Germany calling

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Looking back from the end of August till the time before Christmas, has seen us in the Bavarian Forest, made a middle European tour, down to Austria and back up through the South of Bohemia in the Czech Republic, visits to Dresden, twice in Bautzen and Zittau, again in Austria to a castle complete with a Princess, and every month Alena playing her „I’m also a Granny“ role in Munich with the twins. It does not seem to support my claim that I am living quietly here in Görlitz, a life of „House Arrest“ just staying at home.

Our second big Market of the year was in Greding in the Bavarian Forest, between Ingolstadt and Nuremberg and was unfortunately, after the hottest summer on record, the coldest and wettest week-end of the summer. The result was that every one was wrapped up in down jackets with their hands stuffed in their pockets and hiding under umbrellas. It was not a week-end where people wanted to buy Handbags. In 2 days we made the half of what we made in Gutau on one Spring day. That made us more than ever determined to sell in Internet, and for that you need a professional online shop. The last time Alena was on the payroll of the local government (Hartz 4 – unemployed in English) we were able to use the support for new self employed start ups. They pay 2500 Euros to get people off the unemployed lists and get you back in work. What the trouble is, is that it has to be used up in 6 months, in which time you have to have a roaring success. Never mind, after 5 years we are still going despite never running a profit. So this time back on the payroll, we went to the Jobcenter and asked for the money. The lady first gave us a coach, to put our business in figures that she could understand. With this coach we were able to convince her to finance a professional online shop. What helped her was a quote from an advertising agency of over 20,000 Euros, that when the coach said he had one for 4500 Euros the loan was given the green light.

That was then the 2 trips to Zittau where the Web Agency was based. The lovely legs of the web designer now adorn our new online shop dilians-taschen.de. It never rains but it pours, and in October we had not one, but three big bills and so we were down to our last 7 Euros, and a lot of house arrest. After the Greding Market disappointment, we came home with a car needing a new gear box, a bill from our accountant for her work on our 2015 and 2016 tax reports, the VAT payments for 2016 and 2017 and the 5300 Euro bill for our online shop. The advantage of the coach was that we now have a program for the accounts that cost only 60 Euros instead of over a 1000 Euros for the accountant, so that in future will be cheaper. All that is missing is money for advertising in Facebook. The shop is up and running with 2 sales of the smaller bags, so the future (as always) is rosy.

After the Gutau Blaudruck market we had visited Munich and while we were there we did a small outing to Salzburg, because the coach was not so keen that we just had an online shop. He wanted to us to sell our bags in shops as well. A lady in Salzburg had for a long time kept in contact with us, who liked our bags, wanted to meet Alena and had invited us to come to the shop. Unfortunately on the day we came, she was somewhere else, and so we met her mother. She was not so enthusiastic and only wanted to sell the bags when they costed peanuts. In Dresden we also had no luck when we tried shops for tourists and so we were able to win the coach over to concentrate on our internet shop.

In October there were 2 small markets in Bautzen, a small town about 30 miles from us. It is also a medieval town with towers and a wall, and the first market was an autumn market with the shops opening for Sunday afternoon. The town’s Sales Manager had told us to come and set up our stall at 9 o’clock in the morning, even though the shops opened at 13:00. At 6:30 on Sunday morning when we woke up we were not full of enthusiasm, but it turned out to be our advantage. Between 9:00 and 13:00, all the shops were shut, but there were a lot of tourists wandering around, and a bunch of ladies from Cologne bought the small cotton bags, and from a bus load from Austria a lady bought one of our more expensive bag. So the early bird caught the worm. Bautzen is in the middle of Lausatia, and in the 4th Century the Sorbs moved into the area. In Lausatia in recognition of the Sorbian language the street signs have 2 names as in the Welsh towns. Alena can understand what the Sorbs speak, like she can with the Poles, because the languages have the same basics as the Czech language. The second market was on the night of lights in the Sorbian Museum in Bautzen. In the town, the towers and buildings were lit up with light patterns, and the shops could stay open till 22:00. In Cottbus is a branch of the Sorbian Museum and they sell our bags there. In Bautzen we were paid an honorarium, a remuneration to take part, and also one of the colleagues in the museum bought a bag, The advantage we have at a market is when you sell one bag for 249 Euros we are very happy. Much better than selling 100 hot dogs, but you just need that one customer.

