Hi, I’m Linda, co-author of the book you’ll be offered if you read around 60% of this tale of misfortune, shoddy workmanship and thievery. Yes, you might think that because I wrote a book about moving to Germany that I’m winning at life here but, trust me, that’s not always the case.
So, there I was, sitting in a bar in Friedrichshain one Saturday evening last March. I was enjoying a glass of wine and probably gazing a bit too adoringly into the eyes of my boyfriend at the time as I failed to notice that someone had swiped my handbag off the arm of my chair. I was probably a bit dumb leaving it there but well, hindsight is 20/20. Even though the boyfriend was sitting opposite me and my arm was practically touching my bag, he didn’t see a thing and I didn’t feel a thing. And no, we were only on our second drink, so we weren’t betrunken.
My first thought was that it must have fallen onto the floor so I crawled around under nearby tables for a bit, realised it wasn’t there, spoke to the bar staff to see if anyone had handed it in by mistake but alas, no, it was gone. The stream of expletives that came out of my mouth at that moment would make your hair stand on end, so I won’t repeat it here.
Anyway, I knew that these bastards (sorry) had probably just taken the cash (a piffling €30 or so) and dumped the bag somewhere so we proceeded to comb the street, even looking in the bins. No sign of it. RAW Gelände isn’t far away and that seemed like as good a dumping ground as any so, by the light of the torch on my boyfriend’s phone, we went through every grimy nook and cranny in the place. Nada. I wanted to go to Görlitzer Park and hunt down anyone who looked a bit dodgy but, thankfully, my boyfriend drew the line at that.
My wallet, phone, book I was reading and really enjoying with a souvenir bookmark of Binz in it, fancy perfume I’d got for my birthday, hairbrush, tissues, various scraps of paper and probably a few random Tic Tacs were gone. But most importantly, my keys had been in my bag and, as anyone who’s ever lost keys here knows, this can be a total nightmare. Little did I know just how bad it would turn out to be.
I stayed at my boyfriend’s place that night and got online the next morning to find a number for an emergency locksmith. I can’t remember exactly what the website said (and haven’t been able to find it since) but it was something about a speedy call-out time and being super günstig. I rang them and we arranged to meet back at my place in an hour or so.
They showed up and assessed the damage.
So much for bloody “günstig”. I’d heard stories of people being ripped off by charlatan lockshits before, but this seemed extreme. I briefly debated if it would be cheaper to break a window.
“OK, no thanks. Sorry, that’s way too expensive.”
“€80 call-out fee.”
So, I could pay them €80 for absolutely nothing or pay €400 to get into my beautiful flat that was so tantalisingly close. Of course, I could have just waited until the next day – a Monday (April Fool’s Day funnily enough) – but I was angry, upset and feeling like I was being robbed for a second time in as many days. In short, I wasn’t thinking straight and I just wanted to curl up on my sofa and have a little cry. As I’m a freelancer and it was the end of the month, most of my invoices hadn’t been paid yet – and my bank cards were gone - so my boyfriend (bless him) offered to foot the bill and I could pay him back whenever I could.
So, the two shysters got to work. And work, and work, and work. They had to go out to their van to get extra tools and, at one point, were going at the lock with a jack hammer. I couldn’t help but feel a little proud of how good my lock was…
Finally, the door was opened. My feeling of relief was short-lived when I noticed the gaping hole where my lock had been.
“Er, what’s that? Are you putting a new lock in?”
“No, no parts. You’ll have to call the normal locksmith service tomorrow.”
“But… but… it’s just a hole. How am I supposed to get in and out?”
“You’ll have to use the window.”
“What in the actual F***? You said €400.”
“But it took longer than we estimated.”
“That’s not really my problem, is it?” (I was no longer so proud of my lock.)
I tried to argue as best I could, but my locksmith German isn’t great and my brain was kind of fried from the whole situation. I could feel angry tears welling up because I, stupidly, didn’t feel like I had any other option but to pay. Or, rather, allow my boyfriend the dubious honour of paying. “Normal me” would have borrowed my neighbour’s German Shepherd, set him on them and run them off the property. “Weakened, upset me” paid up. And yes, I’m still kicking myself. I can feel the rage building up all over again as I write this. (Poor keyboard. It will all be over soon.)
A couple of days later, I got a message from a girl on Facebook saying she’d found my bag thrown behind a nightclub in, you guessed it, RAW Gelände. My keys were still in there. Only my phone, cash and perfume were missing. Even my book with the Binz bookmark (still in the right place, incidentally – clearly these jackasses weren’t readers) was still there and undamaged. So, a couple of drinks with my boyfriend on a Saturday evening had cost me the better part of a grand – I’d already bought everything again by the time the girl got in touch.
I filed a report with the Verbraucherzentrale (consumer advice centre) who said that I definitely had a case but also that I probably wouldn’t be able to find the company again. There was an address on the “invoice” so I sent a threatening lawyer’s letter and physically dropped a copy in their sham mailbox – nothing ever came of it. Schlüsseldienst Tag und Nacht, represented by Natalia Murz (sometimes spelled Mruz – I did some investigating of my own) had disappeared. However, on the off chance this woman actually exists and someone knows her, please send her my way. The German Shepherd looks hungry.
Needless to say, I now have Hausratversicherung – with Coya. I only wish I’d heard of it before this whole shitshow happened. If I’d had it then, I could have called Coya, they’d have sent someone reputable to open my door (not two thugs with a jackhammer), paid for it and covered the cost of everything else I’d lost. Instead, I’m still paying my now ex-boyfriend back almost a year later.
See below for the guide I wish I’d had.
Don't call the locksmith who, for example, has put advertisements next to the doorbell on your front door. Ask a neighbour if you can use the Internet to find a reputable locksmith with a full address nearby.
Clarify the price while you’re on the phone. According to the Berlin consumer advice centre, it’s customary to pay around €100 during the day for simply opening a closed door. At night and at weekends, it may be more, but not twice as much as during the day. If the locksmith refuses to tell you the price, hang up and contact another provider.
Ask when the locksmith can come and how much the journey will cost. It can happen that locksmiths only pretend to be close to your location by giving you a number with that area code. In reality, they forward your call to another city. The locksmith then only arrives after a long wait and many kilometres, which you will, of course, have to pay for.
Ask for a detailed invoice. The consumer advice centre in Berlin recommends checking invoice items critically and not signing anything. If you feel threatened or put under pressure, do not hesitate to call the police. The legislator strongly prohibits excessive bills. If you pay an excessive amount, then you can reclaim the overpaid money.
In large cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants
8 a.m. to 6 p.m 88.50 Euro
6 p.m to 10 p.m. 132.75 Euro
10 p.m.to 8 a.m. 177.00 Euro
8 a.m. to 2 p.m. 132.75 Euro
2 p.m. to 8 a.m. 177.00 Euro
24 hours 177.00 Euro
24 hours 221.25 Euro
In rural areas and small towns, you should be paying 5-10% less.
The prices do not include material costs like a new lock or the travel expenses.
Travel expenses should be around 1.20 EUR per kilometre but you should be suspicious if it significantly exceeds 30 EUR.
Also, surcharges might apply if it takes longer than 15 minutes to open the door. An additional 15 minutes should not significantly exceed 50 EUR.
Written by Linda O'Grady, co-author of From the Bürgeramt to the Bedroom
The good news is that the number of burglaries in Germany is decreasing - and around half of all burglary attempts fail. Unfortunately, that means around 50% succeed and you could be in the unlucky half. Read on to find out what you can do to protect yourself and your belongings from burglars.