Bloggen oder nicht? Wer hat Angst vor den Behörden?

Bad Langensalza, dem 22. September 2018: Vor vier Monaten, also im Mai diesen Jahres, haben wir unseren Bauvertrag für unser Haus unterschrieben. Filmreif sind mittlerweile unsere weitreichenden Korrespondenzen mit allen möglichen Bau-relevanten Behörden des öffentlichen “Rechts”. (Absichtlich vage gehalten hier.) Bis heute haben wir keine Baugenehmigung geschweige denn einen möglichen Termin für den ersten Spatenstich. Viele Gründe dafür sind einem Normalbürger nur sehr schwer aber oft auch gar nicht vermittelbar.

Ich teile ja sehr gern meine Erfahrungen und würde das nun auch gern in diesem Fall tun. Jetzt frage ich mich allerdings folgendes:

(1) Ist es ggf. unklug jetzt bereits über meine Behörden-Geschichten zu bloggen?

(2) Obwohl es so in einer demokratischen Gesellschaft nicht sein sollte; Hätten Veröffentlichungen über meine behördlichen Erfahrungen ggf. Nachteile in meinen aktuell immer noch(!) laufenden Anträgen?

(3) Ist die Tatsache, dass ich mir Frage #2 überhaupt stelle, bereits Armutszeugnis für mein Vertrauen in Behörden? (Welche ja objektiv aufgrund von Sachlage entscheiden sollten.)

(4) Wenn ich jetzt nicht drüber schreibe, wann wäre denn ein “sicherer” Zeitpunkt? Nach Bauschluss, Abnahme oder vielleicht gar niemals? Würde es dann ggf. zukünftige Vorhaben gefährden?

Das war im März und sieht noch heute so aus.

FRAGE: Wie man sieht, bin ich mir nicht sicher in der Sache. Was meint ihr denn so? Rein hypothetisch gesehen.

 

[ENGLISH] P.S.: This post was purposely published in German. Future posts will most like be published in English again.

Spam is getting more – Why?

While back I wrote about this anti-spam plugin I’m using on kozen.de. In recent weeks the number of spam comments that plugin is flagging every day has increased dramatically. Have a look:

Spam comments flagged by Antispam Bee

I find this quite interesting and am wondering why that number goes up? Is it because my blog gets more and more indexed by search engines and therefore more spambots are finding it? For sure, the number of visits per day on kozen.de has not increased significantly.

Perhaps there are a bunch of people who don’t like what I write and they’ve submitted this site to spam databases. Yes that kind a thing exists. Or is it perhaps that the WordPress version I have installed is by a 0.0.1 version below the latest WordPress version. Thus, spam bots are finding it as an attractive target to leave their spam comments?

By the way: Most spam comments are detected as “honeypots“. So just in case one of such comments gets through: Before clicking on a link, please double-check that link in your browser’s status bar (when hovering over the link with your mouse) to ensure it’s the right destination you want to go to.

 

How to get a Car Insurance in Germany

To register a car – may it be a new one or one you bought second hand – you need to have at least a car insurance. Here is a quick overview of typical car insurances in Germany:

  1. Haftpflicht = Third Party Liability (mandatory)
    Like it is in many countries, it is required to have a third party liability insurance for your car in case you damage someone else’s car or hurt other persons with your car.
  2. Teilkasko = Partial Comprehensive Cover (optional)
    This optional insurance covers damages to your own vehicle to some extend. It makes sense to get this for some older vehicles that still have some decent value. For a car like ours, we did not opt for this.
  3. Vollkasko = Full Comprehensive Cover (optional)
    This optional insurance can be signed up for instead of “Teilkasko”, which covers pretty much any kind of damage or loss at your car. “Vollkasko” makes sense for brand new and high value cars.

    Have a look at Comprehensive Cover for a more detailed explanation.
Hail Damage – Typical Damage Claim for a Comprehensive Cover Insurance

Finding the Best Car Insurance

There are many ways. Most folks would just ask their favorite insurance agent, but for me, I simply went on a price comparison website called Tarifcheck.de and searched for it.

To find the car insurance of your liking you need to:

  1. Particulars of the car
  2. Particulars of the holder/owner of the car and the driver(s)
  3. Previous insurance coverage

Similarly to other countries, you’ll be classified into a “Schadenfreiheitsklasse” (SF) meaning you’ll get a “no-claims-discount” if you’ve got a good accident-free driving record. If you don’t have any record you enter the car insurance world with 100%-155% percent of the normal insurance rates. It can even go up to 245% for drivers with an extremely high record of accidents. For example, driving beginners that caused an accident themselves get put into that SF. So better drive properly and with care.

