On Sunday evening, I made my first rookie mistake in Germany. I was standing at the bar of Berlin Oktoberfest with Paddy, the German leprechaun, when he asked the fateful question, “Big or small?”
Clearly experiencing a massive brain fart, I scoffed and answered, “Big, of course”. You see, in Ireland, “big” means a pint, and no self-respecting Irish woman would ever be seen drinking a half-pint. How I’d forgotten I was in Germany, I don’t know, but I was presented with a beer I could hardly carry to the table. I managed though, don’t worry…
And so we chatted away for a few hours, soaking up the atmosphere, while the band played traditional German favourites like “Take me Home, Country Roads”.
The next morning, God knows how, I was up at 4am for what I hoped would be my final battle with the Bürgeramt. My plan was to get to Frankfurter Allee for 7 (an hour before the office opened), be out of there by 9, and back in bed by 10.
I found the building, and joined the already rather long queue. I got talking to the Finnish girl who got there just after me, and we eventually reached the ticket desk at 8.30. I was number 74. At this stage, there were also around 200 people behind us.
The woman at the ticket desk told us we could leave for an hour and come back, or just go and sit in the waiting room on the first floor. Not willing to risk our numbers being called while we were off drinking tea, we hightailed it to the waiting room. It turns out we needn’t have worried. 9am rolled by, 10am, 11am… everyone’s heads turning towards the display screen like meerkats every time it pinged up a new number.
I knew I had to leave at 12.15, and was starting to despair at around 11.45 when they were still only in the mid-fifties. I was loudly voicing my displeasure when, miracle of miracles, 74 popped up on the screen! Yes, it turns out that there is NO LOGIC to the Berlin Bürgeramt system. I jumped up like the winner of “Fastest Finger First” on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and danced and whooped my way out of that room of lost souls. (I felt a bit bad about this afterwards, as I was definitely called ahead of people who’d been before me in the queue. I know this because I’d memorised their stupid early faces.)
Still, ten (only a little painful) minutes later, I was walking out of that Bürgeramt victorious, Meldebescheinigung in hand.
So, some tips for the newbies:
1. Book an appointment at any Bürgeramt a month or two BEFORE you arrive in Berlin.
2. If you fail to do this (and really, why would anyone ever think to do this), then you can try to make an appointment once you find an apartment. Unfortunately, these will be booked for at least the next month, and you run the risk of being fined if you don’t register within two weeks of moving in.
3. There are only two Bürgerämter (that I’m aware of) that take people without appointments – Yorckstrasse and Frankfurter Allee – and only on selected days at selected times. They open at 8am. Get there at 6 (or earlier), or get used to the idea of being there for 5+ hours. May the force be with you.
The next day, feeling triumphant, I decided to push my luck and open a bank account as well. I showed up at Deutsche Bank at 1.40, which is when I realised that German banks (or at least this bank) break for lunch. So, I wandered up and down Kurfürstendamm for 20 minutes. This street is like a who’s who of designers I could never afford – Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton… Luckily, I didn’t like anything anyway.
At 2pm on the dot, the doors opened. A stunning smiley girl was waiting to ask people which service they wanted and help them find it. I was directed to a comfy sofa while she called her colleague. A few minutes later, an older man appeared and guided me into his office.
Fearing lengthy documents in German, I was more than relieved as we chuckled our way through the entire process. He’d ask me a question; I’d answer and he’d tick a box on the screen. I cracked excellent jokes to make him laugh, and he made me say things in German – also to make him laugh. Twenty minutes later, I was almost sad it was over.
Now I’m thinking, if all else fails, maybe I’ll just move into Deutsche Bank with Fritz and live happily ever after?