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Between House And Barn Projects
The Diary of Our House And Barn Projects

April, 2008




Dear Families and Friends,


This page is "under construction". The barn is "under destruction".

April 1 and 2 , Re-application for building permits

On February 5th, I wrote: "If all goes well, approval will happen in mid-March, in time for ground breaking (actually, roof-breaking) as early as April Fool's day." Instead, on April Fool's Day, Axel was trying to pull together all the pieces so that the building permit application could be resubmitted. The historical preservation authorities have scuttled our plans and may not even like the new versions.

We have lost somewhere between two weeks and a month, at least. One worry has been the need to keep work slots with our primary builders, Mr. Nehr the room builder and Mr. Einbecher, the rough construction specialist. Both have experience with last minute delays, but both also need to keep their crews busy and can't wait forever. So far, we're lucky; they haven't put us back in the queue.

On April Fools Day, the permit chief, Mr. Reindel, apparently met with the preservationist, Frau Doctor Puffke. Puffke had the last word and continued to insist on a flatter roof line than we would like. I don't know if Axel pointed out OUR local barn research on the historical incorrectness of her position, but it's more about power at this point than about history. That's my view anyway. My powerless view.

On April Second, Axel got the word from Reindel and had to redo the permit application drawings - again. He also had to listen to me rant and rave about why this isn't the right thing to do - again. He replied with calm and logic - again. In the end, we agreed to the Puffke compromise, because to do otherwise would be to risk losing our builders and getting set back months.

With the ink still drying on the drawings, Axel ran to the hospital to get the "non-objection" signature from our neighbor. I wonder, did he have to learn bedside manners in architect school? Then it was another set of signatures with the Pommersfelden "mayor", Mr. Beck. Finally, Axel dropped the drawings off for Marianne and me to sign tonight. Marianne will carry them up to his office, first thing in the morning. After that, he will bring them to Reindel and we'll all wait. Patiently.

April 8, Plans and exams

It has been a week since the permit application went in again and it was time for another architect-client meeting. Under the no-news-is-good-news approach, we were moving to real project planning. Assuming that we get the approval in time, here's the plan:

-- April 25: (Mr. Slavco & team) Move our stored things from the construction part of the barn. This turns out to be less of a concern than we had thought, as we will still be able to use parts of the barn, although there will be a couple of weeks where there is no barn roof, so we have to be careful about what we leave there.

-- April 28-30: (Mr. Nehr & team) Remove the top part of the building. Thursday, May first is a holiday, so this is a limited week. Hopefully, the whole process can be completed in just three days: erecting scaffolding; removing asbestos roofing; cutting out the wood frame; removing the old beams; cleaning the top of the old stone wall. It seems like a lot, but Mr. Nehr's crew has a good reputation.

May 5 to 9(?): (Mr. Einbecker & team) Build the new, reinforced ring on top of the old stone walls. This is essentially building a foundation, 12 feet in the air. While they are at it, the crew needs to do several other small "rough construction" tasks, but the primary goal is the ring.

-- May 12 through 23: (Mr. Nehr) Build the new building: frame, floor, roof, tiles, outer wood covering, etc. This is the largest part of the whole project and, oh by the way, Marianne and I will be on vacation and even Axel will be gone for a good part of this time. This is when we will be absolutely dependent on Mr. Nehr's good work.

-- May 30: Marianne and I will return from the great wedding trip and see a new house next to our old one. Wow! I wonder if it will really happen.

The other news was Axel's estimate of the cost of the change imposed by the historical preservation people to a traditional roof: 7 to 8 thousand euros. Of course Axel just laughed when we said Frau Dr. Puffke should volunteer to pay for the extra cost.


The last effort for the day was an examination of the barn itself. Axel dug under walls and posts to see if the foundation was adequate. He also checked the ancient beams again, to see if they were salvageable. Overall, it seemed optimistic. The rot is not too bad. The rocks are a bit soft, but that's what local sandstone is. The place has stood for a century and a half and all we care about is a few more decades. Next week, Axel will have a session on-site with Mr. Nehr and Mr. Einbecker and that will set the final go ahead.


ps: We just got word that our loan has been approved. This is turning serious.

April 12, Emptying the barn storage
One challenge we have is that our barn has been a good place to store things, things that we probably should have thrown away in most cases. This weekend we started clearing out the storage areas, at least those that will be in the way of our various work crews. We managed to make quite a bit of headway by moving some things to the pig house (pigs have been gone for decades), down to the barn cellar, and into the garage, below the mezzanine. This last area will get worked on, but not until other parts are finished so we will be able to shuffle things here and there later on.
Or, we could get lucky and Slavco's team will just take everything away in a couple weeks.

