In March 2017 we popped over to Germany to get a gas safety certificate for our gas installation. The plan was simple. We’d nip in to the gas appointment at 8am on the Monday morning, make sure everything was legal, and then get the van MOT’d on the Tursday morning. We’d then spend the next 3 days having a bit of a holiday. Bish bash bosh. No worries.
….Oh how naïve we were. What follows is a dramatic tale of copper piping, olives, gas leaks, breakdowns and a LOT of stress.
Chapter 1: Off to a bad start
Picture the scene.
It’s 7.20am. We’ve left a good 40 minutes to get to our gas safety appointment. We make one last check of all the fittings. Things are looking good.
Off we go…
Knut turns the key in the van.
We hear a tiny whurr and then silence.
He tries again.
He tries again.
A fairly crucial part of the gas safety certificate is being able to get the van to the gas man.
Thankfully (slash unfortunately) this isn’t the first time this has happened and we’ve got the solution down to an art.
Knut takes a big hammer and crawls under the car to give the starter motor a whack, while I sit ready to give it a load of gas and get the engine going.
But this time our well-oiled machine doesn’t work. I turn the key, press the gas to no avail.
Time is ticking.
We only have 30 minutes to get to the appointment.
I try again.
“What were the terms of your breakdown insurance again Knut?” We start furiously googling. We’re too close to home and not covered.
We look at each other, “one more try?”
WHACK, I turn the key and VROOM. The van springs into life and off we go. Not the best start, but surely things have to get better from here?
Chapter 2: There’s a problem.
The gas safety man looks at our installation and furrows his brow. A torrent of long confusing German follows. I’m not sure what’s going on, but the look on Knut’s face says it’s not good.
Remember those horrible dreams where you go into your exam, turn over the paper, and realise you’ve studied for the wrong subject (you’re also usually naked, but that part of the metaphor doesn’t really work here…).
Well, turns out gas installations in the UK and Germany are very different. All of the kit we’ve put in doesn’t fit with his German testing kit. The hose is also illegal in Germany (the one we bought from a very legitimate British company). And, on top of that, he’s very confused with the copper pipe, they haven’t used copper pipe in German camper installations for about 20 years.
A lot of head shaking and pacing commences.
Knut explains our predicament. We’re only in Germany for five days. We need to get this gas safety certificate in time for our German MOT on the Tuesday at 9am, ready to drive the van back to the UK.
Gas man gives us another sympathetic shake of the head. We’ll need to pick up some new fittings and redo some of the installation. He doesn’t have any of the kit, but there’s a Yacht Builder in the area who might (they’re still using copper!).
It’s 8.15 by this point. We’ve got the whole day to get this sorted. It shouldn’t be too difficult should it….?
Chapter 3: Things are looking up….
The sail of a yacht looms in the horizon.
It’s 8.30 and we arrive in the boatyard (that is actually nowhere near water, go figure?)
We meet up with Herr Brandt, an exceptionally friendly and helpful man, who seems slightly confused to see a fire engine pull up this early in the morning. We are obviously not a yacht.
We show him our gas fittings and explain our situation.
“Ach” he says, shaking his head, “es ist nicht einfach”. Even I could translate that one.
He runs in and out of his office bringing back different fittings and trying them out. They don’t fit. He cocks his head and looks at our little bit battered, blue Calor gas bottle and gives an exasperated sigh. Knut translates, “He thinks these bottles should have been banned 20 years ago, he can’t believe they’re still allowed”.
He brings us a new gas bottle, and chucks in a new, more German friendly (legal!) hose and regulator. He also finds a long piece of copper gas pipe to help us fit it all together. We only pay for the gas bottle.
Things are looking up.
We’ve still got the whole day, and we’ve only got to get a few small other bits and pieces. He sends us off in the direction of a Motorhome showroom. They’ll have what we need, he assures us.
We get a bemused look when we mention copper. “Kupfer???” And a raised eyebrow.
We move onto the next showroom, where we get a much warmer reaction to our mention of the dreaded Kupfer. They have what we need! The day is saved…..
Chapter 4: I always knew I hated olives
It’s about 11am. We’ve made good progress. Things are looking up.
We pick up some tools we need and park up in the middle of nowhere for Knut to fit everything together.
The gas bottle goes in, the hose attaches…
I hear Knut say.
“What is it….?”
“Did we bring all the extra gas stuff?”
“Urm no, we didn’t think we’d need it….”.
“Fuck”. Knut replies.
