Six Wheels in Germany – July 2022 (Month 100)

Yes, I really have reached my 100th month in Germany!

So what did I do at the beginning of the month but… go for a cycle ride for cake!

This was with friend Jochen who we hadn’t seen for aaaaaages, and we also invited Gudula and Frank to come along as it was a nice day. And they decided to bring Poppy. So off we all went…

Klaus and I were on our trikes and the other three on upright bikes. And Gudula had the lazy passenger…

We cycled to St Töniser Obsthof and, as usual, enjoyed the Himmelstorte.

It was so lovely to catch up with Jochen and have a good chinwag on a lovely sunny day.

Another day Klaus and I went out on the trikes and had a good ride in the sunshine, except for a traditional Niederrhein hazard…

This was on a quiet road but which is used by bikes as well as cars – but not suitable for trikes!

A week in Berlin

We had a busy month in July as I had two weeks’ holiday. The first two weeks I was working and it was fairly quiet at work but our new computer system is throwing up lots of challenges so I had a lot of new things to do.

Then in the third week of July it was time for our visit to Berlin with Lara.

We had booked an apartment near the Brandenburg Gate, a different place to where we had previously stayed (as we needed a second bedroom for Lara).But it looked nice and had good reviews.

I also did a bit of pre-planning to see if we could find somewhere decent to stop for cake and found a Bauerncafé just off the A2 motorway as we approach Hannover. It looked good so we decided to stop there. It opened at 10:00am.

We set off from home rather earlier than I had expected and as we left home Apple Maps told me we would arrive at the café at 10:00. But as our journey progressed we had clear roads and the arrival time kept getting earlier and earlier. When it was at 9:50 I thought hmmmm, will we really want to stand around for 10 minutes? Then it was 9:45, then 9:40, so it was clear that we wouldn’t stop there. Instead we carried on a bit further and stopped at a standard motorway services where I had to queue for about 10 minutes for one of the three ladies’ loos and then I had a very expensive muffin and cup of hot water for tea. They charged me 4.50 EUR for the hot water! Klaus and Lara had cappuccinos or something similar and they had a large bill too.

However we know what the Motorway services are like, you just have to factor that in.

We carried on and were due to arrive in Berlin by 13:00. I called the Apartments to see if we could check in earlier than 15:00 and they said no. So we needed a plan B.

We had a couple of items in our boot for our landlady’s daughter Lara which she was going to pick up from us whilst we were in Berlin but we suggested we delivered them on our way as we were so early, so she headed home from Uni to wait for us at her flat. We also turned off the motorway and did a more scenic route in from the west. We stopped in Potsdam to eat our salads.

We arrived at Lara’s flat and parked outside. She came down to help us carry up her goodies from her Mum and for me to use her loo! Then she suggested we went out for a coffee so we walked to Frankfurter Allee where we found a bakery. I had a pastry!

Lara and Lara discussed life in Berlin.

We then drove to our apartment in Behrenstraße just round the corner from the British Embassy and the American Embassy. It was very nice if rather sparsely furnished. Klaus parked the car in the underground car park that we had used before on our last visit as we have a card for this parking chain that makes it just 8 EUR a day, good value for the centre of Berlin. Our apartment had a kitchen so we planned to eat our lunches there which we mostly did.

The first evening was our only chance to meet up with Lars, our landlord and landlady’s son who lives in Berlin, so we met him and friend Tanja at the Indian restaurant near Potsdamer Platz. It was really busy and we were pretty peckish so enjoyed the food although mine seemed to go cold a bit quicker than expected. We had a good evening with Lars and Tanja and managed to catch up on events.

Klaus tended to go for walks in the mornings and also often in the evenings and he did some of his excellent photography. Here are a selection of his photos of Berlin.

Holocaust memorial with Potsdamer Platz in the background
Holocaust memorial
Fernsehturm
Berliner Dom
Tiergarten looking at the Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate

One evening Lara went to visit the Humboldt University with Lara (who is studying Sports Science there) and she got a taste of Uni life. They played table tennis in the Students’ Bar and also visited the Mensa which is the cafeteria. Lara has a hankering to study at the Humboldt so it was a great chance to see it.

