Tag Archives: Moving to Germany

Wi-find out?

I recently committed my first truly (horrible) German act.

I was sitting at my desk one evening when the doorbell rang. I generally never answer my door as there’s a high chance it could be DHL or Hermes or any one of the billion other online companies Germans order from, leaving my hallway looking like a sorting office.

However, it was a bit late in the day for that, so I optimistically thought it might be my next-door neighbour coming to apologise for his incessant, inconsiderate warbling. I opened the door, willing to graciously accept his apology.

Stupid optimism.

I stood face to face with a girl I had never seen before in my life.

Stranger Danger: I need the code for your Wi-Fi.

Me: Um, what? Who are you? 

SD: Oh, I live downstairs.

Me: Riiiiight. And?

SD: I need the code for your Wi-Fi. 

Me: (in my head) NEIN!

Me: (out loud) NEIN! 

SD: What? But I’m a student and I’m only going to be here for a month and it’s going to take longer than that to get Wi-Fi set up…

Me: I know. Germany’s a nightmare but I really can’t give you my Wi-Fi code. Try the guy next door.

SD: He says he doesn’t have Wi-Fi. 

Me: (in my head) LIAR!

Me: (out loud) LIAR! I see him on his laptop every day. Anyway, I’m really sorry, but I can’t help you. 

The luck of the Irish was not strong with this one.
The luck of the Irish was not strong with this one.

I closed the door with her probably thinking I was a right bitch, and me feeling like a right bitch. But before you start thinking I’m a right bitch too, allow me to explain.

Germany has INSANELY strict laws against downloading. Fines start in the hundreds and can run into the thousands. An entire industry of lawyers has sprung up as a result of the intellectual property protection laws here.

Last year, a friend of mine rented out her apartment through Air BnB for a week or so. She came back to a fine for close to €1,000. She contacted the guy whose response was, “I was sick so I downloaded some TV shows”. Luckily for her, Air BnB stepped in so she didn’t have to pay it. (I was going to write something about her bacon being saved, but maybe a blog on Germany can have too much Schwein…)

OK, so as far as I can tell, the fine goes to the person registered in the flat. But if this chick is only going to be here for a month, chances are she won’t even register and then sod off back to her own country. Maybe she won’t download anything, but maybe she will. If she’s untraceable, maybe they’ll come after me. Paranoid? Perhaps, but that’s what living in Germany does to you…

They're watching you...
They’re watching…

My German friends whole-heartedly agreed with my decision. (Germans are a bit nuts about online security.) So, even if I do feel like a bit of an ass, at least I feel like a German ass. Progress.

German ass
German ass

And I know that neither of the neighbours mentioned in this post will read it as they (allegedly) don’t have Wi-Fi so I’m safe there, too.

In fact, the only crime I may be *guilty of in the near future is beating my noisy neighbour to death with his own music stand.

*(If he is found dead, I did not do it. Get me a lawyer.)

 

 

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I’m in a book!

Or, at least, I’m going to be.

It all started one evening when I was working hard arsing around on Facebook, and Veronica from The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife popped up for a chat. We engaged in some very important discussions about life, love and the universe – or maybe I talked about my cup of tea – and then she told me about an idea that she and Pete, of Black Sheep fame, had come up with.

The idea was dangerously simple: invite funny expat bloggers from all over Europe to contribute to a comedy anthology, publish it on Amazon in time for Christmas and donate the proceeds to charity. They’d had the idea around nine months ago, but hadn’t really got around to doing anything about it.

While Irish Linda was lazily formulating the thought, “Ah sure, it’s grand. Eight months is no time at all, at all…”, German Linda efficiently stomped her and went into military mode. Within a day, we’d compiled a list of the bloggers we wanted to take part, emailed them to ask if they wanted to contribute, I appointed myself editor, and asked a friend to design the cover. Veronica would take on marketing the book and formatting it for Amazon. (Thankfully, as I am clueless about that stuff.)

“Uprooted and Undiluted” was born. I also gained the lovely title of “Linda the Whip”. (Thanks for that, Pete.)

My inner German does not look like this.
My inner German does not look like this.

Luckily, everyone else was just as taken with the idea as I was and, in no time at all, the blog posts started rolling in. We decided to divide it into topics, rather than simply by blogger, so we’d cover things like daily life, sexy time, man flu, battling red tape, and problems with learning the local language. I compiled all of the posts into one monster document and got down to it. Needless to say, it was a lot more work than I had initially thought; I finished editing it yesterday and my right hand now resembles a claw. The ‘N’ has also worn off my keyboard although that could be more a side effect of typing “NEIN” all the time.