Here is a list of all such SF / no-claims-discount classes:

accident free years Third Party Liability Comprehensive Cover
SF-Class Premium in % SF-Class Premium in %
Malus Class SF M 245 SF M 160
Beginners SF 0 230 SF 0 125
Special Class SF S 155
Special Class SF 1/2 140 SF 1/2 115
1 SF 1 100 SF 1 100
2 SF 2 85 SF 2 85
3 SF 3 70 SF 3 80
4 SF 4 60 SF 4 70
5 SF 5 55 SF 5 65
6 SF 6 55 SF 6 60
7 SF 7 50 SF 7 60
8 SF 8 50 SF 8 55
9 SF 9 45 SF 9 50
10 SF 10 45 SF 10 50
11 SF 11 45 SF 11 45
12 SF 12 40 SF 12 45
13 SF 13 40 SF 13 45
14 SF 14 40 SF 14 40
15 SF 15 40 SF 15 40
16 SF 16 35 SF 16 40
17 SF 17 35 SF 17 40
18 SF 18 35 SF 18 35
19 SF 19 35 SF 19 35
20 SF 20 35 SF 20 35
21 SF 21 35 SF 21 35
22 SF 22 30 SF 22 35
23 SF 23 30 SF 23 30
24 SF 24 30 SF 24 30
25 SF 25 30 SF 25 30

So if you’re accident free driving for 22+ years, you’ll get the lowest rates available.

If you sign up for a car insurance, it appears to be rather easy to claim your previous SF with the new insurer by simply entering it and providing your insurance account number of your previous insurance. If you are coming from a foreign country, you can try to get classified into a SF class according to your no-claim-record at your insurance. However, some insurers don’t accept that. Some might give you at least a bit of a discount. So I’d recommend to give it a try and check with a few insurers on whether they can accept your claim.

We’ve signed up for a third party liability insurance that costs us €247 per year where we got classified into SF15 that gives us 40% premium we have to pay. Without such SF classification we would have paid close to €600 per year instead. So it’s worth looking into that.

On the comparison website you can also see different ratings of such insurers. They tell you how well that insurer pays back claims, how responsive they are, whether they are environmentally friendly, do everything digitally, and so on.

For a Care Free Ride

Where to Sign Up the Best Car Insurance

You can go to: Tarifcheck Car Insurance website

Simply enter your car details and personal particulars there. You’ll then get a list of insurance offers. I for my part, signed up for the car insurance right on that website. It worked quite well for me, but feel free to consult other sources too.

My decision process was very simple: I took the insurance with the best combination of claim-refund rating, customer satisfaction and of course best-price. It turned out to be a small “direct” insurance company for me. That’s fine as I expect that we won’t be needing it — hopefully.

 

Other articles in my German car series:

How to convert a Hong Kong Driving Licence to a German Driver’s License

It sounds easier than it is.

First off, you can drive in Germany with your foreign driver’s license for up to 6 months starting from the first day of entry. If you want to drive after that period, you’ll need to convert your foreign license to a German driver’s license.

As you know, we recently moved from Hong Kong to Germany. My wife has a Hong Kong driver’s license (even though she initial made her license in California) and we want to convert it to a German driver’s license.

My Hong Kong Driving Licence (Note: This is only valid in conjunction with my HK ID card, which is a proper photo ID. Both are linked with the unique HK ID number showing at the top right of this driving licence.)

If you have a foreign driver’s license you’ve got to distinguish between three different types:

  1. You have an EU driver’s license, or
  2. Your driver’s license was issued in a country listed in “Annex 11” of the driver’s license ordinance, or
  3. Your driver’s license was issued in another country (i.e. not listed in Annex 11 nor an EU license)

1.  Your EU Driver’s License

… is valid in the entire of European Union. Germany recognizes all EU driver’s licenses as well as the ones issue in Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. There is no need for converting your existing license.

2. Your Foreign Driver’s License (Annex 11)

… can be simply converted to a German driver’s license by paying a small fee (~€48) and filing a conversion form. It is recognized by Germany and your licensed driving classes get converted appropriately. This requires that your issuing country / state is listed in “Annex 11” of the “German Driver’s License Ordinance” namely: “Anhang 11” of the “Fahrerlaubnisverordnung (FeV)”.

The following countries are listed in Annex 11:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Bosnia Herzigovina
  • Canada
  • French Polynesia
  • Guernsey
  • Isle of Man
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Jersey
  • Monaco
  • Namibia
  • New Caledonia
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Korea (South Korea)
  • San Marino
  • Serbia
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan

The United States of America are not recognized as a whole. Only the following federal states are listed in Annex 11:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington State
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

It is important to note, that not all classes of your driver’s license may be recognized. To get a clear picture of the classes you can transfer, please check the official annex 11 of FeV.

3. Your Foreign Driver’s License (NOT Annex 11)

… your driver’s license is not recognized and cannot simply converted to a German driver’s license, if your issuing country/state is not listed in annex 11 (see above point 2).

This is, unfortunately, the group my wife’s Hong Kong driver’s license falls into. After consulting with our local driver’s license government department and double-checking with them, we are now certain of the requirements to “convert” her license:

(1) Pass theoretical driving school test
(2) Pass practical driving test

Obviously, these two points are time consuming and expensive. Not to speak that if you fail one of these, you’ll have to cover repeat costs.

Costs of Tests Required

As it is in small towns, I know someone who knows someone who has a driving school. So I went on and checked with him what these tests would cost roughly.

