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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