Klaus and I each bought a 9-Euro-Ticket and Lara already had hers (the school Schoko Ticket) so we could each travel on underground, trains, trams, buses and more all for 9 Euro for the month. It’s an amazing deal and meant that we hopped on and off to travel to places as we just wanted to have a look.

We also had a chance to ride the new U-Bahn line which goes from the Brandenburg Gate along Unter den Linden. It has all been really well built and it was very convenient for our travel requirements. These signs were above the escalators – famous quotes about Berlin.

On one day we went for a browse around the Hackescher Höfe which is a series of little shops in various interconnected courtyards in buildings. I bought some earrings with money my Mum gave me for my birthday.

We of course stopped for cake and a drink at a special coffee place.

Here are some more of Klaus’s photos of our time in Berlin

Berliner Lustgarten
The Upper West Tower, the tallest building in Berlin
Dorotheenstadt
The Reichstag from the Spree River
Evening exhibition by the Spree

On the hot day (forecasted 38 degrees) we decided to spend some of the day in Mall of Berlin as it was nicely air-conditioned. We went there most days as we used the supermarket there to buy our lunchtime salads and we watched them putting up a display of umbrellas in the large atrium area at the centre.

Photo by Klaus

One morning we decided to have breakfast at Steel Vintage Bikes which Klaus had originally spotted on one of his walking tours in the morning. The shop had lots of lovely bikes inside which were for sale and also had an interesting menu.

I liked this cup for my tea!

And I had an English-style scrambled egg with bacon and baked beans.

Klaus had suggested that we visited the new Humbolt Forum as it has several exhibitions. We had visited the building on our last visit to Berlin but not actually been inside. So Klaus organised the tickets and we turned up at 10am one morning to the Berlin Global Exhibition.

The exhibition was very well done as it focused on several different aspects of life in Berlin in the past and now. There were sections on the Sinti and Roma and what happened to them in WW2, life in Berlin for refugees now, experiences of transgender people, Berlin fashions and much more. As a very modern exhibition we were wearing watches which enabled us to interactively vote on statements, which would also allow the exhibition to track how long people spent in each room. There were translations into English for all exhibits and it was well laid out with plenty of space and variety. My only slight criticism is that I couldn’t discern an overall thread/theme as to why sections appeared when they did, but it was all interesting information.

Our treat for the afternoon was to go back to Frau Behrens Torte which is a café with some fantastic intricate cakes. So we went and we ate.

Our special treat on the Thursday evening was a meal at Sticks & Sushi in Potsdamer Straße. We go there every time we visit Berlin and it never disappoints.

Here is a random photo I took of the Reichstag.

We did a lot more random exploring this time, taking a bus or tram or U-Bahn somewhere.

On one day we decided to ride the Ringbahn which is a circular S-Bahn route. It takes about an hour in total but we hopped off at a couple of places. We started in Wedding where we went to the Antonkiez to stop for coffee at the place Klaus used to buy his coffee from (coffee circle) and had some nice cake there too.

After our coffee we got back on the S-Bahn Ring and stayed on it until Westend, This is the west side of Berlin where the Messe Berlin (Exhibition centre) is.

It’s all getting very run down now and seems to be closing but there were some interesting features, such as this huge. orange-tiled underpass system.

Photo by Klaus
Photo by Klaus

We walked a little way to the Haus des Rundfunks which has a really interesting tiled exterior. You used to be able to visit inside but no longer.

We hopped back onto the S-Bahn and continued our journey round to Schönhauser Allee.

The plan was for Lara and I to do some charity shop shopping and Klaus headed off on his own.

I found an absolute bargain – a Schöffel waterproof summer jacket which was the same colour and a very similar style to my existing very old one which was falling apart (well, it was 12 years old). This one looked almost brand new and was 29 EUR and exactly my size (the old one was way too big) so I bought it. I found it later on a website for 180 EUR so it was a good bargain.

Lara had less success in finding anything but we enjoyed browsing around and seeing what was there.

We had worked up an appetite so it was time for something to eat. Lara knew of the fantastic Schnecken you can buy at Zeit for Brot so we went there.

I had a Maple Syrup and walnut one.

