Monthly Archives: October 2020

Six Wheels in Germany – October 2020 (Month 79)

Good News!

I will start my blog with some great news (for me at least). The results of my German exam for my citizenship application:

I passed my German exam! And I passed well too, with 18 out of a possible 20 score (pass mark is 12, but you have to get at least a 3 in every item). I wrote extensively about this last month, that I was less sure about the written work and the spoken section (Schriftlicher Ausdruck and Mündlicher Ausdruck) but in the end I got a 4 for these both. This means my entire mark is equivalent to a C1 result and I needed ‘only’ a B2 to get citizenship.

I immediately emailed this certificate (without the important info removed/covered!) to the Ausländerbehörde and I hope to hear soon about my citizenship application. I got an Out-Of-Office from her so I know she won’t even be looking at it for two weeks, but hopefully by the middle of November I might have heard something!

A quick visit to England

A long time ago I vowed never again to fly with Ryanair and, in fact, to attempt not to fly at all. I last took a flight four years ago, to Tenerife to holiday with my Mum.

We all had so many plans and Corona put paid to them. Same for me, as I discovered I could fly from Düsseldorf to Stansted with Ryanair for 10€ each way, going out on a Friday and returning on a Monday (the only two flights per week). My principles of not flying, and not flying Ryanair, crumbled at this point as this was an opportunity to visit my Mum that I shouldn’t miss. So I bought the flights and waited to see if I would be able to use them – if England became a risk area for Germany then it was perhaps not wise, although I had the following week off as holiday (booked ages ago, with plans for Berlin which we cancelled due to the high level of Corona there, so I would have had time to Quarantine).

I told my Mum a few days before my visit as it looked like it would go ahead; I hadn’t wanted to tell her much in advance in case I had to cancel it – with just 20€ for the flights that wouldn’t have been an issue. Although I then had to buy a special Ryanair cabin-size suitcase/rucksack as their allowance is very small. In the end, a 20 litre rucksack designed for Ryanair’s special dimensions worked out fine for me for a long weekend.

Mum was very pleased to hear that I would visit and my sister Anna came up with the great idea of us having Christmas Dinner. Theoretically this year Anna and her family and my Mum are coming over here for Christmas in Germany but we all thought it rather unlikely that would actually be able to happen. So Anna managed to find a turkey crown, some mince pies, a Christmas pudding, Brussels sprouts, pigs in blankets etc and the plan was that Mum and I would go to Anna’s house on the Saturday and celebrate Christmas a bit early.

Two days before my flight the German Robert Koch Institute updated its Risk Areas… they added East Midlands and West Midlands. But fortunately Stansted Airport, my Mum’s house and Anna’s house are all well away from those areas, as they are in Eastern England and the South East. So it was looking good! However, the night before I set off the county of Essex placed itself into Tier 2 (more restrictions) which meant that we could not visit Anna there. However, she was still allowed to travel to Suffolk to visit us, so the Christmas Dinner would now take place at my Mum’s house, although Anna would bring all the food with her. She pre-cooked the turkey the day before (she herself is a veggie so brought along a Nut Roast) and prepared the rest of the food so she could just bung it in the oven/steamer at Mum’s.

I had a flight at 07:10 from Düsseldorf so Klaus dropped me off at the airport by 5:45am. I wasn’t sure how long everything would take in the airport, haven’t flown for several years and didn’t know about the queues at security, but it turned out to be very quick. I was airside after about 5 minutes (I had done my boarding card online a day before) and had plenty of space to sit down.

I had a while to wait so bought myself some breakfast at a Düsseldorf bakery (a filled roll) and a bottle of water and sat down to wait.

Everything was very efficient, as one would hope, and we started boarding the plane. I had an aisle seat on the very last row on the plane (Ryanair constantly try to upgrade you with emails and messages but I was adamant I would only pay 10€ for my flight) and we ended up with three of us on that back row, with the window seat a lady with a crying baby. The plane was clearly not full so the lady in the middle seat moved, saying she couldn’t cope with the baby crying. I stayed put but eventually everyone in the last row on the other side of the aisle moved forward and so there was an entire row with a window seat available. I said to the lady with the baby that I wasn’t moving because of the crying baby but because there was a window seat and she said she would do the same; I had felt the other lady was rather insensitive with her comments when she moved. The baby had stopped crying anyway after a few minutes.

So I had a window seat to myself but the weather wasn’t the best.

The flight was just 50 minutes and was fine. After we landed Klaus messaged me that he had been following my flight on FlightRadar24. Although I was on a Ryanair flight the plane was a Lauda Air Airbus.

We arrived safely at Stansted and made our way out. I knew I had more than an hour to wait for my National Express Coach to Ipswich (I wanted to save my Mum the early morning drive to Stansted) so I had plenty of time to look around. Stansted had very efficiently converted a vending machine to masks & hand gel.

I decided I needed a cup of tea so found a seat at Costa in Arrivals.

Hooray again for Tea drinking in England – you order a cup of tea and you get the right product, with milk too. Such a relief!

That killed 15 minutes of my time, so I then went walking around, checking out where the Coach Terminal was. There was a waiting room there so I sat there for a while too. The wait wasn’t too bad as I had my trusty iPad Mini with me.

The bus arrived and they checked our temperature before we boarded. I was apparently 23.7 so was looking remarkably well for someone extremely hypothermic!

Inside the bus was very plush, with a camera so we could see any imminent accidents and a USB charging port in the back of every seat. There was also theoretically wifi but I don’t bother with that as Klaus and I only use about 10% of our data allowance per month as roaming is still free (until 1 January 2021 I guess).

