Ein modernes, digitales Finanzamt

This blog is about the German Tax Office and is therefore in German. If you aren’t German, you probably wouldn’t believe that an organisation could be this disorganized anyway.

Vor ein paar Jahren war ich zu einem Treffen zwischen dem Finanzamt und den örtlichen Steuerberatern in unserem Teil Deutschlands eingeladen. Der Chef des örtlichen Finanzamtes stand stolz auf und prahlte damit, dass er eines der professionellsten und modernsten Ämter in Deutschland führe. Niemand lachte, aber niemand glaubte ihm.

Als Segler haben wir fast Alle, mit denen wir zu tun haben, erfolgreich auf “digitale Kommunikation” umgestellt. Meistens war es einfach, aber das Finanzamt hat gezeigt, wie schwierig eine Organisation es machen kann, wenn sie es wirklich versucht.

Das Finanzamt schreibt überall im Internet darüber, wie erstaunlich digital sie sind und dass du dich nur für ihr digitales System “Elster” anmelden musst.
Um Elster zu nutzen, registrierst du dich zuerst online und bekommst dann eine E-Mail zugeschickt, um zu beweisen, dass du es wirklich bist, und dann schicken sie dir einen Brief per Post, um zu beweisen, dass du es wirklich, ehrlich, wahrhaftig bist. Du brauchst gute Nachbarn, wenn du mit dem Finanzamt digital werden willst. Zum Glück sind Andi & Iris Experten darin, unsere Briefe zu öffnen und uns ein Foto per WhatsApp zu schicken.

Als Nächstes erhältst du ein digitales Zertifikat, das du niemals verlieren solltest und mit dem du dich einloggen und unter anderem dem Finanzamt digitale Nachrichten schicken kannst. Du lehnst dich lächelnd zurück und denkst: “Ja! Das war einfach. Ich bin ein digitaler Held.”

Ein paar Tage später schrieb ich unsere erste vollständig digitale Nachricht und sie schickten mir eine Antwort – als Brief. Daraufhin schickte ich ihnen die Umsatzsteuer, die ich ihnen schuldete, und eine digitale Erklärung für die Umsatzsteuer. Sie beantworteten dies mit zwei Briefen. In dem einen stand: “Ich soll ihnen kein Geld schicken” und in dem anderen: “Wo ist das Geld?” Wenigstens haben Andi und Iris nicht vergessen, wie man Briefe fotografiert. Ich schrieb ihnen eine weitere digitale Nachricht: “Wie kann ich euch davon abhalten, mir Briefe zu schicken und euch dazu bringen, mir digital zu antworten?”

Ein weiterer Brief (warum bin ich nicht mehr überrascht), in dem steht, dass wir Elster zwar benutzen können, um ihnen zu schreiben, sie aber nicht digital über ihr eigenes System antworten werden, weil “es nicht möglich ist”. ABER, wenn wir ihnen ein vollständig und korrekt ausgefülltes Einwilligung in den Versand unverschlüsselter E-Mails durch Finanzbehörden gemäß § 87a Abs. 1 Satz 3 Halbsatz 2 der Abgabenordnung (AO) senden, dann würden sie mit Emails antworten. Das haben wir natürlich getan.

Diesen Monat habe ich meine Umsatzsteuer bezahlt und die Erklärung digital abgegeben. Als “Dankeschön” erhielt ich einen Brief, in dem ich gefragt wurde, warum ich Geld gezahlt hatte. Andi und Iris zückten ihre Kameras und schickten ein Foto nach Singapur und ich schickte eine weitere digitale Nachricht mit den Worten: “Was muss ich noch tun, damit ihr mir keine Briefe mehr schickt?” Heute erhielt ich eine Antwort …

“Wir, das deutsche Finanzamt, sind nicht in der Lage, dir eine andere Antwort als einen Brief zu schicken. Wir haben keine Ahnung, ob und wann wir Sie jemals digital kontaktieren können.”

Das Schlimmste an all dem ist, dass die gesamte Organisation mit Steuern bezahlt wird. Wir brauchen keine höheren Steuern. Wir brauchen eine funktionierende Verwaltung.

