Friday, 18 November 2011

Speyer Technik Museum

It was a quick, "Let's head down to Speyer this weekend?" and just like that, we packed some bags into the car and headed south towards Speyer. I just returned from a business trip to Gothenburg, Sweden yesterday, and now I am heading to Speyer.

Apart from the nice historical centre of Speyer, there is another reason for heading to Speyer. Planes, trains and automobils. The Speyer Technik Museum was mentioned to us by a friend about 9 months ago, and after reading about it on the internet, it was one of the place for us to go.

The drive from Cologne was about 3 hours, with some stops here and there. When we arrived, we were a bit taken back by a full size Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet that is up in the sky. It was literally put on some pylons and is about 15meters up in the air.

Our two kids eyes became bigger and bigger as we got close to the museum. We found a car park and entered the museum. Once we are in, the whole place is packed with old cars, planes, old steam locomotives, planes, old motor bikes, and oh, did I mentioned planes. 

Many of the planes on display were either suspended over our heads by steel cables (inside display) or placed upon pylons (outside display). The planes that were displayed outside are usually the larger planes. A stair well usually is available for the inside of the planes to be entered. However, most of the interiors of the planes were gutted, and only the shell remain. The cockpit is also locked behind the original door, or a fenced off via a large piece of perspex.

The planes were from various dates, most of them were post second world war. There were also several replicas of flight instruments from the Leonardo da Vinci days.

The other main attraction at this museum is the real space shuttle on display. Well, it is the Russian version, the Buran. I am not sure if it actually made it into space, Wikipedia mentioned that Buran was only in space for 3 hours.

Did I mentioned that this museum also has a maritime section? Well, there is a great collection of boats, rescue boats, tugs, hydrofoils and an old soviet submarine. Yep, an old submarine from the Soviets. It was quite eerie to climb down the hatch for a look inside the submarine. It was my first time inside a submarine. I was not claustrophobic, but I could imagine some submariners going insane being cramped up for weeks upon weeks. Life can't be easy for those folks.

The kids also climbed into the submarine. This is the only item on display where the insides did not suffer much renovations. There were buttons, switches, taps, dials, lights, doors and gizmos for the kids (and me) to push, turn, shout into and to stomp on. It was quite an amazing experience.

The museum also has a IMAX 3D theatre. We did not go for this as our children were a little too young for it.

If you are planning to go there as well, one word of warning. We did not see many little girls around the museum compound as we walked around. It was mostly boys and their parents, running around, looking at all the different planes, trains and automobils. It is very much a place for boys to get amount the machinery. Definitely, toys for the boys (big and small).

This the updated museum. The original Technik Museum is in Sinsheim, which is still exhibiting. This Sinsheim museum have the two versions on the Concorde (the Aeroflot version and the British Airways/Air France version), a large display of F1 cars and planes.

We will have to get the original museum one day. 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

WEBMU 2011, what a blast!

The WEBMU weekend came with much anticipation. After much planning, debate, polling, discussion and planning (yes, the planning was quite thorough), it finally started. I was not able to make the Friday night dinner at the Cologne's tex mex, but I heard that the mood was good and the conversations were fantastic.

On Saturday, we splited into two groups. A bunch of us brave the cold and the heights, and headed into the DOM cathederal. The other group stayed on the ground and did a tour of the city. Although I have lived in the area ever since I arrived in Germany (2009),  I have never been on a tour of the DOM, although I have been inside the DOM many times. The tour gives a different perspective on the DOM.

The tour is a climb into the upper layer of the DOM. 

There are things that you can see up here that you can only really appreciate from down on the floor.

The tour was led by a very knowledgable fellow, and he did his best to explan that various facts about the DOM. One of the fun facts he mentioned was the carvings near the top of the DOM are not only of kings, queens and religious items, chickens and football players were also carved in as well!

The DOM tour did not go to one of the two tallest spires at the front, but we did climbed the tallest point at the rear of the DOM, which gave us an incredible view of the city of Cologne.

