have been a number of smaller and/or more far away fireworks on the river over the months.

    Having the house surrounded by so dense* a fog (several times) or rain (at least once) that nothing else could be seen—no ground, no surrounding buildings, no whatnots. When I was a child, I sometimes fantasized about touching a cloud—now I have**.

    *Keep in mind that it is exceedingly rare that a fog grows so dense that not even close-by objects can be seen—but here there are no close-by objects. The ground, e.g., is almost a hundred meters away. Even so, this fog was unusually dense, giving me a better understanding of why fog is occasionally referred to as “pea-soup”.

    **Barring some technical differentiation between cloud and fog that is uninteresting for this purpose.

    Having had, in contrast, days with a sky so clear that I could see for many miles; days with incredible, border-line scary, storm clouds; days with mixtures of heavy rain in one direction, sun shine in another, dark clouds in yet another; days with unbelievably majestic constellations of clouds; … (Apart from standing on very large hills or actual mountains, there are very few opportunities to really see something of this level through just being “in nature”. The land would have to be very flat and free from obstacles, and it would still likely fall short.)

    A winter’s day where the pond beneath my window became one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. While a description can not make something like that justice, imagine a circle of ice-free water (kept so by a water spout), a ring of birds (most likely ducks) resting on the ice immediately next to the water, the remaining majority of the pond being covered by very white ice, and on that ice near perfect, very dark reflections of the near-by trees—and then the actual trees and a layer of snow around the pond. Escher* would have gone nuts over the scene.

    *Note that much of his work was not geometrically surreal and that he had a particular interest in reflections.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 6, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Living it UP with the HIGH society

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Preamble: Through my work, I have spent a lot of time in hotels and apartments rented on a monthly basis, in addition to a number of more permanent residences. I intend to write down some of my experiences in a blog series (of which this is the first post), especially with an eye on several recent negative experiences, but also some more general, some (as below) dealing with unusual situations, and one dealing with how to live in hotels in the best manner.

A few days ago, I moved into an (at least by German and Swedish standards) very unusual apartment, roughly a hundred meters above the ground and with one of the most amazing views I have ever seen—better than many dedicated observation decks. This includes a fair bit of the Rhine, most of central (and not so central) Cologne, and a straight line of sight to the world-famous Cologne Cathedral (once the highest building in the world).

It is not quite the proverbial highest room in the tallest tower—but it is the third-highest (24th) floor in the 55th tallest building in Germany (according to Wikipedia; and, yes, the building does have its own Wikipedia page), with a clear majority of the taller buildings being used for offices and the like. By co-incidence, the second highest I have lived was also in Cologne, somewhere in the range 12th–14th floor, in a building clearly visible through my window, despite being several kilometers away.

After living here for just a few days, I cannot give a full evaluation of the house or positive and negative aspects of living so high above the ground; however, a few observations are possible:

  1. The exposure to the sun is not interrupted by other buildings, trees, and the like. The temperature within the apartment has been considerably higher than would have been expected from the outside temperature (by the standards of an ordinary apartment). While sub-optimal in the summer, this could be an advantage in the winter.
  2. This is compensated for by air movements being similarly uninterrupted: Open a window* and fresh and cooling air will pour in.

    *The windows can all be opened, unlike in many newer buildings. In a building where they cannot, we had better hope for good air conditioning…

  3. A very unfortunate disadvantage, although I am not certain whether through the building’s tallness or its placement within Cologne, is disturbances through idiotic noise-makers—and that could get old very fast.

    For instance, this weekend there was a demonstration of some sort that featured several hours of loud drums and several (or one multi-day) near-by events with third-rate music and hysterically shouting MCs. If such things happen often, they could poison the situation entirely.

    Generally, I am of the opinion that such demonstrations and events simply should not be allowed in populated areas. If you want to have an event, an outdoors rock-concert, or similar, find an area outside of town, let those interested come to you, and leave those not interested (likely, a clear majority) in peace. If you have a political message to spread, start a blog or a party, talk to politicians, whatnot. Political demonstrations are only a legitimate tool for people artificially cut-off from otherwise expressing their opinions, e.g. through state censorship, or in situations involving a direct escalation against an unlistening and undemocratic* regime. Even in these cases, it is rarely sensible to demonstrate in general public areas and far better to do so in front of the appropriate government buildings.

    *To which I count regimes that were democratically elected, but then ignore the will of the people or the peoples interests, go back on election promises in a large-scale manner, and similar.

  4. The apartment is a little run-down, but by-and-large well organized and thought through, including the provided furniture.
  5. An exception is the bath room which is small and has a shower bordering on too small*, a bathroom cabinet that partially blocks the sink, and a “platform toilet”**.

    *According to the above Wikipedia page, the building was originally an office building, and it is conceivable that showers were added as an after-thought to existing toilets when converting to apartments, rather than setting up new bathrooms from scratch.

    **A regrettable idiocy of the German plumbing are occasional toilets with an artificial platform that collects excrement above the water until the user flushes. Apart from the distasteful optics and increased risk of smell, this virtually guarantees that the user needs to apply the toilet brush after every “number two”, whereas a “normal” toilet is cleaned by the flushing alone possibly two thirds of the time.

  6. The water pressure is quite OK, contrary to my expectations, but it is hard to get cold water from the taps, probably because the long way from the ground or use of an internal water-tank (to ensure water pressure) gives the water time to grow tepid.
  7. The house-door uses a weird electronic key that requires a battery while still needing the key to be inserted into the lock and turned. Conceivably, this too is a left-over from the office-building days; likely the technology is a failed pre-cursor to later key readers, where a battery-less object, often a card, is simple held to the reader.
  8. The elevators have so far come in a timely manner and traveled with very few interruptions on the way. This is a positive surprise, seeing that elevators are often an issue even in buildings with less than a dozen floors. The explanation is possibly that the number of apartments per floor is low (three at “my” floor), while e.g. a hotel often has ten, twenty, or more rooms per floor.
  9. Did I mention the amazing view? If not: The view is amazing.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 4, 2016 at 7:28 pm