The first week in Singapore

We are back in Singapore. We have been invited to house and dog sit here for five weeks. Five weeks in a beautiful house in the middle of the jungle with limitless warm water and a washing machine. When asked, we both considered the option for two minutes and voted unanimously for yes!

And now we have been here a week.

Every one knows about Singapore. It is a huge city of skyscrapers and wide roads and everything works perfectly. It is therefore a bit of a shock when you actually reach the island and find that it is really a jungle with a city integrated. There is nowhere that is not green. Even where something has been built, it is full of plants. The expressways have trees on each side and in the middle and are often built on stilts with the jungle continuing below them.

The buildings have plants and trees growing all over them. We learned that some people rarely leave their skyscraper as they can use the gardens and playgrounds that are integrated in to the building. They also have shopping, medical center and a “village square” with food stalls integrated.

This week we visited a multi story business center. Imagine a high rise block of flats over five hundred meters long and seven stories high. Then upgrade the lifts to carry goods, widen the corridors, add wide double doors into each unit and put a business behind each door. Add a few food halls with a variety of food outlets, a children’s nursery and a tennis court.

multi story business park

Behind the house is an old cemetery in the forest which is the perfect place to walk the dogs. Around every corner is a new and interesting set of graves as well as monkeys and monitor lizards. The animals are obviously of the opinion that it is their home and while they will back off to let you past, they are not going to run away. It is a bit unusual to pass so close to a family of monkeys who look at you in disdain or warn you off with a smile full of sharp teeth.

Bikes are our preferred method of travel, and there are some beautiful cycle paths through the parks, but the public transport system is incredibly well thought through. We have a bus stop about a hundred meters from the house and the buses come every five to ten minutes. They connect with other buses or the underground which takes you everywhere. When you get on you tap your credit card or phone and tap off with the same. The fare is based on distance traveled.

The first week has been great fun but we still have so much to see and explore as we learn about this tiny but incredible country.

Our photos are in our Singapore album.

The Glass Temple

We have sailed two thirds of the way around the world and seen many wonderful places and yesterday we added another one to the list. We cycled through Johor to the Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple.

The idea of building a complete temple out of glass mosaic was ingenious. Light comes from everywhere and when that is added to the sound of the prayer bells then the whole effect is a little overwhelming.

Our next stop was the Old Chinese Temple where they said a prayer for us and the Indian Center which had even more gods than the previous two temples put together.

After so many temples we cycled to the bike shop and agreed that all Heidi’s bike spokes would be replaced as they are popping one after another.

Our route is at AllTrails

Crossing the “Motorway”

The Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia is the busiest shipping channel in the world and most everything that passes through them then swings around the south coast of Singapore following a huge marine motorway called a traffic separation scheme.

every triangle is a ship and we are the red target symbol

As you can see in the screenshot above, the area is full of huge, fast ships going everywhere. It is not the perfect place to be in a small sailing boat and you get very good at calling ships on the radio to say “we are the little sailing boat being pushed along by the wind so please go round us.”

Once we reached the actual motorway the situation looked like in the following photo. I was watching the ships in the real world while Heidi was trying to decode the situation on the IT generated “radar” shown below.

The ships all keep to the right of the channel just like on a German motorway. They are all moving at different speeds but are trying to keep in lane or slowly overtaking like two lorries on a hill. And then we appear (we are the red boat). Theoretically the ships coming from the left should avoid us but they can neither change speed or course so that is academic. We looked for a gap in the traffic from the left and headed north. Unfortunately the red arrow ship from the left was very fast so we only just passed in front of him and that left us heading for a huge monster gas ship. We turned right to pass behind him and then accelerated north again to get just behind the right red triangle ship before a massive car carrier arrived.

We survived but we now have real sympathy with any hedgehog that ever needs to cross a motorway. And we never want to cross that traffic separation scheme again.

the huge monster gas ship with a few other ships to the left

Cycling is so dangerous!

We have cycled in 36 countries:

Czech Republic
Vatican City
Bosnia & Herzegovina
United Kingdom
Cape Verde

St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Antigua & Barbuda
St. Maarten
Saint Martin
French Polynesia

and today we were once again out on our bikes. And for at least the 36th time we were asked “But isn’t cycling here dangerous?” And, as always, we pointed to the fact that we have not had an accident involving another vehicle in all those countries. Although we have managed to crash without any external help a few times and destroyed a few helmets.