After the DOM tour, the two groups joined together, visited one of the many churches, and broke bread. It was at a delicious Turkish restaurant at Heumarkt. Excellent choice. It was here that I truly understand why WEBMU is such a great event. As Cliff1976 mentioned to me, "it is the people that attends the WEBMU that makes it", the event such as the DOM tour or the city tour is almost secondary.

I had a chance to talk to CNHeidelberg, German Gems and Snooker in Berlin. It was really fascinating to understand their motiviation on what they blog and what brough them to Germany. Their tales are quite engaging.

We had a free time for the afternoon, after which the dinner was planned at the Paeffgen brauhaus in the Belgium quarter of Cologne. I had a Haxe, and it arrived with a rousing cheer from the party. Our waiter did his job well by keeping the Kolsch flowing nicely.

The annual tradition of the TQEQE (The Queer Expatriot's Queer Experience) was led by Adam into one of the many great bars in the Bermuda Triangle (Cologne Gay district). 

The Sunday was the farewell brunch at Cafe Litchenberg in Neumarkt. It was casual, and late enough for those recovering from the TQEQE. It also gave everyone a chance to say their goodbyes before next year. 

Frau Dietz did an exhaustive post on the event. This post has all the attendees.

German Gems wrote a post on it.

Cliff1976 did a photo post of the event.

Zurika did a excellent post on the event. Great photos, really capture the ambience.

I just want to thank Cliff1976 for being driver for this wonderful event, and the ResidentOnEarth and Fultile Diatribes on their hard work for organising it with me.

If you are expat living in Germany and write a blog, come and join in the banter next year. Head over to and sign up for more information.

By the way, sorry for the lack of photos as I forgot to bring the camera along and only had my phone do the photo snapping.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

final countdown to Cologne for WEBMU 2011.

WEBMU 2011 @ Köln will finally get on the way this weekend. WEBMU is a gathering by the expat folks who blogs and lives in Germany. It occurs annually and this year, it is in Köln.

It doesn't official kick off until the Saturday, some folks will be arriving on the Thursday or the Friday. So they will doing a side trip to Aachen. Dinner is Mexican, Köln style.

The first official event is either a city tour of Köln or a tour of the DOM on the Saturday morning, your choice. The city tour is with an English tour guide, so it is bound to be entertaining. The tour of the DOM will include a climb to the top. The view from up there is going to be spectacular. The afternoon is free with no set plan. After dinner, The Queer Expatriate Queer Expedition is on. 

The farewell brunch on Sunday will take place in Cafe Litchenberg. 

All the details can be found in this agenda.

It is not too late to join in the fun, make some new friends and enjoy Köln.

Thanks to Köln hosts (Resident on EarthMusikKöln MediaFutile Diatribes and Cheap as Chips) for organising this. And also to TQE for keeping a tradition going.

If you are an expat blogger who is currently living in Germany, consider joining the forum at

Friday, 26 August 2011

Compact Calender Google Docs style, part 3

I must give a big thank you to Michael Kennedy for all the work that he has done on the Compact Calender Google Docs style.

He implemented majority of the features and it almost function the same as the original version of Compact Calender from David Seah. Just look at the change log!

There is only one major feature missing, it is to be able to fit the printed calendar on a sheet of A4 paper. 

The public holidays for more countries are needed. Currently we only have full holidays for Ireland and Australia, some for US and Germany. If you what the public holidays are for the other countries, fill them in at the "Holiday" tab.

To use it as it is,
  1. Change the year to the appropriate year.
  2. Change the country to the appropriate country.
  3. You now have a compact calender.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Time to commit

I know that committing to something can be tough, especially for something in the short term future. It's tough when you don't even know what you are doing tomorrow!

Well, for something as fun as the upcoming WEBMU 2011, this is a no-brainer. We are a bunch of expat bloggers getting together for a bit of chat and a laugh! This year the event is being held in Cologne around October.

There is poll up on the expat bloggers in Germany forum asking fellow bloggers to commit, this is mostly to get an idea of the numbers so that certain events can be booked.

If that has piqued your interest, head over the forum and show your commitment.

