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Ask Hans-Torsten: Lord of the Ring

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

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

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: Can I ride all the way around the Ringbahn with a single ticket? It’s impossible to figure out on the S-Bahn or BVG website. —Freddie

A Dear Freddie: No, you can’t. You can travel up to 120 minutes in either direction, getting off and on the train as often as you like. But as the S-Bahn website and ticket machines spell out, round trips are not permitted with a single ticket, though they were back in the 1990s. So how far can you travel exactly in one direction on the Ring? I called the S-Bahn hotline and the lady told me “up to one station before the station you started.” So, if you’re in the mood for a sightseeing circumscription of the city, you’ll have to get a day ticket, or get out and walk before you reach your starting point again… or just risk staying on the train for one more stop (and then play the clueless tourist in the unlikely event that a ticket checker appears!).

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: After subletting an apartment for two years where the Hauptmieter paid the TV licence (whatever it’s called), I recently moved into my own place. Shortly after that, I began receiving letters demanding hundreds of euros to cover the entire time I’ve lived in Berlin, despite only being eligible to pay from the date I moved. I have sent proof of my address and the name of the bill-payer to the TV Licence people but so far this has been ignored and I have continued to receive payment demands for the full amount. What do I do?— Sam

A Dear Sam: You’ve brought up one of the classics. “What is this Rundfunkbeitrag (“broadcast contribution”) bullshit?” is a question often heard from newbie expats. One extra headache on top of all that health insurance mess the clueless young foreigner often gets him or herself into upon opting to take the leap and make Berlin their home. You’re a step beyond that. I don’t have to explain to you the concept and historical roots of the TV licence, or that for a few years now all households have had to pay the €17.50 Runkfunkbeitrag, whether or not there’s a radio or TV. After all, we can now consume public broadcasts of German soap operas, Schlager concerts, game shows, Olympic sports and, it must be said, some good journalism and arts programming (I recommend Deutschlandfunk radio or the 3sat TV channel) with any device connected to the net. Anyway, with only one Rundfunkbeitrag necessary per household, you shouldn’t have to pay for the time in the sublet. It’s lamentable that an organisation that collects €8 billion per year can’t off er better customer service. I guess that’s because we’re not really customers if we’re forced to pay – but that’s another matter. My advice: get your most “German” German friend to call them up (0180 6999 55510) and not let them off the hook till they admit they screwed up. It might help to have the Rundfunkbetrag account number of your previous landlord at hand. In case you haven’t noticed yet, paper evidence is king in this country.

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: My partner and I recently bought a flat in Berlin (we’re American). Last summer – just as we were preparing to furnish it and put it on the rental market – it suffered a bunch of water damage thanks to incompetent construction workers building a penthouse right above it. The building management company said they’d fix it right away, but it’s been four months and they’ve barely made any progress. We’re dealing with a lawyer, who’s asking their insurance company for a compensation amount equivalent to the money we could’ve earned in rent by now (some €800/month, according to the Mietspiegel). Do we have a case?— Henrietta

A Dear Henrietta: Sue, sue, sue!!! Kick that lawyer in the butt and get him to work for you. You have a clear case for damages (Schadensersatz) since you demonstrably cannot use the flat yourself or rent it out because they damaged your property. You should be able to prove you are losing money because of the building company’s actions.