Cars kill people. They kill lots of people in every country. In Germany they kill over 800 pedestrians and cyclists every year. Walking next to the road is a risk sport but not as dangerous as driving in a car. Cars kill three times as many car occupants than cyclists each year.

We have definitely been lucky but actually the huge majority of car drivers take special care to try and avoid us. Maybe they see us as an endangered species or maybe they worry that hitting a tourist will get blood on their car and get the police involved. Whatever the reason we, mostly, enjoy our cycling even on the roads.

The absolute best is when we are away from the traffic on a bike only lane – as was the case everywhere last week in Singapore – but when we have to share the road, then we try to make ourselves obvious, clearly signal our intentions and smile at every one. It has worked until now.

Cycling to Singapore

About seven years ago I met Christine and Michael in Allgäu (Germany) when their Internet wasn’t working on Christmas Eve. When I mentioned that I was soon leaving to sail round the world, they mentioned that they live in Singapore and said “contact us when you get there.” So we did. And they invited us to pop over for the weekend. So we did. With the bikes.

We cycled along the highway and through the back streets of Johor Bahru until we found the immigration and customs facility at the Malaysian end of the causeway. There were extra lanes for motorbikes so we followed that until a sign said “foreigners and cycles here”. A friendly guy stamped us out of Malaysia and we followed the motorbikes across the causeway and in to the Singapore immigration. They were just as friendly and stamped us in to their country with a 90 day visa.

From the north of Singapore to our destination in the middle of the island we used no roads. We either followed cycle paths next to roads, bike paths that connect the various national parks or mountain bike trails. In the beginning everything was as we expected with perfect tarmac between a forest of residential skyscrapers. We stopped to buy a drink and the little shop in the residential area took neither Visa nor Malaysian money. I explained to Heidi that we could not buy a drink and a 73 year old Buddhist overheard me and gave us ten Singapore dollars as a present. The drinks were less than five so we tried returning five but he said “You need to eat as well. Keep it!” Welcome to Singapore.

The middle of the island. Immigration. Mountain biking. Our “coffee” saviour.

When we entered the park connector network the city disappeared and we entered “the jungle”. A few people but also monkeys and a few monitor lizards. It was strange to hear the city so near but be in the middle of a bamboo or rain forest. As we entered the “only for mountain biker” section we discovered why there is so much rain forest. After an incredible intro of thunder claps the rain started. We were soaking, the path was slippy and we couldn’t believe we were in the middle of Singapore. The monkeys were laughing at us.

We reached Christine and Michael’s house to be routed straight to the shower and then to a lunch prepared by their helper, Ganis. What a reception.

Green architecture off Orchard Road. Open air concert. The fall of Singapore. Coffee “at home”

We had agreed we were staying the weekend but then it became a long weekend stretching to Tuesday. They took us to an outdoor concert in the botanic gardens by Veronica Fusaro inclusive picnic, to the neighbors for a barbecue and a great evening and to Sentosa Island to walk the beach with the dogs.

We used the buses to reach Orchard Road and watch people spending loads of money on loads of stuff among stunning skyscrapers. We bought two coffees. We used the underground to visit the Fort Canning Hill where the kings of Singapore had their residence and later the British built their fort. Five days before, a new audiovisual display had started in the old British command bunker that focused on the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. It was very interesting and thought provoking but also disturbing.

The public transport is absolutely amazing. No tickets. Just tap on and off with your Visa card or whatever you have. The tapping is the payment but also supplies data about the load so that they can add transport as needed. Everything looks brand new and everything works. In the underground there are no drivers and a glass wall in every station with doors that align with the train and only open when a train is there. Totally safe. Wheelchairs can get everywhere and the information systems make everything self explanatory. You can own a car but only after you buy a hugely expensive permit that lasts ten years. We have seen how public transport should be but I don’t see Europe catching up while I am alive.

Our new friends in Singapore

We lived like kings with a constant stream of tasty meals and a selection of drinks. All we could do to repay so much kindness was cook a meal of Kässpatzen – a traditional Allgäu food – for our hosts and their neighbors on our last night.