By the way, the details for WEBMU 2011 are

Location: Cologne
Date: 22 Oct - 23 Oct, however a kick off dinner is the Friday evening 21 Oct.

The forum also has a list of possible hotel options as well.

The Cologne host team Resident on EarthMusikKöln MediaFutile Diatribes, TQE and Cheap as Chips will be posting a full agenda for the weekend, and I hear that there are some fantastic events planned :-)

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Compact Calender Google Docs style, part 2

Since starting my attempts to port David Seah's Compact Calendar, and via David's blog note, the calender has gather some momentum and has moved onto version 5. Since that first version, it has obtained two main functionalities.
  • It displays Month name automatically, thanks to Mike Kennedy excellent work.
  • It calculates the ISO week number automatically. The week number is calculated using a script that I got from Markus Olsson.
By the way, the latest version of the Compact Calender spreadsheet is named "compactspreadsheet", a bit of a typo on my part.

If you want to some hints on how to use the compact calendar, head over the David Seah's site for some timely tips.

The one thing that I want to do is set it up so that when it is printed out, it fits correctly onto an A4 sheet of paper. Any hints? Anyone?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

No more adsense

I have removed all the widgets that has to do with my blogs. It is quite frustrating to spend the time to set it up, and then to see it being unapproved. Anyway, there are better ways to to spend my time instead of mucking around with this. Goodbye adsense!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Compact Calender Google Docs style

I have always like the way David Seah designs his forms and documents. They are highly functional and I really feel organised when using them.

The first form that I used from David's suite of documents is his Compact Calendar. Being compact, you could print it out on an A4 sheet of paper and mark it up for some quick planning.

However, it is relies heavily on the way Excel works. My home computer does not have Excel installed and I rather not install it. It just cost a bomb to use it. The main spreadsheet that I am using it Google Spreadsheet.

I have open sourced my attempt to implement the Compact Calender on Google. There are still some more automation required. I have only ported about 20% of the Compact Calendar functionality. If you want to improve it, pleas feel free to download copy. Remember to share your improvements.

Monday, 4 July 2011

WEBMU 2011 accommodation options are up

If you are planning to visit Cologne around October 2011, and you are an expat blogger, why not consider meeting up with other expat bloggers at the annual WEBMU, 2011 edition. 

The Cologne host team Germany Doesn't SuckResident on Earth, MusikKöln MediaFutile Diatribes and Cheap as Chips, came up with a list of accommodation recommendations. The list consist of wide range optons, ranging from hostels to high end hotels, and also in a variety of locations around Cologne. It also has recommendations for different size travelling groups (singles, couples to family groups).

If you are interested, join in at the Expat Bloggers in Germany, be part of the fun.

WEBMU is scheduled to started on the weekend of 22 October 2011, but some items are being planned for the Friday 21 October 2011. Possible options are a shopping trip around the Belgian Quarter, a side trip to Aachen or a visit to Augustusburg and Falkenlust palaces of Brühl.

By the way, WEBMU is Whinny Expat Bloggers Meet Up, well we really get together for a fun time and experience a new city.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Bike ride to work

I have recently taken to riding my bike to work. Well, it is all together my decision. I recently lost my driver's license in a traffic offense (more about that in another post). Anyway, I live in Leichlingen and I work in Fuhlingen (a town just across the Rhine from Leverkusen).

In Leichlingen, I have noticed that there are many bike path signs. I thought great! but how do I plot a route from home to work or from work to home.

I initially tried to use Google Maps, but that only shows roads suitable for cars. Even so, the map is not that accurate. I mean, the street that I live on doesn't even have the correct name.

After some investigation on the net, I came across the rad route planner. 

There is an English version, but I found that the German version has much better features, and also not too bad to work out. Best of all, after you have decided on a route, you can download the path in a variety for format for usages in other applications such as Google Map or your GPS.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Update on WEBUM 2011

The planning for the 2011 edition of WEBUM is well on the way.  Let's do a quick recap on what is already planned.

