Back to the Bürgeramt

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. 

ARSE
ARSE

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.

20141030_125604[1]

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.

Really?
Really?

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.

All together now - AARGH!
All together now – AARGH!

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…

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85 thoughts on “Back to the Bürgeramt”

  1. Linda, you’re a babe. I don’t know how you do it. Must be the beer. It gives you strength and courage to go where no man or woman has ever gone before. At least not voluntarily to the Bürgeramt otherwise known as “those awful offices!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Burgeramt sounds a bit like the Department of Motor Vehicles. Long lines and lots of forms, and then there’s that test at the end. (Here we also have surly attendants.) On the plus side you can shore yourself up with some good beer when it’s all over.

    I’m so impressed that you can speak German well enough to fill out a form like this. gute Arbeit, or something like that. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, that makes absolute sense to me! It’s probably right – I don’t know the difference 🙂
      Nobody is surly in lovely Berlin 🙂 I was just sitting outside having a glass of wine and everybody who passed smiled at me – then one lady told me that I should take care of my eyes because it was getting too dark to read. So I went home 🙂 Lovely Germans 🙂

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  3. You know when you originally moved to Berlin, you mentioned that the german bureaucracy all started with a registered address. After the hard time you had getitng that, I wondered, when you moved why you didn’t mention the problem of changing it. Until now – when we find out you didn’t change it. ha! I figured that would come back around and bite you. But i must say, you learned a lot from your first experince and actually made it look easy this time – with learned workarounds. We do similar things here in Canada with our bureaucracy – for instance driving test appts here have waiting times of months – so many just go to small towns outside the city where appts can be made within a day or two. The trick being to find the office that best serves your needs even if it means driving many miles.

    Congrats on your tax registration. Looking forward to the next step. meanwhile have a beer or two or three or…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I feel for your pain too much to even laugh – form filling and visiting any sort of bureaucratic office reduces me to tears just thinking about it. My technique is to drink enough to enable me to ignore my ever-growing pile of paperwork. Pass the beer 🙂

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  5. Raising my mug of tea to the intrepid Linda. Well done you! I did all the French paperwork for freelancing four years ago – much easier. I have to go back to see the administration to get a new singing and dancing driver’s licence though – the mere idea of it brings me out in a cold sweat.

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      1. HA HA! Agreed! I was going to tell him to pull his trousers up, then I decided taking a picture was a much better idea. Seems to be paying off so far 😉 He was just some bloke in a bar on Saturday! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh god. Russian bureaucracy is just as horrible (we just spend several hours arguing with someone to PLEASE give the Russky a background check for his visa), but at least as an expat you can largely ignore it.

    Must be strange living somewhere that they actually WANT to keep track of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a bit! I reckon I could have disappeared in LV and nobody would have been any the wiser 😉 I think you’re supposed to register a new address every time you move, but I never bothered. Never stopped me getting new contracts or anything like that.

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  7. Oh man, I’ve never had to do any of this stuff! (Well, except going to the Bürgeramt ONCE – when I moved, they let me “ummelden” by post). At one point, I was considering the possibility of going freelance… I’m so glad I didn’t!

    Health insurance I also signed up with by post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I can probably do that – or online. One girl I know has moved flat 6 times in 6 months and a lot of people seem to have similar stories! Guess it’s a Berlin thing! I don’t get why they don’t let you unmelden by post – once they’ve seen you in person once (with your passport), surely that should be enough!!

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  8. Before I saw Britt’s comment, I was thinking to myself how your pains are other people’s gains. You go through hell and back, and other people moving to Germany can benefit from your new-found knowledge. I agree with Britt, you provide real, lived information that’s invaluable. And you’re funny, too 🙂 Now, stock up on some beer 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  9. When will I learn to not eat or drink whilst reading your blog? Tea almost flew out my nose as I was laughing so hard at “it was in Poland or may as well have been it was so east!”

