Losing my religion

Director of Studies: Can we have your observation feedback meeting on Friday morning? 

Me: Yeah, that should be… oh no, wait, I need to go and renounce the Catholic faith that morning, sorry. 

DOS: What? 

Me: Yeah. You know. Germany…

So, on Friday, I made my way to Möckernbrucke and easily located the exitingthechurchtoavoidpayingstupidtaxesoffice. For some reason, they had roughly the same amount of security you find at major international airports. Luckily, I’d left my knuckle-dusters at home that day – something I would later regret.

The security guard panicked a bit when he realised my German was limited so I was waved through with minimal hassle. He explained that the building is divided into different zones, each represented by a letter of the alphabet. I needed to find room A53. I thanked him and went on my unholy way.

Twenty minutes later, I was back in the same spot, having done a complete lap of the building and failed to find the elusive A53. He paled a little and ran to get a policewoman who spoke a few words of English. I now realised that the building was also divided into an old building and a new building and that the room I was looking for was in the old building. This was information that would have been useful 25 minutes earlier.

I set off again, up and down stairs, in and out of offices, round and round the labyrinthine series of corridors.


I think I asked five different people where room A53 was, all of whom gave me different directions. I found room A52 and room A54, but there was still no A53. Another 25 minutes later, I was sending up a last prayer that I’d eventually find the room and my way out of the building again. I figured God wouldn’t mind me having one last request.

At this stage, I looked like the wild woman of Berlin-eo. I was sweaty and wild-eyed, and my hair had worked its way out of a neat pony-tail and was now sticking out in all directions. I stopped in front of yet another indecipherable map that had room A53 on it. A similar-looking creature caught my eye so I asked her in German if she knew where room A53 was.

“No, I do NOT.”

Clearly, we were in the same boat and had both been wandering around this building for what seemed like years. Afraid of this girl attacking me in a fit of “exitingthechurchtoavoidpayingstupidtaxesoffice rage”, I left her staring glassy-eyed at the map and asked yet another security guard where the damn room was.

I followed where she pointed and Angry Girl followed me.

The maze of madness
Finally, in the depths of the basement, we found it. Opening the door, we were greeted by a little woman sitting behind a glass window. I let Angry Girl go first so I could see what she did and then copy her.

This, it seemed, was the room where we paid. Unfortunately for Angry Girl, she had assumed that they would take card. They did not. No problem, the lady assured her – she could go to the other room, fill in the form and then come back and pay later. I handed over my €30, she handed me a sticker and then we were both on the hunt for room F27.

As she had seemed pretty sane while talking to the lady in the hatch, I decided to risk striking up a conversation since we’d probably be wandering around together for a while. She turned out to be an American-German who’s dating an Irish guy so, in no time at all, I had an invite to a St. Patrick’s Day event he’s organising.

Naturally, the office we were looking for was all the way over the opposite side of the building (anyone would think they didn’t want you to leave the church), but we found this one quite easily. We took our numbers and sat down in the waiting room, chatting about Irish people, the insanity of German bureaucracy and whatever else popped into our heads.

Around twenty minutes later, my number was called. As soon as I sat down opposite the world-weary woman in the office, every German word I have ever known exited stage left. She fired a couple of questions at me; I panicked because I couldn’t understand one of them. I pushed my registration document and passport across the desk, hoping one of them might have the correct answer.

Kriemhild: NEIN!

Me: (tempted to run away and too scared to speak English) I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand the question. Do you speak any English?

Kriemhild: (in rapid-fire German) NEIN! The official language of the Amt is German and if you can’t understand German then that’s your problem. 

Me: OK, OK, keep your granny pants on. Can I get my friend? 

Kriemhild: (with much eye-rolling at the stupid foreigner) JA…

I stuck my head out the door and asked the now-not-Angry-at-all American-German to help me. She trotted in after me and we sat down again, waiting for the storm of bureaucracy to be unleashed.

Britney-Bertel: She wants to know which area you live in.

Me: Jesus, is that all? It’s right in front of her on the bloody form. 

Of course, with the confidence of having a sidekick, my German switched on again and I could understand pretty much everything from that point on. I answered questions, Kriemhild tapped away on her computer, and around ten minutes later, I had a printout declaring that I was no longer a member of the Catholic Church.

I then got a lecture on keeping this form FOREVER. The exitingthechurchtoavoidpayingstupidtaxesoffice only keeps a copy for ten years, so if the Finanzamt asks me for it twenty years from now and I can’t produce it, they can charge me twenty years of back taxes. Point taken.

As Britney-Bertel was next in the queue anyway, she thought she’d kill two birds with one stone and get her document too. NEIN. She had to pay the fee first – it was not possible to do it the other way around, despite what the lady in the hatch had said. Britney-Bertel resigned herself to coming back another day, while I notched up another victory against German bureaucracy.

