2010: January to June; Consolidation in Risan

June 2010
A month of following-up on the many contacts we made in April and May. Useful discussions with our friend and co-member on the Green Building Council, Dušan Vuksanović, about how to match up the work done by Elisabeth with the regulatory requirements for Montenegro. We need a Montenegrin architect to sign off on the plans. We also need detailed design work for the technical aspects of the building, not least the ventilation system. In Dresden, we bought a most useful book by the PHI expert, Dr Jürgen Schnieders, “Passive Houses in South West Europe” which details the differences between houses designed for central European and continental climates with those for Mediterranean and coastal ones. Dr Schnieders highlights the need for active cooling, as well as less insulation and only double glazing in the warmer climates, but the need for increased solar protection, eg by using blinds.

May 2010
The major event in May is the Passivhaus Tagung, Conference, in Dresden from 27 to 29. This is an extremely valuable couple of days for us. We are able to build on the experience gained over the past year, so in discussions with manufacturers in the trade exhibition our questions are more focussed. We feel things are coming together. As at the GTZ conference, our leaflet is a great help in describing what we are aiming for. Many of the formal sessions are geared to the upgrading of existing buildings, with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe. While some of these are interesting, not all is relevant. We also manage to get tickets for La Traviata at the Semperoper – a very modern stark production which initially puts us off but, with excellent performances by the leading singers, allows the emotion of the story to be clearer and felt more deeply.

The family celebration of ‘slava’ by our Landlord’s Orthodox family occupies us for the first week of the month. As part of our agreement on renting their 200-year-old stone house, the family is able to use it for their slava, an event celebrating the Saint’s day on which the family first converted to Christianity. For this as for many families the Saint is St George, whose day is 06 May in the ‘old’ calendar. All day after the ceremonial breaking of the special loaf, lighting of a candle placed into the bread and appropriate prayers, the family is host to other family members whose family house this is as well. About 30 to 40 other friends from the neighbourhood call in to wish the family well, have something to eat and drink and spend about an hour or so chatting before moving on to another house to repeat the procedure. Naturally, we cannot do any of our normal work as the days beforehand are fully taken up with moving furniture and possessions out of the way, and the house is full of people during the day itself. 06 May is also the day of a critical Parliamentary Election in Great Britain, an event we watch on TV until the early hours of the following morning after we have the house to ourselves once more.

April 2010
The Conference is a great success as far as we are concerned, with a lot of interest in us from suppliers and distributors. The high level at which many of the speakers pontificate does irritate us though. In one of the panel sessions, Anke makes a strong point to these speakers who fly in and fly back out that they do not really know the actual situation on the ground. “Normal things like insulation and windows” are like objects from outer space here. James refers to the high percentage of unpaid electricity bills, so these consumers have no incentive to save money by installing energy saving features in their buildings. We both get the feeling that it is all too difficult for these “experts” who either do not understand, or do not want to understand as it would spoil their nice little earners.

At our stand at the GTZ-sponsored Energy Efficiency Conference: we are on either side of the German Ambassador to Montenegro, HE Peter Platte

© Elisabeth Nöst-Kahlen  2010           Elisabeth’s design – view from north-west

© Elisabeth Nöst-Kahlen 2010                        Elisabeth’s design – view from the south-west

Elisabeth produces an outline proposal for us. It has a bottom floor to be used as a display area and meeting space for us to hold workshops and allow access to the building services equipment room. The other two floors are living space for us. We ask her to produce material we can use for the stand we have been kindly given at the GTZ-sponsored Regional Conference on Energy Efficiency 27 to 29 April in Budva. Hectic activity to produce a flyer for the conference pack and a ‘roll-up’ display for the stand.

We are part of a most useful meeting held by an Austrian contact of ours who has spent several years fighting a way through the bureaucratic barriers to investment in Montenegro. The major ones affect everyone, including locals, who runs a company here (something fortunately we do not have). Some of these are:

  • The Planning process, especially getting building licences, court procedures, registration in the cadastre, and the payment of communal charges. A major challenge is the different interpretations municipalities have of the law.
  • Finding competent and trust-worthy accountants/ book-keepers; also lawyers and other professionals.
  • Getting refunds of VAT – virtually impossible apparently.