Throw-away junk is piling up on the left.


Our storage shelves moved from the cow stall to the pig house, after having the top foot or so cut off. Pigs are shorter than cows.

The mezzanine shelf is almost bare.


April 14, Loan Signing

This evening we met again with Mr. Pickel and signed the loan forms. We'd had several days to look over the (German) contract and everything seemed in order. Of course we didn't really understand some of the details, such as when, how, and who we actually pay nor how we draw down the authorized loan money in the first place. Details.

After an hour of discussion, 95% in German, our uncertainty had diminished to the point of actually signing. Mr. Pickel was patient with our poorly formed questions and we now know that most of the process is automatic: we fax the loan bank a request for a specific amount of money and that loan bank wires money to our checking bank. That continues until the whole loan is disbursed. Repayment then starts automatically, in the month following when we have received all the loan amount, again prompted by bank-to-bank communication. There is an added wrinkle in case the whole loan isn't used in the first six months, but I think that is highly unlikely.

Our payments are fixed, except for annual opportunities to pay a bit extra as well as a pair of opportunities to decrease our repayment rate, "whenever you want" to "whatever you want". I guess maybe it's only the interest rate that's fixed but that suits us, because we honestly don't know where our world will turn in the next ten years, the nominal loan period. We have trouble with ten days, much less ten years.

Now, you might think our loan-arranging was over, but it's not. Soon, we need to go to the post office, with our passports, and have them sign a form saying we are who we are. Or something like that, I don't know. It seems like Mr. Pickel could look at our passports as well, but that just isn't how it is done . We also need to make an appointment with the Notary, Dr. Eue, to have the lien registered against our property. This too is a very routine, very formal process. After everyone has mailed in their paperwork to the loan bank, we'll be in business.

April 15, Builder planning

Axel came by to go over building planning with Mr. Nehr and Mr. Einbecker. Einbecker is the "rough builder" and will do everything that has to do with bricks and cement. Nehr is the "room builder" and will tear down the old topworks of the barn and replace it with the new, historically-incorrect-but-allowed upper story, atop Mr. Einbecker's wall-topping ring of bricks and concrete.

The consensus is that Axel's plans will work, essentially unchanged. Mr. Nehr questions one of the vertical posts and will do a little extra to reinforce its base. The other vertical post in the garage also gets vetoed, in this case because it hinders the new wall going in between the garage and the bathroom. And, most of the old beams that are the floor of the loft now will be removed and replaced with modern beams, with insulation and a wallboard covering. There will be one historic beam left in place, almost as much to keep an old flavor as anything else.

A half dozen of the other old beams should show up as cross-supports inside the loft area. This assumes the bugs inside them can be killed before they have eaten too much. I do hope we succeed in using the old material because it has much more character than modern wood. Character includes worm holes, I suppose, and also original saw and adze marks from when some were hand-made 150 or more years ago.

Most of this will happen while we are away, at least if the weather holds and the May holidays don't get in the way. Germany has three or four holidays in the month and it is never perfectly clear to me how many are inviolate holidays and how many can be worked (normally, not done). No matter, it is the weather that will play a larger role.

We will also start several small jobs:

-- Moving help. The builders decided that everything has to be removed from the barn. Marianne will ask neighbors for some temporary space.

-- Removing OLD straw. Marianne will also have to ask our farmer neighbor to come over and take away the layer of straw that has covered our "cow stall" for at least a decade. We're not sure if he can use it for anything, but at least he has the required state permits for disposal of agricultural waste.

-- Take down the satellite dish. We will lose tv in about a week and probably not get it back until summer since the dish is mounted on the about-to-disappear barn roof. Oh well, all we watch is news and internet works OK for that.

April 21, The Notar

When Americans think of a "Notary " or a "Notary Public", we think of someone who has obtained the right to emboss official papers and charge 10 dollars for saying we are who we are. I always wonder about that because they have no responsibility for the accuracy or meaningfulness of what we sign. It always seemed like a quaint ritual, kept over from Colonial days.

In Germany, it's different. "Notars" are big deals, or at least medium deals. They are actually members of the judicial system and they draw up all real estate contracts, including a type necessary for mortgage loans. Today, we met with Herr Dr. Eue to make the final step in our own loan process. We had first met him three years ago, when we purchased the property. Boy, that seems like forever ago!

