Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Germany

What does Germany mean to you? What images are conjured up by that name? Well-engineered cars? Hitler and the Nazis? Good football team marred by that diving cheat Jurgen Klinsmann? Cleanliness and efficiency? Towels-on-the-beach at 7am? Central axis of the new European project? (Possibly unfortunate use of the word "axis" there, sorry) The country that much of Europe (and the world) aspires to be? Excellent beer? A "cuisine" that is over-reliant on sausages and cabbage? Fast trains and speedy autobahns? 99 Luftballons? Marlene Dietrich? Unnatural love of David Hasselhoff and The Kelly Family?

For much of Eastern Europe, it would seem, Germany is seen as one vast second hand car dealership. And not just cars - lorries, buses, forklifts, I dunno, probably helicopters and stuff too. Just this weekend, for example, I was passed on the road to Sovata by a bus just bought from Germany going like the clappers. It was a bendy bus too (I'm not sure if bendy bus is the technical name for one of those buses with a kind of concertina bit in the middle, but you know what I mean. Omnibus Articulatum or something.) The roads, car dealerships, and free-newspapers-that-sell-cars are filled with recently imported vehicles. In Csikszereda, most of the lorries that ply the town delivering stuff or transporting stuff around still have evidence of their German roots - slogans and logos of companies in Hamburg, stickers in the window saying "Heinrich", that kind of thing, while sporting a Romanian number plate with an HR (Harghita) designation (It may not, in truth, be "most", but it's a significantly high percentage).

If ever you mention in passing that you're looking to buy a car, everyone you know will know someone whose livelihood depends on going to Germany, buying up cars and driving them back. I'm serious. At times I wonder if there is anyone sitting on the planes that fly between Frankfurt/Munich and Bucharest, or whether there are vast bottlenecks in Hungary as swarms of Romanians drive their German vehicles home. A casual observer at the border crossing at Oradea would probably assume that Romania is a vastly popular holiday destination for Germans, based on all the German registered cars coming through.

This year the Romanian government has imposed a punitive tax on these incoming cars, the so-called "first registration tax", by which every car being registered for the first time in Romania is subject to a high tariff. This tax, it is rumoured, comes as a result of intense pressure from Renault who own Dacia and who are therefore the biggest sellers of new cars in Romania. The EU has told Romania that this tax is illegal and a hindrance to free trade or something, but so far it has not been removed, though the assumption is that sooner or later it will have to be (court cases in Poland and Hungary have already put paid to similar laws in those countries). When it is rescinded, apparently, everyone will have to be paid back, but since this is Romania the levels of bureaucracy that will almost certainly be involved in getting it back will be so time-consuming that many people will just not bother, giving the government a nice little tax-windfall which they can use on hushing up the CIA torture camps or whatever.

This trade in vehicles from West to East, by the way, is not limited to the Germany-Romania corridor. As far as I can tell it is common all over Eastern Europe, and, indeed, if you go to www.mobile.de (which is the virtual parking lot for a large number of these vehicles), you will come across loads of dealers who specify which Eastern European languages they speak. Similarly, while Germany is the main source, other countries are also helping supply our quiveringly addictive need for second-hand cars. A friend recently went to Italy to accompany and translate for some blokes from here who drove over a couple of car transporters and bought up a bunch of cars that had been rescued from flood waters, filled with mud and obviously not working. The theory is that you bring them home, clean them up, fix them and then sell them for 4 times what you paid for them (with the danger that they will not be repairable cancelled out by the profits on the ones that are). His story about the whole negotiation and "marketplace" in which it took place is pretty funny - involving the mafia, Bulgarian gangsters, Moldovans, Romanians and god knows who else.

The reason for this post at this time? Yes, I have just bought a second hand VW Golf, imported from Germany, and currently going through the registration process. (As ever a bureaucratic and slow plod, speeded up by knowing someone who knows someone at different stages of the way). It is a very nice car though, with one small complaint - it has a cassette player in it. It was built in 2003, for christs sake, why on earth did Volkswagon think putting a cassette player in it was a good idea? Why not just go with a bloody gramophone? Vorsprung Durch Technic, and all that stuff.