As I left, I pondered the need for the lady in the hatch. Why couldn’t you just fill in the form and pay at the same time? Oh yes. This is Germany…



98 thoughts on “Losing my religion”

  1. You’re killing me Linda. I laughed so much LOL! Luckily for me, I wrote that I was a “free-thinker” right from the very beginning so that I wouldn’t have to pay a penny. I still managed to get married in church though and have my son baptised. The trick? One of you has to be an “active” member of the church…..!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So cool you godless soul you. Ha! That’s pretty typical bureaucracy. there are likely similar stories the world over. If that was a picure of the corridor you walked down, it is immaculate. i would have been temped to set a kleenex from my pocket beside the wall so i would feel like I was on another planet. Ha!

    Our ministry of transportation separated a few years ago into an official gov’t site and a slew of private offices. If you have a simple transaction ,,like renewing your liscence, it is much better as you can go to one of many offices and get served (or in some cases even do it on line or at service kiosks in malls). But heaven forbid if you have somehting more complex. Whew. With a commercial licence i have to rewrite the test every 5 years. But first I have to get a medical which i have to turn in at the private office. Then, with my medical renewed in the computer, I have to go to the official office to write the test. When the test is done – given that I pass – they give me an envelpoe with the test resuts in it and I have to go back to the private office and wait to turn in the paper work and then apply for renewal. It takes a day and ivolves three offices. Car divers don’t have to do any of that – they get away easy.

    Great post Berlinda – now remember, you don’t have to say your prayers anymore at bedtime. ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, how sad and happy I am at the same time 🙂 One year in Belgium now – same story with red tape here. Latest was yesterday – I get a nice letter explaining that the card they just deliver to me (after year of waiting) has a manufacturing problem and chip does not work. Nicely the letter says to go to the commune that delivered the card and in “just few minutes” this will be corrected. Few minutes turned to 30 min waiting, but what a joy – after being in that office 6 times last yer – finally they have a ticket system! Small detail, but the waiting room was not filled with electric, contagious stress and anger – it was a tiny bit more relaxed. Right before closing around 12:45 instead of numbers being electronically changed they started shouting them out – half of the people didn’t hear them (headsets) or had no understanding of french (office for foreigners). Any way – it turned out that my card was fine – but once again I was faced with how little people want to invest in their jobs (ok, not the best jobs in the world). Me: handing the letter. Girl: This is just the letter telling you how to use the card (basically – why are you botherin me – go away!). Me: Please, read it – is says something else! Girl: Ok, ok I AM READING IT! Sorry for the longest comment ever – but needed someone who would understand and relate 🙂 Best of luck with anything they decided to throw at you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jesus (if I can still say that), what a nightmare! Where do they find the people who work in these offices!? They’re like a different breed to regular Germans, and probably Belgians! I remember the customer service there being excellent but I never had to deal with any state stuff!


      1. Use Evernote! 😉

        I just did the church-exit-paper today. Thanks for your post 🙂 in my case was much more smoother and less scary because I bring a german speaker korean friend hahah

        Now I’m not sure what else I have to do with the 4 copies they gave me… I’m afraid I have to visit a few more offices…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. OMG, you triumphed against The Castle. Or as Kafka would say, Das Schloss. Which dealt with “…the seemingly endless frustrations of [woman’s] attempts to stand against the system, and the futile and hopeless pursuit of an unobtainable goal.” It must be that Irish charm 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. hahaa!! Great post! Congrats on your successful Amt visit. I feel like any Amt visit that ends in you accomplishing what you went there to do is a huge success and warrants the purchase and eating of an ice cream sundae 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! It’s a bit cold for ice-cream so I rewarded myself with several glasses of wine instead 🙂 Now just need to post the form to the Finanzamt and hope they don’t post anything back to me! Thanks for commenting, Dana! Linda.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There’s a popular European cartoon called Asterix and Obelix. Don’t know if you know it. In one of their animated movies they have to complete 12 seemingly impossible tasks. One of them is to go to the “Place that Sends You Mad” aka bureaucracy and get a certain Permit A 38. I think German bureaucracy is the same as that. You can watch the video here (http://youtu.be/GI5kwSap9Ug) and understand what I mean.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can’t remember anything about what I did when I moved to Poland! Oh wait, I did have to go to Warsaw for one document I think. Pani Director’s husband came with me though so he did all the hard stuff! However bad my German is, my Polish was non-existent!


  7. I need to do this, but I’m waiting to see where we move to first. It’s €30 to leave the church in Karlsruhe but only €20 in Grenzach-Whylen. €50 in Lörrach though, so if we move there I’m leaving the church in Karlsruhe 😉

    Apparantly in Baden Württemberg you go to the Standesamt (registry office) to leave the church…. the same place you go to get married. I wonder whether this is significant?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha, maybe! €50 is a lot of money! I was wondering if you’d have to do it again if you changed state actually…
      I had to go to the Amtsgericht – not really sure what that is!