Theory

Passing the theoretical test is not that hard. You can buy a CD and practice the multiple choice questions over and over again until you know them all. There are now even apps available that help you get ready for that test.

€35 CD
€35 Theory Test Fee (driving school – may vary)
€22.49 Dekra-Fee

Practical

It is recommended to have at least a few driving lessons to have some kind of chance to pass the practical test. Even experienced drivers might find it hard to pass this test. A small mistake and you’ve failed the test. So it was recommended to us to do perhaps 10 driving lessons to get a chance to pass the practical test.

€380 Driving Lessons (10x €38) (driving school – may vary)
€55 Driving Test (driving school – may vary)
€91.75 Dekra-Driving-Test-Fee

In total we would end up at around:

€620-800 total

This obviously depends on the actual number of driving lessons the applicant needs (if at all) and/or a test would have to be repeated, etc.

Notes on Tests in non-German: Not all testing centers seem to be offering driving school tests in other languages than German. At the DEKRA for example, I haven’t found any information for tests in English. TÜV Nord for example offers their driver’s license tests now in English, French, Greek, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Croatian, Spanish, Turkish and Arab.

 

What’s Needed For The Application of Conversion

In full, an application at the Driver’s License Department for converting a Hong Kong driver’s license or any other license that’s issued in a country not listed in annex 11:

  1. Eye Test Certificate (get at eye doctor or optometrist)
  2. First Aid Course Certificate (get at Red Cross)
  3. 1x Passport Photo
  4. Driving School Application (where you do theoretical/practical tests)
  5. Translation of Current Driver’s License

The conversion fee is €48 and can be filed before you actually do your test. From the day you pass your tests, it takes up to 14 days to issue your driver’s license.

Where to Apply for Conversion

Usually the driver’s license government department is called “Fahrerlaubnisbehörde”, which in most cases is situated at the city or county government. Larger cities have their own department, smaller ones like ours have theirs at the county’s government departments. A full list of addresses of all departments in Germany can be found here: Address Index of Driver’s License & Vehicle Government Departments (in German only)

 

The other way around: German to Hong Kong Driving Licence

Just FYI. A few years ago, I converted my German EU Driver’s License to a Hong Kong Driving Licence by simply filling out a form and paying a fee. In Hong Kong I did not have to do any test or provide any certificate whatsoever — except for a translated copy of my German driver’s license. It was quick, easy and straight forward.

 

Tid Bits:

“Driver’s license” in German is called “Fahrerlaubnis”, which is pretty much the literal translation of “driver’s license”. Colloquially it is called “Führerschein”, which is the actual “driver’s license card” you carry around.

  • driver’s license (or driving licence) = Fahrerlaubnis
  • driver’s license card = Führerschein
  • driver’s license department = Fahrerlaubnisbehörde or Führerscheinstelle
  • convert my driver’s license = meine Fahrerlaubnis umschreiben

Notes:

I have written this down here in English, because many German government agencies don’t publish their information in English or in a comprehensive way. Especially for foreigners we find it being very difficult to navigate typical German bureaucracy without extensive knowledge of the German language.

Sources:

 

Update 2018-09-20: Thanks to our very attentive reader fok, we were pointed into the right direction and corrected the actual meaning of “Fahrerlaubnis” and “Führerschein” as well as the differences between them.

Machine Learning to Stream “DeepFake” Videos in Real-Time

Machine learning is one of the major goals of the more general term of artificial intelligence. Earlier this year I read about so called “DeepFake” videos on the popular German computer science news service Heise. While the entire topic in that article is a bit sleazy, I was intrigued by the possibilities of that technology.

Basically, the “DeepFake” technology uses existing machine learning / deep learning algorithms to create models that can manipulate data in a certain quite predictable way. If you input a headshot photo of a random person, that “model” can make that person look like a very specific person. That sounds very abstract.

An example:

If I take a photo of myself, the “Nicholas Cage” model can make me look like Nicholas Cage!

In the case of those DeepFake videos, an entire video scene was processed by a certain model and basically made the actor look like a very specific different actor. So as a result, you would get a video where the actor looks very different from the one who was shot in the original film.

Real-Time is Key

For quite some years we’ve been working with streaming video for our Sky Drone products, which come in many different flavors. As a result, we have a bit of experience on how to stream video real-time. Then we thought further on how that technology of “deep faking” could work with real-time video chat. As a result, we used all the technology knowledge at hand and created a small web service that allows you to video chat with yourself. Yet, you won’t see your face, but the one of a person you choose to be. This is how it looks like:

The small website is not fancy nor is it easy to use. It just works — if you use it the right way. If you’d like to try it yourself, you can follow the instructions we posted on Reddit.

TRY HERE: Reddit – Video Live-Stream DeepFake Testing

Here is a video of a user in India who gave it a try:

How it works

You can see yourself through the webcam of your computer. That video is being streamed to a cloud computing cluster we operate. On that cluster, the “AI model” for the selected person is being applied. The resulting video is then being streamed back to your computer and shown on the screen. As a result, your face looks quite different from your actual face.