Lara had a different one (not quite sure what).

Whilst we were eating Lara was being chatted up by a young Egyptian man and we had a good chat with him in English. He was laying the compliments on a bit thick though!

Whilst we were eating Klaus was taking more photos (below). He saw a shop selling scones and didn’t have one!!!!

Lara and I found ourselves walking past the Kulturbräuerei so decided to stick our noses in for some culture and found the “Everyday in the GDR” museum which was free and interesting!

It wasn’t that big but had lots of interesting information about life in the GDR and I learned some new things. They also had various interesting exhibits such as this tent above a Trabi!

This old television was showing West German programmes which some East Germans risked watching, and I note the brand was Robotron. This company is still going!

That evening Lara was going out with the other Lara so she did her own thing and Klaus and I went for a meal at the Hackescher Markt. Afterwards we fancied an ice cream so asked Google to suggest somewhere good and we ended up walking somewhere new to us and ended up at the Großer Hamburger Straße where we saw this building still pock-marked with bullets.

The building next to it was a Jewish school and it was sad to see that it had to have a very serious fence all the way round it.

There were some lovely buildings here.

We passed a space in a row of buildings and there was a lovely outdoor restaurant there, “Clärchens“, which is also a ballroom. There are so many of this hidden treasures in Berlin if you just wander around and are nosy!

We enjoyed our ice cream and then returned home.

Lara and I went for a couple of runs in the Tiergarten in the mornings. It was lovely to run on softer paths and not be pounding asphalt the whole time, although we had to dodge the cyclists. There was a washing machine in our apartment so we were able to wash the smelly running gear!

The Saturday of our visit would be the Christopher Street Day parade which is a major LGBTQ+/Pride event. There would be a long procession which would go very close to our apartment so we knew it would be an interesting day. Two days before they were already setting up the stage at the Brandenburg Gate.

On the day of Pride Lara had arranged to meet Lara and some other friends later so we decided to go for lunchtime cake at another bakery which was highly rated on Google. This was in Köllwitz Kiez which involved a trip on a tram.

Although they were good they weren’t as nice as at Frau Behrens Torte.

We got the U-Bahn home and I decided to stop off at Mall of Berlin to get my lunch – Lara and Klaus were going straight back to the apartment and Lara would then go out to the Pride parade.

As I arrived at Mall of Berlin the parade was passing – it was fantastic, with noise and colour and smoke. You can see the pink smoke in the centre of my photo below, this was from a passing float.

As I went down to the bakery on the lower ground floor vast numbers of people from the parade were also coming in. There were rainbow flags everywhere, people wearing bizarre clothing (or not very much clothing at all) and it was all very good-humoured.

When I got back to our flat I saw the American embassy were flying the pride flag under the American flag. There is always hope!

Lara went off to to meet Lara and Klaus and I chilled out in our flat, watching thousands of people streaming past. It was a great day.

The next day we drove home and this time left Berlin late enough so that we would arrive at Bauerncafé im Schafstall after it opened. So we duly drove around Hamburg and then took the motorway exit for this café, which was about 2km from the motorway. We arrived and it looked lovely but… closed. A sign on the door said “Betriebsferien”. So once again we were out of luck!

We went to the McDonalds we had seen instead but that was too slow service so we went to the normal services and Lara and I had a baguette. Klaus decided against having anything. Our journey back was relatively easy though so we dropped Lara off and were home before 6pm. We had had a lovely time in Berlin and Lara had enjoyed two evenings mixing with other people and getting to know the University which was great.

The Christmas 2020 English Family Visit finally takes place!

We originally planned for a visit from some of my family members at Christmas 2020 but this was postponed to 2021 because of Covid. Then it was postponed from 2021 Christmas due to Covid again. We decided to shift the visit to the summer and it FINALLY took place. We were all well, no Covid, no positive tests. Phew!

My family were due to arrive on Tuesday so I worked the Monday to catch up on my emails – after a week in Berlin it made sense to weed out some of the easy email; to answer some quick questions would save some time when I returned after the second week.