Knut is standing there, gas fitting in one hand, copper pipe in the other, shaking his head.
“They don’t fit, we need a different type of olive”. (This is basically a small circular copper thing that goes inside the nut to help seal it…they cost about 20p).
This is a problem, a problem that rapidly becomes a bigger problem. Because of Germany’s aversion to copper, these simply don’t exist. We drive around frantically searching, and get an ever increasing number of bemused looks and raised eyebrows.
We drive back to Gas Man to see if he has any better ideas. Maybe he could just reinstall everything in steel?
He confirms that everything we’ve done so far is good, and that yes, all we need is the olive. Changing everything to steel would cost us €300, which he rightly points out is ridiculous for the sake of a 20p fitting.
A 20p fitting. That’s all that’s standing in the way of us and our gas certificate. We have many of these fittings in the UK. They’re in a little bag that we took out of the van just before setting off.
It’s now about 3pm. We have two hours to sort all of this out so the van is ready for our 9am MOT appointment the following morning….
We ring another showroom. They assure us they have them, but they’re about 40km away. The MOT is not going to happen. We re-arrange for Thursday 2pm and buy ourselves a bit of breathing space.
We get in the car and drive. As we approach the showroom, Knut and I turn to each other and smile. This is it. It’s been a very long day, but the sun is out and our luck is about to change.
We walk in, get to the gas fitting display shelf, and are met with a sea of steel. Not a copper fitting in sight. Bugger. This is getting just a little bit frustrating.
Just order them from the internet, I hear you cry…!
If only it was that simple. There are some, but it’s difficult to see in the photos if they’re the right ones. They also have a 3-5 day delivery time. It’s not going to work.
So what do you when all else fails…you ring your dad.
Chapter 5: Father to the rescue
“Hi Father, we have a problem”….
We explain the situation and he locates our bag of olives. They’re all there, just a mere 1200km away.
So now we need to get them across the channel and to Germany as quickly as possible.
We look into it and if we send them via TNT Express post for £30, our 20p fittings are guaranteed to be here by Wednesday. Seeing as we know they will fit, this is starting to look solvable.
But my dad being my dad, thinks Wednesday is too far away. So he puts on his superman cape, gets in his car and drives directly to the TNT depot, heroically storming in and shouting “stop that truck, my daughter needs her olives”. The depot grounds to a halt. It’s Mr Dobben – who used to teach half the workers. “We’ll sort it for you”, they declare.
And sort it they did…By midday on Tuesday we have our olives, less than 20 hours later.
Now, it’s just a simple case of putting the olive in. Bish bash bosh.
Surely nothing more can go wrong?
“It’s leaking”. Knut despairs. To say he looks frustrated is a bit of an understatement.
“There’s a gas leak. At the top of the manifold”.
I am also frustrated. As fun as it is writing this ongoing saga, I was quite happy to wrap it up after Chapter 5…Alas no!
We jump in the car and drive to OBI (The German B+Q). They have everything we need to reseal the connections! Is this the start of our luck turning?
Knut fixes the leak…We leak test everything.
Two more leaks have formed.
I make a supportive cheese sandwich.
Knut fixes the extra leaks. We leak test everything again. It’s clear. We’ve sorted it.
But we still don’t have a gas safety certificate and it’s Tuesday evening.
Chapter 6: What else can go wrong?!
We ring up our gas safety man to see whether he can fit us in on Wednesday.
He can only do 3pm on Thursday. Our MOT is booked for 2pm on Thursday. This isn’t going to work.
We find a list of other gas safety people and start ringing them up. They’re all booked up.
To say we are becoming exasperated is a bit of understatement.
But finally we find someone. Herr Bernhard.
He can do 11am on Wednesday. We drive over and park in the man’s drive. It’s a low-key operation, Herr Bernhard appears to do this for fun in his spare time. He brings out a tool box and gets to work.
I sit in the van and try to understand what is going on. I get the odd word that sounds positive. But then there’s a shake of the head. The pressure isn’t right. There must be a leak.
Knut catches my eye. He looks nervous.
The gas leak spray comes out. It’s just a small leak at one of the joints. Herr Bernhard takes out a tool and tightens it – and he re-tests.
I catch Knut’s eye again. I try to ask about a thousand questions with my eyes – “What the bloody hell is happening?”. He gives me a subtle thumbs up.
Herr Bernhard gets a piece of yellow paper out and VOILA that’s it, we have our gas safety certificate!