A taxing time

If you listen carefully, you can probably hear a vague wailing sound coming from the general direction of Germany; a sort of pained whine, interspersed with sobs of horror and confusion. It happens around this time every year. It’s the sound of new-to-Deutschland freelancers trying to figure out how, in the name of all that’s holy, they’re going to do their taxes by the 31st of May.

The funny thing about all of this is that I actually thought I was prepared. I’d kept every receipt, every invoice, every pay slip, and even compiled them into neat spreadsheet documents, which I’d not only saved, but also printed out, paper clipped, labelled, slid into plastic pockets and put into specific folders. (Just in case there was any doubt that I’m turning into a German.)

The even funnier thing about all of this is that Germany has actually tried to simplify the process by allowing you to do your taxes online. Yes, the Germans have created a lovely system, the rather ironically titled, “elsteronline.de”, “Elster” meaning “magpie” – you know, the birds that love to steal your shiny things. I keep telling you Germans have a sense of humour…

Reliably informed by Sheila, the Half-Naked Aussie, that all we had to do was go to the Finanzamt and get a PIN number, I was confident that this was going to be a walk in the park. Of course, the idea that you had to go to an office to get a PIN to use in an online system seemed to defy logic, but well, this is Germany so…

We chose a time, met up, and then spent around twenty minutes trying to find a replacement bus for a train service that was actually running. You might think that this makes us total numpties, but with the underground trains in seemingly permanent disarray, and the overground trains on strike more often than your average German ends a sentence with “oder…”, it was a pretty easy mistake to make.

Now they're on strike indefinitely... (image from tagesspiegel.de)
Now they’re on strike indefinitely… (image from tagesspiegel.de)

We eventually got to the Finanzamt where we explained to the confused German lady what we wanted. After around thirty seconds, she handed us leaflets and told us to go online and register. She didn’t add “like normal people” but I believe it was implied. I asked her if it was easy and she assured me that it was. And off we went; the whole procedure had taken under five minutes.

The fairy tale castle where the Finanzamt people live
The fairy tale castle where the Finanzamt people live

Eager to find out just how “easy” it was, I sat down that afternoon and tried to register. Following the step-by-step instructions (in German) in the leaflet, I was amazed to find that it actually was easy. I received a password by email, confirmed that I had received it, and Step One was complete. On to Step Two… oh no, wait, this is where the German part kicks in. Now that you’ve completed Step One, you have to wait a week to receive a second password – by post. Sigh.

One week later, I received a rather flimsy paper envelope with the words “paperless and secure” emblazoned on it. Ha. The people in the Finanzamt must be chuckling all the way to the bank.

Proof positive that Germans are funny
Proof positive that Germans are funny

I logged on to elster again and, without even looking at the leaflet this time, completed Step Two. I was then able to download a security key in .pdf form, which enabled me to access the system. About to pour myself a glass of wine to celebrate my ingenuity, I first decided to have a quick look at what lay ahead. This was the moment my brain exploded.


So, I used the “translate” button at the top of the screen:


Now, the thing is that, in Germany, you can earn over €8,000 without paying any tax. As I only moved here in September, by the end of the tax year, I was nowhere near this figure. Therefore, I’m not actually sure I have to file a tax report at all. However, this being Germany, I don’t want this to come back and bite me in the “amt” at some point in the future. There’s probably a fine for “not filling in forms that you didn’t actually have to fill in but because you didn’t fill them in now you have to pay” or similar.

So my current plan is to just fill in as many boxes as I can. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I figure if the Finanzamt people come knocking at my door at some point in the future, I’ll just email them the number to a P.O. Box and then tell them that in a week’s time they’ll receive a document in the post. That document will be this online blog post in secure paper form detailing the reasons why I failed miserably to cope with their “simple” online system.

When in Germany and all that…

Breaking Berlin

Everyone told me Berlin would be a tough nut to crack. In fact, reading some of the expat forums, it’s a miracle anyone moves here at all. But, me being me, I like to take all of these things with a pinch of salt and find out for myself – the hard way. Berlin was my dream and I was going to achieve it or go down fighting. And I won’t lie; the last few months have been rough, far rougher than I’ve let on in this blog. I’ve spent many a sleepless night (and panicky day) wondering if I could afford to make it through the next month.

Homemade Twister - for when times get tough
Homemade Twister – for when money gets really tight

But, lest you think this post is going to be one long whinge-fest, fear not. It seems like things are finally starting to come up Linda. In the last few weeks, I’ve moved into a flat by myself, which is still standing; I’ve been made Senior Editor of Berlin Logs, which is going into print in the next couple of months; I’ve been invited to the first birthday party of Nestpick, simply because they want to “strengthen their relationship with great bloggers”, and I’ve been brandishing my shiny new press pass to get a complimentary ticket to one of the biggest shows in Berlin.

Yeah, right... ;)
Yeah, right… 😉

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention… I GOT A JOB!