You can try to smile for example, and the model will modify the smile to a smile that celebrity would do. This includes the kind of teeth that celebrity has, the mouth and lip shape, etc.

For example, this is how it looks like when we smile while being Nicolas Cage:

Of course, a photo of a computer screen is not that nice and it does especially not show how movement in the video shows you as a “different person”. Yet, it can at least give you an idea on how that might be. Feel free to give it a try yourself.

The Future

We have some ideas on how this can be used in future – for legitimate purposes, of course. As I don’t want to spoil your thoughts … What do you think this can be used for?

Experimenting with Solar Panels

As I mentioned earlier, we are building a house in my home town Bad Langensalza. Since my teenage years I’ve been fascinated by technology of many kinds. That lead me to study computer science and later on focus my entire professional life around that. Now, building a house is – generally speaking – a rather traditional kind of engineering work. Putting up walls, a roof, do some ground, etc. We’ve found a great company to take care of all of that, but more about the house topic in later blog post.
 
Let me give you a little insight into my motivation on experimenting with solar panels. The house “package” we chose, came with a standard natural gas-powered heating system. That system is supported by simple solar tubes to pre-warm water. Those solar tubes don’t generate electricity, they just warm up the water. It’s basically just black tubes with water inside. We personally feel that fossil resources are generally something we should try not to use too much of. So we upgraded our “package” from the natural-gas-powered heating to an entirely electric-powered air-water-pump system. It is generally speaking quite similar to a split-type A/C that’s popular in Asia and other parts of the world. One reason for choosing that and paying for the additional costs was to allow us to eventually support our heating system with solar panels that generate electricity (see photovoltaics). Heating is in Europe what air-conditioning was in Hong Kong. It is essential for a comfortable home with Gemütlichkeit. Especially in the winter months, of course.

Before I left Hong Kong, I bought a “solar panel kit” from China and shipped it over along with my household. It consists of the following:

  1. 100W Solar Panel (monocrystalline cells)
  2. Controller unit
  3. Power inverter unit (convert DC to AC)
  4. Some cabeling

Back in Hong Kong, I already unwrapped the set to test it. You can’t be too trusty with the mainland Chinese vendors. I quickly realized that I needed a battery to get the entire thing working properly. So I decided to push that testing back to when I’m in Germany. I was quite sure my dad still had some car battery hidden in his garage somewhere. Guess what? Of course, he still had a battery!

After finally having found some time to do my experiment, I unpacked everything and set it up in their garden. I connected the solar panel to the controller. Connected the controller to the battery and connected the power inverter to the battery as well. Then I connected a consumer (a FM radio) to the power inverter to test it and switched everything “on”. Guess again: What happened?  Yep! Nothing happened. Here is how that set up looked like:

Basic solar panel setup: panel – battery – inverter – controller (left to right)

Here is a quick video about that:

Technically, it should work like this:

  1. The solar panel converts the sun’s energy into 14.4V DC electricity.
  2. The controller takes that electricity and passes it on to the 12V car battery to charge that battery.
  3. The controller ensures, the correct charge is passed. So you have to configure which type of battery you have. This depends mainly on the number of cells your battery has (e.g. 3 cells, 4 cells, 6 cells, etc).
  4. The converter simply consumes the 12V DC electricity from the battery and converts it into 240V AC electricity.
  5. Any standard consumer electric appliance can then be powered by the converter’s output (e.g. a radio).

As my radio didn’t turn on, there was apparently something wrong with my setup. So I tried several other options. The controller (the most right device in the photo above) also has two more additional outputs besides the one for the battery:

  1. A direct consumer output (voltage can be adjusted), and
  2. Two USB ports

I tried to connect the power inverter to the direct consumer output of the controller to see if my radio turns on then. Nothing happened again. Yet, the controller has a display that appears to be operating correctly. So I quickly got a USB cable and tried to charge one of my old phones through one of the USB ports. That worked flawlessly and with about ~2A output current, the phone charged up quite quickly. Have a look at the charging working properly:

Conclusion Test 1

It appeared that the solar panel worked well. The controller seems to have worked too. Also, when the battery is connected, the controller’s display output indicated that it is charging correctly. Hence, I assumed there was a problem with the inverter unit. I double-checked whether I connected the unit properly. It appeared to be getting enough electricity. That’s because the fan turns on automatically when I switch the inverter on. So it seems to be receiving enough electricity from the battery or in the other test directly from the controller. My conclusion was to try another inverter. So ordered one on Amazon.

Test 2 – New Inverter

The new inverter I ordered off Amazon cost just €20, but is also just a 300W inverter as opposed to the original inverter I got with the whole set that can do 1000W. Anyhow, I only have a 100W solar panel so far. The whole setup with the new inverter looked like this:

Setup #2: solar panel, battery, inverter, controller, radio.