On Tuesday we cycled back to Artemis. We took the non jungle route and didn’t get wet. Immigration was friendly again and the local drivers continued to treat us with respect and give us space as needed.

One of the locals watching us cycling past

Our route from Malaysia to Singapore is at AllTrails here. And here is the route back.

Touristen Sachen

Pulau Bawean

Hier auf Pulau Bawean haben wir unser Wissen über Reis mal absolut vervollständigt, denn als wir hier durch die Gegend gelaufen sind, dachten wir, was ist das denn für ein Getreide, das hier getrocknet wird. Jetzt wissen wir es, es ist Reis. Von den Reisfelder, übers ernten bis hin zum trocknen auf den Straßen haben wir hier alles gesehen.

Reis in den verschiedenen Bearbeitungsprozessen

Wir sind in Bawean zu einem Kratersee gewandert und eine Runde von 15 km bei 30 °C war mega schön, interessant und auch etwas anstrengend. Doch egal durch welchen Ort wir gelaufen sind, immer wurde die Arbeit liegen gelassen, um mit uns “Touris” einen Plausch zu halten. Die Menschen sind hier wirklich unglaublich freundlich und hilfsbereit, wir haben jedes Mal etwas zu trinken angeboten bekommen und jeder wollte natürlich ein Foto mit uns haben.

Pulau Bawean

Pulau Belitong

Nachdem wir hier in Pulau Belitong unseren letzten Stop in Indonesien haben, dachten wir, wir machen jetzt einfach mal auf Tourist. Wir schnappten unser Dinghy und folgten den ganzen lokalen Ausflugsbooten und schauten uns die besten Plätze hier an, unten hab ich ein paar dieser Traumstrände angehängt.

1000 engine hours

We are a sailing boat. So how have we managed to spend one thousand hours running the main engine?

We installed a new engine in February of 2019 in Martinique and in the last five and a bit years we have traveled 47 400 kilometers. And I am totally sure that we have sailed most of them but some how we have used the motor for 1000 hours.

Let us concentrate on the good news. We have “only” used 1900 liters of fuel so we are averaging 24 km / liter which is pretty good considering that we are taking our entire home with us every where we travel. And crossing the first half of the Pacific we managed 7400 kilometers on 4 liters so we are definitely capable of sailing.

A lot of the hours are because we have to run the engine to lift the anchor and the “experts” say that once it is switched on, you have to leave it on until the engine gets warm. Other hours are nosing gingerly in to coral filled bays where you really want to be able to stop and back out at a moments notice but the real “killer” has been Indonesia.

In the six months we have been in Indonesia we have used a quarter of those engine hours. The wind has been largely non-existent or against us. Even worse the current has been against us and while you can sail against the wind it is impossible to sail against a strong current.

But that is all behind us now. With Singapore just over the horizon, we are back to being a sailing boat and hope we never see 2000 engine hours.

Sailing with no engine on.

A quick trip to Germany

In Germany we own an apartment that is used as a holiday let. It has a south facing terrace but the guests were complaining that it lacked a decent sun shade and something to block the nosy views of passers by. We are sailors so the obvious solution was a sun sail (sails, coffee, WD40, wine & gaffer tape are mostly the solution).

The world is so crazy that it is cheaper to fly to Germany, install a sail and fly home than employ some one to do it for you. So – Artemis safely on a buoy, ferry from Lombok to Bali, fly to Taiwan, fly to Munich and get a lift (thank you Daniel) to the apartment. Only two or three days.

We had ordered a sail from Italy so we assembled it, discovered it didn’t agree with any of their drawings, spoke to the company on the phone, obtained their agreement that their drawings were wrong, planned everything based on the reality and started to dig four holes through the earth and plastic building rubbish. Luckily we tricked our sons in to digging one hole so there were only three left for us. And just as luckily the weather was dry and hot – I even got a sunburned nose!

Together with a builder, we filled the holes back up with 500 kg of concrete and left it alone for ten days to set.

Ten days in Allgäu. Guests round for breakfast, brunches, lunches, coffees and dinners. Out visiting friends. Lots of cooking. Cycling, walking and (for Heidi) riding. And a little bit of work to pay for all the fun. We even found time to write our will, get a new ID-card, sign a contract with a new client for Neill and a work contract for Heidi (starting 2026) and send off our tax returns – like I said, non-stop fun.

