I got locked out of the apartment again. 2C2E. I went to the Schlüsseldienst in Hagelbergerstraße, who knows me well by now. Ähm, ich bin aus meinem Haus geschloßen, ähm, leider habe ich kein Geld zuhause, ääääähm. He calls Christian (who has got me into the apartment twice before) but he is busy. He calls Esmond. Esmond can be there in 20 minutes.
I ring the bell at the building, hoping to reduce the number of locks to be picked. Hallo, hier ist Frau DeWitt, ich bin ausgeschloßen... Frau Finke buzzes me in. She says I should leave a spare key with her. I know I know I know. Esmond turns up with a bag that means business. We go to the apartment. I point to the lock. He asks for ID. Ähm, ich habe meine Fitnessstudiokarte? I pull out the card for my gym, Axxel, the only 24-hour gym in town, and you can pick up a free copy of the Frankfurter Allgemeine on your way out. I hand it over. He is unimpressed. He asks if there is ID in the apartment. Oh yes. He asks about the price, I say I was told 50 euros, I say, only there's no money in the apartment, I'll have to go to the bank, and he looks unenthusiastic. He opens the door. I go in to get my ID and my bank card. I show him my passport, I say, OK! (time to go to the bank)
Esmond [I translate] Aren't you going to lock it? It's really easy to break in.
HD: I don't think I can.
Esmond tries turning the key to relock the door, nothing happens.
Esmond: But it's really fast to break in.
HD: Well...there is another key, maybe some other time...
Esmond: But it's really fast to break in.
I go to the kitchen, haul out the key to the serious lock. Esmond tries it, something doesn't work.
My friend Ingrid Kerma used to tell me about German apprenticeships. In England, if you go to B&Q to buy wood, the salespeople know nothing about it. You ask them a question. 'Dunnooooo.' You ask another question. 'Dunnoooo.' In a German store, the salespeople know all about wood, they can tell you all about it, and they will not let you buy the wrong kind of wood -- because they have done apprenticeships in which they learned all about wood.
We now see the German apprenticeship system in action.
Esmond: Are you insured?
Yes, I say, not because I'm insured (are you serious? have you looked at these forms?) but because it looks like the easy way out.
Esmond says something, the gist of which seems to be that if you have a lock that can be picked in 2 seconds your insurance probably won't cover you. (If you are uninsured this will not be a problem.)
He looks at a hole in the floor, a hole into which a bolt goes if you use the good key. Since the key has not been used in over two years, the hole is packed with dirt. He gets to work with a screwdriver. He gouges out dirt. He gets a hammer and pounds the screwdriver, deepening the hole. Tries the key. Something still doesn't work. He takes the screwdriver and gouges dirt out of the hole above the door; dust pours down. Tries the key. Something still doesn't work. Gets out the old WD-40. Spraaaaaaaaaaaays the motherfucker. Tries the key. Back and forth, back and forth, alles in Ordnung, wow!
He makes me lock and unlock the door five or six times to ensure that the owner of the key can operate the key.
I don't have the heart or the German to explain that if you are the sort of person who gets locked out of an apartment on a regular basis, the last thing you want is a lock that is hard to pick.
My German is even less up to an ad hoc discussion of existentialism. Every time I get locked out of the apartment I think: I could get on a train, never come back, how good that would feel.
We go in his car to the bank. Which bank? asks Esmond. I explain that we can go to any bank because I am using a card from a British bank. Esmond tells me I should have a German bank account. I do have a German bank account, I explain, ich habe ein Postbankkonto, but I have just been sent a new card and I have not been sent the new PIN. We pull up and park by a branch of Deutschebank. Bourgeois to the core, I think all this hypererogatory effort should be rewarded, I offer an extra 20 euros for sorting out the good key and getting it to work. (Since Ilya is a Nietzschean Bataillean socialist, one very good thing is that my mismatched co-scripteur is not here in the hour of shame.)
I do think hypererogatory effort should be rewarded. The things the lock protects are not things I care about very much, but I was touched by this workman who knew what he was doing and wanted to see a good lock and a good key put to use.
When I hire a lawyer or an agent or an accountant, when I negotiate a contract, I think I am putting in place something like the lock that a German Schlüsseldienst thinks is a good lock. Es ist ein gutes Schloß, says Extremely Fabulous Esmond.
Here's what interests me. EF Esmond doesn't know me from a bar of soap. He isn't 'passionate about my work', to use a favourite phrase. What's more, he has absolutely no reason to think there is money to be made from getting the good lock working and getting his clueless customer to use it. He just HATES to see an apartment open to the first thief to come along. He doesn't know about books, but he knows about locks. He wants the customer to use a good lock.
Nicht zu fassen. Unbelievable. Even if there is money it, it's a rubbishy 20 Euros. Whereas, [have suddenly remembered a comment by Virginia Woolf on H G Wells, how tiresome he was always talking about the business, how right she was, OK]
After EF Esmond rode off into the sunset I realised that using the good key should not present a problem. I could lock the door with the good key only if the key and I were both on the same side of the door. Also, if I left a spare copy with Frau Finke there would be no need to break in. So I went downstairs and gave a spare set of keys to Frau Finke.
So schönes Wochenende, Extremely Fabulous Esmond. Vorsprung durch Technik.