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Occasionally people  who know me through the blog ask why I don’t just ‘become self employed’ as a carpenter, instead of faffing about for another three years learning occupational therapy.

Apart from this showing a highly optimistic view of my abilities, in Germany a carpenter/cabinet maker is under the authority of the Carpenters Guild, which decrees that even after a three year apprenticeship, no-one is ‘permitted’ to be self-employed unless they have completed a master carpenters qualification. This takes another two years and you have to practically be an engineer or mathematician to get through it. It also costs 15 to 20 thousand Euros.

Most of which goes to the Carpenters Guild.

The result is that most self-employed carpenters about are (1) mathematicians; (2) in debt, (3) largely keen to keep the status quo going, having invested so much in it, and (4) paying members of the trade guild and therefore able to keep things the way they are*.

And then there’s the startup costs. Carpentry here is machine intensive and machines aren’t cheap: I’d have to take on a frightening amount of extra debt to set up a workshop. I’d then spend 20 years getting stressed out making boring chipboard furniture to pay it all off. Except that the machines will be ‘too old’ and ‘too slow’ in twenty years time, so I’d have to start all over again.

Or I can learn to be an occupational therapist, which frankly sounds a whole lot more fun.

I’ll also be at least twenty thousand Euros better off…

*Quote from one master carpenter on the subject: “I had to pay to get my Masters’ Qualification, so you should too.”

So I promised you some slightly more interesting news than our plumbing adventures, and on Monday I was provided with it.

Around the end of my carpentry training we found that I have mild Asthma, and after some visits to various specialists I was solemnly informed that I would have to retrain*. To be honest, this was not a great disappointment, but it raised the question of what I could be trained to do.

At first the Job Centre suggested a business studies qualification.

Stop laughing.

Next on the list was ‘technical designer’ which sounded better but means sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day designing disposable furniture…

Besides, our long-term goal involves moving towards a simpler, more sustainable way of life as independent of the ‘normal’ economy and system as possible. Becoming more connected with the same consumer economy seems to be the opposite of what we are aiming for.

Unfortunately you can’t explain this sort of thing to the job centre. Worse, because I’m a carpenter everyone assumed I was good at maths.

I said, stop laughing.

Finally, a friend who actually knows me suggested I learn to be an ‘Arbeitserzieher’, a qualification that doesn’t exist outside of the state, let alone Germany. The nearest translation is a work therapist (‘Arbeit’ means work and ‘Erziehen’ is to nurture and educate). I could work in anything from protected workshops to city farms, theatres, or therapy centres, with anyone from children to vulnerable adults or people with disabilities, using things like woodwork, lino printing, bike repair, cooking, or animals. I would dream up creative ideas that I could do with clients to help them.

Put another way, I get to keep playing doing the same job as the last seven months, every day. And getting the perfect training to realise our future goals.

The only problem would be that I’ll have to go to a college slap bang in the centre of Stuttgart every day for two years without getting hives. Assuming I manage that, I’ll then have another year doing the job with regular evaluations, and an exam at the end. Oh, yes, I also had to convince the Job Centre that they should fund this.

On Monday they finally agreed and signed the contract.

The course starts on April the 21st, and right now I feel like a kid in a sweet shop.

*Honestly, I’m not trying to be a perpetual student, although I appreciate it may seem that way sometimes.


The last weeks I’ve been busy going to interviews for a college course and going to see various medical specialists and doing lots of tests. It isn’t enough, you see, for a doctor to diagnose me as having Asthma and therefore unable to work as a carpenter: I have to officially have Asthma and therefore be unable to work as a carpenter.

That established, I applied for the course, and was accepted, then the hard part: getting the Job Centre to agree to fund this. You’d think that was easy as they have put me on the retraining programme, they have acknowledged that the specialist lung doctor says I can’t be a carpenter, and they recommended the course in the first place, but the Job Centre is a bit like being stuck in an absurdist play and you never know what is coming next. After much telephoning and emailing I got a call from the Job Centre (retraining department) yesterday: they were happy, I could start in April. Finally, I thought. Then last night I read the email: the the Job Centre (retraining department) was in favour, but they don’t fund the course (which makes me wonder what they are there for) the funding has to be approved by the Job Centre (funding department), an organisation that makes absurdist theatre look like a beacon of sanity and common sense.

I’ll be told more on Monday… Hopefully

…or, how to annoy right wing protestors…

I don’t as a rule, do current events, but I’m making an exception here. Over the weekend a populist right-wing political group held a protest in Mainz against the ‘chaotic’ situation regarding asylum seekers in Germany. (Rightwing code for “get rid of the furriners”) The protest happened to be in front of the State Theatre, and the staff decided this wasn’t a good thing, so they threw through the windows open and sang Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ at the top of their voices, specifically the bit about how “All Peoples shall be brothers”.

The theatre staff managed to sing so loudly -with no amplification- that the protest had to stop. They were promptly arrested for ‘disrupting a legal protest’.

The German Police are claiming that the right to legal protest is guaranteed by the Basic Law of Germany so this was unconstitutional.

I can see the argument: if you ignore this, others (probably this group’s nastier cousins) could use it as an argument to start disrupting protests, but personally I think standing up for people fleeing from war and chaos, or even, looking for a better life, is generally a good idea, and it would be better all round if the police stopped mucking about and dropped the charges. If you agree with this, please sign this petition.

Normal service will be resumed shortly….

