December 17, 2008

Stuttgart: Craftsmen and other Disasters

What is the correct English word for 'Handwerker' (german)? Is it craftsman, builder, worker or tradesman? Anyway, I will call them craftsmen - and this post's title underlines, that this story did not happen in Italy, it happened in Germany.

If you are a bit familiar with my blog, you might know that we are not only renovating our palazzo in Italy, but also our home in Germany. Since we are back from China, we decided that we need to connect another (small) flat to our flat due to space shortage. It is a bit crazy to have an entire palazzo for summer holiday but in real day to day life only one third of the space.

It took a while until we figured out what we would do with the old bathroom of the small flat (which was always rented out). Then it took a while until things were ordered. And last week, Wednesday, was THE big day: the opening of the cement wall (20 cm thick). I was a bit nervous. Like before an operation. The craftsmen were so nice and friendly and sweet and caring about any dirt or dent they would do to my wooden floor. Almost like doctors before an operation.

Everything was well prepared. Other craftsmen had searched the wall for a heatingwater pipe and opened up the wall to show the location of that pipe. Large foil had been stuck to ceiling and walls on both sides of the operation.

Before they started to drill, I went back to my old flat (over the balcony) as it will be terribly loud when they start. I sat back at my desk and started the computer. I was relaxed at that point. All neighbours were informed about the work and the noise. I had decided to stay home during this important operation. And I was happy to have some extra time at the computer, when all in a sudden I see one of the craftsmen running over the balcony towards me with eyes wide open!

He shouted: "WE HIT THE WATER PIPE ! Fast, come, do you know where to turn off the central heat?"

I could not believe my ears.
How can they hit the pipe?
The pipe was visible.
I still shiver writing these lines.
I was so totally unprepared for this disaster.
I said: I don't know. Wait, I need to get my shoes.
And over the balcony down to the basement we run.
Not sure were the central heating room of the apartment building is. We found it right away, but it was dark and I was searching for the light switch, my heart was beating and my tummy felt sick. Here we were standing in front of a dozen of big and small wheels...

The craftsmen closed whatever he could close. But of course there was enough water in the system to fled all my apartment. Luckily we were renovating it entirely and the pavement was screed and not wood or carpet. They had a special vacuum cleaner to suck water as they were drilling and sawing with water. But still the water was spreading out until the last corner of my future bedroom and below the built-in closet.

I was doing many phone calls and one hour later the maintenance company for the heater was showing up and welding the pipe.

However before welding he needed to let out more water of the heating system, that by the way is for 22 flats... and it was snowing outside... when this craftsman was done, the little wheel of the heating meter was not working. He said: you need to wait a little. Maybe 20 minutes. When he left, the 20 minutes were over. Don't worry, he said, wait a little longer. After 1 1/2 hours I called them again. The answer was the same: just wait a bit more. And when I called them at 4pm they said, that their men already went home and they will show up only tomorrow morning at 8am.

I was at the end of my rope / tether. If only my family would have to freeze for one night, this could be bearable, but not 22 apartments with many elderly people. And all my fault. Not only I (or my renovation) produces noise and dust. But also now this disaster. The temperature already started to drop in my flat...

I was crying and begging them to come. But no. And the apartment administration told me that another firm for emergency cannot be called as the system is so complicated. At 7pm our concierge who claimed that he does not know the heating system felt pity with me and went with me in the central heating room. He quickly saw the problem, the guy from the heating company had not filled enough water back into the system. He filled it up - and the little wheels of the meter started to run again! In all flats! Gosh, I could have kissed him! More useful for him, I gave him a good bottle of Italian red wine (and his invoice can be sent to the company who caused the damage, together with the one of the next day, when two more craftsmen were busy aerating the heating system for 4 hours).

The same day, they had continued with the opening of the wall, so the next day it was done and 6 massive stone blocks of almost 200 kilo each were taken out. Of course the elevator the boss of the company was talking about when we had an initial meeting, was not delivered and the craftsmen had to carry the stone blocks down the stairways. And they were not picked up the same day as promised, but the day after. At least my friendly neighbours did not complain. For my tummy I had several schnapps these days as I was not able to eat.

Oh, and why did they hit the pipe? Because they assumed that the pipe runs down straight and they started to drill 2 cm next to it. But nothing is straight in our building, no ceiling, no wall - and not the water pipe for the ceiling heating system we have.

On Friday, the next craftsmen arrived. The floor tilers. They did not arrive as announced between 7.00 am and 7.30 am. They came at 9.00 am. And without the boss who was introduced to our renovation project. When I explained our bathroom plan, I had the impression that they were not much impressed. They were taking the two chairs that were standing around and started their snack time at 9.30 am. While they were not causing any noise, dirt or damage it made me nervous nevertheless as the actual working hour rate here in the South of Germany is around 43, 46 Euro plus 19% VAT !

And this was not all for the week. On Saturday at a Christmas event at our golf club I was in the middle of telling my adventures, when I spotted a man that looked very much like, but this cannot be?, like my floor tiler from yesterday. He did not look at me and I was really not sure, so I decided to wait until Monday when he shows up again. On Monday he smiled and when his colleague was not listening I asked him if we have met on the weekend. Indeed, it was him.
No wonder, my bath is so expensive...


  1. Hi Suzie, great fun indeed, there is one English word you did'nt try, eg 'cowboys', ie 'people that call themselves tradesmen, but make more damage than they were employed to fix'. If this is what happens when you are next door, imagine what goes on in our projects in Italy, when we are not around, it scares me to think, and we pay for it! anyway, continued good luck in ALL of your projects. Ian

  2. What a disaster and what a coincidence - My joiner hit a water pipe the other day. He was putting a bookshelf above my desk and suddenly the water started to spurt out all over the dining area. We all ran around like headless chickens while the joiner stood with his finger on the hole. I felt so sorry for him because it was the hot water pipe. We turned the water off, drained the system and I was astounded to see so little water considering the noise and the spurting earlier. WHY DO WE DO IT??? :)

  3. Oh my gosh Suzie, what a tale! From your descriptions, I felt like I was there with you experiencing the drama. And what a funny ending, bumping into the floor tiler. Jane T.

  4. Happy 2009 (I have written a post on how to survive it)