We had to wear masks the whole time, as we had in the airport and on the plane, but this is now normal so it was no problem for me. The journey was £16 plus £1 booking fee which I thought was very good value. We drove down the A120 through Braintree, then Marks Tey, Colchester (it was fun to travel through my old hometown from the elevated bus position) and then up the A12 to Ipswich.

The bus actually arrived a bit early so I was at the bus stop before Mum arrived. I asked the driver if where he stopped was the same bus stop for the return journey and he said yes, as I had already booked to stay at a hotel by the airport on Sunday night and thought I could save Mum a long drive to take me back to Stansted. The bus stop was also for normal local busses and had no sign anywhere that it was a National Express stop!

Mum arrived a few minutes later and off we went in the car. Due to rules in the UK I had to sit in the back seat and wear a mask in the car.

Rather than going straight home she suggested that we stopped for cake at Glasswells, a local furniture store which has a good café. I agreed to this, unsurprisingly.

I was delighted that they had Banoffee Pie on the menu – I haven’t had that for four or five years. Very tasty! And of course a proper cup of British tea.

We then went home to Mum’s and I settled into my room – the spare room. When Klaus and I visit we usually stay in the main bedroom (Mum’s room) as the bed is a lot larger, but this time as it was just me I didn’t need to turf Mum out of her refuge.

I was fairly tired after the travelling so we just chilled out in the afternoon. It was a bit cold and windy in England so we had no great desire to do anything much!

As you can see, the autumn colours have definitely arrived!

My special request for the evening was a curry (take-away, of course) so we checked the menu and had a very lovely evening meal. We were stuffed full afterwards!

Mum and I shared one dish of rice as we (and my sister) all suffer from a weird thing with our oesophagus where rice or bread can kind of get ‘stuck’ in our throats and makes us sick, so we try to avoid them. Mum has significant problems with rice (I don’t, fortunately) so we shared the rice as she didn’t need much. My problem is with bread but fortunately not with naan bread so I had one of those too – or half of it, as I was too full (the other half for breakfast the next morning). The fact that Mum, Anna and I all have this weird throat thing (and Anna and Mum have had all the medical investigations and they have found nothing dodgy) shows that it is some kind of genetic thing. Anna’s eldest daughter said that she also seems to be starting it too. Fortunately it doesn’t prevent us eating chocolate and cakes.

The next day was our alternative Christmas Day!

It started off rather well with crumpets. Someone on the YACF cycling forum had been talking about crumpets and I realised how much I missed them and lo and behold Mum had got some in her fridge! So I had a crumpets with melting butter breakfast. Yum!

As mentioned above, I also had the second half of my Naan bread.

To keep us all socially distanced, we decided to open up the Garden Room (which Mum doesn’t use in colder weather) as there are three separate sofas there, so she turned on the electric heating early in the morning and it was nice and warm once Anna arrived.

Anna had bought a box of Christmas goodies!

The Selection Boxes included a Cadbury’s Double Decker and seeing as Klaus and I had just watched an episode of the Grand Tour (Clarkson/Hammond/May thing) where they were eating one, and Klaus didn’t know about them as they didn’t have them in Europe, I bagsied the Double Decker from one selection box to take home to him. In the end I took the entire selection box as the items (without box packaging) fitted into my suitcase. But note, the Double Decker was 40g and in the normal shops they are 58g or 120g! So Selection Boxes are for small appetites. Which does not describe me, nor Klaus.

Here is Anna working hard at cooking everything in someone else’s kitchen with someone else’s baking trays, utensils etc.

And here was the result…. perfect!

For those who are not expert on a British Christmas Dinner, at least Auntie Helen’s Family Style, this meal had the following (not all visible on the photo above):

  • Turkey with stuffing
  • Separate stuffing balls
  • Pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon)
  • Roast potatoes
  • Roast parsnips
  • Yorkshire puddings (not normal for Christmas, but we couldn’t resist)
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Roast onions
  • Bread sauce
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Gravy

Of course we were full to bursting after that lot so had to wait an hour before we could eat a slice or two of the Yule Log, made by Anna.

Rather ingenious that the holly berries were raspberries – she couldn’t find any glace cherries.

She had also brought along a Christmas Pudding but I nabbed that for Klaus so he could have one for our Christmas in Germany, with who knows how many people (probably just us two and his daughter). It’s a very alcoholic one with brandy, port and cognac – and of course he knows about setting it on fire with brandy before eating. I don’t like it myself so it’s all for him and Lara.

We had a lovely time with Anna – and it’s the only Christmas ever with just the three of us. We seemed to have a lot more time with so few people and it was rather lovely.

Here we all are:

Anna disappeared off with the leftovers for her hungry hordes and Mum and I chilled out again.

The next day we decided to go for lunch at The Railway, a pub in Westerfield near Mum’s house, as they did a proper Sunday Lunch. So we both went for the Roast Beef of course.

We had originally not thought of having desserts but then when I saw there was crumble with custard on the menu my resolve weakened.

Mum chose the cheesecake which was also a good choice!

As I mentioned earlier, I had decided to take a room in a hotel at the airport for Sunday night as my flight was at 7:30am on Monday morning and I didn’t want Mum to have to drive the two hour round trip to and from Stansted in the dark. She dropped me off at the bus stop for the National Express in Ipswich and we said goodbye – we have no idea when we will see each other again.