This in itself was a bit of an ordeal – two Skype interviews, a face-to-face interview and a “test day”. They said they’d let me know last week. And as I’m practically German now, I took them at their word. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday passed by in a blur of clicking “refresh” to see if THE email had arrived. It was reminiscent of being a teenager waiting for THE boy to call – which he usually didn’t. (Looking back, I dodged a few bullets there.)

Finally, on Friday, in a fug of desperation and knowing they work until 6pm, I sent them an email at 5.55 to see if there was any news. Cue almost breaking my fingers clicking “refresh” – to no avail… until 7.20 when AT LAST the email came through telling me that I had the job. Oh, the sweet blessed relief! The messages, the phone calls, the wine, the celebrations!

The details still have to be figured out and it will probably be at least a month before I start, but I’ll be working for a small start-up company (perfect), doing sales and marketing (perfect), with three men (perfect).

Now, I just need to figure out how to do my German taxes and life really will be perfect. But then, there’s a four-day weekend coming up, complete with a four-day beer festival, so maybe the taxes can wait…

Working on my biceps

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Living on my own

Me: Of course, my dream is to live by myself eventually.

Kayla: Oh, my Aussie friend is looking for someone to take over her flat for a couple of months. Maybe you two should meet? 

Me: Hell yeah. 

And so, through my South African friend that I used to work with in Dublin who now also lives in Berlin, I got to meet Ailsa, the Aussie artist who’s going on an artists residency in the States for a couple of months. She’d had some problems with Airbnb people before, so she wanted to leave her flat in safe hands. (Ahem.) Enter me. Naturally, she loved me at first sight and we both agreed that I should have her apartment.

Of course, Hildeberta and Hildegard were heart-broken when I told them I’d be moving out. Who would leave long dark hairs all over the apartment when I was gone? But, on the plus side, they now get to clean every second week instead of every third week so I guess there’s that. Naturally, I will miss them a lot, but we’ll still see each other and I’ll have them over to my flat for a (hopefully not poisonous) dinner soon.

I moved into my new pad in Neukölln on Tuesday with the help of Fritz, who I hoped would be more alert behind the wheel than he is on trains. He came to my place at 10am (on the dot) and by 10.40, we had everything moved into my new flat. German-Irish efficiency. (Yes, it is a real thing…)

I fully intend to.
I fully intend to.

Words can’t describe how happy I am to be finally living on my own in Berlin – even if it is just for a short time. Of course, it’s more expensive than my old place, but I’ve decided to start living my life the way I want it to be (rather than how it actually is) and hope that everything else falls into place. Madness? Perhaps, but it feels wunderbar. And I get to play “If I were an egg, where would I be?” in a whole new LIDL.

I’ve already charmed the Lederhosen off the auld lads who are permanently installed outside the bar next door, and I’m planning on joining them several times a week – to practise my German. I’ve also met the little old Turkish lady who’s like the gatekeeper to the building and a good woman to have on side. She also doesn’t speak a word of English so our first meeting was quite entertaining.

Zeynep: Are you from Australia too?

Me: No, I’m from Ireland. 

Zeynep: (brief pause) JOHNNY LOGAN!!!

Me: Erm, yeah… 

(Ah, the good old days, when Ireland got more than “nul points” in the Eurovision.)

My first act upon moving in was to accidentally melt cheese all over the kitchen floor thanks to my new sandwich toaster. I’d gone to get dressed and put on my make-up after turning it on, and came back to find molten hot cheese covering the nice wooden floor and some wiring. I’d forgotten how fast those things toast, clearly.

Don't worry, Ailsa, it came off easily...
Don’t worry, Ailsa, it came off easily…

I’ve also had to permanently close the door to the storage room, as I kept walking in there thinking it was the kitchen or the bathroom. But, thankfully, I’m less confused now, and becoming more successful at living. Last night, I had Nigel over for dinner and managed not to kill either of us. I cooked a sausage casserole that I was hoping would feed me for the week, but Nige polished off three-quarters of it in one sitting. Still, at least he didn’t wildpinkel on the balcony.

View from my awesome balcony
View from my awesome balcony

This morning, feeling rather continental, I decided to have my Schokobrötchen and tea on said balcony while sunning myself in my underwear. This afforded me the treat of seeing my Turkish neighbour doing his morning stretching routine on his balcony. Or at least he was doing it until he spotted the half-naked Irish woman eyeing him.

What I'll be doing every morning from now until July.
What I’ll be doing every morning from now until July.

On the whole, after only two days, I’m enjoying living here so much that I think I might have the locks changed while Ailsa is in the States and not open the door when she comes back. Although, I’m not sure how German law enforcement would feel about that.

OK, I know exactly how they'd feel.
OK, I know exactly how they’d feel.

So, for anyone who hasn’t been keeping track of my journey in Berlin, this is how it looks so far…

North, south, east, west...
North, south, east, west…

Where to next? Who knows, but I should probably start looking tomorrow…