Today, we were creating a lien on our property. The lien would be collateral for the bank who was giving us the loan. Now, there is some sort of obscure, but important, distinction between the contract between us and the bank and this lien, which seems to be a contract between us and the state that says the bank can use our property as backing for the loan. Two contracts, different parties, and for the one today, Herr Dr. Eue is actually an agent of the government, so he takes this VERY seriously.

Eue read each and every (German) word of the lien agreement to us. In most cases he then explained it in different (German) words. We nodded and convinced ourselves that we understood. (There may have been a part about serving in the castle dungeon if we fail to pay, but we do plan to pay.) Way back at the beginning, I had asked a real estate agent that helps our company if I needed any help with the notary process. He said no, Notars are like customs officers, no flexibility, but no problems either, as long as you do things his way. So, we did.

From here, the lien has to be physically written into "the ground book" and then the bank notified. That should take ten days, but I can tell we are on the last lap of this loan thing. Except paying, of course. Or dungeon service.

April 23, The Baugerust

Now, we're going to see real work: the Baugerust folks arrived today. "Baugerust" translates as scaffolding, but I like the German word because"Bau" translates as "building" and "gerust" as, well, rusty. And, scaffolding is indeed the rusty building surrounding our construction. Last time, for the house, it stayed on for almost a year. This time it is planned, and budgeted, for four weeks.

It really does make a difference. We have lost access to our back door.The space between the two buildings is so narrow that we worry that a tool dropped on the barn will go through a house window. Oh well, that's what insurance is for.

And, we are now graced with a nice sign, the first of several I believe.

April 25, Emptying the barn

Today started out with an early morning door bell, rung by the electrician. He was here to take away CNN. And everything else on our satellite TV.

The dish has to come down before the roof can come off, so we will be without live television for the next couple weeks. It's not such a big deal, since it should return by the time we are back in June, after our May weddings trip.

Tomorrow, the electrician needs to do a bit more work for the temporary power for the workers. Then we're ready for the big job!


The more delicate chore for the day was to move furniture out of our soon-to-be-roofless barn and into a neighbor's almost-perfect barn, for storage. We called upon Slavco, our friendly general labor supplier. As usual, he showed up on time and eager to work.

Moving went "as expected", that is, with minor problems. The couch was trapped in the Kuhstahl (cow stall) by the fresh Baugerust but everything else managed the move to a better place.

The other job for Slavco was to remove the straw from above the Kuhstahl. There was a mountain of ancient straw, mixed with 100-year-old dirt. This was a test of his smile, but he passed. And now we have a real, live haystack in our field. The idea is to hope it will decompose and make wonderful compost but its ability to avoid decay for decades can't be ignored. We'll see.

April 28, Real Demolition

OK, now we're doing things that change the face of Pommersfelden, at least our little corner. Today, Mr. Nehr showed up with his big truck and the amazing crane. The old asbestos roof cover came off, along with most of the beams and upper story walls.

From the front or from the back, it looks different.

The upper area is pretty much gone, even the bird's nest lost its roof. (Don't worry, the bird mom and bird dad left some time ago.)

The end result was a full dumpster and a barn full of chopped up wood.

Mr. Nehr does more than just tear things down. Here he is working with Axel to design the roof supports. Not exactly computer-aided graphics, but I bet it works OK.


An hour or two after everyone left, it was pouring down rain. That's OK, I just hope it clears up by tomorrow's shift.


So, once again, pray for good weather.


April 29, More destruction and a weak wall


Today, it was more of the same. The work crew examined for damage caused by yesterday's downpour and didn't find much, other than a lot of wet wood. Then they moved on to knocking down the last of the concrete block walls. Bucket after bucket had to move from "upstairs" down to the dumpsters. There was so much to get rid of that it was a Two Dumpster Day.

The highlight of the day was the drop and pick up of the dumpsters. Marianne took a zillion pictures. (I think we need a life.)

All this was accomplished with manual bucket loading and the radio-controlled crane. Hard work. Neat gadget.

I came home after work and met Axel who was consulting with Nehr about the next steps. It seems there is a problem with one of the walls. The removal of the blocks above had jarred enough that the general weakness of the top layer was revealed. Basically, there is no reliable top layer. Nehr advised stopping before he removes the floor beams for fear that it is the beams that are holding up the wall.

So, that's tomorrow's challenge. Axel will meet with Mr. Einbecker to see what can be done with concrete, brick, and stone to fix the problem. Axel wanted to reassure us that he doesn't THINK we'll have to abandon the project. Probably.

Stay tuned.



John and Marianne


Diaries - Travel

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The Diary of Our House And Barn Projects