A grand total of three people got on the bus, which was the last that would run on this route for the time being – National Express is suspending the Ipswich-Stansted route as there aren’t enough passengers. Rather a shame, particulary for one of the passengers who was talking to me at the bus stop as he works at Stansted; he now has a nightmare train journey via Liverpool Street.

The bus was very blue inside!

The journey to Stansted was easy again. I had booked the Hilton/Hamptons hotel which is just along from the terminal – it was about a five minute walk.

I assume because of Corona the price was excellent – £62 which included a breakfast which started at 04:00. I checked in and said I would have a hot cooked breakfast at 5:30am.

I ate my dinner of turkey sandwiches and olives in my room, washed down by tea.

The next morning my alarm went at 5:00 and I was downstairs with my suitcase for breakfast at 5:30.

There was some self-service food but they also brought me a cooked breakfast which should keep me going for the 50 minute flight.

Then it was just the five minute walk back to the terminal, very easy. I will definitely take this option again if the prices are still manageable.

There was a lot, lot more going on in Stansted Airport once you got through security than in Düsseldorf. All the shops seemed to be open and there were even more shops than last time I travelled through. I bought Klaus a proper-size Double Decker as I decided I would need to eat the 40g one from the selection box. Despite transporting the Christmas pudding, several Selection Box items and some paperwork from my Mum I still had a bit of room in my case and was rather tempted by a nice teabag tin but things are terribly overpriced in the airport and my tin fetish should not be encouraged.

It was Lauda Air again.

This time I had a middle seat and someone next to me in the aisle. When they closed the doors the Stewardess asked the chap in the aisle seat to move to the emergency exit row, which he did, so I now had the entire row to myself and sat by the window again. So I have done well for my 2 x 10€ (although I also had to invest 20€ in the suitcase).

The view of the sunrise was rather lovely!

Once we landed I made my way out through passport control and had to find the railway station. Klaus was working from home that day but couldn’t be out for the time it took to pick me up from Düsseldorf but would collect me from Kempen which was very handy. So I would need a train from the airport to Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof and from there the Kempen train which runs every 30 minutes.

I ended up using the transit suspended railway to get to the railway station so that was cool, and then I had a ten minute wait for the train to Düsseldorf. I had tried to buy my ticket at the ticket machine without success but I did manage to buy it on the App – 12.80€ which was not bad I thought.

When I arrived at Düsseldorf the train to Kleve/Kempen was standing waiting on the opposite side of the platform so that was very easy. It pootled its way through Krefeld and I was soon arriving in Kempen. Klaus was already waiting for me on the platform with Poppy – he said only about 20% of people were wearing masks although it is a requirement anywhere in the railway station. It was noticeable that Poppy didn’t recognise me until I was standing right in front of her – I think she was probably hoping it was Lars that Klaus was picking up from the station and was looking out for a chap!

It was lovely to see Klaus and Poppy again and nice not to have to get the bus to St Hubert and then walk home the 1.5km from there. Klaus seemed pleased with the Christmas Pudding (which we are saving till Christmas) and we ate our Double Deckers together. Strangely some of the other selection box items had disappeared the evening before…

I was really lucky to travel when I did as two days after my return the whole of the UK was classed as a Risk Area so I would have had to fully quarantine when returning.

Coronavirus reaches our home

Although the part of the UK that I visited was not a risk area, my workplace asked that I took a Corona test before coming back to work.

After a bit of back-and-forth with work because I didn’t qualify for a test under the German rules so would have to pay for it myself (and I wanted to check work would refund me), I booked online for a test in the evening. The testing centre is just down the road from my workplace.

We had to queue to register, but fortunately there were only 3 in the queue when I got there. Registration swiped our health insurance cards and then gave us info flyers for us to take home and of course the swab giant cotton bud thingie in a plastic tube and a document to hand to the nurse.

My paperwork with all personal detail removed of course!

They had asked me why I wanted a test and I said my workplace requested it. I had booked the test as a ‘self-payer’ but from the form it looks like it may be covered under the ‘Contact Person’ reason. We will see if I get an invoice in due course.

Actually having the test wasn’t too bad. I know lots of people say it felt very uncomfortable but I was OK with it and if I had to do it every day then that wouldn’t be too much of a trauma. But I do also seem to be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t suffer so much from pain and discomfort with medical things generally.

Anyway, about 40 hours later I got this notification:

And with further information:

So this was good news, although it didn’t affect our decision to self-isolate. We had decided to do this anyway as it turned out both Frank and Gudula had caught Corona. They had been on holiday in Leipzig and Frank started to feel unwell so fearing that it might be COVID-19 Gudula drove him home overnight (she was still OK). We were very surprised to hear in the morning that they were back, as they were due another four days of their holiday. Frank had most likely picked it up the week before when he was on a walking holiday with friends – all 4 of the men on the holiday ended up Corona-positive, and as a result two of their wives (although notice that two wives avoided it).

Unfortunately, Gudula then became very unwell and ended up spending several days in hospital, fortunately on a normal ward and not in intensive care. We were very relieved when she was brought home again.

Their Corona tests came back as positive, which was not too surprising. Although we are not technically the same household, we decided we should do our best to self-isolate and so both worked from home and we didn’t go out except to walk the dog (we live out in the countryside) and to do a bit of grocery shopping, also for Gudula and Frank who had come back from holiday to a relatively empty fridge. They weren’t particularly hungry but we got them a few bits and bobs.

We are both quite good at keeping ourselves amused at home so self-isolation isn’t such a horror as it is for other people. Nevertheless it was good to have a variety of things to do, and one of these was getting back to puzzling. I did this one that my sister sent me for my birthday.

