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The Diary of Our House And Barn Projects

May, 2005



May was a time of real planning. We now OWNED our Bavarian farmhouse, but the work was just beginning.


May 1

There wasn't much we could do at our own old house, so we looked for inspiration elsewhere. We drove a couple valleys over, to the town of Bad Windsheim, where there is a museum area with lots of "Frankish" or "Franken" buildings. (Our part of Bavaria is called Frankish or Franken Bavaria, reportedly named after French religious refugees from the early Middle Ages.)

A key feature in our new home will be the tile fireplace ("kachelofen") in the middle of the living room. These wood-burning stoves provide a slow, even heat by using the heavy brick walls to store energy, releasing it for as long as a day after the fire has gone out.

This example from Bad Windsheim is a simple kachelofen, with drying space above and below. I suppose we'll be tempted to have something more ornate, but this one seems more utilitarian, and hence more historic?

By the way, our house has a couple doors like the one shown here, including a big old thing that the "Monument Protection" (Denkmalschutz) expert says is our oldest. As rough and rustic as it is, we will need to find it a place.

I don't think we'll have an "historically-correct" (HC) kitchen. Cooking with wood just doesn't seem worthwhile! The cup-boards look pretty cost-effective however.

The yellow tiles on this floor are like the ones we currently have in our entrance hallway. We plan to take them out, because they are so worn, but still, we'd like new ones with the same flavor.

Our bedrooms will not be HC either. First, we are opting for a real heating system, instead of a collection of fireplaces. Second, we'll have real, running water, not just hand basins. As for the wall paper, this piece of history isn't our taste.
Our house has doors, many exactly like these. Old German houses had small rooms and plenty of doors. We are removing four or five doors in the course of opening up our ground floor. I hope we can continue to use the best of our old ones.

So, plenty of new and useful ideas.

May 5

Before we started these house-only pages, I wrote a diary summary so here's the link.

May 6 through 9

Axel sent us sketches, primarily to explore kitchen and bath arrangements. We needed to settle on a floor plan relatively quickly, because the contractor's job of digging depended on where we would place the pieces that use power, water, and sewer connections. For me, this was a fun period because it allowed me to think like an engineer again, something that's almost disappeared from my professional life.

We also needed basic plans and drawings to serve as the basis for approval by the Denkmalschutzgesetezes. These are the people who monitor the rebuilding of "historic monuments", and, at 240 years old, our house comes under their perusal. We had been warned of the difficulty in getting this approval, but so far, so good.

May 10

As promised, within a few days of signing papers, Dr. Eue mailed us statements showing where to wire money. The only sales-related costs were his fee, less than 1%, and a 3.5% property tax.

First, I transferred dollars from our U.S. bank account to become euros in our German account. Then I did the euro wire transfers as requested since American-style checks are not used here in Germany.

I had transferred enough to cover the house and the first improvements and got an exchange rate just a bit below 1.30 dollars per euro, better than it's previous peak at 1.36. Of course, within a week or so, the exchange rate dropped to 1.23 and it was hard not to think about the several thousands of dollars we'd have saved by a later transaction. Fortunately, there will be plenty of need for future transfers.

May 14

We spent a whole morning at IKEA. The main goal was to try and see if a store-bought, self-installed kitchen might work. Of course, as we walked along the required serpentine IKEA shopping path, we were reminded at every bend of something else we would need. This might be fun, if we had just won the Lotto, but for now, it's just another chore. We did find some possibilities for relatively inexpensive kitchens however. We hope to join some inexpensive items and some custom work to end up with a stylish, yet affordable, kitchen. We'll see.

We also sent out emails requesting prices on a kitchen range we had seen earlier and fallen in love with, an Italian ILVE six-burner (gas!) with two electric ovens. This will be a real luxury after almost seven years of the small, four-electric-burner, European models we've had in Frankfurt and Kiev. This will be a bit of a splurge, but one we have counted on.