By the time the concrete was hard the temperature was back down to zero degrees Centigrade and there was snow on the ground which slowed things down enough to extend our departure by a week. With the poles screwed in to the ground and the sail rolled out, we managed two days of intensive testing with a terrace full of neighbors and then the same terrace filled with family. It all seemed to work as planned so we packed the spares for the boat and then it was Munich (thank you Michael) -Taiwan-Bali-Lombok and back home in time for the sunset drink.

In total we spent just over four weeks in Allgäu, four great weeks with friends and family. It was a fantastic holiday from the hard sailing life.

Four weeks and three seasons from the dining room window

Boating woes

We wrote that we were incredibly happy to reach Lombok after the adventure of trying to sail from Sorong to Lombok. We also wrote about how we took our bikes up in to the mountains to escape the string of breakages. And today we can report that we finally escaped from the mooring buoy off Lombok and reached the tourist island of Gili Air.

We wrote that we arrived off Lombok with only five days left on our visas, a broken traveller for the main sail, a none working marine radio and a broken anchor winch and water maker.

Day one: we delegated the visas to the marina which was very sensible as the supporting documents from Bali took over a week to cross from one island to another so “officially” we were visa-less for a few days. Luckily the locals “sorted something out” and it was all OK in the end. On the same day we found that Heidi’s front wheel had broken spikes but found some one to repair them. We ended up visiting him three times as spikes continue to break.

Day two:We dismantled the anchor winch, checked everything and sent the electric motor to an expert. I quickly logged on to my laptop to order some spare parts and it would not work. A few hours of playing with the boot menu and finally calls to an IT guy in Australia were wasted on that little problem.

Day three: decided to change the gearbox oil and the dipstick fell apart in my hand. Dug the remains of the thread out and asked everyone around if they had a spare. Finally ordered a new one from Yanmar and a better aluminium one from California – both express delivery.

Day four: received the winch motor back with the information that it was fine. Rebuilt everything and ran tests while measuring current and voltages. All fine but we think the main batteries are not holding their power,

Day five: refueled – from hand from 35 liter jerry cans. Definitely not fun but we are full of diesel.

Day 6: went to the zoo

Day seven. The salt water foot pump for the sink broke. Dived down below the boat but everything looked OK so dismantled the system and pushed a blockage back in to the sea with the bike pump.

Day 14: The promised dipsticks have not turned up. One is “somewhere” and the other one was stuck at Los Angeles Airport for a week. We built a dipstick replacement out of wood so that at least we can run the engine to test the anchor winch. The main engine is stuck in drive and we can not shift to neutral. Dismantled things, washed out salt water, scraped off salt deposits and it works. BUT when we ran the engine it forced the coolant out of the block.

Day 15: a few days of trying to diagnose the coolant problem. Maybe it is the pressure cap?

Day 17: New traveller car, new marine radio and other parts all ordered from a reliable supplier in the hope we have them by the end of April.

Day 19: Taxi to the big city to order two new batteries and find a new radiator cap.

Day 21: The new radiator cap doesn’t help so emptied all the coolant out, washed the cooling system with rain water, took out and tested the thermostat, ran more tests and think we found the fault.

Day 22: yesterday we found water with “goo” in it below the diesel filter. Dismantled things. Cleaned everything up and tested engine. Then we checked the salt water impeller and it was broken so changed that out and tested that and a “coolant loss prevention system” we built based on a tube and a yoghurt pot.

Day 22: local ladies dressed up for the festival of Galungan

Day 23: Both visa cards stop working. We can not withdraw any money! Tried a second bank no luck. Wrote to our bank who sent a standard “try again and tell us time and place” answer. Cycled back in to town and found signs saying the machine at bank 1 was out of order and bank 2 would not take visa. Bank three paid up.

Day 24: Our flag pole broke and our lovely flag swam in the dirty sea until Heidi found and saved it. The plastic dipstick finally arrived. We upgraded our yoghurt pot to a chocolate spread jar with a lid.

Day 25: We slowly motored the five miles to Gili Air while checking the coolant level in the jar. We did it. We escaped!