Place: Cologne
Date:  22nd & 23rd of October 2011

Although the "official" dates are 22nd and 23rd, there will be some events planned for the Friday on the 21st as well.
The current poll is to decide what activity to do on the Friday. On offer we have either 
  • the Augustusburg and Falkenlust palaces of Brühl
  • the Old Town of Aachen
So if you are a non-local living in Germany and have a blog about anything, consider joining us at WEBUM 2011. More information the expat blogger

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Buying German car insurance

Our beloved Renault Scenic died unexpectedly. It all started when my wife rang me to see if the car is still OK to drive even though it was making a funny noise when it is braking. Not to tempt fate too much, I check the car into the mechanic. The problem turns out to be three major costly problems, a sensor has malfunction within the braking system, a belt has reached its end of life and needed to be replaced and the car is overdue for its regular service by 10000km. It was going to cost about 3500 € to get the car back on the road.

Given that we originally only paid 5000 € (some say that it was too much already), we opted to trade it in and get a new car.

Well, with a new car, I need to shop around for some insurance for it. The insurance needs to be the full insurance covering liability and comprehensive.

Along the way, I discovered the following things.

  • There are surcharges if you choose to pay quarterly (3% surcharge) or monthly (5% surcharge). So go annually or half yearly if you can.
  • Protect your insurance rating. We had a accident during the year and our rating went from a SF 10 to a SF 04. The higher the number, the lower your insurance cost. For us, this is a different of 30%. The rating goes down quickly, but goes up slowly.
  • Shop around. Using both and, we were able to get a comparison of some of the major German insurers. From this comparison, we were able to get a 10% discount from our current insurer's offer.
  • Internet insurers vs shop front insurers. Those who sell insurances online seems to cost a bit less.
  • A small car may not be cheaper to insure than a bigger car. Apparently if a lot of young people drives a particular type of car, the cost of insuring it will be higher even though the driver is not consider young any more.
After a few days of insurance shopping, I decided to stick with my current insurer as they can speak a good deal of English. I feel that my German is probably not good enough to deal with the insurers if something goes wrong.

Update: Since I had posted this article there are some items that is worth mentioning.

1. If you did get into an accident, it may be worthwhile considering paying for the damage yourself. This damage for your own car or the other parties. This will help to protect you insurance rating. For example, recently we had an accident where the side view mirror needed replacing. The cost was about 150 €, so opted to pay for it ourselves. If we had chosen to get the insurer to pay for it, our insurance rating would suffer and our premiums would have increased. When our insurance rating return to the same level, the difference in premiums would be more than 150 € that we paid.

2. If you have a second car, the insurance premiums for it will be different to your first car. It would start at the lowest insurance rating. A history will need to be built up to improve the rating and decrease the premiums.

3. I came across an nice summary, and much more details, on car insurance at Check it out.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

WEBMU 2011 - to be hosted in Cologne

After 3 weeks of much jockeying and debating among four possible cities, the host city for WEBMU 2011 has been elected. It is Cologne!

The next step is to come up with a range of possible dates and put them up to the vote.

If you haven't heard of WEBMU, it is a meet up for Whiney Expat Bloggers. If you are a blogger and an expat in Germany and want to meet other expat bloggers in Germany, consider joining up to WEBMU and come along.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Formal German language

Guten Tag!

My formal German language course has just started with some home lessons. The teacher is from Intracultura. We have just gone thru four lessons and have really enjoyed it very much. It makes such a difference when the teacher is able to communicate with you in English while teaching German.

My wife was part of the integration course when we initially entered into Germany and it was hell. Her class conducted in German, and herein lies the fundamental problem. How is she expected to learn German if the instructions are being delivered in German??

We have about 15 more lessons, so hopefully at the end of the lessons, I should be able to hold a very simple conversation with my colleagues. I now know how to tell the time or ask for the time. Small steps...

Thursday, 24 February 2011

WEBMU 2011

WEBMU 2011 is getting some nice discussions happening. The current list of cities are... 

-Somewhere in the Ruhrgebiet
-a smaller town perhaps in the countryside
-someplace Ian can cycle to

I am rooting for Cologne with the obvious bias, but it guess it will be the activities associated with the event that will make it a winner.

