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Ask Hans-Torsten: SEPA and Waldmeister

Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin, like what SEPA is and demystifying the elusive Waldmeister.

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

Dear Hans-Torsten,

What the hell is Waldmeister and why is it everywhere?!

– Erik Z.    

Dear Erik,

A great many of you Ausländer, espe
cially Americans, are intrigued by the word Waldmeister because it reminds you of Jägermeister, which reminds you of college, where on any given weekday you would spend hours in your dorm room passing around a bottle of Jäger till you lost consciousness. You Anglophone Neuberliner find any word containing “Meister” so delightfully Germanic that you cannot help giggling when you attempt to utter it.
 But to answer your question: Waldmeister (“master of the woods” or woodruff) is a plant that grows on the forest floor with leaves shaped like a six- or eight-pointed star and pretty white flowers that bloom in late spring. In the Middle Ages it was used to drive away demons and witches and increase the appetite of cows. Real Waldmeister extract is still used in homeopathic medicine (to treat inflammation of the uterus), but the bright green Waldmeister ice cream (popular among schoolchildren), soft drinks, Brausepulver (sherbet powder) and that syrup you put in Berliner Weiße beer usually contain the synthetic 6-Methylcumarin – a chemical which simulates that sickly-sweet, leafy taste. Why is Waldmeister everywhere, Erik? To scare off all the devils lurking in Berlin!

Dear Hans-Torsten,

What is this SEPA thing my bank and phone company keep sending me letters about?

– Margaret

Dear Margaret,

We love Europe! We love it for its dream
 of a single seamlessly efficient economy connecting 516 million citizens. And SEPA (Single European Payments Area) is the
 next step in fulfilling this dream. What’s really great about SEPA is that it obliterates Germany’s childishly simple online banking system with its pesky BLZ and account numbers – and replaces it with an easy-to-use 34-character alphanumeric code, the IBAN, plus the fun and handy BIC code. The BLZ and account numbers will vanish by February 1, 2014 – from there on it’s IBAN and BIC and a better, faster world of banking
 all the way. If everything goes well, the BIC code will be abolished by 2016. Companies – like your phone provider – should have sent you a complicated letter about the SEPA “Lastschriftmandat” (direct debit) by now. All of these letters say: “Don’t worry about a thing. We’ll convert your bank details into IBANs and keep taking your money.” If you pay your rent by Überweisung (transfer), however, you will have to get your landlord’s IBAN number. Existing standing orders (Daueraufträge) will be switched automatically by your bank with 98 percent accuracy, reassures the Berliner Sparkasse. Truth be told, SEPA is more of a hassle for businesses than for normal people. For us, building a better Europe is fun and easy!  

Originally published in issue #122, December 2013.