It took me three days before it was completed, but I was working all mornings on my real job and only puzzling in the afternoons whilst Klaus was still at work!

Both of us working from home meant we had to buy a second office chair as we only have one decent one – so I got myself another Back Chair/Kneeling Chair as I get on well with them and it can be stored under the Grand Piano when not in use!

Our Apps remained green despite Gudula and Frank’s positive test until suddenly one day…

It gives you instructions on what you should do:

So once again I booked a Corona test, even though the last one had just been six days before and since then I hadn’t really been out. Klaus’s App had also gone red although his last dodgy exposure was apparently 10 days ago (when I was in the UK, but when he and his daughter went to the supermarket – she also had a red App with the last exposure 10 days ago…)

Strangely, the next day my App went green. On the basis that I had had a Corona test a few days before, and that there were rather a lot of people needing them, I decided to cancel mine. Klaus went ahead with his yesterday so we are still awaiting the results. When he went there was a MUCH longer queue – 23 people in fact, and he had to wait 45 minutes in the queue for registration.

His App had gone green again before the test but he thought it worth going ahead with anyway. His daughter has also been tested and she was negative.

Frank and Gudula have slowly improved over the 10 days or so that they have Corona. Frank is now officially out of quarantine although he’s still not doing much and Gudula gets her freedom tomorrow!

In celebration of this today (Saturday 31 October) Klaus and I made a pilgrimage to Bauerncafé Büllhorsthof to buy some restorative cake for Gudula and Frank, now they have started to get their senses of smell/taste back. As it was a long journey we got cakes for both today and tomorrow, including Rohallah their foster son in the bounty!

We are very relieved that they are both on the road to recovery. We have heard of several more cases around here so Corona is definitely in Kempen. I will be working at home again at least next week and Klaus will take as many Home Office days as are appropriate, although his company keeps everyone very well distanced in the offices. As I share an office it is rather difficult to distance from my colleague and as I am able to work from home, this may continue for a while – although one of us does have to be in the office due to using a special label printer etc. I don’t mind working from home as I enjoy it and work effectively, Klaus ends up doing loads of overtime and getting up in the middle of the night to right reports and things so I am not sure it is as ideal for him.

Cycling this month

I have not done much cycling at all this month – holidays and self-isolation don’t make it very easy. Plus we have both slightly lost a bit of the drive to cycle so much. All my cycling was commuting except for two leisure rides.

Green is cycling, blue is running
Cycling this month

You may have noticed above that I mentioned ‘running’. Yes indeed. After reaching the age of 49 and a half I have taken up jogging. Slowly. But I thought it would be good to do something other than cycling and my sister seemed to enjoy her running, having done the Couch to 5k programme a couple of years ago. So I got myself organised with some decent running shoes, my AirPods Pro twinned with my Apple Watch (don’t need to carry a phone) and the NHS Couch to 5k podcasts; I have now completed the 9 week course (took me 12 weeks due to pulling a muscle in my side in week 4).

I did my first 5k on 24 October (it was definitely 5k, not sure why my Rubitrack software shows 4.96 as Strava and the Apple Watch say 5.03) which took me a lot longer than the traditional 30 minutes – it took 41:48 – but I am not a fast cyclist and I am obviously not a fast jogger either. I’ve enjoyed the Couch to 5k programme and haven’t actually found it that hard.

Now I have reached 5k I have decided to do some intervals training to see if I can increase my speed so the last two runs on the screenshot above are Intervals. The first, on 28 October, was cycles of 30 seconds of running and then 2:30 of jogging (with a 5 minute warm up walk recorded first), then the next time I tried 1 minute running and 2 minutes walking (and recorded the warm-up and warm-down walks as separate activities).

Turns out my 1 minute running, 2 minutes walking average speed is not much slower than my only-jogging speed, so maybe this may improve my jogging speed. I shall find out tomorrow when I will do another half hour jog (with 5 minutes walking warm up and 5 minutes warm down).

Klaus and I did manage to go out on a ride on Hallowe’en, partly to try to burn off the large Büllhorsthof cake that we had. It was a beautiful day.

Despite being mostly self-isolating this month, before all that really kicked off we were pleased to welcome a visit, by Velomobile, of Dirk, the new owner of Celeste, Klaus’s former Strada. He came to see us and was not empty-handed…

Whereas when we had a visit from fellow Velomobilist Thomas, who wanted to pick up some Velomobile calendars that had been delivered to us (we were a distribution hub!) he gave us warning when he was 20 minutes away and we put the calendars in front of the garage door so he could pick them up from us without coming too close. We spoke to him from the doorstep and he kept a good 6 metres away. It is slightly a feeling of a leprosy colony in our house at the moment!

Although one person who is very unbothered by it is Poppy.

Although, saying that, I had expected Poppy to spend lots of time with Gudula once she came out of hospital and needed comforting, as Gudula is definitely Poppy’s Number 2 human (number 1 being Lars who is in Berlin). But Poppy seemed rarely to be downstairs with both Frank and Gudula, even though they were in the house the whole time. We are wondering if she can smell the COVID and doesn’t like it as only in the last two days, when Gudula has improved a lot, has she started visiting them again. Interesting.

Other news

At work we have a new colleague to help us in the administration department of our food ingredients production facility. Lena started off learning everything about my customer (I am key account manager for our biggest customer, a Russian food company). She is currently sharing an office with me (well, not in Corona times) and it’s been great having her with me. My colleague Lothar, who used to sit in the office with me, is helping another of my colleagues with some different work.

