“Life,” said Alvy Singer, “is divided into the horrible and the miserable.” I never really got that. Until, that is, these past twelve months . . .
My lovely mum started to go downhill around this time last year, and I spent the last four months of her life caring for her, while Netanya Social Services faffed around with grading questionnaires. “Can you put your socks on by yourself, Norma,” visiting social workers, each more gormless than the next, would repeatedly ask her as she smiled back sweetly. A light had gone out. The memory still pains. And the Filipino arrived much, much too late.
I have been unsettled ever since. I feel I need a change. New surroundings. A fresh challenge. Rural Ireland was on the cards. But I just wasn’t sure. And London feels a backward step.
Everything seemed to start to be coming back together, however, on a trip to Berlin at the beginning of last month. While looking for an investment property, I was shown an unrenovated loft in a converted salt warehouse in a very cool part of Prenzlauer Berg. And I just fell in love with it. So much, in fact, that I decided, there and then, that I would move in. I know, I know, “Berlin?!” But it does have a wonderful spirit these days.
A price was agreed with the co-vendor/developer, an Ulrich Caspar, and, before leaving the city, I met, on his recommendation, two 30-something architects: American Adam Odgers and his German partner Deborah Nickles, trading as NOa.berlin (previously, when I met them, as NOarchitects). It was a very positive meeting, and instinctively – I was now on a roll (I even pinpointed in which corner I was going to start writing properly again) – I informed them that I would be delighted to work with them once the contract for the loft had been finalised.
I promised Caspar that I could, and would, act quickly – a notary appointment was actually set for 2 o’clock today, a mere three weeks after I left Berlin – and also made it crystal clear to him, at a third meeting that I requested on the afternoon before my flight, just how important the purchase was for me at this time.
And I have wasted no time since returning to Israel: I put my Tel Aviv home up for sale – I have already found a buyer – and, in preparation for signing, arranged power of attorney for my German lawyer through the Tel Aviv District Court, and converted and transferred large sums to an escrow account in Berlin.
Just eight days ago, last Wednesday, NOa.berlin supplied two potential mortgage providers with a cost estimate for the renovation. “Due to sign next Thursday!” I excitedly e-mailed Adam Odgers from my phone.
Three days ago, however, only three days before the notary appointment, I received a chilling e-mail from the real estate agent:
“I am sorry, but I have the worst news possible. The owner of the loft called me this morning and said the architect of the house is going to buy the small loft. I am angry beyond believe and don’t know what to say. I let you swallow this before we communicate further.”
I presumed that Birgit was referring to the architect of the building. But no. On calling NOa.berlin – who describe themselves, on their website, as “Client-oriented” – just to rule them out, Deborah Nickles informed me, as cold as a German cucumber, that she and Odgers were purchasing the loft. “We have only just received an answer from the bank,” she explained, as if expecting me to understand. I told Nickles, though calmly, that what she was doing was not only morally wrong, but professionally unethical, and that she shouldn’t do it. She couldn’t confirm anything, she said, without first talking to her partner, and she promised that he would call me back.
I immediately phoned Caspar, a 59-year old film producer (when he isn’t playing with people’s lives), with whom I had really hit it off in Berlin (even discussing the screen potential of Hasmo Legends, about which, to my pleasant surprise, he seemed most enthusiastic). “These things happen,” he told me, as if it had nothing to do with him. It seems that he and his Ararat Film und Grund GmbH partner were more interested in receiving ‘free’ (or, at least, cheaper) architectural services for their next project – the adjacent building – than honouring any agreement with me, or appointments with notaries. I had just been some kind of convenient fallback plan. Combinot, it would appear, are not an exclusively Israeli phenomenon.
I e-mailed Odgers and Nickles, warning them against this path, that it was wrong, that it would do their fledgling business and careers no favours. But they chose to hide. And Odgers didn’t pick up when I called him that evening. Instead, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, I received an e-mail from Caspar’s partner – a clearly delightful fellow called Friedhart Steinich, 58, whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting in Berlin, but who, from a quick Google, appears to have a namesake who has been accused of beating up his tenants – as follows:
“speak with me about your problem. Not with Adam or something. And listen me: Never we make a deal together. Why? You cry too much. Your letter is for me a joke. Sometimes get childs not all, what they want. Berlin have much flats to sell. Good luck! Try it again. Not amused”
The German way of saying sorry, I imagine. I considered lecturing Steinich on the legal principle of good faith. For a second.
I am not going to waste any further melchett mike inches on any of these characters. They – and, in the case of Odgers and Nickles, the relevant professional bodies in Germany – will be hearing from my lawyers. But, if you have stumbled across this blog in performing due diligence on NOa.berlin, Adam Odgers and/or Deborah Nickles, be warned: before instruction, make sure that any property is already safely in your name.
As for Berlin, you might think this tale bashert, the Abishter’s way of telling me what my conscience hadn’t. It will certainly make me think twice, next time, before uttering “Only in Israel . . .”
[Update, 17.12.14: It seems I am not the only one to have been burnt by these unconscionable cowboys – see Carlo’s comment here, and following.]