Klaus took the Tuesday off and we set of at 06:00 to drive to Hoek van Holland to collect my family. All five had squeezed into their Ford Kuga for the journey onto the ferry and off again. Mum lives near Harwich so a friend had driven her to Harwich and she just got into the car for the loading onto the ferry and the unloading. The rest of the car’s occupants were my sister Anna, her husband Roderic and two of her three children, Hari and Val. With five people and luggage squeezed into a Kuga it was a bit tight, but would have been much worse at Christmas with winter clothes!

Klaus and I were waiting at the drop-off area when they finally got through security at 9am – passport control has slowed things down a lot. Anna and Roderic had added me to their car insurance as they were both a little unsure about driving in Germany, so I was the Kuga driver for their time in Germany and Klaus took some passengers in Murphy the Octavia on the way back.

We stopped at a services in Sevenum for the loo and a KFC lunch as they were hungry after their travelling and it was a bit far to Kempen.

We had rented Heskeshof, the two-bed apartment 400 metres from our flat. It’s a lovely place which Mum and Anna stayed in for our wedding last year.

Mum was staying in our flat and was rapturously welcomed by Poppy.

Klaus’s daughter Lara also wanted to stay most of this week so Klaus picked her up from home. She would be sleeping on our sofa!

Whilst Klaus was collecting Lara and Roderic was chilling out, Mum, Anna and her two daughters came with me to Edeka the supermarket to buy some supplies.

On the way back we picked up a slice of cake for each of us at Café Beyen in Stenden/Aldekerk. We bought 8 slices of cake but I only remembered to photograph my own, shocking!

Needless to say they were very nice!

That evening we went to DuQu Lounge which is a very nice sushi place and ate some lovely meals.

Anna and Mum
Hari and Lara (Val out of shot to the left)

We finished off with an ice cream cone at Eiscafe Brustolon.

The next day was going to be a bit more relaxed as the family were here for a holiday, so we decided to do a trip to Kempen. Also Lara needed to go home for her driving lesson. Because my family tend to start the day later we decided to eat lunch at home before heading to Kempen, so I was able to drive Lara home for her driving lesson. This was her last lesson before her test two days later!

I then took Anna, Mum, Hari and Roderic to Kempen and we had a bit of a wander around. Roderic is less keen on shopping so he walked around the town walls and Anna, Hari and I visited C&A and then the Harry Potter Shop which I didn’t even know existed! We also did some Instagram photography of Hari in some of the quaint bits of Kempen.

Mum and Roderic had had enough so I drove them home and then drove back to Kempen to meet up again with the remaining shoppers. Lara arrived there by bus after her driving lesson which had gone well.. We shared two ice creams between the four of us.

Lara and Hari went back to the Harry Potter Shop whilst Anna and I faffed around as usual not doing very much.

Anna had offered to cook for us so she did a Shepherd’s pie and a veggie shepherd’s pie and a low carb shepherd’s pie so we were all catered for! We ate it at Heskeshof and enjoyed the leisurely evening.

The next day, Thursday, was our mega shopping day in Centro in Oberhausen, a large mall. We visited it last time my family visited (which was 5 years ago!) and Hari remembered it from then. The group of me, Anna, Hari and Lara set off for some retail therapy.

One of our ‘treats’ was to go to the cocktail dress section and see what Lara could wear for her Abi Ball next year (like a Prom). She and Hari were happy to try on some nice dresses!

Trying on dresses (they tried about 8 each) is tiring work so we stopped for a muffin/cheesecake and some tea.

We had wandered in and out of lots of shops that interested the youngsters and Anna and I trailed behind like old people (which we are!) Hari bought a couple of items of clothing, Anna some pastries for the family and I bought pastries for Mum and Klaus too. Centro is a good place for browsing and shopping so I will go back again if I need anything.

Lara had to go home after Centro as the next morning was her driving test, so I drove her straight back and Hari went in to the house for a chat with Lara and her mother whilst Anna and I got a few odds and ends of food for our respective households. We picked Hari up 20 minutes later, she had had a nice chat in the garden with Lara and Claudia. Lara was now starting to get nervous about the driving test!

The next day we were all waiting with bated breath to see how she did and… she sent us a photo on WhatsApp of her driving licence. She passed!!!!