The BBC Covers the story here.



Last week we all went on the annual farm outing, which meant we came to work early and rushed about feeding the animals in the morning so we could drive about an hour to go and look at someone else’s animals.



Admittedly they were a bit different to ours.

Unfortunately to begin with we were accompanied by a ‘Wilderness Guide’ whose main goal seemed to be to make us play silly games instead of showing us around: seriously, what is the point of ‘team building games’? I’ve worked with several teams, good and bad, and I doubt any of the rubbish ones would have improved by making us stand on a piece of wood in a field for half an hour pretending to cross a ‘river’.

I long ago realised all games work on the assumption that you want to win, so if possible I ‘fall’ into the ‘river’ or allow myself to be ‘caught’ by the ‘lion’ as quickly as I can so I can sit the rest of the game out*.

Finally our ‘guide’ finally shoved off disappeared mysteriously into the wilderness in his 4×4, and we got on with watching animals.



Sure, Mr. Bear looks cute, but the bars around his enclosure were massive.


Watching these animals being fed was interesting and informative in all the ways our ‘guide’ wasn’t, and we learned, amongst other things, that there is a male lynx not far from Stuttgart looking for love, but he’ll have to look pretty hard as the nearest female lynx is in Switzerland, that the fences on the wolves enclosure are not really needed because they don’t attack humans, and that the first confirmed sighting of a wolf in the region was made a few months ago. Unfortunately the wolf in question had been killed by a car on the main Autobahn from Basel to Karlsruhe, but we know they are on their way, and once here they’re protected by law** and should thrive.

While we were looking the other way, someone else was getting a meal too.


We finished the day watching the birds of prey.


Several of the team now favour vultures as the next animal for the farm.

*In this case not even pretending to run away was perhaps a bit too obvious.

**Except from bad drivers…

Yesterday morning on the way to do the Sunday feeding rounds, I found myself in a tram carriage almost entirely full of local Eritreans wearing white clothes, from a large priest complete with hat and wooden cross in his hand, several old ladies with headscarves and a lot of younger guys including one who was compromising the dress code by wearing a white racing jacket. They were all talking in Eritrean and clearly having a great time.

There’s something infectious about being with fifty people laughing and enjoying themselves in a language you can’t understand. It quite cheered me up and made for a great start to a day chasing animals around the farm.

I’m glad I met them on the way in, on the return I may have been a bit nervous about getting my grubby farm clothes too near their Sunday best…

Dutchbike_01So, here’s my Den Haag bike looking surprisingly chic and smart considering it was pulled of a rubbish tip and all I’d done was replace the lights. Unfortunately this is a historical view as on day two several zips on the panniers gave way rendering them useless, and meaning I’m back to Sweaty Back Syndrome until I can figure out some kind of replacement.

It is the way of the world that this happened three minutes before I was supposed to leave and catch the tram.

On the other hand, I’m now set up for transport, and this bike is sitting in a garden near the farm ready for me to pick it up when I get off the tram later this morning. At least I hope it is, as I managed to lose my spoke lock key yesterday. Thankfully, being a farm we had a set of heavy-duty bolt croppers, but all that is stopping the criminal fraternity from sloping off with the bike is a hedge hiding it from the street and a piece of chain and a padlock borrowed from one of the barns.

I hope the local bike thieves are not so well equipped…

TÜ_003Blog entries have been thin again, due to the Bloggers Dilemma: either nothing is happening so there’s plenty of time but nothing to write about, or you’re busy and there’s no time to blog about it.

In my case I’ve been doing lots but it doesn’t make for blogging material. I’ve scythed a lot of brambles and painted the hallway, kitchen, and dining room, and filled in some forms.

See what I mean? not exactly sparkly*.

However, tomorrow is the first day of a fresh start. I’m working at a city farm for seven months, using a bike and a tram for the commute and spending all day with 6-18 year olds and a lot of animals. Surely I’ll get some material out of that…

*I also did a few paintings inbetween, but they are all on my other blog

So, I had plans for today: go to the garden and beat back another swathe of brambles, come back and do some translations before lunch, and then go and chase up a couple of things, make some phone calls and get organised for the 7-month placement I’ve been offered from September.

I didn’t plan to lock myself out of the apartment.

Fortunately the letting agent runs a business in the village and I could catch hold of him fairly quickly and borrow the spare key.

From next month I’ll be helping to do activities with number of young people and assisting in the care and feeding of half a dozen animals. The people there seem to think I’m sufficiently organised to be trusted with this responsibility, so let’s keep this little episode to ourselves, hmm?


Ah, the joys of being an international family.

These are the passports Beautiful Wife will have to carry next week when she takes the Boys and beautiful Daughter to visit relatives in Japan*. From Left to right: Beautiful Wife’s Japanese passport, Japanese Passports for the three boys and beautiful Daughter; British passports for three boys and Beautiful Daughter, and finally, a German childs passport for Beautiful Daughter, who qualified herself for German citizenship by being born much later than the boys. It is getting to the point where the passports make a dent in the carry on luggage allowance.

And while I’m on the subject, can someone explain how a British Passport requires several pages of forms, lots of supporting documents, costs about a hundred euros, and takes up to eight weeks, but a German passport takes five minutes to produce** at a tenth of the cost?

*Our biannual contribution to climate change. Sorry…

**Plus a twenty-minute Bakfiets ride to the local town hall with beautiful daughter. It’s tough living here, I tell you…

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