Anyway, Lena informed me fairly on that she is rather good at cake baking and made us a wonderful example of her art. Here it is on my label printer:

It tasted as good as it looks!

Cakes this month

Most of the cakes have been featured above but here are a few others.

Klaus and I are both carrying a couple of extra kilos and so we are trying to shift them. It’s not really from cake (as cake is a normal part of our diet) but I ate lots of carbohydrate food when in England and it takes a while to get it out of my system. So at the moment we are being a bit more careful with what we eat and we are already feeling better for it.

Here’s hoping when I write next month’s blog there aren’t more Corona cases amongst our friends and family, but that seems a forlorn hope. Keep well everyone!


Filed under Cycling in Germany, Millie the Milan GT Carbon, Six Wheels In Germany, Velomobiles

Six Wheels in Germany – September 2020 (Month 78)

In September we had a mixture of fairly warm weather and also some very chilly days. My cycling distances are generally down this year – not particularly because of Covid but more I suppose because I have achieved a lot of my cycling goals and I don’t want to overdo it!

Cycling this month

Most of my cycling this month was commuting. I had just three non-commuting rides and the major theme of each of those three was cake!

333km cycling this month

And here is the list of all my rides.

Sooo….. about those cakes!

Klaus and I took a short trip to Café zum Schafstall for some of their nice cake!

A minor disaster was that I forgot my teabags so had to have a German tea – it was, of course, most disappointing!

A visit from TimB – for cake of course!

On our Bodensee tour last year we stayed one night with TimB and he accompanied us for three days on our riding. I have known Tim since the first Spezi when we met up – he had been helpful before I arrived in Germany with velomobile advice. We tend to see each other at Spezi and at Oliebollentocht each year.

Anyway, Tim contacted us to say he was going on a cycling holiday around Germany and would pass our general area. Of course we invited him to overnight with us and we would take him for breakfast cake the next day!

Tim duly arrived (5 minutes ahead of his scheduled arrival, not bad timing after riding from Bonn!) and we had a steak meal with him and Lara (Klaus’s daughter) before Klaus drove Lara home. Tim had his cycle gear laundered which is always handy! His Milan SL fitted into our garage between our two velomobiles.

We took Poppy out for a walk.

The next morning Tim was keen to head off reasonably early and as Büllhorsthof opens at 9:00 that was fine. We left home just after eight and took him on our lovely scenic ride along the lanes towards Kevelaer.

We arrived at Büllhorsthof and arranged our normal parking!

I had told Tim of the delights of the Etagere so of course he had one (so did I!)

Klaus stuck with his normal Pfirsisch Schmand Kuchen.

We waved goodbye to Tim as he headed off towards Rees for his ride and made our way home again. It was great to see him!

Sternfahrt – Cake in Willich

There are a group of Velomobilists from the Rhein/Sieg region who meet once per month somewhere for cake. Klaus suggested they came up to Willich and enjoyed some food at Landcafé Streithöfe where we have often visited. They agreed this was a cunning plan and Klaus arranged it with the café. In the end 27 people came.

On the morning Klaus felt rather coldy so decided he shouldn’t come. It was a shame but we have to be careful in these Covid times! So Thomas (Speedastir) who had arranged to ride with us came to pick me up and we rode on to Willich. Thomas is mega fast normally so he had a very slow ride with me but it’s always nice to ride with other people. We arranged to meet early on purpose so that we would be the first there, as the nominal hosts.

The café has only the outside seating areas open and they are in two separate sections. For us they had set aside the courtyard area which is excellent. It soon started to fill up with other cyclists, including Jochen our chum from Kempen who we haven’t seen for ages. Even Klaus’s old Velomobile Celeste came along from Düsseldorf, piloted by Dirk.

There were also two trikes (Norbert and Elke), a two-wheel recumbent and also a guy on a normal bike.

We had three Alpha 7s parked side-by-side

Lots of DFs, Quests and a couple of Milans.

Jupp had brought his drone along and took this great picture!

Drone image by Josef Janning

I had one slice of cake whilst waiting for the rest to arrive and managed to resist additional slices. Christian W made good use of time and ordered two slices of cake to arrive at the same time as soon as he sat down!

It was good to chat to lots of friends and meet a few new people. Various odds and ends were swapped around, including this very impressive sprocket/Ritzelpaket which was enormous and formed out of just two metal pieces!

After about an hour and a half the groups started to head out again.

Thomas and I then rode home and after he dropped me off he headed up to Kleve where he lives. He had quite a long ride for the day, for me it was just 50km. It was great to see everyone though and I am sure we will have another meet at Streithöfe before too long as they are so helpful.

Rescuing Carsten

Last month we enjoyed the weekend of the Hex ride with Fritz and Biggi, as reported in my last blog. There we met many Velomobilists, including Carsten who lives in Belgium. He headed off to Flensburg after the Hex and was then riding back to Belgium.

One day when Klaus was on Kurzarbeit (i.e. not working) he read in the Velomobilforum that Carsten’s bottom bracket had sheared. He was entirely unable to ride further. He had got it welded by a local garage but they didn’t feel it would last very long. So as Klaus was at home, and Carsten was in Rees (about an hour away by car), Klaus said he would come and pick him up and drive him to Belgium.

So Klaus headed off to Rees with a few luggage straps – but no proper roof bars. His car has roof rails but you cannot tie things to them (slightly weird design). So when he arrived and they discovered immediately that a DF velomobile does not fit in the colossal Insignia estate car, they fixed it to the roof with the straps going through the windows.

