there are rules: banking in Bonn


The last two days involved a series of attempts at German banking.   As you may surmise, dear reader, by writing from the same city in Germany, three days into the Mongolian adventure, something has not happened according to plan.  I should be in Prague by now.

The Panda was not only sad, it was dying.  The Germans explained to me that I must have purchased “a Monday car.”  At the low point of the trip, a mechanic with no English, as an attempt to communicate, made the sign of the cross and performed last rites on it, and told us it would be three weeks to repair.  As Jason understands the mechanics of the situation better, he may opt to explain this himself at some point on his blog.  The failure was quite impressive, but is being repaired by some very capable and friendly folks at a Fiat dealership (who will be visiting us next summer in Cleveland.)

Though, I am optimistic about a positive resolution which involves arriving in Mongolia in a month, there are two standing issues: the replacement part will not arrive from Italy until Thursday, and on that day, because the dealership does not accept credit cards, we need to pay in Euros.  Thus, My Adventure in German Banking!

Although famous for eating bamboo, Pandas sometimes prefer Euros.

After visiting over a dozen banks in two cities, I began to theorize that German banks do not actually have any Euros.  Upon entering, there are always pools of ATM’s, and then a second glass door, where you queue up and wait to step up to an informal mini-desk, often glass or plastic and fairly transparent.  You do not step up to a big opaque desk, providing a barrier between you and all the cash– instead, you stand next to the bank teller, as if you were a friend, so you usually you can both look at the same computer screen.   There are no signs of a mammoth safe, no guards, just glass, plastic, some computers, sparse transparent furniture, and mostly smiling employees.

Why is this?  I suspect because there are no Euros to protect.  All the money is in the ATM’s.

This anti-currency configuration poses a problem when one is looking to withdraw more than a couple hundred Euros.  I found that the credit card I am depending upon, despite a significant upward ceiling on total credit and withdrawals, no charges, and a fair conversion rate, limits me one to $200 per day in cash withdrawals.  At that rate, I would be delayed significantly longer than it will take for the parts to arrive from Italy and with the recent game of Russian roulette with US credit worthiness
happening back home, that $200 will get me less and less each day… unless I wait past August 2nd and debt ceiling problem is resolved in a way which doesn’t involve global financial chaos as the United States experienced what went so well for Cleveland, Ohio in 1978. Between the visit to my first bank and the fourth bank visit—the cost of my repairs appeared to increase by several
percentage points due to the falling US dollar—thanks Speaker John Boehner!

After being turned down with my VISA card and sent to the bank of ATM’s five times and with the dollar falling, I tried everything.  I discussed opening an account at Deutsche Bank to facilitate a SWIFT wire transfer—no luck.  I tried speaking German and then tried only English.  I drew diagrams and wrote key German phrases down to hand them (figuring that without Euros, this didn’t pose a threat.)   I tried various cards and accounts, numerous calls home, and in one instance, was even able to login to show what money was available in my account at my bank at home.  Standing side-by-side with the bank teller makes it a very collegial experience, pointing at the screen; it is almost like helping someone out at work, and we taught some words to each other.  That said, it always ended the same, most people seemed to genuinely help, but THERE ARE RULES, and I was gently pointed to the ATM’s or to another bank to try.

In desperation, I found the only Western Union in many miles, but fled, horrified by their rates– both in currency conversion and transaction percentages.

At the end of yesterday, when all hope was nearly gone, all options seemed exhausted, and most banks were closed, we had tried two separate cities and walked at least twelve miles, but at the last minute, we tried a small back at the train station–  this teller was behind glass and it looked tough, the kind of place with cash on hand.   After waiting in line for thirty minutes, I succeeded.  I simply gave her my credit card and passport and amount, she said “I’ll try it, but I’m not sure if it will work,” gave me a paper to sign, and voila!  Euros galore!

File this one under perseverance.  Now to time to plan the new route– sadly no Romania or Hungary, but we’re adding Poland.


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