After the first Bautzen market we went on our Blaudruck tour, visiting the Blaudrucker near Gutau and the two in the Czech republic. We wanted to visit the other Austrian Blaudrucker, but with our financial restrictions he has to wait till next year. We had left 8 bags in Bad Leonsfelden Austria by the Blaudrucker and she had sold 7 of them. So that helped finance our tour but was not enough for Vienna and the other Austrian Blaudrucker. This year Blaudruck has been accepted by the UNESCO immaterial heritage list. We have been waiting since 2016 for this announcement, and so now our two Czech Blaudruckers are very busy. It makes our bags something special with the UNESCO immaterial heritage badge on top of a super product

Austria this year has been very good to us, with a very good market in Gutau, the Austrian Blaudrucker who sold all but one bag over the summer, and the customer in Bautzen. We were looking forward to the Advent day market in Weitra, another medieval town on the Austrian border with the Czech Republic. It was over 2 days and we stayed in a pension in the Czech Republic. We had covered our costs on the Saturday, and so on Sunday I was looking for that one customer. Last year we were in a pop-up shop in the town, and had seen the castle on the top of the hill. This year we got a place in the castle. While we were unloading our car, Alena noticed a lady who went from her car, a white Audi Cabriolet with a red roof, to work in a mulled wine (Glühwein) stall. She thought that maybe it would be better to sell mulled wine instead of bags. On Sunday we met the lady who turned out to be the castle’s Princess who was working in a charity mulled wine stall. She was doing the rounds, meeting the ‚peasants’and seeing what was on sale. She came to our stall, saw the bags and didn’t buy just one bag, but bought four. She needed Christmas presents for her friends. So once again Austria came up trumps. On the way home we wanted to stay on the main roads because there had been snow and ice rain during the day. Unfortunately there was a full frontal crash where the passenger had to be cut out of the car, so we had to turn around and ended up going through a forest over a snow covered lane driving at 20 mph. Luckily we didn’t end up like the last time we were driving in snow covered forests and had our Titanic experience. Away from the border temperature rose to 5 Degrees and we were able to come home safely.

After a year of being unemployed, we will be happy next April when Alena officially retires. It is uncomfortable to have to show all your finances to the Jobcenter, you have enough money to live, but not enough to buy for example a pair of good shoes. Any payments are taken into account and then your monthly payment is reduced. Germany have treated us much better than the stories I read about Universal Credit in England. I read a weekly blog from a young mother in Ashton-under-Lyne and so as a part of the Christmas spirit I’ll share with you her experiences of just standing once a week for two hours and talking to the people coming out of the Jobcentre. I have no idea what is going to happen in England after Brexit, but from this side of the Channel it looks like a few hard years are coming your way.

They have stopped my money I don’t know what to do. Universal Credit strikes again

Charlotte Hughes 13.12.18

It’s supposed to be the festive season isn’t it? The time of year when we’re all expected to drop everything, forget all of our problems and celebrate Christmas.

Christmas won’t be coming to thousands of people throughout the country though will it. Presents won’t be bought, toys won’t be wrapped, food won’t be bought, homes won’t be heated and time won’t be spent with family.

For those that reckon that I’m exaggerating then think again because I’m not. This is the cold, hard reality of life whilst claiming universal credit. The DWP (Department of Work & Pensions) shows absolutely no sympathy, the government even less so. They’ve got hearts made out of  stone.

Whilst I’m writing this blog someone that’s working and claiming Universal credit will come to the stark realisation that because their employer has been kind and paid them early for Christmas, they won’t be receiving a universal Credit top up payment in January.. Why? Because universal credit doesn’t take into account a four week month or an employer simply being kind.