The blanket was on the roof to protect the paintwork from the wheels but was quite noisy at speed. However, Klaus took Carsten safely home, had some dinner there and then came back with some beer-flavoured Belgian chocolates courtesy of Carsten and his wife.

This whole episode reminded us why we are looking more to our trikes for rides away from home – they are just so much easier to deal with if something dramatic happens on the ride as they will fit in pretty much any car.

Wonderful commute

My morning commutes have been lovely again.

Unfortunately now my entire commute is in the dark so I don’t see much except the road in front of me. The Milan’s lights are very good so it’s no problem to see where I am going, just disappointing not to enjoy some of the beautiful scenery.

More Millie Maintenance

I think last month I mentioned that Millie’s indicators had failed (again). I repaired them with two new LEDs and rather than siliconing them in place I taped them because silicone was such a hassle last time. However, the tape just doesn’t stick well and I noticed on the way to Streithöfe that my front right indicator wasn’t flush with the hole in the carbon but was hanging a bit inside – and not really visible.

I decided I would have to do the job properly with silicone, even though it would mean a mega effort next time one of the LEDs failed to scrape away all the old silicone. At least now I have the special silicone remover fluid!

So I waited for a nice warm afternoon when I would have plenty of time and, with Klaus’s help, turned Millie over. This meant that gravity would be on my side when sticking the indicators in place.

I had bought a small can of silicone with a built-in trigger system and it worked well. What I needed to learn was that you have up to an hour to adjust the position of the indicator once the silicone is poured so I don’t need to panic.

I let it dry for two hours, then turned Millie the other way up. Yes, the indicator was nicely in place! As I had the open can of silicone (and didn’t know if it would dry out over the next day, so it might just be a one-day option) I also siliconed the rear indicator on that side, which was also just held in by tape. This had a slightly dodgy connector to the poor-quality original cable which indeed failed so Klaus re-stripped the cable and added a new connector; it’s getting horribly short in there, so either I will need to solder on an extension one day (with almost no room to do it) or one day bite the bullet and get the whole thing rewired (not a nice prospect).

Both indicators were now working and nicely in place but it was massively obvious that they are not as bright as the ones on the other side. I had bought them through Ebay and they should be 3W (although the others were 1W) but they are much, much fainter. In bright sunlight not really visible. I suppose I should change them AGAIN but I just can’t face it – and in the winter the lights are visible for my commute in the dark. I guess they will fail within a couple of years again and I can then replace them with better ones. At least this time they aren’t soldered into the wiring but instead connected with the spade connectors so changing them should be easy enough, just the wretched silicone removal headache.

And then a week later Millie gave me another surprise. On my way home from work, just as I was pulling up outside the house, I heard a loud “ping” which I assumed was an acorn or stone in the wheel box. But the next morning, when I tried to set the parking brake so I could get in, it didn’t work – not surprising when I took a look at the parking brake on the tiller.

There should be a brake cable running up to the circle with NB printed upside down on it! You can see the frayed ends next to the metal bar (the parking brake).

Now brakes are a right pain on a Milan with the closed wheel boxes so I was very unenthusiastic about this. As I didn’t feel it wise to ride the bike to work I stole Klaus’s car (he was working from home) and took the lazy option. I was moaning to everyone at work that I would need to spend an hour lying on the cold paving in front of the garage stripping all the skin from my knuckles when trying to refit the cable.

Although that was one step further than I could actually achieve when I got home. Searching through our multiple boxes of bike bits ‘n bobs, I discovered we had three replacement gear cables (two very nice jagwire ones) but zero brake cables. How annoying!

So I jumped in the car again and went to the bike shop in St Hubert which was actually open (the two times I have tried it before he has been shut – long lunch or Ruhetag or something). He sold me a brake cable for 3 Euros.

The first problem was that the knobble on the end of it was wider than the gap between the two brake levers – just. I had been able to get the old knobble out with a bit of poking with a screwdriver but no chance with the new one. So I would have to disassemble the tiller area.

This was not as tricky as I had thought, needing only a spanner and an allen key. Once I had released the brake lever from the tiller (although it was partly still held in place by the remaining brake cable) I could squeeze the knobble from the new brake cable through and it fitted into place. I then oiled the sheath of the cable and fed the new brake cable through until it came out of the front wheel box.

I then needed to guide it correctly into the brake gubbins and pull everything tight. It was hugely too long so I cut off about 50cm of cable to start, so I had a bit more space to work.

I had screwed the brake lever on the tiller back together and now I did the brake cable adjustment so that the cable was at its longest length. This helps to hook it over the Sturmey Archer brakes in the wheel which are very tricky to reach inside the wheelbox. I had expected to take up to an hour to do this but actually managed it in about five minutes, only needing to readjust the length of the cable stopper once.

I then turned the bike the right way up again (it had been on its side) and adjusted the cable length at the tiller end. In just a few minutes it all seemed good! I took the opportunity to adjust the other brake which was a bit loose and now I have two very decent brakes on Millie. The job was much less bother than I had feared so if I have to do it again I won’t be so nervous.

At home in Kempen

Poppy continues to enjoy life in Germany.

However, the weather has got a bit colder and so we have to be careful, when sitting on the bed, that she has not burrowed under the covers. Sometimes there’s not much of her to see…

We took her for a walk along the Rhein at Lank-Latum/Meerbusch and she was rather shocked by this crab.

These are pests that were introduced into the Rhein and they have no natural predators. This one was still alive and Poppy was definitely wary of it – I think it surprised her by moving when she thought it was dead.

