From Negative to Positive

Today started as any ordinary holiday Monday – GREAT! I woke up with a surge of energy (and a couple of Advil to help kill remnants from the night before) and mapped out a long-awaited route towards one of Berlin and Brandenburg’s many lakes. I decided I would be adventurous and sign up for a car on the DB’s Flinkster Car Share program.

Lovely view of Muggelsee from our outing

The program works like this – you decide you want a car, you go online, type in your time frame, they tell you where cars are available. A couple of small details are that a) I don’t know how to drive stick (very un-German of me!) and b) all automatic cars are electric. Theoretically, this doesn’t pose a problem for me. I don’t care if it’s electric or gas or whatever, as long as it works!

When I first signed up for the program, I opted for the 10 EUR a month option since it almost halves the price of the rental once you take it. So I have now paid 10 EUR for the last two months…for a car I have never been able to rent! Why is that, you might ask? Why throw away money? Well funny story, today was the THIRD TIME I have tried to rent a car using my glorious car share program – the first time they said there was a car available and there wasn’t, the second time they called me a half hour before I was meant to pick up the car to be informed that the last user was unable to plug in the car properly to charge and so there wasn’t sufficient battery life to take it out!

So here we come to today. I pick my poison (Muggelsee out in Berlin’s former East) and then my company (lovely Carrie from the office) and I go to pick up my car which is just 2 blocks away from my apartment. I was really excited to see how the program worked, as I keep hoping small, inconvenient things may get easier once I have easy access to a rental (for about 2-3 EUR an hour!) So I arrive at the car, a little nervous and a lot excited. I unlock the doors (using my key card and an electronic pad in the front windshield) and I remove the electric plug from the “gas tank”.

One of the many benefits of living in Germany is that everything is in German. So sometimes you understand, and sometimes you don’t. This time, I didn’t! I get into the car and see the gas/electric tank symbol flashing. This does not look like a good sign, so I decide to call Flinkster to make sure what the symbol means and to see if I should be concerned about driving the car. The woman on the phone assured me that if the symbol was not red, it was nothing to worry about and I could take the car out. Having never driven an electric car before, and being grateful for the advice of this professional, I decide it is okay to head out and go to pick up Carrie.

We then plug in the address of the lake into the GPS (I chose the British woman since I thought she would be the most fun to listen to on the road,) and we take off down winding roads heading East. After feeling accomplished and brave (from Carrie’s praise that taking this car out was, in fact, something to be proud of,) I suddenly feel the accelerator stop working and the energy drain straight out of the car. Luckily, we weren’t on a very crowded street and I quickly made my way to the right side of the road to park the car whose life had just been drained out of it. Then I looked at the dash and saw a small, friendly, red battery light come on, (a little late, thanks!)

As I had originally suspected, (lesson learned for the 100th time in my life to listen to my instincts!) the car had not been properly charged and the battery flat out died while we were on the road. This does not happen in cars run with gas! Well, maybe it does, but if you have two wits about you you check how much gas is in the tank before you go on a long drive!

I called the company to report the problem, trying to keep my rising frustration and anger under control – and am told that I can call emergency road side assistance, go with the technician to the station where they need to recharge the battery, and can then take the car back on the road, (keep in mind it takes 3 hours to charge one of these babies.) The alternative, I was informed, was that they could call the service for me instead. And that is when the “cool” in me drained and I became one of those aggravating people who take their life’s frustrations out on innocent customer service rep.s. Except that this one deserved every little bit he had coming to him!

I can’t even begin to describe the anger I felt as I tried “calmly” explain to this idiot well educated individual that I had called their technician to check the status of the battery, was informed it was okay, hit the road, and that this was in fact not my responsibility nor my problem. After being denied a Flinkster employee to come retrieve the car and wait with the Emergency Road Side Assistance, I told them I would simply leave the car where it was and abandon ship. They had already ruined enough of my day and I was not about to waste 3 hours of my time waiting for them to fix a problem I had no part in creating. They told me I could not do this.

Somehow, after about 20 minutes of venting my anger and explaining what a terribly run company they worked for, I was asked to hold on “to get a representative who could speak better English” and suddenly a new option emerged to remedy the situation – I could leave the car where it was, put out a warning roadside triangle to show the location of the car, and Flinkster would cover the cost of a cab to my destination up to 15 EUR. Not such a bad turnaround for German Customer Service, (why hadn’t that been an option to begin with as I was surely not the first rental customer this has happened to.)

All in all, the morning was a mild disaster, but swayed by Carrie’s positive attitude and our desire to find a slice of sunshine by a lake, we called a cab to come whisk us away to a happy place called Muggelsee.

The day ended successfully, at least!

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