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Ask Hans-Torsten: Pay-to-pee, non-paying client and country bars

Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].

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Dear Hans-Torsten:

Living in Berlin for the last four years, I find it extraordinary that one has to pay for the use of public toilets. I’ve been told that public toilets are usually managed by private companies, therefore you have to “pay for the ticket”. Worse, based on the ferocious reaction you get from staff if you don’t tip them, you would think that they only earn their living by tips; wouldn’t they deserve more decent pay from their private management? It’s like entering into mafia territory. I’d appreciate if you’d help me understanding this, because I find it simply outrageous!  

 Puzzled Public Toilet Us

Dear Toilet User:

Agreed. Those ‘tips’ you give to the Klofrau or Klomann don’t go to the cleaner, but to a company that is probably paying them a tiny wage. Yes, it feels like the mafia, and the whole ‘pay-to-pee’ thing makes me ashamed to be German. But don’t let yourself be demoralised by this inhumane system. Hack it! Bookmark www.gratispinkeln.de to find dozens of free toilets while on the go. Most of it’s semi-secret, like that fact that there is a free customer toilet next to the fitting rooms in C&A on Alexanderplatz.

Dear Hans-Torsten: 

I’m a freelance proofreader and editor working in Berlin since last January. For the first time ever, a client is refusing to pay because she says my work was of poor quality. No client has ever said this before about my work, and I suspect she’s making it up to get out of paying. We didn’t have a formal contract, but the client approved the quote over email. What should my next move be? 


Dear Paige:

So you didn’t sign any contract or terms and conditions that the client sent to you, either? If no agreement was made with the client about the “quality” of the work (which is extremely difficult to prove or disprove with proofreading/editing) and you delivered the job on time, you should stand a very good chance of getting your money. If the client was unhappy with your work, it would have been reasonable of her to ask for corrections before completely denying payment. First, try to meet for a face-to-face chat and offer to make corrections. If that fails and the client hasn’t paid within 15 days, send a friendly reminder. If they don’t pay within 30 days, send a more aggressive reminder or Mahnung by post. There are plenty of free German-language templates online, and for €10, online legal services like www.sofortmahnung.de will send a reminder on proper lawyer’s stationary. If she still refuses payment, you can ask for a Mahnbescheid (court order) to be sent to your debtor. If the client rejects that, filing a lawsuit is your last resort. Try and get a real-life neighbourhood lawyer who can explain things face-to-face, even if the fees will be higher. If you are in the right, he or she should be able to get you your money and the non-paying client will have to foot the legal bill.

Dear Hans-Torsten:

Do you know a good Berlin bar or dive where they play country and maybe have some country bands? I have been to a couple of places my German boyfriend recommended, but they were a catastrophe – rich Germans dressed up as hillbillies. If you know any laid-back, unpretentious country places, I’d really, really appreciate it!


Dear Micki:

I apologise for the behaviour of my countrymen and women at locales like the American Western Saloon in Reinickendorf. Laid-back country dives? Slim pickin’s in Berlin, I’m afraid. The clubs that come closest are Bassy and Wild at Heart. Bassy, in Prenzlauer Berg’s Schönhauser Allee, is devoted to “music before 1969”. They don’t mean Mozart, rather Americana, including the occasional country act but nearly always leaning towards the rockabilly or retro rock. Ditto for Cortina Bob in Kreuzberg. Wild at Heart, also in Kreuzberg, is a punk club but usually has two or three raucous country-tinged acts per month with a bit of punk or hardcore in their twang. The odd rockin’ redneck has also been know to grace the stage of burger emporium White Trash Fast Food in Treptow. Hope you can handle a bit of cross-over, otherwise it’s back to line-dancing in the suburbs.

Originally published in issue #143, November 2015.