By the way, if you are a blogger and an expat living in Germany, feel free to drop by at WEBMU for a quick discussion, especially if you have a town or a city in mind.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Becoming bankrupt is easier than you think

The following is a guest post by Caramon Khan of PayPlan.

Staying in control of your finances can seem like a nightmare at times. Controlling debt can be difficult at the best of times. With a static economy and rising prices many people ignore the problem and hope it will just go away. Beware though, do this and soon you could be facing the slide into bankruptcy. Avoiding bankruptcy and the stigma that goes with it can seem impossible. If you are at the situation where you no longer feel in control, take action. Putting together a debt management plan is a major and necessary part of that action

First of all admit there is a problem. Pretending that there are no problems in the face of mounting interest and charges is a perfect way to drop into bankruptcy without even realising it. Once you face up to your debt problems the issue of bankruptcy and the likelihood will become clear. Secondly, admit that you cannot keep control; there is no shame in that. If you do not, then the problem will just get worse. Too many people try to borrow their way out, thinking it is the answer. But, the debt will not magically go away. Last of all seek professional advice. Sit down with a debt professional and you will start benefiting straight away. If you feel confident enough, you can use a computer to make your own debt management plan. Although, if you have debt problems, then a professional will have more experience and authority when dealing with creditors.

What will a debt management company do and what is the benefit of a debt management plan? For a start you can get free initial advice and consultation. They will look objectively at your debt problems and see how dangerous they are. Next and most importantly your consultant will draw up a solid plan to manage your debt. This is vital, to allow him to approach your creditors and persuade them to join the plan. He will try to hold or freeze debts you have. Stopping interest and other charges is a massive step as it stops the 'snowball' effect on your debts.

A debt management plan will show the true extent of the debt problems. That clarity is quite sobering and a big wake up call. Seeing how close you might have been to bankruptcy shows how easy it is to lose control. But, it will also have your new month to month budgets so that you take control of your finances again. This will exactly lay out your new spend in detail. It will cut back on unnecessary items to allow a payment each month into your debts. The plan will usually aim to pay off your debts within three to five years.

Learning how to monitor and control debt, whether business or personnel is vital. Bankruptcy is not a fun experience as anyone who has gone through it will testify. A debt management plan is a sensible and practical way to relieve the burden and stabilise your life before it is too late.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Sold our house.

When we shifted to Germany, we had plans to service the mortgage by a combination of rental income and international money transfer from Germany. The house was rented essentially the day we flew out of Australia. This was a very good start. The exchange rate was about 0.65EUR to the aussie dollar. At that time, it was quite feasible for this arrangement to work quite well.

That was in the middle of 2009 when the GFC was in full swing. Fast forward to the end of 2011. The tenants have shifted out to buy their own house, and the exchange rate is at all time time for the aussie dollar at around 0.76EUR. This made is quite difficult for us to keep servicing the mortgage. When we fixed interest rate on our mortgage, we made a simple mistake. It was not the fixing of the interest rate as that was on the increase. It the length of time. We fixed it for four years and it was way too long.

The only that we could really do and be able to sustain some sense of normal life in Germany is to sell the house in Australia. Contribution to that decision are a couple of positives. 

Firstly, the housing market is still going strong in Melbourne so we will be getting a bit of profit. We have own the house for about four years, and over that four years, we have made about $30K. It is not spectacular, but it is welcomed.

Secondly, we avoid the hassle of managing the house from Germany. Even though we have an agent looking after the house in Australia, there are still a lot things that concern us. For example, we had to worry about how the marketing is going to get the new tenants, any damage to the house when the previous tenants shifted out etc.

When the house finally got sold, the deadly Queensland flood cause the settlement date to be delayed. The bank that the purchaser used were based in Brisbane and the floods caused the bank's system to be shutdown. I felt pretty bad that I had to impose a penalty on the purchaser as the delay was an "act of god", but I am sure that their bank will pay for the penalty at the end of the day.