The government has set up a Business Barriers Task Force, which is staffed by enthusiastic younger people who recognise the need for change, and try to sort out individual problems. A major aspect of all this is the legacy of communism when there was a guarantee of employment provided one was a party member – having a job is an entirely different thing to doing any work.

The Risan DUP (Detailed Urban Plan) makes its long-awaited public appearance. We see that there is an object shown on our plot, but it is the existing 51m2 ‘Beton’. So we have to submit an application for the footprint and building configuration we want – about 110m2 and 3 floors. The public meeting held in a local hotel attracts about 200 residents and is a furious affair. The municipal officers are told in no uncertain terms that their plans take no account of people’s property boundaries. In several cases, plans dating from the time of the Austro-Hungarian occupation are produced as proof of the existence of buildings that have been omitted from the new DUP. One of our neighbours uses as a pointer a stick cut from a 500-year old olive tree on his land where there is suddenly a new road. We gather that the planning department and the cadastre do not talk to each other, hence the major disconnect between the planners and reality. Among various anecdotes we are told that in one municipality there is a scale of charges for getting an object put onto the DUP, with a fee of twice the amount for removing one. How foreigners who do not live here manage to get anything done is an increasing mystery.

March 2010
Through the new Austrian Ambasador, Martin Pammer, we learn of monthly concerts by the Montenegrin National Orchestra, and go to the one in early March in the National Theatre in Podgorica. Surprisingly good, with a selection of Mozart and Hayden; also a delightful albeit compact venue. Snow on the way back even on the coast – just as well we decide to use the Sozina tunnel, as there would have been difficulties on the high ground around Cetinje.

Paddy Day’ – 17 March – is celebrated at a local restaurant with the event organised by an Anglo-Irishman who bravely cooks Irish Stew for 80. Great crack. Followed in the same week by a curry night in Herceg Novi. Social around here!

January / February 2010
We succumb to a serious bout of throat and sinus infection on our return which puts us out of action for about 2 weeks. The weather doesn’t help. Indeed both months are almost continuous rain. The locals tell us that it is the wettest winter on record. We remember last year and keep our own counsel – both years seem to have been appalling!

A main activity in January is organising a Burns Supper. Traditionally this should of course take place on or near 25 January, the birth date of Scotland’s National Poet Robert Burns. For a variety of reasons, chiefly the schedule of the new UK Ambassador to Montenegro, we hold it on 13 February. Over 100 guests, up on last year’s inaugural event when we had 80. A side activity is holding Scottish Country Dance practices beforehand so that as many people as possible have some idea of what to do.

We take advantage of a rare dry day the week after the Burns Supper to prune our vines, in the hope that the crop will be equally good if not better than last year’s. Jam making is also a great way to use up the mandarins, oranges, lemons and kiwis which grow in the garden of the stone house. As noted earlier, an inhibitor is the lack of ‘jam-fix’ locally – we had to bring packets back from UK and Germany.

About once a week in February, we drive up to Podgorica for meetings with various contacts and agencies. On a couple of these trips there are significant delays on our normal route from Budva via Cetinje. Once there is an accident which holds us up for about 1½ hours, with the road being completely closed while the emergency services deal with it. On another occasion, climbing the hill from Budva up to Brajici, we come to a long queue and after several minutes decide to drop back down onto the coast and take the Sozina tunnel which links Bar to Podgorica. Just as well, as we find out later that there had been a massive rock fall which blocked the whole road and took several hours to clear. After these experiences, we follow the locals’ advice and use the tunnel when there is bad weather.

Through GTZ we meet Elisabeth Nöst-Kahlen, an Austrian architect, who tells us that the design the local Montenegrin architect did for us 2 years ago will never make a Passive-House! Major flaws, such as the basic ground plan and insufficient allowance for insulation, inhibit the ability to maximise energy conservation. Back to the beginning – rather like one of those children’s games such as snakes and ladders.

© all text and photographs, except where individually credited to other sources: James Collins