Today’s weather echoed the atmosphere emanating from the DWP, it was freezing cold much like their souls, although I often wonder if they have one but that’s another subject. The cold weather did nothing to encourage people, and yes this does matter a lot.


As I approached the Jobcentre I was approached by a woman who I speak to regularly. Despite being skint she told me that she was doing well in her efforts to get better, it was nice seeing her smile.


We then took the food parcels out of the car. All five of them didn’t have chance to touch the ground. They were taken straight away and I offered some chocolate out that had been donated to me from a friend.

To be honest the food parcels went at a record speed which shocked me even though I shouldn’t be shocked. This happens a lot, too often and it shouldn’t be happening


A man that’s receiving help from the law centre in Manchester stopped me to tell me about his latest bad treatment from the DWP.

He claims universal credit and had been told by the DWP that he has to transfer over to the new system for his universal credit claim. He did just that, provided all of his ID etc and reckoned that he’d be ok.

He thought wrong, and he was told that it’d take five weeks to process…. Remember he’s already claiming universal credit and therefore shouldn’t have to go without money for five weeks. Not happy with this he visited our local citizens advice centre. Luckily they managed to sort it out and he’ll now receive a payment in two weeks.

Complete madness. No Christmas for him, absolutely nothing to look forward to. His claim should have automatically transferred over but it didn’t. Someone or something decided that his claim would be different. Universal credit doesn’t work and this is a perfect example of why it doesn’t.


I briefly spoke to a gent and I offered him a leaflet. He told me that he had thought that being on universal credit would be a short term thing only it hasn’t been and he’s fed up. Totally understandable.


I spoke to a woman that told me that she wont be getting her first universal credit payment until next week. Out of that she’s got to pay all of her bills etc and she reckons that she’ll be left with nothing.

If this carries on we’ll look back at Christmas and believe that its only for rich people, for people with money much like a private club. I despise the government for this.


I spoke to a woman that had failed her PIP assessment so had started the appeal process.


I then walked over to a young chap who was desperately trying to get through to the DWP on the phone. Yes he was stood outside the Jobcentre doing this because they no longer have telephones that claimants can use, nor do they make telephone calls on behalf of a claimant.

He was frustrated and understandably so, despite having no money he was forced to listen to that flaming Vivaldi music.

His story is this. He went through a relationship breakdown and had found himself homeless. Luckily he’s got a bed over night through the Andy Burnham scheme, but he’s still homeless and trying to sort out his money.

He said to me frustratingly that he had worked all of his adult life, had paid his national insurance and had also been in the army for four years. He doesn’t understand why the DWP wont help him when he’s paid into the system.

Of course he’s correct, they should be helping him but they don’t, in fact they don’t care less about him and everyone like him.


It was then when I was asked to help a woman that I’ve spoken to on a regular basis. She was stood in the corner of the Jobcentre entrance with her head in her hands crying. I asked her what was wrong and she told me that her money had been stopped because someone had told the DWP that she’s moved house. She hasn’t of course, she’s still living in her home albeit a cold home.

It really pisses me off that some people have seemingly nothing better to do than to report other people to the DWP and effectively ruin their life’s. I’m sure that some people get a kick out of it but I don’t. It’s cruel and as a result she’s without an income to feed herself and to keep warm.

Don’t forget it’s almost Christmas although like I said earlier thousands won’t be celebrating it so lets not forget them at this time of year, and every other day of the year. People are dying and until this stops I won’t stop either.

I can’t thank the team enough for coming along today, I bet they’re all still defrosting.

Please come and join us for our special Christmas demo next week. We’ll be handing out special Christmas food parcels, laying a wreath, making speeches and releasing doves in memory of everyone that’s died as a result if the governments cruel austerity regime.

Norman says there is always a touch of socialism in my letters so this story is really underlining why I will always support people who have little, and I firmly believe that when a government collects its taxes, it should use them to help its people who cannot cope.

Happy Christmas, a very big praise goes to Dora, we love you.

Much love, a lot of peace and a healthy New Year

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