Tag Archives: Anmeldung

Linda goes to the library

I love reading. This is due to the fact that my mother read to me when I was a baby (according to my mother). However, a bit like dating an Eastern European woman, my love is becoming rather an expensive habit.

While there are several excellent second-hand bookstores in Berlin, they’re either very far out of my way, or not really that cheap. Wandering around Dussmann leaves me dizzy with desire, high on “new book smell” and, usually, broke. Books from Amazon cost next to nothing, until you factor in the postage and packaging. And, before you suggest it, I abhor the idea of e-books; I’m old-fashioned like that.

Oh Dussmann, she sighed longingly... (Image taken from dussmann.com)
Oh Dussmann, she sighed longingly… (Image taken from dussmann.com)

So, what was a girl to do?

As you may have guessed from the title (clever you…), I decided to join the library. Armed with some free time and the determination to tackle yet another German institution, I walked five minutes down the road to my local Bibliothek.

Lankwitz Library
Lankwitz Library

Deciding that I would “save” my German for when it was absolutely necessary, I slunk past the reception desk to see what they had on offer, and yes, to see if there was an English books section. There was.

Joy of joys!
Joy of joys!

It was time. I eyed the two women behind the reception. One was rotund, jolly and bespectacled; the other was rake thin, had classic “Bürgeramt Face” and was also bespectacled – a bit like a German, short-sighted librarian version of the odd couple. Anyway, you can imagine which woman I chose to assault with my German language skills.

I sidled up to the desk and told her that I would like to become a member. She smiled jovially at me, started shuffling things around on her desk and babbled away happily in German. Thankfully, I understood most of what she was saying. I dutifully produced my Anmeldung (registration document) and my passport. She explained some more stuff. I nodded, smiled and muttered “Ja” over and over again in an appreciative manner.

Then she surprised me by offering me a choice of colours of library card – have you ever heard of such a thing? I certainly hadn’t. I grinned at her and chose siren red. Or just red. Whatever…

I handed over €10 and she handed me my shiny new best friend.

It's so PRETTY!
It’s so PRETTY!

Even though we had conducted our entire exchange in German, she clearly wanted to give a nod to my native English-speaking ways, so she started rummaging around for some pamphlets in English. She managed to produce leaflets in French, Spanish, Vietnamese and Arabic but, sadly, no English.

I assured her I could understand the German version (probably) and scampered back over to the English books section to have a proper look. There was the usual fare like Michael Connelly, John Grisham, and Tom Clancy, chick lit (i.e. stuff I don’t read) like Maeve Binchy, Cecilia Ahern and Nicholas Sparks as well as a few classics and welcome surprises. I selected a couple of books and went back over to my new library mom.

She informed me that it was all electronic and that I had to do it myself. I looked dubiously over my shoulder at a computer.

Libhilde: NEIN! Not that computer! 

Me: Ummm…

Libhilde: Do you want me to help you? 

Me: JA! 

I promise I wasn’t faking helplessness. I’m just bloody useless at times.

Libhilde marched me over to a contraption beside the door and instructed me to place my card in front of it. I waved it around and the machine asked for my PIN. I entered it. Libhilde beamed. She then placed the two books on a scanner and both titles popped up on screen. I hit a button and we were done. My jaw dropped.

Technology…

Me: Wow, this is so much more modern than Ireland! 

Libhilde did that reluctantly proud face that only Germans can do and I left her to get on with her day. On my way out, I realised that the last time I’d set foot in an Irish library was probably close to three decades ago and they’d most likely updated things a bit since then. Still, at least I’d made someone’s day.

In case you’re wondering, my €10 gets me a year’s membership and I can use my card in every library in Berlin – there are a lot of them. If I want a book that isn’t at my local library, they can order it for me and I can either pick it up there or they will deliver it to my flat. There is a wonderful website (that I’ve spent half the afternoon playing with), where I can do pretty much everything from the comfort of my own living room. And, in the event I do leave my flat, they even have free toilets – a rarity in Berlin.

This might just be the best €10 I’ve ever spent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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…

I’m all tied up

Don’t worry, I’m still not bound and gagged on someone’s basement floor. However, that might be preferable to the German red tape fiasco I’m currently embroiled in. You see, in order to live like a real person in Germany, and do important stuff like get wifi and a smart phone (and trivialities like a bank account and a tax number), you need a certificate of registration. This is called a “Meldebescheinigung” – try saying that drunk. Actually, try saying it sober.

In order to get the Meldeblahblah, you need to have found somewhere to live and have a document stating that you live there. So, in the nicest possible German way (which is how I try to operate these days), I asked for a rental contract. I asked again. Nicely. And again. On Friday morning, realising that the polite German approach was getting me nowhere fast, I threw a good old-fashioned Irish hissy fit. The contract was in my letter box on Friday evening. Step one – check.

On Monday morning, armed with my contract and passport, I went to my local Bürgeramt to fill in the form. Inconveniently (but I suppose not unexpectedly), this was in German. However, this is never really a problem as there’s always a conveniently-placed German man willing to help a girl out. With this one’s help, I completed the form and went back to the counter to get it stamped. Silly me – like it could be that simple.

Scheiße...
Scheiße…

No, it seems that you have to make an appointment to get it stamped. So, I went home, got online and looked for the next available one – which was in NOVEMBER. Now, the tricky thing about this registration number is that you have to get it within two weeks of moving in, otherwise they can fine you – up to €500, the scare-mongerers say. So, in desperation, I called the number to see if there was any way around this.

The helpful man informed me that you didn’t necessarily have to register at your local office; you could do it at any office in the city, and some of them had a walk-in service. He listed a few and recommended that I get there early.

The next morning, I was up at 4am. I’d chosen the most far-flung office – Pankow – as I figured there would be fewer foreigners moving to that area than any of the central ones. At 7am, I walked in.

Me: Hi, I need to get this document stamped. 

Heinz: At 11. 

Me: 11???

Heinz: 11, and you need an appointment. 

Me: Can I make an appointment now?

Heinz: (handing me the same bit of card the woman at my local office had) Online. 

Me: But, but, the guy on the phone said…

Heinz: Don’t speak English. 11.

Me: But, but…

Heinz: NO ENGLISH.

As my arguing techniques in German haven’t yet evolved past Arschloch, Scheiße, and Verpiss dich, I had no option but to leave. After some more online sleuthing, and a little help from the Berlin Expats Facebook page, I found out that a couple of offices do have a walk-in service, a couple of half-days a week. (Pankow did until a few weeks ago, seemingly.)

Seemingly, some people lie down and die at this point. (Taken outside my local Burgeramt.)
Some people lie down and die at this point. (Taken outside my local Burgeramt.)

Unfortunately, this morning, I had a lesson and four other lessons to plan for, so it was almost midday by the time I made it to Kreuzberg. The office closed at 1pm. Nevertheless, I gamely joined the queue and got talking to an Italian girl. She said that she’d originally been there at 7.30am and that the queue had stretched all the way from the office on the 3rd floor to the front door.

Just as we were around six people from the magic door, the security guard came over and announced that it was all over for today. He recommended that we come back at 6am the following week.

I mean, really – if this is the best system that THE GERMANS can come up with, what hope do the rest of us have? Luckily, it turns out that being surrounded by mindless bureaucracy and helpless men brings out a hammer-happy side to me that I never knew existed.

Et voila. Built by rage. And a hammer.
Et voila. Built by rage. And a hammer.

So, German bureau-crazy, you may have won the first few rounds, but I WILL win the war. You can expect me bright and early on Monday morning – but not at 6am. That’s just insanity…