Believe it or not, the setup worked out-of-the-box now. I managed to get some sound out of the radio and finally listen to the weather forecast. The lawn obviously needed some rain soon! Here is a quick video of the setup with the radio playing:

Solar Panel Photo Gallery

 

Upcoming Solar Panel Tests

I’m now curious on how this works with multiple solar panels and larger electricity storage. Especially, how I need to wire it to get it working properly and how much electricity it can actually collect, convert and store. Of course, there are all these theoretical calculations you can easily run based on how much a solar panel can process, what the average sunshine time is in your area, how you convert and store the electricity and so on. But all these are theoretical values and I was never a fan of plain and dry theories. I got to try it myself. See it in action and experience its practicality.

So my next solar goal is now to:

  1. Get 2 more 100W flexible monocrystalline solar panels
  2. Replace old battery with 2 new car batteries that store at least 80Ah each
  3. Install all 3 panels and 2 batteries in a more semi-permanent setting
  4. Let this run / charge / consume for a few days / weeks

 

The Purpose

My end goal is to cover certain roofs of our new house / property with solar panels. As we are planning to have a carport and a permanent awning for the terrace, my plan is to cover both with solar panels. Here in Germany we of course have service providers / construction companies where you can order your terrace awning or carport with a solar panel roof including the construction of such. Think: all-inclusive-service. That would be the laziest option, but also the easiest one of simply getting it done. As you can imagine, these installations are then quite expensive. I was looking at a 10m x 4m terrace awning that’s completely covered by solar panels and the price was something in the range of €35k ($41k). That is quite A LOT I find and not even close to my budget. Though, including labor I guess it may be a fair price. Yet, we still wouldn’t have a carport yet.

So, I’m experimenting with these solar panels to figure out if the solar panel part is something I could perhaps do myself. It may or may not be practical for various reasons.

  • Perhaps there’s too much work involved?
  • Perhaps the pure material costs are too high to justify their use?
  • Perhaps the efficiency of the solar panels aren’t as good on average as sellers claim them to be?
  • Perhaps my plan gets killed by special EU customs duty on Chinese solar panels?
  • Perhaps storing electricity is not efficient enough?
  • Perhaps the batteries for storing them aren’t as reliable as they should be?

There are so many questions and there are probably a lot more I haven’t even thought about yet. I won’t be able to answer at least some questions to my satisfaction, if I don’t get started. I simple need to get at least some steps closer to entirely understand the practicalities behind using solar panels. That’s what I’ll do in the next months. Let’s see how that goes.

Stay tuned for more stories on solar panel experiments and our house construction process, progress or non-progress. 

 

Products mentioned:

Fighting SPAM on kozen.de

I recently re-launched this blog and for quite some years I have been having problems with spam. This blog is powered by WordPress — probably the most popular blog software out there. It is a popular target for spammers and other attachers who want to spread their “news”. Since the inception of this blog 13+ years ago, I’ve been receiving a lot of spam comments.

Spam Comments on kozen.de

To fight off that spam, I’ve installed a plug-in called “Spam Karma” many years ago. It was working quite well, but for some reason it has stopped working. That’s probably related to the fact that the developer stopped maintaining it quite some years ago.

WordPress has its own spam fighting plug-in, which ships with WordPress by default. However, that’s built on top of an online service that you need to subscribe to. To have any significant spam fighting result, that subscription costs money. I can understand why they’re charging for their service as it keeps its database up-to-date with all the typical spam phrases, keywords, methods, etc. that those really creative spammers come up with.  Yet, I believe there are a lot of other techniques that can be deployed before having to look at those real-time databases to catch the latest spam.

In fact, almost all spam I receive is always the same kind of stuff. There’s pharmaceutical products, health product, online products/services/websites, etc. To the naked eye comments relating such topics can be easily identified as spam. It’s not just the content, but also the way how these comments are composed, how their authors are called, what their backlink links to, etc.

So I ended up using a different anti-spam plug-in called “Antispam Bee” and as a form of saying “Thank you” to the author, I’m writing this blog post. I hope they are getting more people using their plug-in. It seems to work fine for me so far. The chart above shows the number of spam my antispam bee is collecting by day. It’s not that many at the moment, but if you add this up over the year, I would end up with thousands of spam comments, which I simply don’t have the time to process manually.

So again, a special thanks to the developers of Antispam Bee. Great job!

If someone of you is in the need of a spam fighting plug-in. Give the Antispam Bee a try. It works well for me.

How and why we shipped our household from Hong Kong to Germany

We recently moved from Hong Kong to Germany. Before we moved, we thought about how much of our household in Hong Kong we should bring with us to Germany.

In cases like this, we usually do a very basic simple cost-benefit analysis with some pro/contra arguments. We knew that for many people it might not make sense to bring their entire household over. If you’re looking at the plain costs involved with the shipping process that might often be the case.

Costs are a big factor

We definitely had more stuff to bring over than we could have brought with us on the plane. So there would have always been quite a number of boxes we could have shipped with Hong Kong Post for example. They are cheap and reliable if the amount (size & weight) you ship isn’t too much. For us, the main things we really wanted to bring were toys & gifts, clothes, some of my computers / electronics and my wife’s camera & film equipment. All of that was quite heavy and bulky already so that it would have had some significant cost to ship it by post.