I went to pick her up from Viersen as the rest of them were having a lazy day and as the adults were going out for a meal at Küppersmühle that night – I was being generous and treating everyone, so the three youngsters got the cash for a Döner Kebab from me. Aren’t I generous!

When Klaus got home from work he let Lara sit behind the wheel of Zuzanna but she can’t drive her (insurance…)

So that evening we drove to Duisburg for our evening meal at Küppersmühle. They do lovely food there and the service is very good. Our waiter looked like the Duke of Hastings from Bridgerton! We enjoyed the food and the evening and some happy memories of the meal there after our wedding last year.

The youngsters walked to the St Huberter Grill for a Kebab and seemed to like them.

The next day was Saturday and we decided to go to Aqua Sol in Kempen which is a swimming pool/leisure area. I had not been before and was really impressed by it. We had great fun going down some slides and the others went down some flumes too. Due to the gas crisis in Germany the pools aren’t heated as much as before but it was OK, although by the end I started to get a bit chilly. And the place started to fill up too.

In the afternoon we had some more music – I had taught Hari a little duet which I taught Lara ages ago, and here are our attempts at it.

Helen and Hari…

Hari and Lara, without a proper camera operator!

On Saturday afternoon we decided to visit Bauerncafé Büllhorsthof. Because…

Unfortunately she cannot make it work due to rising costs and a lack of staff. So she is closing at the end of October and moving to somewhere smaller in Emmerich (which is about a 140km round trip for us).

So we headed over to Winnekendonk in two cars, but it was mid-afternoon by the time we arrived and lots of cakes had sold out. Mum had the Grillagetorte below and lots of the rest of us had Himmelstorte.

That evening we ate separately (didn’t need much food after the cakes!) and the next morning Anna came round for a chinwag as the others packed.

We headed off to Hoek van Holland at 4pm and dropped them off there, having taken Murphy as well to allow for more space. I drove the Kuga to the Hoek and then Klaus took me home again.

We had a lovely visit with the family and I was very happy to see them all. The next official visit is after Christmas (Klaus, Lara and I going to England) but I hope I might be able to squeeze in a weekend visit sometime in the autumn.

Post-Brexit Tax Return

For the last six months I have been preparing for my German tax return. I have done Tax Returns for every year I have lived in Germany so far and they have been manageable. The first was done by an accountant, the rest have been done by me (with Klaus’s help over the last five years). But due to Brexit there were a lot of changes so this year I invested in the software to help me do this myself as I knew it would take a lot of work.

And boy did it take a lot of work!

The major change since Brexit is that the UK is now non-EU which means that some things are different. The most significant one of these is that rental income that is earned in the non-EU country now has to be reported to Germany. Germany does not tax it, but it adds the income amount to the total earnings and the progressive tax rate is applied to this.

Here is a fictitious example with incorrect tax information but just to show how it works: If I earned 20.000 Euros in a year in Germany and my tax rate was 20% (pretend the tax rate is 1% for each extra 1000 EUR earned) then I would be paying 4.000 Euros tax per year. The fact that I earned 30.000 Euros equivalent in rent in England was irrelevant.

Now the UK is no longer in the EU this 30.000 income from UK rental property is added to my progressive tax rate. This means that Germany knows I am earning 50.000 Euros total in the year, and so my tax rate is 50%. Not on the rental income, that is still tax free, but on my German earnings of 20k. So my tax bill then would be 10.000 Euro (50% on the 20.000 EUR).

The effect on me is quite significant as my rental income is roughly equal to my part-time earnings in Germany. I am taxed on the rent in the UK of course.

What was also complicated is that the German rules on rental income and how you calculate profit and loss are different to the UKs so I had to learn all about this. I did a big renovation on one of the houses two years ago and it turns out that I could amortise these costs over 5 years in the German tax return (starting from the year 2021, so I have ‘lost’ the first year’s as I didn’t have to include UK income in my tax return then).

And what this meant was that I had to find all the invoices for all the work done each month, calculate the total pounds cost and then convert to Euros according to the official exchange rate for that month, and then include these costs in my German tax return.

