Bonn Diary: No sign of German efficiency when the tap starts dripping
Tuesday 14 April 1998
The few that work are sheltered from competition by a myriad of regulations, and are therefore free to toy with the customer, charge enormous rates and be as rude as they please.With this in mind, I am happy to relate the experience of a senior government figure, who recently tried to summon a plumber.
"Cash in hand or on account?" the master inquired. The official tried to explain that the government was not about to sanction tax fraud. "Fine," the craftsman replied. "For those jobs, there is a three-month waiting list." Guess which method of payment the state chose.
ONE advantage of living in a village of a capital is our proximity to Mother Nature. Instead of domesticated pigs charging through gardens, which I gather is the closest Londoners get to the wilderness, we get boar. We hear them rustling outside our window at night, and at daytime can see their tell-tale imprints in the mud.
The best places from which to observe the hairy beasts are the lookout posts which dot the Kottenforst, the woods surrounding Bonn. But lately these rickety towers have been vanishing. Although they are on public land, they are owned by people who lease hunting plots from the council. Every so often, the leases are put up for auction, and if there is a new owner, he is usually expected to strike a deal with his predecessor and agree an equitable price. This time, the German genius for compromise seems to have eluded the two hunters, so the previous owner took out his chainsaw and chopped his worthless towers down. Suddenly, the life expectancy of wild boar has shot up.
Le tout Bonn is scandalised by scurrilous reports that the town's most famous son, Ludwig van Beethoven, may have died from the booze. Hot on the heels of a discredited book alleging that Goethe was gay, come revelations that Beethoven's list of well-known ailments had stemmed from the bottle.
The composer was not entirely at fault, it has to be said. Rather than the alcohol, it was the lead-based additives which caused his rapid decline, including the deafness and foul mood which afflicted him in the latter stages of his life. Nevertheless, the implication is that, had Ludwig gone a bit easier on the sauce, he might have been able to extend his symphonic score into double figures. So it's all down to Viennese plonk, we are told. In the days before anti-freeze, the Austrians apparently mixed lead compounds into the wine in order to reduce its sourness. The maestro was partial to Rhine wine, but could not afford to have it imported in the copious quantities he required. Rhinelanders' pride, sagging under the shame of Liebfraumilch, is salvaged.
"WE do not invest in the Euro - Do you?" Adverts with this kind of eye- catching slogans have been proliferating lately in the press, urging Germans to raid their piggy-banks before Brussels does.
So where should they hide the million or three they have been stashing away, pfennig by pfennig, over the years? A quick trawl through the classifieds nets some exotic solutions: Sink it into cargo ships, suggests one company. Buy US high-tech shares, implores another. (Motto: "The euro comes - the dollar stays").
A company based in Austria is trying to dazzle euro-refugees with "diamond shares", while a Swiss firm is promising good prospects in West African gold mines. But for the truly adventurous, nothing beats the lure of an "off-shore firm", operating from an address on Finchley Road, north London.
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