Four words I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to say again so soon, but well, welcome to the world of German bureau-crazy.
The next step in becoming German is the (unfortunate but unavoidable) tax number registration process. In order to get this show on the road, a trip to the local Finanzamt is necessary. I’d looked up the word for ‘freelancer’ so was pretty confident I’d be able to spot which form I needed easily.
Not so. The dizzying array of tax forms in the reception area made my eyes water. I had no other option but to hit the button for a ticket number and wait to talk to a real person. Thankfully, unlike the Bürgeramt, this happened in around ten minutes.
In my excitement, and desperation to get it over with as quickly as possible, I forgot to take a seat and instead started babbling in cavewoman German, while sweatily clutching the edge of Norbert’s desk.
Me: Me…tax number. I freelancer. Need, um, um, document? Don’t know. So many. (Faints.)
Norbert: (In English) Um, OK, why don’t you take a seat for a couple of minutes and we’ll sort that out for you. So you’re a freelancer?
Me: (Pathetically grateful nodding and grinning through happy tears)
Norbert: Right, so this is the form you need. I’ll put an ‘X’ beside the sections you have to complete… Do you have any German friends? You’ll need help filling it in.
Me: (More nodding)
Norbert: OK, so fill it in, drop it back here, or post it to us. You’ll have the number within two weeks.
Me: (Coming to a little) Is it possible to pick it up from the office?
Norbert: No, we send it to your registered address.
At this time, I was still registered at the mad Swede’s place but I didn’t trust him enough to get important mail sent there. So that meant UNregistering that address and REregistering my new address AND the only place you can do that is… yes, you’ve guessed it, the dreaded Bürgeramt.
Now, if you’re not fussy, you’re averse to getting up at 4am, and you’ve got time on your hands, you can search every Bürgeramt in Berlin for an appointment simply by sitting at your computer and clicking ‘refresh’, ‘refresh’, ‘refresh’…
Staggeringly, an appointment popped up for 2pm the next day. Pretty sure that this had never happened to anyone ever in the history of the entire world, I jumped on it – then looked up where Marzahn is. Turns out it’s in Poland. (OK, not quite but far enough east not to make much difference.)
Indeed, when I got there, things looked strangely familiar, and not in a good way.
Still, brave little soldier that I am, I knocked over a couple of grannies and women with children, and took a seat. It seems that there is no good time to go to a Bürgeramt, no matter where it is.
Unless, of course, you’ve got an appointment. I marched boldly through the door, and with a little German, a lot of miming and even a few words of French, I marched out again, triumphant.
Now it was time to tackle the tax form. One look at it made my head spin, and I was just about to ask my unfortunate flatmate to help me with it, when I decided it was time to man up.
By focusing on words I already knew, Google-translating heavily, and using a bit of common sense, I managed to fill in around 95% of it myself. Suck it, language placement test. I had my flatmate give it a quick once-over, filled in the last couple of boxes and popped it into an envelope.
Just seven working days later, my shiny new tax number materialised in the letter box – like a (crappy) pre-Christmas miracle.
So, for anyone keeping count since my arrival in Berlin, that’s 10 weeks, 3 apartments, 2 jobs, 5 Bürgerämter, 1 Finanzamt, 1 bank account, 1 tax number and a hell of a lot of excellent German beer to get me through it all.
Next up, the German pension scheme and health insurance systems. I’m not sure there is enough beer…