I worked on the assumption that the German Finanzamt might ask for copies of all my information to confirm everything. As I didn’t always have proper invoices for the work, sometimes just a WhatsApp message about payment terms, I did my best – some handymen said they would send a proper invoice and never did, so I also included copies of my bank statements in my German tax return which showed the payments being made.

I am also able to take a 2% depreciation amount each year from the purchase cost of the property. One of my two properties has been in the family too long but the other did fall into this category so I had to do a calculation of the value in Euros of this house that became mine. As it was gifted to me and not sold I did not have a real value for it, so had to go back to when it was last actually purchased (by my parents) which was 1984. The value then in pounds had to be converted to Deutschmarks via the official exchange rate for that month, and from Deutschmarks to Euros for a value today. I could then deduct 2% of 80% of this value (relation of property to land costs, don’t ask!!!) to also reduce my tax bill.

One advantage of being British is the reduced bureaucracy in life. One disadvantage of being British is the reduced bureaucracy in life. In other words, paperwork I didn’t need in England for the last 30 years of doing tax returns becomes a problem when trying to complete a German tax return.

A third complication was that I had started dabbling in stocks and shares last year, with some in a Germany investment company and some in a British one. Fortunately before the end of the year I discovered that reporting of ETFs in Germany is a bit of a nightmare and realised it was best to dissolve all my UK-based holdings (which I did) and only hold ETFs in Germany so that the investment company does all the complicated calculations. So I sold in November all the shares I bought in February and had actually done quite well out of them (a 5% increase over that time!) and then bought them again using a German firm. I was able to report the profits easily for the year as I had sold everything. And since then have not been as successful!!

In all this I had fantastic help from Panda Munich in the Toytown forum. She is an accountant who is sadly fully booked so I couldn’t employ her to do my Return for me but she gave me loads of free advice and help. She was truly brilliant and any mistakes in the above explanations are entirely mine.

Anyway, my Magnum Opus was finally compete. And a couple of days before I handed it in to the Finanzamt I received my UK tax return in the post. I haven’t filled the UK one in yet but it usually takes me about 45 minutes.

Here they are side by side to compare. the German one is on the left.

I printed out the German one (you can also send it online) as I wanted to attach all my supporting documentation to the relevant sections. I thought the first time round I would prove everything so that hopefully for the next years (which will be repeating some of the info) they will just accept it.

Spot the difference in height below of the two piles of paper…

When I handed it in the lady said I hadn’t needed to supply all the supporting documentation but last year they moaned at me for not handing in copies of all my bank statements so this year I decided to pre-empt them.

So I handed it in at the beginning of July and have heard nothing since. We will see what happens but my software calculated I will have to pay about 1700 extra EUR. Another Brexit Bonus. Those sunlit uplands…

Other news

Poppy the dog is feeling a bit better now it is warm and her back seems to have improved a certain amount. However, one night Gudula was woken by a strange noise and realised that Poppy had fallen down the stairs – she found Poppy looking a bit dazed halfway down the stairs. We have wooden stairs and Poppy has slippery feet and although I trimmed the hair around her paws she was still finding it slippery. So I decided we needed to get some kind of stair mats.

Gudula and Frank did not want anything with adhesive as it’s almost impossible to get it off the stairs and they cost loads to renovate, so I did a lot of searching and eventually found some stair mats with silicone underneath which apparently didn’t slip. We found this a bit unlikely but for 40-ish Euro thought it worth a look.

So I ordered them and when I looked at the tracking I discovered they came from Southend on Sea where I grew up!

When they arrived I fitted them (had to trim most of them to fit our stairs as they are in a spiral) and lo and behold they do seem to stay in place and Poppy seems to find it easier to go up and down. They are tricky to keep clean as if you hoover them they don’t stay stuck down but get stuck to the hoover, but at least Poppy is less likely to fall down the stairs now.

As far as cycling and walking goes this month, here is the Wheel:

Not much cycling, walking or running, but at least I am keeping going a little.

Cake this month

Here are the month’s cakes which have not been included earlier in this blog.

This has been a rather disjointed report of the month but I hope you have enjoyed reading about my 100th month in Germany (not including the 18 months I spent here as a baby).

Till next month!

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