Then we thought about shipping our entire household and how much more that would cost. After doing quite some research, asking for quotations and having site visits of “relocation consultants”, we figured out that we would probably need an entire 20 foot shipping container. So we got the price for that and compared it to the cost of all the goods we had if we would have to buy them new again in Germany. Usually, you would compare it with the current value of the goods at that time, but to be honest: If you get rid of all your stuff in Hong Kong and then you buy it again in Germany, you’ll have to pay the full “new retail price” there. So it is actually more accurate to compare the retail prices.

It turned out shipping our stuff over would be about 33% cheaper than buying everything new again in Germany. That didn’t even factor in costs we would have had for shipping the other “important” stuff by post, like I mentioned earlier. I guess with that we would have probably ended up at around 50%.

Time is a factor too

At the same time, we thought about the time we have at hand. We’ve been living about 6 years in our loft in Hong Kong. As it is usual, over the 6 years we’ve collected a lot of things we thought we needed. Relocating to Germany gave us the chance to sort some stuff out and give it away. Yet, we are usually quite lean in terms of the stuff we get. So most of the things we had were quite essential and in good shape. We knew that after we arrive in Germany and we move into our new home, we would need to get most of those things again. That means, we would have had to go to department stores, furniture stores, etc. to select and buy the same stuff again. Maybe we could have ordered most of it online, but in the end, all of that would have eaten up a lot of our time.

So besides saving money by shipping our household items over, we also save a lot of time by not having to get the same / similar stuff again.

What shipping company to use

Like I mentioned earlier, we’ve looked at several companies. Considerations for us was of course the price, but also the level of service quality they provide and whether we feel subjectively safe with them. That last bit had a lot to do with the sales person they had serving us. Of course, the final shipping service might be worse, but if the sales person already made a bad impression, how good could their actual service have been? That’s all quite hypothetical, but there is a bit of truth in that, right?

Anyhow, we were looking into the following companies. They are ordered by preference top-down, with the top most company that we chose in the end. In case you are in the need of a relocation company, have a look yourself and feel free to contact them. At most companies you can get an initial quote by email.

Shipping / Relocation Companies:

  1. SwiftRelo (we went with SwiftRelo)
  2. Links Moving / Baggage XS
  3. VanPac
  4. AGS Four Winds
  5. Allied Pickfords
  6. Santa Fe
  7. Transworld
  8. Crown Relocation
  9. ReloSmart
  10. Unigroup
  11. Asian Tigers
  12. Asian Express International Movers
  13. Meta Movers
  14. Team Relocations

In terms of price, #1 and #2 ended up at the same price in the end. We still went with SwiftRelo, because I liked their sales person. Because there were a few hiccups in their service, I would probably give Links Moving a chance the next time. They weren’t significant ones, but I feel like it could have gone more smoothly.

Lessons learnt

Relocating to a different country obviously involves cross-border transport of goods. Usually that involves paying customs duty. If it is a family relocation, that customs duty does not need to be paid for household goods. Every destination country is different in that respect. Germany for example required us to prove that we were living in Hong Kong for at least 12 months. We thought that would be easy, but it wasn’t as straight forward as it should have been.

Bottom line, even though we had shipping clearance before our container left the port of Hong Kong, it was detained in the port of Bremerhaven, Germany. German customs required us to file some further explanation and provide additional documentation (utility bills of the last 12 months) to prove we’ve been living outside of Germany for long enough. Even though, I was incredibly quick replying to their requests, a public holiday came up in between and in the end our container was locked up for 5 days in Bremerhaven, which cost us a total of €300 (€60 per day). That could have been avoided by an experienced relocation company that asks for truly all necessary documentation beforehand. Though, I have to say, there is always the possibility that customs asks for additional explanation or documentation. Yet, I feel this could have been handled better.

Broken wardrobe

So far, we only noticed one of our furniture pieces to be broken. It was the largest piece – our wardrobe corner unit – which was but at the bottom somewhere and then boxes stored on top of it. Because it was a hollow piece, after the long journey it was completely deformed.

Full service relocation

We wanted to get a door-to-door relocation. That means we get a team that comes in, packs up everything into boxes, loads that into the container and our stuff gets shipped off. The packing took about a morning (8am-12pm) and loading everything took about another 4 hours so that they were done about 5pm.  In Germany, we also got a team of local guys who unloaded our stuff in the record time of 2.5 hours. Though, there we only got everything loaded into my grandma’s garage. Our house hasn’t been built yet (but we’ll start soon hopefully!), so there wasn’t any other place we could put our stuff to.

About a month before the packers came to our loft in Hong Kong, I started packing things up bit by bit in the evening after work. The night before the packers came I was still packing and I ended up at around 38 fully packed moving boxes. I thought that was a lot. Then the packers came and started packing the rest up. Those were mostly not so important / not so crucial things like furniture, kitchen stuff, appliances, clothes, and so on. In the end, we ended up with 145(!) boxes. I was absolutely surprised. To be honest, though, the packers really packed every thing into boxes. An office chair was a box. The fridge was a box. The laundromat was a box and the printer was in its own box too. You can imagine how this can quickly add up to a high box count.

