Road Trip Europe-22/12/12-18 Tires!

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Monday morning dawns — quite a late dawn due to Berlin’s northern latitude — and I’ve got stuff to do.

I have another vehicle-related obligation. It’s illegal to drive on German roads when there’s snow or ice on them without winter rated tires. The Berlingo, originating as it does in sunny Spain, doesn’t have them of course. I have to buy 4 new tires, and quickly, since it’s consistently below freezing and even snowed a little yesterday. I go to the local tire shop and ask what they have. Their cheapest ones run around US$105 each and mounting them, regardless of where I buy them is another US$75. The price is too high for my taste, especially since the Berlingo takes tiny baby buggy-like 15 inch tires. A look at a couple of other local tire shop websites is no more encouraging.

I turn to German Amazon. Here I find appropriate tires costing just 60% of the local price, delivery included. This is more my style but there is a catch — they’re only promising them within 5-8 days. That means I can’t drive anywhere if the roads get snowy during that period. I decide to chance it since a lot of my upcoming tasks are internet-based and Berlin has an excellent public transit network if I need to move around.

Such tires are indicated by a molded in symbol, a three peaked mountain with a snowflake superimposed.

The snowflake symbol for tires legal during German winters.

Naturally, as I search online, I want to be sure any tires I order actually qualify, yet none of the product pages display that symbol. Many do mention “3PMSF”. Initially, I have no idea what that signifies but I start to suspect it’s related to my needs. A quick search determines it’s the alphanumeric representation of the snowflake symbol. It turns out to be an acronym — and the dumbest, most awkward acronym I’ve ever encountered.

What does “3PMSF” stand for? I can barely believe it. It’s the initials of the English language description of the symbol: 3 Peak Mountain Snow Flake. That’s what you get when some tire manufacturer intern is told, “Come up with a typeable name for this icon.” and no one ever checks their work.

I order the tires on and proceed to my next task. I’m driving over to the other side of Berlin to meet my new acquaintances, the engineer couple. Fortunately the roads are dry and I am, thus, driving legally.

On the way, I purposely go bu two Berlin landmarks that are meaningful to me, The first is Tempelhof airport, where I first arrived in Germany as a crying, bratty, 5-year old in 1955. Tempelhof was the only airport in geographically constrained West Berlin, an “island” city surrounded on all sides by the Russian-created, communist state of East Germany. The main way in and out of the city was by air. Although there were several surface routes through East Germany, there was always some risk when travelers subjected themselves to communist vetting, so air travel was often the chosen access. In fact in 1948 and 1949. the Russian occupiers closed off the surface routes in an attempt to coerce the American, British, and French occupied zones of Berlin into yielding to Russian control. To defy this attempt, the US and British made 250,000 cargo flights into Tempelhof over 15 months to keep West Berlin supplied and functioning. This massive effort became known as the Berlin Airlift (or “Airbridge”} and continued for 15 months until the Russians realized their ground blockade was useless and lifted it.

I still remember the rainy night of my 1955 arrival by plane from Amsterdam. By then, a memorial to the “Luftbrücke” had been dedicated at the entrance to Tempelhof. My aunt tried her best to explain its significance and, although I was extremely uncooperative that evening, she must have gotten through to me because the monument remains a vivid memory. Tempelhof, just minutes from downtown Berlin, was finally decommissioned in 2008 in favor of a sterile, remote, modern, new suburban airport, but it still physically exists.

Tempelhof Airport entrance with Berlin Airlift (Luftbrücke) monument

My second reminiscence destination was the old Funkturm, the original Berlin radio/television antenna structure, built along the lines of the Eiffel Tower and containing a restaurant and observation platform. My childhood visit to the Funkturm was burned into my brain and seeing the tower again today stirs many long forgotten memories. It’s been functionally replaced for decades but is now a landmark.

Old Berlin Funkturm broadcast tower with restaurant and observation deck

They welcome me into their home and, over cake and coffee, I explain what I’m trying to do with the Eggersdorf property. They are indeed knowledgeable about such matters. We quickly determine that before I can actually market the property I need to engage a lawyer to handle preliminaries — a title search, but especially the paperwork necessary for my sister, the joint owner, to give me power of attorney to close the sale. Since such a document needs a German notarization, it’s going to take an expert to figure out how to do that without my sister flying from Alaska to Germany for 10 minutes. They have a lawyer they’ve worked with and the wife, Barbara, calls her up to see if she’s interested.

She is. Having a personal lawyer recommendation is real progress. Maybe I can get the property sale prerequisites set up over the next two weeks. I drive home in the evening and send the lawyer my analysis of the issues and possible solutions, acknowledging of course that, unlike in the US, I’m a total novice in the German legal and real estate systems. She writes back very quickly and we set up an appointment for 8 days from now, Dec 20th. Very close to Christmas, I’m thinking, but maybe this can still be pulled off. Hope dies last!

I’m very pleasantly surprised when Amazon delivers my set of tires in just 2 days instead of 5. I immediately throw them in the car and they’re mounted in two hours. I’m now driving legally in all conditions. After that, I go to the nearby Aldi and stock up on food to last me the next two weeks until I leave Berlin. Aldi is my favorite supermarket in any country where they operate. I like to joke they keep their prices down and quality up by running their stores with “ruthless German efficiency”.

My favorite supermarket, Aldi.

My host and friend, Karl-Heinz, in his usual intense way, has instructed me to park my car in his narrow driveway even though there’s ample street parking. Apparently, the residents have staked claim to the parking spaces in front of their property, even though virtually all of them have driveways and/or garages. Of course, I comply with his request while telling him that if it was my neighborhood, I would defiantly refuse to cooperate with privatizing public property. Karl-Heinz, old time German that he is, just gives me a quizzical “why would you say that” look — a look I get every time I try to joke around with him. But he’s satisfied that I’ll do as he asks. Maneuvering the Berlingo into his driveway but sufficiently tucked to the side so as not to obstruct his car’s access to and from his garage takes some precision positioning.

The rest of the week is `pretty quiet. The temperature has consistently been below freezing and the sky cloudy, so it’s tempting to stay in my snug apartment, working on client stuff remotely. My only excursions are strolls to the Netto supermarket 1 block away to replenish perishables, produce, and of course pastries!

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