May 072011

Another step forward.  

I will ask David to tell this part of the story, since he is the main character:

Car Buying

1998 VW Golf TDI in “Lego Brick Blue”

Today’s goal was to acquire a family car.  More specifically – a reasonably priced, large enough for the whole family, automatic transmission (turns out to be a rare thing in Germany), diesel (gas is very expensive) car.  Having hunted the German used car websites, local paper, etc… the best I had found was a ’98 VW Golf 1.9 TDI.  Unfortunately it was fairly significantly far away – about 65km.  That meant a bus ride and three train connections and I’d need to get there before 2pm when they closed.

I called them up on Friday one more time to ask in German if they still had the car (they did) and arranged to meet up with one of the guys from work (Vladimir) to go with me on my car buying adventure.  Vladimir is kind of a um.. zany adventure sort of guy so it seemed like a good fit.  We agreed to meet at the train station at 9:15am to catch the 9:30 train.

I took the only bus to town that would arrive in time.  It arrived at 8:00am and so I spent the next hour wandering around looking at stuff.  I considered snacking, but had just had breakfast so mostly just wandered around a bit and waited for Vladimir.  He showed up on time, which was more impressive after he revealed he had been out carousing until 3:00am the night before with my boss (his housemate).  A little bleary but basically functional, Vladimir showed me how to print out our train schedule – a good trick since I had only been able to write them down before now.

We easily hopped on our first train and got underway.  The schedule had us changing trains for the first time in Appenweier but Vladimir said that approach led to too much walking around and suggested we instead ride it to Offenburg and change there. I also had my standard experience that seems to occur on every train trip I take, where someone came and asked me for directions in English.  A small Japanese girl traveling with her dad approached me to confirm how she could get to Offenburg.  Easy enough.  I guess I don’t look scary or something.

We switched trains in Offenburg and headed on our way.  While riding the next train and chatting about some Beer advertisement in English, a nearby guy jumped into our conversation with a thick Scottish accent and told us the history of the beer making facility in question (Vladimir had been impressed that it boasted operation since 1238).  He also told us that he preferred good Scottish whiskey, which did not surprise me at all 😉 and discussed where best to get it locally.  Pretty random but friendly anyways.

Another oddity about this train was that it was absolutely packed with attractive young women.  I have no idea why.  When I made a comment about this to Vladimir, I discovered that the poor guy is not able to see well. He needs glasses, but has never ventured into German healthcare to solve this.   After the trip I explained what he had missed and encouraged him to take advantage of the full healthcare that comes with our work and just get some glasses.  For a wild adventurer (which he is… Vladimir has biked from Belarus to the west coast of France, visited a ton of countries, traveled to America, etc…) he has some weird fears too.

Unfortunately our trip to Offenburg did get us to the next stop early which meant we had lots of waiting to do.  We walked around Rastatt to see the local sights and decided there distinctly weren’t any.  There weren’t any earlier trains either since our final destination was a dinky little town with only a small commuter train rather than the big regular ones, so the one option was all there was.

Finally arriving in Malsch we’ve got two hours to go before the car dealer closes. So, we waste no time and start right off looking for it.  We find a map of the town and I take my best guess on where the dealer should be.  We walk over where we think that is, a large but unmarked street, and tromp across the highway to the other side.  We pass another used car dealer at the start which seems promising (though its full of small overpriced cars) but then pass a sign that tells us we are leaving Malsch (oops).  We continue to trudge a long ways across the highway, and find ourselves staring at farmland that does not look like there’s going to be any more civilization ahead.  Doh.  Well its got to be ahead or behind us, and we start to consider turning around, but Vladimir suggests calling a friend with google maps, and failing that I’ll flag down one of the locals and ask them.  Borrowing my phone, he calls Rolf, who staggers with his hangover out of bed at past noon and google checks where we should be.  We’re on the right path he says, just keep going.  Thanks Rolf!

Ok, so we keep heading off into the country and eventually come to some buildings that look a bit more promising.  There is also a sign indicating that we are now entering “Neumalsch” (New Malsch).  Just past these we can see a large barn-like building surrounded by a lot of cars and some people in the lot.  Success at last!  We walk up and look around and easily spot the car in question – bright Lego Brick blue.  I talk to one of the dealers and ask if he speaks English.  No, but his associate does he says.  Ok, said associate actually doesn’t speak English at all, and we ditch him and I just deal with the original guy who seems to be the manager anyways.  I ask him a couple questions in German and then ask to test drive it.  How long do you want to drive it he asks?  Um, I dunno.. a couple minutes.  He tells me I can drive it for no more than 5 kilometers and 15 minutes and.. hands me the keys.

Clean Interior

Vladimir and I hop in the car (with no attendant!) and just drive away.  How totally weird.  We drive around a little bit, accelerate up to a reasonable speed to listen to it, then pull off and open everything to check inside.  We look at the engine (mostly covered with a single really obvious oil dipstick in the middle), check the seams for signs of bending or repainting, pop the trunk, check the gas cap, try various settings, etc…  It largely seems to be in order except for the key only unlocks the car from the passenger side, not the driver side.  As defects go not too bad.

We head back and say ok, I’m interested.  At this point Vladimir says “You know, I bet these guys all speak Russian”, and a moment later he and the sales guy are deep into it.  The rest of the purchase is conducted almost entirely in Russian, with the sales guy being quite pleased to chat the whole time with Vladimir.  He is really tickled that Vladimir (young guy, 27ish or so) is a manager, although Vladimir loses some credit by lacking a driver’s license and a car.  We quiz them about the car (apparently it was owned by the daughter of one of the dealership guys), coverage, etc.. and what it’ll take to drive off with it.

Apparently I can’t drive it away without having insurance and plates for it first, so I’ll need to go get these before I can take possession of the vehicle.  I see, well no, I’m not paying for a car I can’t drive away in, so how do we solve that?  Lots more Russian follows but its clear the guy wants the money so he’s motivated to provide a solution.  There’s some sort of 5 day insurance you can get that might work, but no, its a weekend so you can only do that on weekdays.  I am annoyed by that, asking once again, how the hell does anyone do business in this country if they have an actual job? 

Finally the guy provides a solution that works for me.  He let’s us drive it back to Kehl with the dealer plates on it, as long as we can get someone to drive the plates back to him right away.  Quick gotcha here.. I ask what happens if the car is sitting in front of my house with no plates… yes, the police ticket you for that.  Uh huh, but Vladimir suggests we can just drop it off in the work parking lot and that’ll let me get it properly registered on my lunch break from there.  He also calls one of the guys who works for him, who agrees to drive the plates back with us so it looks like we’re good to go!

I fill out some paperwork, cough up my pile of paper money (you can actually carry a staggering amount of Euros quite easily because they come in 200 EU and 500 EU denominations) and we’re set.  He gives us some temporary insurance paperwork to go with the dealer plates (which we also have to return), and we’re off.  We drive back easily, drop the car off at work, and meet our co-worker who drives us back and forth one more time.  Mission accomplished!  Well mostly, just a bit more of the usual German paperwork to go and we will have a little used car to drive around in.

Here is the ad for our new car:

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