Cyberhelp in German Village

This could be a story on how strangers who want to do business in Germany would have to do so on German terms. This story could also be read as another example of the glory of the net. But I remember this incident as one that kindled in me a faith – on technology and on fellow human beings.

This had happened to me in 1999 and I do not know whether the situation is still the same. If it is, consider yourself forewarned. Folks in Bangalore and Bombay had warned me that I wouldn’t be able to use my laptop in Walldorf, Germany. I lugged it along, stubbornly, despite their advice. I decided to test the waters after checking into the hotel, even before going up to my room. I produced my laptop, requested for an adapter. She panicked and called for help.

The front office manager arrived and dived behind the counter to come up with a box filled with various adapters and power cords.  None of them were, however, of any use. Now, the power-input device in question comprises three parts: a power cord with a three-pin plug at one end and three small sockets at the other.  These are meant for the three pins of the AC Adapter that convert the 120-220V to the requisite 16V.  And there is another slim cord that connects the AC adapter to the laptop.

I explained to the manager that I could settle for a replacement of one, some or all the components. This made him very sad. Another guest had made a similar request a month ago. The electrical maintenance manager of the hotel had scouted all the shops in town without coming up with anything that would work.

The problem, he said, was that, in Germany, you could find adapters for use in any country for items manufactured in Germany.  But if you wanted to use a gadget from another country in Germany, you would need to bring in necessary accessories yourself.

It was a tough one all right!  Next day I tried the reception at the International Training Institute. “We do not use or support laptops in this office,” I was told. I plunged into the net and wrote to the support unit of IBM Germany. An IBM UK address responded saying that IBM Germany stocks adapters meant to be used in other countries.

I sank into deep gloom but hit the net yet again. This time I dug up the email addresses of three Heidelberg dealers of IBM products and wrote to them. In a while there were several new messages.

The subject line of one read ‘Re: Support for IBM Thinkpad’.  A dealer wanted some details. I mailed him the model number. Next morning, he asked for further details. I mailed him all the markings on the power-input unit. Things were warming up. The dealer sent me a bitmap image of a sketch he had drawn for me.  He asked me to identify which of the two would be suitable for my AC adapter.

The next mail was triumphant. He had identified the spare. Unfortunately, he didn’t have it in stock but would be able to get it on Monday. It was Thursday evening. I sent three mails telling him how useful it would be if he could arrange to deliver it by the weekend. I wouldn’t be going to office before Tuesday and wouldn’t be able to check my mail till then. I would be cut off from the rest of the world. Please help.

Monday came and went by in absolute silence. I was back in office on Tuesday. No mail from the friendly dealer, except the one he had sent on Friday telling me the cord cost 25 DM, freight extra. Back at my hotel, I had a message waiting in my room telling me to collect my “st from the front office”. A small packet that had come by post contained the object of desire along with the invoice for 25 DM. Hallelujah.

This is the section where I am supposed to enlighten you with the moral of the story. Germany equips its citizens to out in the world to do business in strange lands. Strangers who want to do business in Germany would have to do so on their terms.

But that really is not how I remember this experience. This incident kindled in me a faith; faith on technology – the internet, the emails and so on; and faith on fellow human beings in general. If you ask for help most probably people will respond.