The destination garage in Germany is actually quite big. I always thought it would be easily enough, but to be honest, we just managed to fit it all in. It is not so easy to access certain boxes now, but we managed to find some important things already.

Conclusion

I still believe it was the right decision to ship everything over. It took quite some time to get it all packed up. It did cost quite a large sum upfront, but in the end we’re saving money and time because we don’t have to buy new things again. I would probably try another shipping company, but I’m not sure if their service would be much better.

Impressions from the move

Packers packing our stuff in Hong Kong
Packers packing our stuff in Hong Kong
Boxes everywhere in Hong Kong
Boxes everywhere in Hong Kong
Our stuff in the garage in Germany
The garage is almost full
The garage is almost full

Why we moved from Hong Kong to Germany

From January 2005 to December 2007 I lived and worked in Kunming (PRC) and from January 2008 to March 2018 I lived, worked, got married and got a beautiful child in Hong Kong SAR. Moving back to Germany after living in Asia for 13 years was quite a move. Somehow I feel like having to write down why we made that move in the end.

Summerfest at Kindergarten

Education – The Main Reason

It’s a common theme in Hong Kong: When folks find out they are to become parents they start freaking out – big time. That’s largely due to the clusterfudged situation of the Hong Kong education system. I’m sorry, but there is really no better way to describe that.

I remember when my wife was 5 months pregnant we had a nice dinner with friends – a couple who were roughly at the same stage. During that dinner he dad-to-be asked me: “Which school is your child gonna go to?” I didn’t know how to respond. Come to think of it, we didn’t even know the gender of our baby yet!

Parents are freaking out

To be honest, it really is like that. Even before you’ve given birth you should know where your kid goes to school. If you want it to be a good school, you got to make sure the child goes to the right kindergarten. To get into that right kindergarten, the child needs to go to the right nursery. Of course, there are entry tests (think job interview) for 2 year olds. So basically you’re building up your child’s resume from the birth onward. It’s like an arms race!

Private is expensive

All of this is regardless of how ridiculously expensive international schools are in Hong Kong. Let’s look at the German Suisse International School for example. The tuition range is HK$148,960 – HK$194,100 (€16,286 – €21,222), which can be paid at HK$19,410 (€2,122) per month, but before you are even allowed to join the school and pay tuition, you need to pay a debenture of about HK$500,000 (€54,668). Source GSIS Fees.

Let’s assume you have that money and are willing to pay for it. You still need to get (your child) in by going through interviews, submitting resumes, etc. at kindergarten level. It might happen that your 5 year old gets three photos placed in front of her: one of President Xi Jingping, President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin. Then she gets asked to tell their names and their current title. (I’ll let that settle…)

Public is in Chinese

Of course, there is the public school system too. However, most of such schools teach in Cantonese or Mandarin. For us to be able to support our child during education – may it be just simply being able to understand what the homework is about – we would need an English-medium school. There are still a few such public schools in Hong Kong, but as you can imagine, these are quite popular and therefore quite hard to get in as well. Their school fees are affordable as well at about HK$3,000 (€330) per month or so.

Memorize or Learn

Besides the “getting into the school” and “paying for school” topics, there is – most importantly – the whole topic of how your child is being educated. The style of teaching and what is best for your child.

Still today, many styles of teaching all across Asia are focused on memorizing knowledge rather than learning, understanding and creatively using your free mind to come up with a solution. It is something I personally embrace and it is also very important to my wife who was fortunate enough to receive a liberal arts education in the US. We want our children to be free thinkers who can create new things and make the world a better place because they can think way out-of-the-box. Think of it like that: If high ranking government officials in Hong Kong and China send their own kids out of the country to boarding schools and colleges in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia — you know what they think of their own education system.

Roaming BL City Arboretum

Health Reasons

In Germany the air quality is definitely better than in Hong Kong. The kind of food you can buy (at affordable prices) is also of higher quality here than what you can get in Hong Kong. Though the differences are (in my personal opinion) marginal, they are definitely there.

Future of Hong Kong

1997 Hong Kong was returned to China, which was sealed by a joint declaration signed between the UK and China, which guarantees Hong Kong’s extensive autonomy until 2047. Almost half of these 50 years have passed now. Hong Kong has prospered like never before, but politically, nobody knows where that incredible city is headed towards. No one has an answer about how Hong Kong will look like after 2047. The only thing Hong Kong locals are experiencing is that the China mainland is slowly but steadily creeping more and more into the everyday lives of Hong Kong people. There are many small cases that happened over the 10 years I have been there and it really felt it is getting more and more. Maybe that was objectively not the case, but let me give some examples.

