Friday, February 5, 2016

Freiburg memories: my first car and German customer service (not)

Okay, this one is not going to mean much to very many people, but I found two slides of  my first car. In 1995, I bought a 1979 VW Golf diesel. Here it is, probably parked somewhere in St Georgen  (I had a friend who lived in Hartkirch, but I can't even remember her name) – and probably a bit too close to the intersection.

The car cost me 1,000 DM. But the insurance was a shocker – around 100 DM a month because I was a young driver with no record for the Germans, who could not get their licenses at the time until they were 18. I got my license in Mississippi 90 days before my 15th birthday because I had taken a safety class. By the time I bought my first car, I had been driving for around 12 years.

I bought the car in the spring of '95 and drove it to England for summer vacation (the year when George Soros weakened the pound, making the UK affordable).

When we drove off of the fairy and onto the island, the car suddenly began roaring, and the engine had little pressure. The pipe to the muffler had broken open. And it was the middle of the night.

We drove thundering through the night doing around 60 km/h on the highway. When we reached the Orbital around London, we stopped at a VW dealership that we found and slept in the car until they opened. The Englishman welded a piece of metal onto the pipe for us. When I asked him how long that would hold, he said, "forever." He didn't want any money, so I bought some new windshield wipers from him. The customer friendliness was astonishingly high.

When we made it back to Germany, I wanted to continue on alone to northern Italy to meet another group of friends, but I had a problem: some noise was coming from under the hood. I took the car to the dealership in Freiburg to show them that a hook holding the generator in place had come off, so the generator was bouncing around a bit. All I needed was a single hook to be screwed into place. The guy at the counter then showed me a 3-D explosion of my entire engine, which I could not understand at all, and asked me what hook it was. I told him we should go out to my car, and I would show him, but he said he was not the Meister, so he couldn't do that. I don't remember exactly how all of this ended, but eventually I had my new hook (I remember it costing me something like one mark) and drove down to Italy, possibly a day or two late.

The comparison of customer service between the UK and Germany very much impressed me at the time.

On the way back from Italy, I drove through France instead of Switzerland to avoid tolls (I was still young, with little savings). In Mulhouse, I drove into a torrential rain. Water was piled up on the street, and a power outage meant that traffic lights were not working. Fortunately, it was a Sunday, so the roads were basically empty. But at one of those intersections, a car that did not have the right-of-way continued driving. I slammed on the brakes to stop, but my car just slid along the water. I nailed the other guy in his left doors doing about 40 km/h. He was probably doing 60 in a 50 zone.

He jumped out and began screaming at me in French, "You killed my wife." In the car, a five seater, there were six people: him, a male friend, two adult women, and two children. Because he was so sure of himself, I wasn't sure of myself. The police arrived and had to saw the people in the backseat out of the demolished car while I watched. They informed the man that I had had the right-of-way. And no one had died.

My car would not move any longer, so the police towed me and it to some spot where it would be picked up and junked. I had to find a way to get back to Freiburg, some 40 minutes away, and I did not know anyone who owned a car, so I called a friend who might. Luckily, he was able to organize someone to come pick me up in the middle of nowhere. I packed up my camping stuff, put it in her car, and this was the last I ever saw of my 1979 VW Golf. The photo was taken while I waited for my friend's friend to pick me up. I did not buy another car until 1998.

1 comment:

  1. When I was in high school I had the same 1979 VW Golf diesel. I thought at the time it was a piece of junk, but it grew on me. When my friends were on their 2nd and 3rd cars, I was still driving my Golf. If I could find one today, I’d buy it in a second for my kids.