Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Bang Bang Bang

That's what woke me up this morning. Some guys with hammers knocking a wall apart about 200 ft from my head. No idea how long this one'll last, but nearly every week I've lived here -- and remember, that's 11 years -- there's been construction around me.

What I've found out, though, is that you can demand something called Mietminderung from your landlord, a reduction for the inconvenience. Apparently landlords and construction companies have insurance for this, so the landlord gets something from them, and you get your rent reduced. I wish I'd known about that when I first moved into this place, because there was work being done on this house seven days a week for over two years. The landlord, his mother, and his father, all banging away on things. In fact, they're pretty much compulsive builders even though they don't even live here. They'll happily come in from suburban Düsseldorf to tear stuff up. I say "they," but the old man got liver cancer and died a couple of years ago. Now it's just the landlord and his mother.

The compulsive work got me robbed, too. He insisted I needed a door in the rear of my ground-floor flat so I could go use the garden out back. I told him I was happy without it, but of course he wouldn't hear of it. He was going to put in some stairs, but two years later they haven't appeared: I have to sort of haul myself out the window when I go into the garden. He did, however, use the cheapest door he could find -- this seems to be a feature of most of the construction in this house -- and as a result, a kid popped it with a crowbar and snagged my laptop, my good luggage, and a bunch of currency which mostly wasn't any good. The smashed-up door got replaced with what I guess is a better one.

But when the house next door got renovated, I lost it: the houses on both sides of me underwent complete gutting and restoration over the years, and when someone told me that Mietminderung existed, boy, I went for it. And I got it, albeit not that much, and way too late. The money ran out on the renovation just after they got one building finished and the hole dug for the underground garage. It's now filled with rubble and detritus, and the billboard out back announcing a second building for this spring has faded and is covered with the branches of the trees growing next to it.

Still, there's another house across the alley that's had big old bubbles appearing in its paint job -- and by big, I mean about five feet long. This same house has dribbled bits of concrete onto the sidewalk on Torstr. over the years, to the extreme displeasure of the Turkish guys in the Döner Kebap stand, so I guess someone didn't do a very good job. Now they're banging it off bit by bit, and a couple of times today a cloud of yellowish dust, picked up by the wind, swept past my window.

The problem is, these workers start between 6:30 and 7 in the morning and don't seem to understand that others may not share their schedule. In fact, few don't, but few of my neighbors do business with the West Coast, where it's nine hours earlier at any given time. I remember when the house next door was being worked on, the foreman was named Ulli. I know that because my landlord hired him to put in the new door, for one thing. I also knew it because one of his workers drove in every morning at 6:15 in a car with glass-pack pipes and heavy metal throbbing on the sound system, opened the doors (without turning off either the engine or the music), and announced "OOOOLIIIIIIII! BIN HEEEEEE-YAH!" Dunno why he couldn't just walk up to Ulli and tell him. Or why Ulli couldn't hear the goddam music. Everyone else in the neighborhood could.

But, given the early start, there's an early end. Usually around 11. That's when they start to drink. I remember when I lived in the hellhole in Wedding there were construction workers who'd start passing around a bottle of vodka at 10. That was lunch. Then work was over, although they hung around for many more hours, drinking and talking. I'd just be getting out of bed at 10, so it was a horrid shock to see them already squanked as I was waiting for the coffee to brew.

And I'm afraid I'm not in a very good bargaining position for Mietminderung, being eight months behind in the rent at the moment. So I'll just have to get used to the shock of being hammered out of bed for a while longer.

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