6 comments:

Romer!can said...

I'd certainly go along with well-engineered cars, cleanliness, efficiency, and rather good beer. (For excellent beer, I'd have to look to Belgium and the States.)

You've gotta be right about the droves of individual Romanians importing used vehicles. I, too, know someone who goes to Germany to buy cars and bring them back for resale. And I've been pressured several times to outlay some bani. Heh.

Usually, I take some pride in not owning car by virtue of not really needing one. You can get anywhere with public transport that's fairly convenient. Not to mention walking.

Of course, I see cars I'd like to have now and then, but I can now take further refuge in what you've written here. To be honest, I hadn't given due consideration to the idea that a great many of the cars dragged into Romania would probably be the salvage vehicles you describe.

Bent frames, flood losses, major accidents. Gosh, a fellow could do enough automobile repair to cover up a lot of that stuff, then charge premium prices with the non-expert buyer none the wiser.

What a horrible scenario! Though, I can imagine many Romanians not considering this to be such a big deal. In this part of the world...

Being stuck without a CD player would be considered fairly ridiculous in such a late model car. But I don't think it's quite the lemon you make it out to be.

Case in point, I'd love to have a cassette player because I store hundred of albums on my iPod which has a cassette adapter. The only alternative if you didn't have a cassette in the dash would be the FM adapter which is nowhere near the sound quality of the cassette adapter.

iPod is absolutely the way to go. CDs are obsolete.

Nonetheless, I suppose one could always justify to the wife about a need to pick up a new audio deck. "Modern technology" and whatever other male grumbling might force her to shrug her shoulders and stop resisting your urge to upgrade. Then, the right plan would be to get a combo unit: cassette (for your iPod), in-dash 6 disc CD changer (for the guest who insists on you listening to their crap), and a pop-out GPS unit (yep, there's maps and service for Romania) to make adventuring more interesting (or reliable and safe, when talking to Her).

Andy H said...

I'd certainly go along with well-engineered cars, cleanliness, efficiency, and rather good beer. (For excellent beer, I'd have to look to Belgium and the States.)
Ah, a common error. Like the US, Germany suffers from exporting some of its worst beer and thus getting a poor image in the eyes of the international beer drinking fraternity. Go to Germany, try some of the smaller beers, the altbiers and the weissbiers and the like and I bet you'd change your mind. Thinking German beer is Becks is like thinking American beer is Bud. (Obviously you've missed out Czech beer and Englsih beer from your list of excellent beers too - English beer is also rubbish outside the country. Only the Czechs and the Belgians actually export some of their good beers)

Usually, I take some pride in not owning car by virtue of not really needing one. You can get anywhere with public transport that's fairly convenient. Not to mention walking.
Ah, but you live in Bucharest.

Romer!can said...

Go to Germany, try some of the smaller beers, the altbiers and the weissbiers and the like

Ah, but I have been to Germany. I even partied at Fasching in Muenchen where I and 10,000 other town denizens were thoroughly drunk by 9am. Good times, indeed.

Granted, I've not tried every small pub and brewery. Perhaps another trip.

Ah, but you live in Bucharest.

True, but I also felt that way about public transport while living Brasov. Still, I suppose I cannot vouch for other places.

Aurora said...

Having lived in England for three years during college, I personally believe that English beer is rubbish inside the country as well :)) No offence!

As for the Germans, you brought back some memories:

First, I loved the Kelly Family while growing up and had all their CDs (quite a few):)

Second, the "towel-on-the-beach at 7 am" thing brings back some sadder memories: during our trip to the island of Phuket in December 2004, when the tsunami hit, it was past 10 in the morning and a lot of the Germans and Swedes were already on the beach, that's why so many of them died and were injured. Us lazy bunch were only just finishing breakfast and therefore were more fortunate.

Andy H said...

No offence taken, Aurora. You're wrong obviously, but you're entitled to be wrong :-)

I think a good pint of bitter is an acquired taste, but once acquired you can never go back to bland fizzy cold beer without feeling a pang of loss with every sip.

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