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INDEPENDENCE

Puigdemont walks free from German jail and demands dialogue

Ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont called for immediate "political dialogue" to end the row with Madrid as he left a German jail on bail Friday after judges rejected his extradition to Spain on a rebellion charge.

Puigdemont walks free from German jail and demands dialogue
Puigdemont walked out of jail on Friday. Photo: AFP

“The time for dialogue has arrived,” Puigdemont told reporters outside the Neumuenster prison, after he walked free on a €75,000 ($92,000-) bail while judges mull whether to extradite him on a lesser charge of corruption.   

“We have demanded dialogue for several years and we have only received violence and repression,” Puigdemont said.   

“There is no excuse for the Spanish authorities to start a political dialogue with the Catalan political leaders.”

The 55-year-old also called for “the immediate release of all of my (Catalan) colleagues”, who consider themselves political prisoners in the spat with Madrid over the wealthy northeastern region's failed breakaway bid.    

In a major victory for Puigdemont, the upper state court in Schleswig-Holstein on Thursday dismissed Spain's request to extradite Puigdemont on a rebellion charge over last October's independence referendum, deemed illegal by Madrid.

The judges ruled that the charge was “inadmissable” because rebellion — which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in Spain — was not punishable under German law.

The closest German equivalent, the criminal offence of high treason, did not apply because Puigdemont's actions were not accompanied by violence, the judges found, exposing a difference in opinion with Spanish judges.    

But they said the former Catalan president could still be sent to Spain to face trial for the misuse of public funds to organise the disputed referendum.    

The German judges said they needed to gather more information before making a decision on the embezzlement charge, but ruled that Puigdemont could be released in the meantime.

Madrid has estimated the cost of staging the referendum at €1.6 million.

If convicted, Puigdemont could face up to eight years in jail.    As part of his bail conditions, Puigdemont must remain in Germany, report to police weekly and respond to summons from prosecutors or the court.

Blow to Madrid

German police detained Puigdemont on March 25 as he was travelling from Finland back to Belgium, where he has been living in self-imposed exile for the past six months.

The arrest came two days after Spain's Supreme Court ordered international warrants for Puigdemont and other fugitive Catalan leaders on charges linked to holding the banned referendum.

The German court's refusal to accept the rebellion charge is a blow to Madrid, as under European law it means Puigdemont cannot be prosecuted for the offence even if he is returned to Spain.

Despite the setback, the Spanish government said it “respected” the German judges' decision.

Berlin, which has long expressed support for Madrid's actions in the Catalan row, declined to comment on the latest judicial developments.    

“The process lies in the hands of the justice system, as is right,” said German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer.    

“The government remains convinced the Catalan conflict has to be resolved within the Spanish legal and constitutional order,” she added. 

Flights to Europe

Catalonia has been mired in political crisis ever since the unilaterally declared independence on October 27th in the wake of the controversial referendum.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government responded by sacking the Catalan government, taking direct control of the region and calling early elections.

The December vote was won by a block of separatist parties. But they have been unable to elect a president and form a government as their chosen candidates are now either in exile, in jail or facing prosecution.   

Fresh regional elections will be triggered if a new leader is not elected by May 22nd.

Puigdemont was one of a number of Catalan figureheads who fled abroad to escape prosecution, dragging other European countries into the row.    

A Belgian judge on Thursday bailed three former Catalan ministers who fled to Belgium with Puigdemont after they handed themselves in to police there.    

Spain wants the trio — Meritxell Serret, Antoni Comin, Lluis Puig — to face charges of rebellion, misuse of public funds and disobeying the state.    

Another former Catalan minister, Clara Ponsati, was bailed in Scotland last week.

Nine other pro-independence figures are currently in custody in Spain, including six members of Puigdemont's Catalan government and the former president of the regional parliament.   

A major demonstration calling for imprisoned separatist leaders to be freed is planned for April 15th in Barcelona.

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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain

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