Photo by Klaus

Having a dog around the house is nice as sometimes it can be a bit lonely – here is a sad message from my phone to me (although Klaus was in the next room…)

No-one to share with…

My German language test

Last month I talked about my German citizenship application and the urgency to get everything completed before the end of the transition period on 31.12.2020, after which point I would have to renounce my UK citizenship in order to take up German.

The Ausländerbehörde have allowed me to apply early for citizenship as I can demonstrate I am well integrated (my voluntary work with the ADFC over the last six years) but I also have to prove officially that my language skills are B2 or above. So I had to urgently find a suitable B2 exam.

I found the opportunity to sit the TestDaF exam in Duisburg. Although TestDaF wasn’t something the lady at the Ausländerbehörde had previously used, she contacted the institute and they told her that the exam would prove I have B2 or higher, so the lady said it would be OK. She wrote to me “please send me your exam certificate for B2 so I can decide on your application.” By this we assume that all my other documentation is acceptable and she needs nothing further from me except the language certificate. So that is looking very positive!

TestDaf is split into four sections:

  • Reading comprehension (Leseverstehen)
  • Listening comprehension (Hörverstehen)
  • Writing (Schriftlicher Ausdruck)
  • Speaking (Mündlicher Ausdruck)

Unfortunately, it is hard to know what my level is as my writing and speaking have lots of grammatical mistakes (genders of nouns and endings) but the impression given by TestDaF is that grammar isn’t as important as being able to give over an idea and to use more complex sentence structures to show your knowledge of the language.

Here is what the TestDaF Institute says about this for the written piece of work:

Sind die Sätze im Text miteinander verbunden, d.h. ist der Text kohärent? Werden unterschiedliche Konjunktionen verwendet? Sind die verwendet Konjunktionen sinnvoll?

Besteht der Text hauptsächlich aus einfachen Sätzen (z.B. Hauptsätze) oder finden sich auch Nebensätze? Werden die Konstruktionen variiert?

Wie breit und genau ist der Wortschatz? Sind die verwendeten Begriffe passend? Werden z.B. Verben variiert?

Gibt es sprachliche Fehler im Text? Treten diese oft auf oder nur manchmal? Kann man den Text trotz einiger Fehler noch verstehen?

My translation of the above:
“Are the sentences in the text linked to one another; in other words, is the text coherent? Are different conjunctions used? Are the chosen conjunctions suitable?
Does the text mainly consist of main clauses or are there also relative clauses? Is the construction varied?
How wide and accurate is the vocabulary used? Are the phrases used suitable? Are, for example, verbs varied?
Are there language errors in the text? Do these occur often or just sometimes? Is the text still comprehensible despite many mistakes?

And how do they mark it? There are three levels (TDN3, TDN4 and TDN5). TDN3 is B2, TDN4 is between B2 and C1 and TDN5 is C1. I have to get at least TDN3 in all four sections to pass the exam. Here is how Wikipedia explains the language skills required for TDN3 in the TestDaF exam:

Reading that, I should have no problems with the writing and speaking aspect, but one never knows!

For comparison, here is what is required for the highest level (TDN5) which I always achieved when marking my Reading Comprehension and Listening Comprehension (the first two boxes below):

As I wrote last month, I bought several practice papers and also used the two available on TestDaF’s website.

Preparing for a mock exam, even as far as removing my smartwatch and having my traditional watch instead!

For these you can see the correct answers for the first two sections but of course there are no answers for the writing or speaking sections, thus the difficulty in evaluating my level.

I was getting very high marks with the first two sections (95% or so correct) so I had no fears about this, but the writing section was much trickier. I decided all I could do was practise, practise and practise again, as I had to get the muscles in my hand used to writing for an hour again! I also had to learn to structure my thoughts linearly (as with computers if you have a great idea in the previous paragraph you can always insert it – not with handwriting!)

So each afternoon I set the timer for 1 hour and did one of the Schriftlicher Ausdruck test papers. Klaus or Lara his daughter would read them and make comments.

By the end I was getting a bit overwhelmed as so much rides on this exam! It is the key to me keeping the rights I have had my whole life to live, work and retire in the European Union, so it matters a great deal to me. As someone who has already once exercised this right, and moved to another country, how do I know I won’t want/need to do this again in the future? So European citizenship is important to me, and this exam therefore was vital.

On the day of the exam I felt well-enough prepared. I was totally confident on the reading and hearing comprehension sections as I knew I could do these without issue. I was a bit nervous about the written section as I sometimes ran out of time in my practice ones. The speaking seemed generally fine, I had practised that three times (once with Klaus listening, he said it was surely good enough) so that was that.

For the entire day we had to have our phones switched off and in another room. Also no smartwatches were allowed, we could not leave the exam room except to go into the garden, so needed all our food and drink with us. I was fairly well prepared with multiple pens, including my nice fountain pen with which I write more smoothly and legibly, and three bottles of water and a flask of tea.

Klaus dropped me off in Duisburg on his way to work and as I had an hour to kill before exam registration, and was desperate for the loo, I found a bakery with loos and had some calming breakfast cake.

After this I walked back to the exam centre where various other candidates were standing around outside. In the end there were 16 of us and I think the oldest of the rest was 25 years old. I was twice their age! Also older than all the other staff members I saw around. They must have wondered what I was doing there and indeed the lady was surprised when she saw a British passport and said “we haven’t had a Brit do this exam before.” Mainly because the exam is to enable you to study in a German university and that’s not much of a thing in England.

So everything was ready. Here is my workstation before I switched off my phone for the day. We had to wear masks the whole day (I had a spare just in case).

