Friday, November 02, 2012


Gloria trying out my
running shoes.
Fall has come to Germany and with it a bunch of bad news. The grant application that I had written in spring didn't go through, and the Swedes want EUR 1,500 additional taxes for the calendar year 2011. My last grandparent died, so now another generation of my family is on the cemetery "watching radish from below" as the Germans say so aptly. Also our landlord died, unexpectedly, last month. Now his wife owns the building but she isn't up to dealing with the details and handed over responsibility to an apartment management company. We're awaiting the changes this might bring, and I for once am glad I insisted on writing down every little detail into the lease, thinking to myself: what if he dies and his wife can't recall what we agreed upon.

We're also fighting again with the German "Familenkasse" for our child benefits. They had informed us at the beginning of the year (after a full year of struggle with them) that Stefan would finally get the usual monthly rate, and that retroactive back to the girls' birth. Alas, after a few months they stopped paying and he never saw a cent for the first year. They didn't give any reason for this.

After we waited for some while to see if any information would trickle down our direction, I finally lost patience and spent an hour or so trying to get somebody on the phone. Amazingly enough, they have no waiting loop, but just disconnect you if all lines are busy. Yes, that's right, I actually had to call their number over and over again. And then all I got was a call-center where they evidently had no information in Stefan's files about what was going on. So much about German efficiency.

Upon my question if they could maybe connect me to the local office that was actually responsible for this nonsense they said, no they can't connect me and there's no way to reach them by phone, I can only appear there in person if I really want. Or my husband, respectively, as it's actually his application.

As much as I like my iPhone, it's a serious disadvantage that you can't slam down the receiver.

By coincidence I then came across a website of the European Union where they offer a service called SOLVIT whose sole purpose seems to be to help with this type of communication problem between national institutions of the European Union. So now I submitted our case. I heard from them within 24 hours and they promised they'll take on the problem. I'm curious if they'll manage to sort this out, stay tuned.

The kids meanwhile are having fun taking apart the furniture and pushing all buttons that they can get their hands on. Everything that beeps is particularly interesting, for example the microwave and the babyphone. To help align Lara's gaze she now has to wear an eye patch a few hours a day. We were expecting protest, but she doesn't seem to mind. The biggest problem is that it hurts when torn off. Needless to say, Gloria will cry and scream until she also gets an eye patch, which we put on her cheek. Stefan and I also sometimes wear one. Lara probably meanwhile thinks it's a strange kind of fashion.

Our November program on "Perspectives of Fundamental Cosmology" is starting on Monday, and the next weeks will be very busy for us. After that I hope things slow down towards the end of the year.

Lara with her eye patch.


  1. " I can only appear there in person if I really want." Wait outside for the early morning opening, bring the twins, food and water, sanitary support, some particularly noisy new button beep toys. Have supply lines.

    Weltanschauungskrieg and structured coercion force ideological victory upon your enemy. Prime the process with a Press Release and sufficient lead time. (Cc Federal Chancellor Merkel.) "A PhD/Physics married mother of two is being trashed by a bureaucracy devoted to awarding wretchedness." Photographs of three crying women will engineer consent of the uncaring.

  2. We had pretty good results from using the eye patch for a few years. At 6 years of age we moved to a more advanced patch consisting of a red colored filter over the dominant eye while the child was drawing in red pen over white paper and often get complete fusion now.

  3. Sorry for your loss Bee...

    BTW in Greece we say: "watching chicory from below"

    I see you are still fighting German/Sweedish bureaucracy? What else is new?

    Don't fight it just go with the flow:-)

  4. My goodness, Sabine, that bureaucracy situation sounds like the Italian comi-tragedies that I experienced during my years there. In your case, I would bet that they don't expect someone to be persistent enough to get some answers. Which will work in your favor. That euro-idea is a good one. Crossing fingers / pressing thumbs... Amara

  5. Hi Giotis,

    Unfortunately the way society is organized at present it means if you go with the flow you're at a great disadvantage. In our case the amount of money that we've lost due to bureaucracy, part of it (the Swedish Health Insurance), I've given up on, meanwhile adds up in the five digits. Best,


  6. Dear Amara,

    Thanks for the kind words. The real tragedy is that this sort of problem isn't new and it's not rare and nobody is really surprised it exists, and yet we don't seem to be able to organize our lives in any better way than with loads of incompetent institutions who are too inflexible to deal with any situation that isn't exactly the standard case. It's this inability to intelligently organize our living together which bothers me the most. Best,


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  8. Hi Bee,

    Red tape is one thing yet what you’re experiencing has that not seem as an inadequate description and thus hoping that agency you’ve discovered comes to your rescue. I suppose the good news being its very existence indicates you’re not alone in having such difficulty and sounds like its designed to take on the role of serving as an ombudsman when the absurdity of government needs to be set straight. Perhaps strangely enough an ombudsman turns out being a Scandinavian concept originating from the old Norse word “umbodhsmadh” meaning “trusty manager”; thus I’m hoping that tradition will prove able to trump the stupidity of bureaucracy.

    As for what Lara’s being treated for my eldest daughter had the same as a child which they called lazy eye syndrome at the time, so I can empathize with the patch thing as it seems the treatment hasn’t changed. One thing to warn about being this treatment may need to go on for some time as it did in my daughter’s case. In respect to that program your involved with that’s about to begin it sounds interesting as it presents to involve both teaching and brainstorming . This may lend to you being introduced to serving as a mentor which I’ve come to recognize later in life can be one of the most rewarding of experiences; which I’m certain it will prove to be for you.

    “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

    ― Plutarch

    - Best,


  9. As much as I like my iPhone, it's a serious disadvantage that you can't slam down the receiver.

    The iPhone has an accelerometer, so it should be possible to have an app that makes a loud noise and disconnects the call when you "slam" the phone.

  10. Hi Phil,

    Yes, we might have to deal with the eye patch for some while. She's supposed to get glasses though, only that it's difficult to make a vision test as long as she can't tell us what she's seeing.

    The governmental confusions have now reached a new level of absurdity. You see, I actually read through the regulations on child benefits in the EU and so on, and they say pretty clearly that child benefits should be paid by the country where the children spend most of the time, thus in Germany. Alas, the Germans are refusing to pay the child benefits. On the other hand, the Swedes have now decided, without bothering to ask me about it and without me ever applying for it, that they'll pay me child benefits. In fact, they just dumped the money in my bank account two weeks ago as I just noticed! So now I had to call them and say please, please take your money back, because we told the Germans we're not getting child benefits in Sweden. First world problems ;o) Best,



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