The Chinafication Hong Kong

Things like this happened: Booksellers who sell books critical to the China mainland political system disappear from Hong Kong and suddenly pop up somewhere in China at a police station. China law is being practiced in Hong Kong at certain border crossing stations due to ludicrous reasons, simply to create precedence cases of that. Independent, reputable and China-criticizing media companies that get bought over by pro-party mainland companies. Mainland liaison officials constantly targeting demonstrators with public statements that get broadcast all across HK, which in turn tries to influence public opinion and split the society. Liberal lawmakers getting disqualified for office (though some of them were serving as lawmakers for over a decade already) over an oath-taking ceremony that they felt being too pro-China. China having the power to re-interpret the Basic Law (kinda mini-constitution) that Hong Kong exists by. More and more public schools teach in Mandarin rather than Cantonese or English. Mainland Chinese business folks buying up property in Hong Kong en-masse in cash – probably with some kind of dodgy money – driving up prices and making it harder and harder for younger generations to find places to live. And so on …

If you look at each of these incidents individually, they are not that important. Yet, combining them, looking at the bigger picture and the (most likely) goal of the final reunification of Hong Kong with the communist mainland China; you can’t shake the thought of slow assimilation of Hong Kong into the China-System. I might be paranoid here, but it definitely has that kind of feel.

My wife and I were “foreigners” in Hong Kong. We possess permanent residency there, which means we can go back any time we want and don’t need a work visa. We are flexible and if SHTF it would have been easy for us to simply get out. But we also know a good number of locals who don’t have that kind of flexibility.

So again, this wasn’t a major concern for us at the moment, but it was a topic of concern and I truly hope Hong Kong’s people and politicians find a common ground with their China Mainland counterparts for a prosperous future of Hong Kong that guarantees individual freedom, rule of law and an open society as Hong Kong citizens enjoy right now.

Space

Another reason for us to move out of Hong Kong was space. As I mentioned earlier, Hong Kong’s property prices are ridiculously expensive. We were fortunate enough to live in a 990 sqft (91 sqm) apartment that we owned there. Rent for that would have probably been in €3,000 per month range or so. Yet, we only had 1 bedroom for the 3 of us. It was tight, but we managed for quite a while.

Besides normal living space, there are also these moments I remember from my childhood in Germany. I was able to just open the door, go outside, ride the bike around with friends, play somewhere in the woods and so on. That kind of play is simply not possible in Hong Kong. Because everything is so dense, there are people, cars, buses, trains everywhere and up until a certain age, you basically can not let your child walk around alone in HK.

Park with ducks in the city of Eschwege

Work & Friends

These were probably the only factors that were counter-arguments for moving out of Hong Kong. The majority of our friends are in Hong Kong — though quite a number have left already to other countries as well. Our work was in Hong Kong and everything we’ve built evolved around that incredible city. Though, most of work can be done online nowadays, certain things we’d like to do in person. I personally liked working in Hong Kong, I liked my colleagues and I liked the kind of work we were doing. It was great, inspiring, challenging and yes, even the controversial conversations I’ve enjoyed. So again, work and friends were the arguments for us staying in Hong Kong, but everything else eventually outweighed those.

Family

When it was just my wife and me, it was easy to live in Hong Kong. Even without any immediate family of either of us in HK, we could live there comfortably. We had the freedom to move around, go on holidays and visit our family whenever we felt like it.

With a child your life suddenly becomes quite a different one. You want her to grow up with her grandparents. That’s great for the child, but also for the grandparents. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a baby sitter option at hand, but that wasn’t that much of a concern for us. At the same time, for your child to be with her cousins and other relatives is quite something. It’s just fun.

Conclusion

While there were many reasons for us to move back to Germany, we truly loved Hong Kong and it was not an easy decision to move to Germany. Hong Kong is a very diverse city and in the 10 years I was living there, it never stopped to amaze me. There were so many hidden gems that surprised us and that happened again and again. Yet, the final reason for us moving was really for the sake of our daughter. She’ll get some great education, she’s got space to grow, play and roam around, she’ll grow up with at least one side of her family and she’ll be among many kids of her age whom might or have already become her friends.

We’ve moved to the small town of Bad Langensalza where I grew up in. Some of my friends still live here, most part of my family lives here too. It is a very different way of live here. It’s much slower (especially the Internet connection!), but it is great in its very own way.

We’re now in the process of building a house for us to live in. Again, it’s a much slower process than I anticipated, but I am sure I will share some stories about here as well. You’ll laugh your butt off! Stay tuned. Subscribe to my blog or join my Facebook page.

P.S.: Check out www.weitsprungmeeting.com (long jump meeting) which took place in Bad Langensalza two weeks ago. The world’s best long jump of the year took place right here in the green heart of Germany. Can you believe that?

A fresh look

So yesterday and today I’ve been tinkering with my blog and gave it a quick new look. The old style was from 2005 and I figured a 13 year old look might not up to our trained eyes yet. The new look still has some quirks like the cut off images on the right, but it is already way better than before. When I have time, I’ll probably fix those.

Just for the sake of documenting my progress, let’s check out some comparison screen shots.

kozen.de look yesterday:

kozen.de look today:

 

It’s a bit easier on the eye now. What do you think?