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We have never met our landlord. We don’t know if he’s young or old, fat or thin, blue-eyed or brown. Our only communication with him has been through Email. He is little more than a name to us: one Helmuth Riffel.

We found our comfortable little apartment after a feverish Internet search. It was one of the few places available on the spur of the moment during the madness that is Oktoberfest in Munich. Perhaps it had not been snapped up because the photos provided on the search site were shadowy and unflattering. We asked to see the place before putting any money down, just to be sure it wasn’t a real dive. Mr Riffel wasn’t available to show the apartment but he instructed us by Email that the downstairs neighbor would be. The apartment looked great and we rented it on the spot.

When we inquired how we might pay the rent, Mr Riffel instructed us (again by Email) to transfer funds to his German bank account. Our bank would not transfer money to a German bank. This problem was solved by paying the rent in cash to the neighbor who then deposited it in his account and then transferred it to Mr Riffel’s account. Curious, I asked the neighbor where Mr Riffel lived. “Stuttgart” I believe he told me.

Soon after moving in, we determined that we would actually be staying in Munich until November 4. I notified Mr Riffel of this change and asked how much we owed him for the additional four days rent. He agreed that the apartment was available for those four days and generously said there would be no cost for the extra days – a pleasant surprise.

Two weeks passed and we received an email from Mr Riffel notifying us in broken English that we needed to vacate the apartment by noon of November 31! Beside the fact “thirty days hath November,” this message appeared superfluous because we had only asked to rent the apartment until November 4. Suspecting Riffel had mistaken November for October but also concerned that he was reneging on his agreement, I decided to play dumb and force his hand.

I notified him that leaving by “November 31” would be no problem. We would be long gone by then since we would be leaving November 4. No response from Riffel. A few days later Mary met out neighbor in the hall. The neighbor told her that, indeed, Riffel wanted us out by October 31.

Here, it seemed, was a perfect example of “human nature” coming to the fore once again. It appeared, Riffel, like all of us, is a mixture of generosity and its opposite. After generously offering us four extra days for free, he had been lured into reneging on his agreement when the prospect of a long-term renter was dangled in his face.

I was adamant that we had an agreement and should hold Riffel to it. Mary didn’t want to deal with a confrontation and insisted we “cave.” We researched getting a hotel room for the last four days and learned that in addition to the hassle of moving, we were looking at, at a minimum, a $500 outlay. We “discussed” the matter for a few days and, still hearing nothing from Riffel, I composed a letter in German reminding him that we had an agreement. Since my German is not up the attorney-like vocabulary and precision that this task called for, I had my German teacher whip it into proper shape (yeow! – he must have used up all the red ink in his pen for that job!)

Two tense days followed and then just this morning we heard from Riffel. He apologized for getting his dates wrong and agreed that we could stay in the apartment until November 4. Whew!

Even though he didn’t ask for payment, we will pay for the extra four days. Helmuth Riffel, the Mysterious Mr Riffel, is an honorable man after all.

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