Tag Archives: Burgeramt

Welcome to my hood

I am officially declaring my first week and a half of living on my own a roaring success. But, I suspect that since posting these pictures…

…some of you might think that I have taken to tree-hugging, stuff-picking, or whatever else it is people who live near forests do. Not so, dear reader. If there was ever a chance of that, I think it probably would have happened in Latvia, and the closest I came to tree-hugging there was being driven out of the country by stick-wielding local lunatics. (Slight exaggeration, but close enough.)

Far from feeling isolated from my beloved Berlin, I am feeling very much at home here. During the day, I get to scoff at tourists who spend 20 minutes standing in front of a map of the train system, and a further 20 minutes trying to figure out which ticket to buy; in the evenings, I get to come home to my tranquil little haven. It’s the perfect balance. In fact, living here feels a bit like living in a holiday camp, which I can’t recommend highly enough.

Despite being small, the town has absolutely everything I need for daily living – an efficient transport system, supermarkets, banks, a post office, shops, WOOLWORTH, bakeries, cafés, restaurants, bars, late-night shops (for midnight/Sunday wine runs) and even a little cinema. Oh, and there’s also a church for people who like that sort of thing.

The bells, the bells...
The bells, the bells…

In my back garden, there’s a table tennis table which I’ve never seen anyone using, but am planning to take full advantage of at the first possible opportunity.

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Just down the road in one direction, there’s mini-golf and archery, and in the other direction, there’s a swimming pool, tennis courts and an ice rink. In fact, all I need is some bad karaoke, bingo and ballroom dancing and I’d be living in Butlin’s. (For non-UK/Irish readers, Butlin’s is a famous holiday camp in the UK – think “Dirty Dancing”, but without the dirty bits.)

Something the world hoped it would never see again...
Something the world hoped it would never see again…

Dotted all around the town are pretty little allotments where the Mermans, “merry Germans” in case you’d forgotten, grow stuff, grill sausages, drink beer, bask in the sunshine, paddle in inflatable swimming pools and get naked a lot. This last one is, as yet, unconfirmed, but this is Germany so…

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Naturally, I’ve also been to check out my new local bar. I first went last Sunday as a little treat for managing to lug my worldly possessions – solo – from one end of the city to the other. I was mildly perturbed to find that I was in the minority given that I didn’t have white hair, a walker or a wheelchair. Still, the punters were friendly, in a toothless, elderly sort of way.

Not one to give up so easily, I decided to return on a Saturday night to see what kind of crowd it brought in on a more “happening” night of the week. I had no sooner settled in with a nice glass of wine when the waiter came over.

Eggert: Those gentlemen over there would like to buy you a drink.

Feeling a bit like I was in a movie, I looked over to see three men of various ages/sizes grinning back at me.

Me: Um. 

Me: Ummmm.

Me: OK, I’ll have a white wi… no, sod that, I’ll have a whiskey. Irish. No ice. No water. Danke. 

When it came, I raised my glass to the gentlemen, thanked them in German and offered a pleasantry or two. This was greeted with looks of disappointment. Huh? Surely my German wasn’t that bad – it wasn’t like I was saying anything overly complicated. What was their problem?

As it turned out, their problem was that they didn’t have a word of German between them. They were Croatian builders who’d been in Germany for around ten days. Two out of three spoke passable English though, so in the end, we managed to have what was probably the most uproarious night that particular bar had ever seen.

It used to be so peaceful…

With my flat kitted out, my internet provider coming on Wednesday and my new bar of choice selected, there is really only one thing left to do. Yup, it’s back to the dreaded Bürgeramt to re-re-re-re-re-register my address. I guess if they try to make me wait for hours on end again, I can just start screaming, “Nobody puts O’Grady in a corner!” and see where that gets me.

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.

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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…