Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

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April 2001

Ianic Column

He's told you a hundred times

After writing this column for the past 10 years, the time has come to hand on the baton to new, fresh legs.

In the summer of 1990, I contacted Munich Found and offered articles on a whole range of weighty topics: politics, business, economics, social issues, financial and legal matters — you name it. The silence was deafening. Then, after a few weeks, the magazine’s cofounder, American Polly-Jo Kemler, called me up. “Are you British?” she enquired. I said I was. “Can you write about cricket in Munich and explain the game to us?” she asked. It wasn’t what I’d had in mind, but neither was I in a position to refuse.

After cricket, it was Munich’s rugby scene, entailing lengthy research at the British pub in Maistrasse. In September 1990, I first wrote “Red Tape Unwound” (the column had been running successfully since Munich Found was launched, in January 1989). In April 1991, I agreed to take it on “permanently,” thinking that probably meant six months.

That first column was based on self-interest, as I was desperately trying to understand the MVV myself. Since then, I always preferred to have personal experience of the subjects: renting a flat, dealing with various types of insurance, taking a job, battling with Telekom, etc.

Looking back at my early notes, there have been a number of subjects that were always on the “to do” list, but somehow never saw the light of day: benefits for disabled people, skiing insurance, studying in Germany, adopting children. Automobiles got short shrift, too, as I had little interest in them.

My favorite column was the April Fool’s one in 1994 about plans to require foreigners to register every year and pay DM 1,000 each time. I was asked to ham up my original version, as the editors were worried that too many readers would believe it. Incredibly, some still did, even though we said you had to bring along your death certificate.

There have been many discussions over the years as to whether this column should be aimed primarily at the constant stream of new arrivals to Munich or at the large number of English-speakers who have been here for many years. We have tried to meet the needs of both groups.

For those of you with good German, there are many excellent sources of information. These include the consumer magazines Test and Finanztest; the column Bescheid wissen, Vorteile nutzen in the business section of Saturday’s Süddeutsche Zeitung; the magazine Wiso from the ZDF television series of the same name; and Rechtstipps from the Akademische Arbeitsgemeinschaft Verlagsgesellschaft in Mannheim.

Many organizations can also help, including trade unions, tenants’ associations (special thanks to Wolfgang Weber from Mieter helfen Mietern), the Verbraucher-zentrale Bayern in Mozartstrasse, the ADAC and, of course, the various departments of the city, state and federal governments, who now provide lots of information on the Internet.

I learned, however, that there is no substitute for (a) reading what the law actually says and (b) talking to an expert – whether a civil servant, lawyer or lobbyist. And there always is such an expert somewhere. (I once tracked down a post-office Beamter in the bowels of their Arnulfstrasse office, who told me exactly how long a letter would take to reach England by land and sea, giving me all the rail and boat connections.)

Many thanks to all of you who sent in comments and suggestions, and apologies to those whose queries I was unable to answer. The column will continue in good hands. It has been my privilege to be able to write it for so long.

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