May 21

We've signed all the papers and paid all the money so now we got the last key. Mr. Werner came by and handed over the ancient but still functioning chunk of steel. It's not something that fits modern pockets, key chains, or purses.

After that, we had a marathon meeting with Axel. He had gotten basic approval from the "Denkmal" folks on the 16th, so we were free to move to more details. The limits imposed by them match reasonably well with our own ideas. Mostly, the outside of the building needs to stay as historically accurate as possible. Windows need to look like ones from that period; doors and period hardware need to be reused if possible; the outer shape of the building needs to remain. We got tentative permission to add a gable on the back to make the attic useful. (In the end, we scratched the attic for economic reasons.) Axel was delighted at having avoided the sometimes-difficult restrictions on maintaining all interior walls, including original plaster and keeping the historically accurate, but hopelessly impractical, flooring system. (Boards on dirt!)

We specified details for the electrical system. It was strange, saying where outlets and switches and TV connections should go. There certainly was not much historical in the house to guide us. We need to bring an 18th Century building into the 21st Century, with power, lights, TV, phone, and, of course, a computer network. (I still don't have faith that "wireless only" networks are sufficiently reliable.)

We also talked about the "standard architect contract". We've come to discover that the role of architect here is more than is often found in U.S. remodels. Here, the architect does both the design work and the work we would associate with a general contractor. There is a standard formula for how much the architect gets for each of the seven to nine steps of a project, based on a percentage of the project costs. I still don't understand how it works at this stage where costs are so unknown. Another thing that will work out, I suppose.

May 22

Today we layed out the kitchen. This was fun. The idea was to measure the actual space and put boxes and cardboard in place of cabinets and counters.

Here's where we start. Imagine the hall coming in at at the same level as the kitchen, instead of down those stairs. (The door, the oldest in the house according to the Monument expert, will be cleaned up and placed on a sliding track.)
The short wall next to the entrance will have the refrigerator and some cabinets and counter space. Then there will be a small pantry through that wall with the brown door. Currently, that's into the space occupied by the outhouse. Further up that wall will be the ILVE range and the start of a counter coming out from the wall. The brown-door wall will be cut away to provide more openness - and a way into the room from the back door.
In the corner, we'll have a small (=tiny) kitchen office, just where the plastic chair is in this picture.
Here Marianne tries her hand at ... dishwashing, I think. The range is behind her, complete with an exhaust hood.
I tore down part of the ceiling, just to see what's there. Where I picked was not a pretty picture. This beam had been spliced and didn't seem to fit into our plan for stylish exposed old beams. Another solution to look for.

May 30

It's Memorial Day in America so Marianne had the day off and I swapped it for one of my earlier German holidays. This gave us a day at the house with regular working people. We had afternoon meetings with a heating system specialist, the municipal chimney inspector, and a carpenter. All in all, it was a day with good news. (Except I was so busy listening that I forgot to take pictures!)

The chimney sweep was happy with what he saw. He pounded on the bricks of our two chimneys and lowered a TV camera down the main one. We won't use the second chimney, except perhaps as a path for pipes between floors. There was a blockage in the main chimney, but his camera located exactly where it was and it looks like simple debris, almost at the very bottom. Everyone said "No problems".

The heating specialist looked at our preferred cellar location for the boiler and said "No way". It is just too short a space and the distance to the chimney is too great. The next choice became the attic. We looked and everyone agreed this was the place for the heater to be, although there will be extra expenses building a small room to protect the machine that will give us both hot water and heat for floors and radiators.

Finally, the carpenter looked at all the old wood floors, doors, and trim. He seemed confident that almost everything can be restored or reused. He explained that paint removal is now a pretty easy process, with improved chemical strippers doing the hard work. The upstairs bedroom floors are savable too. They will still be old and uneven, but they will remain, giving a feel for history with the locally-traditional "Franken parquet" pattern. We will reuse doors that we are removing in order to replace the one or two "new" doors that have crept in over the years.

Of course, no one talked about the cost of all this work. That news will come later.


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