  8. It’s not always this crazy difficult. I live in a small town, and I went to one of the 3 offices that takes care of everything citizen-related. I said my prepared and rehearsed, “Ich möchte aus der Kirche austreten” (“I would like to secede from the church”), was given a form to fill out, paid the fee, and told to keep the form forever. No lecture, no Kriemhild. I chose Holy Week to do this, right after my husband showed me the tax bill from the 6 months between me stupidly saying “Protestant” when asked THE question and that day. I don’t make much here yet, but my husband, who left the church about 17 years ago, earns more. Even though he left the church so long ago, the tax is figured on “household income”. Yep, I’m done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess it varies from place to place! I know Bev in Karlsruhe can do some things by post that are not an option in Berlin! Choosing Holy Week was a nice touch 😉


  9. I’m kind of shocked that the bureaucracy in Germany is worse than in Latvia, bc it’s such a trademark of the USSR past. This seriously reminds me of the worst Russian bureaucratic experiences. But OF COURSE you managed to turn yours into a new social opportunity 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Of course! 🙂 Every trip to the Amt is a new friend 😉 I guess maybe people don’t bother as much in LV either as it’s a bit lawless there. In Germany, they will find you and they WILL fine you so people make sure they’re doing everything correctly! Even if it does take months/years 😉


      1. You know what they say here – ‘the strictness of rules is mitigated by the lack of necessity to follow them.’ 🙂

        I totally agree with Anna, what you’ve written in this post is awfully familiar.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Ah, now we are seeing (reading) that Linda who finds things to dislike about the country she currently inhabits 🙂 It’s the bureaucracy in Germany’s case … plenty of fodder for your blog, it seems 🙂 Although what I find much more amusing is that the one person you hook up with on your search for the Holy (strike that) , for Room A53, is an American-German who is hooked up with an Irish lad. Only you, my dear Linda, only you would have such experiences!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha, it was pretty lucky that I met her! I’m not sure I would have got through it without her! And she has to go back again, the poor thing!

      I had been warned about the bureaucracy before I moved here, but really, you have no idea until you actually have to do it! It turns the notion of Germany being super organised and efficient on its head, that’s for sure! I reckon you could fire half the people in that place without slowing anything down 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Me too! I figured I’d gone that far! If I hadn’t written about it, I might have given up but the blog is great motivation! Once it’s out there, you kind of have to stick to what you say! 🙂


  11. Kriemhild sounds like a horrible, grumpy bureaucracy gremlin. Congratulations on making it through all the bureaucracy! I don’t think I will/would be able to get nearly as far as you have alone. You are a powerhouse of a woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, I’ve had a bit of help along the way! I don’t think anyone could do this without the help of a German! I had to get my flatmate to help me with the final ridiculous form this evening. That should be the end of it – for now!
      Kriemhild softened up a bit in the end – she probably spoke great English too but was too busy being all-powerful to deign to do it 😉

      Liked by 1 person

                1. Topless and wrestling bears is fine. Thong-wearing is not 😉 But maybe if you’re drinking vodka and arm-wrestling at the same time, you’ll get away with it 😉


                2. Ha, well, I’m pretty puny and I survived Russia – I nearly murdered the immigration ‘lady’, a taxi driver and the hotel receptionist though 😉


                3. It’s good to be prepared 😉 That was all on my first morning by the way – but I was hungover and cranky which didn’t help! It got better 😉 You can add ripping off tourists to your list as well 😉


                4. Ah, you’ll be alright – probably 🙂 People go there – and live to tell the tale – all the time! Apart from the ones who end up buried in a forest, that is 😉


    1. I was tempted to just give up, to be honest! But I’d come that far and I’d already paid! I’d say I was there for around an hour and a half in total – about 15 minutes of which was actually spent doing something productive! The rest of it was just wandering and getting more and more frustrated!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. One lady to fill the form and take the payment? NEIN! this is exitthechurch…blah blah thinggy place after all so it’s to be expected to be hard and give you load of time to re-think you’re decision. Kind of if you come to do this exitchurch stuff on your say lunch break and you get lost and are wondering long enough, you might decide to do it the next day. that is one day longer you’re a tax payer! then there’s a church thing to be thought of – exiting religion should not be easy. Haven’t you heard of Purgatory? Or Minotaur’s labyrinth? 😀
    Anyway seems indeed that once again you’ve scored a victory against German bureaucracy 😀 Yay and hoch funf!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hoch fünf back at ya! 🙂 Tonight I had to fill in original form the Finanzamt sent me and photocopy the new document. I’ll post it tomorrow. That should be the end of it! And you could never do this on your lunch break! You’d need at least a 2-hour window – possibly an entire day 😉


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