So off we went. The first section (written comprehension) was fine, I think I might have got all 28 questions correct. We then had a 15 minute break (smoking break for half the other candidates!) and then we had the listening comprehension section. Here the sound was played through loudspeakers but I had informed them beforehand I had hearing issues so they sat me right at the front. I could hear fine but did slightly lose track in one section of the Listening Comprehension and as you only hear 2 of the 3 exercises once I know I missed at least one point. Worst case scenario, I got 25 out of 30, which is still a TDN5 (top mark) pass.

I assumed we would now have an hour lunch break before the written exercise, which was the one I was nervous about. But no, she said just 15 minutes. This was probably good as it meant I didn’t make myself too nervous – I had time to drink my flask of tea which I had saved for this section. I had decided tea fortification might be necessary before handwriting for an hour.

The test is one hour of writing and I was rather pleased to see that the topic was household waste and how much people throw out. We had to explain how this could be reduced. The thing is, in my work I deal with some of this terminology – the text talked about “wegwerfen” for throwing out food but I knew of another word, “entsorgen”, which I could also use, which was rather handy. Also I was discussing packaging sizes and of course I know all the terminology (Beutel, Dosen, Verpackung etc). So in a lot of ways this went better than I thought. I felt I wrote it fairly well in terms of grammar, the structure was pretty good and I wrote a lot (not necessarily helpful). I also finished 10 minutes before the end so could read through it again and correct a few endings here and there. So overall I was pleased.

And then after a 10 minute break it was the speaking test. I hadn’t been worried about this but as it turned out I feel this was perhaps my weakest section. Firstly we had to speak into a laptop (we had headphones on) and were warned that if we accidentally jogged the mouse or pressed anything the software would probably freeze and then that would be the end of our exam chance. So I was a bit paranoid! Also it looked to me as though my voice was recording rather loud (they were using the software Audacity and it looked like the sound levels were at maximum) but I of course couldn’t change anything. What is also weird is that there were five of us sitting in the room together and all is very quiet; we all started the exam at the same time, we listen to the recorded voice telling us what we have to do, and then he asks for our name. Suddenly there are 5 random names being spoken at the same time. And this also went for all the answers… the room is quiet, then suddenly we all burst out talking at the same time. I found it a bit off-putting. We didn’t have noise-cancelling headphones and it was definitely weird when I had stopped talking and the others carried on.

I think this affected my answers as instead of stopping when I had finished staying things, even if there was extra time available, I then started waffling on, often searching for words as I hadn’t prepared for this new sentence. And I didn’t just do this once but probably 4 times out of the 7 answers. Really annoying!!! I don’t know why I suddenly started to do this having not done it at all in the previous tests. So I was quite annoyed with myself by the end.

Here’s how TestDaF mark this section:

Wie wirkt die Äußerung als ganzes auf ein*en Hörer*in?
• Wird flüssig, klar und verständlich gesprochen?
• Machen Aussprache und/oder Intonation das Verstehen leicht oder schwer?
• Sind Aufbau und Struktur der Äußerung klar zu erkennen? Kann man dem Gedankengang gut folgen?

Erfüllt die Antwort die Aufgabenstellung?
• Bezieht sich die Äußerung auf das gestellte Thema?
• Werden alle Punkte der Aufgabe ausreichend berücksichtigt?
• Passt das, was gesagt wird, zur Aufgabe und der Situation?

Mit welchen sprachlichen Mitteln wird die Aufgabe gelöst?
• Passt die Äußerung (Register, Aufbau, Anfang und Ende der Äußerung) zur Situation?
• Wie differenziert und angemessen sind Wortschatz und Syntax?
• Erschweren Fehler das Verstehen? Oder kann man trotz Fehlern die Äußerung gut verstehen?

And here is my translation of that (with a little help from Mr Google):

How does the speech as a whole strike a listener?
• Is it spoken fluently, clearly and understandably?
• Do pronunciation and/or intonation make understanding easy or difficult?
• Can the form and structure of the speech be clearly recognised? Can you follow the train of thought well?

Does the answer complete the task requirements?
• Does the speech relate to the topic asked?
• Are all points of the task sufficiently taken into account?
• Does what is said fit the task and the situation?

With which linguistic means are the tasks completed?
• Does the speech (register, structure, beginning and end of the speech) match the situation?
• How differentiated and appropriate are vocabulary and syntax?
• Do mistakes make understanding difficult? Or can one understand the words well despite mistakes?

Having looked through this closely I think I SHOULD have done well enough for all of these points, so despite my verbal diarrhoea which undoubtedly added in some pauses while I was searching for words, I think overall it ought to be good enough.

But I don’t know. And I won’t know until 22 October when the results are released. If I haven’t got TDN3 or above in all four parts of the test then I will have to sit another test (I have already registered for the Goethe B2 exam on 5 December) and throw myself on the mercy of the Ausländerbehörde that they will wait for this.

As I was in Duisburg without a car I needed to make my way home. I walked to the railway station to start the 2 hour journey back to St Hubert via Duisburg HbF, Krefeld and Kempen, with tram, train and bus, but then Klaus sent me a message to say he would be only one more hour in his work meeting and I could go to Mülheim and he would pick me up. So I bought a ticket online to Mülheim, using the Underground to get up to fairly near his office and then walked to the office. The timing was good as he had finished five minutes later and gave me a lift home.

So now I am waiting. And waiting. And waiting for my results. But the exam went well enough, I didn’t have any major disasters, and as this is the first language exam I have taken in 19 years that’s not bad going!

And finally… Cakes this month

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