    Je suis curieuse–what French words were you using and why?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The word ‘etage’ triggered the French answer in my head and I couldn’t get it out even though the German word is so much easier! I mean ‘rez de chaussee’ – really?? So I ended up sweeping my hand across her desk to signify ground instead – it worked eventually 😉

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  10. I love your blog, so, SO much. I spent the last two years or so looking for something exactly like this. Every other blog or website that talked about moving to Germany was run by an American military wife or a student, or the information was just a regurgitation of the government website. THAT’S NOT WHAT I WANT TO KNOW! Ugh! I need to know what it’s actually like so I can know what I’m getting into. You are a godsend, truly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, thank you Britt! Glad someone is finding it useful That’s kind of what I’d hoped – underneath taking the piss out of it all! 🙂
      I also found this website useful – http://www.settle-in-berlin.com/ – not sure if it’s still being updated though. And you’re right – the military/embassy wife or student blogs are no use when it comes to this kind of stuff!

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      1. They have their own set of struggles, but it’s a completely different beast. Completely uprooting your life to move to a new country without government assistance or having a place to return to is a terrifying (and thrilling) concept. I’m just so relieved that I found your blog. It’s nice to see/read real life experience, and to be able to have a more complete idea of what I’m going to deal with.
        I’ll definitely be bookmarking that site when I get onto my computer. Even if it isn’t being regularly updated, or updated at all, it’ll still give me a lot of decent information. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The military does everything for you. EVERYTHING! They even find you a moving company and give you boxes. (And batteries – I was horrified when I found out how much batteries cost in shops. We always had a never-ending supply of army batteries before then. And they always lasted AGES!)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wow, even down to batteries! That’s amazing! Need to find myself a good military man 🙂 Though I only buy batteries once in a blue moon anyway – might not be worth it 😉

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  11. You’re a braver man than I Gunga Din! I imagine the Germans post office will be the model of efficiency. Then again, I live in the states, where the expression “to go postal” got its roots…consider the source. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha! Very true! And not very ‘ha ha’ actually 😉 I nearly went postal in a post office in Latvia but managed to rein myself in! If the German post office is anything like German banking, I’m sure it will be a dream 🙂 I was standing in the queue (of around 3 people) at Deutsche Bank one day and a girl was going around offering people juice 😉 Thanks for commenting! Linda.

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      1. WHAT? Why am I not with Deutsche Bank? There’s no juice at Sparkasse…
        My local post office is annoying. I’m convinced they hire the world’s slowest people on purpose! The one in town is alright though.

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    1. Oh god! My flatmates told me about her but that’s the first picture I’ve seen – hilarious! 🙂
      And yes, it did remind me of some of the outer reaches of Riga – well, anywhere around 20 minutes from the old town really 😉

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    1. Hmm, haven’t been to a post office yet! I guess I’m already registered with that dentist now – just have to get the health insurance in place before the next visit. And then find a doctor. Or just be healthy forever 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  12. People need to give immigrants more credit, as the craziness they have to put up with is – well – just crazy. I help physician trainees with their U.S. visa applications, and the mounds of paperwork they have to deal with is mind numbing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know! And it’s not even over yet! You’re a saint for helping people with this stuff 😉
      I’m hoping this blog gives people a taste of what’s in store if they do move to Germany – it’s not all beer and Lederhosen… well, not Lederhosen anyway 😉

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      1. Well, it’s part of my job, but I can assure that does not make it any less painful! Yes, I’m a saint on many levels – this being just one of them!! 🙂
        Yep, no place is all rainbows, unicorns, and streets paved with gold – including the U.S. I know of short-term trainees who’ve had to go to the Social Security Administration 3x just to get their Social Security number (which everyone in the U.S. needs to work here legally).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know! It’s like they want you to do this stuff, you have to pay taxes, but they make it so damn difficult! I’m trying to do everything by the book but I’m starting to understand why some people stay illegal immigrants! 😉

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