My N-less love...
My N-less love…

We have bloggers covering Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, England, Croatia, Sweden, France and, of course, I’ll be contributing my hilarious antics from both Latvia and Germany. You can find the full list of writers on my new page and, I have to say, they really are a funny bunch – editing the book was incredibly difficult as I just couldn’t stop laughing.

As I mentioned, the proceeds of the book will go to charity. Now you’d think it would be pretty easy to give money away, right? NEIN (sorry, N). We contacted a couple of major international charities to ask if we could use their logo and donate the money to them. The amount of hoop-jumping and bureaucracy they wanted us to go through would make even a German’s head spin. One actually wanted us to sign a contract guaranteeing a minimum annual donation… Um, what? Can’t we just give you the money?

In the end, Veronica came to the rescue by emailing an old friend who’d set up a charity called Hands Together that builds schools in Nepal. They were absolutely thrilled to be part of the project and we are delighted to be donating the money to such a worthy cause. They’ve offered to help us market the book in any way they can, and the Chairperson, none other than the Absolutely Fabulous Joanna Lumley, is even going to write a foreword for us.

Joanna does her best impression of a Latvian woman. (Image taken from The Times Magazine.)
Joanna does her best impression of a Latvian woman. (Image taken from The Times Magazine.)

With the editing done, the cover a day or two from completion, and the charity on board, it’s all starting to feel very real. I have no problem admitting that I am stupidly excited about it all. I think the book is fantastic and I hope that everyone immediately rushes out and buys a copy. Or, rather, sits comfortably in their armchair and clicks a couple of times. (Technology, eh?)

You’d better be quick though, before Mammy O’Grady buys them all.

The Facebook page can be found here – ‪#‎uprootedandundiluted‬. I think. I still don’t really understand what hashtags do…

This post was updated October 15. The editorial team is re-visiting its connection with the aforementioned charity as the book might be too ‘undiluted’ for their taste… More to follow in a later post.

My 1st Germanniversary

This time last year, I was sitting on a bus from Riga to Berlin, my worldly possessions safely stowed in the hold (I hoped), with around 16 hours stretching ahead of me to contemplate what exactly I was doing; moving to a city where I didn’t know a soul, with no job and no long-term accommodation lined up. All I had was about five words of German and a roof over my head for the next two weeks. Little did I know I’d end up sharing with a septuagenarian who would have a penchant for dry humping me while I cleaned his fridge.

I still did a bloody good job on the fridge though.
I still did a bloody good job on the fridge though.

Looking back, there were a lot of things I couldn’t have predicted. And while I’m not saying six flats, three jobs, leaving the Catholic Church, and endless rounds of bureaucracy were a walk in the park, they certainly made for an interesting year. In between all of this, of course, I did have some fun. I’ve been to museums, festivals, lakes, book launches, football matches, Christmas markets. I’ve been to Hamburg, Dresden, Leipzig, Potsdam, and Marzahn (shudder). I even managed to get my name on a plaque in Humboldthain Park.

You have to look very closely, but it's there.
You have to look very closely, but it’s there.

I’ve done my best to unravel the mysteries of the German poo shelf. I’ve been sold on the idea of two single duvets on a double bed (that probably also has two single mattresses). I’ve battled with the German language and am now an expert absolute beginner at business German thanks to “Die Höhle der Löwen”*. Or at least I can almost pronounce “Die Höhle der Löwen” – it’s something like “dee huhhluh der luhffen” if you want to give it a go. (Germans, feel free to laugh now.) I’ve tried – and failed miserably – to be a good German Hausfrau, but I do still rinse out my pasta sauce jars. The fact that I use pasta sauce from a jar explains a lot about my failure to be a good Hausfrau.

Because you can never have too many poo shelf pictures in one blog
Because you can never have too many poo shelf pictures in one blog

I’ve made some fantastic friends, and some colossal mistakes. Thankfully, the former helped get me through the latter. The thing about Berlin is that she’s a slippery little sucker. Every time one thing slips into place, something else slips away. For the past year, it’s all been a bit one step forward, two steps back. Or, sometimes, more like half a step forward, have your feet ripped from under you and end up flat on your arse. But I’ve realised that the trick is to keep getting up again, a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator. (The similarity would probably be more apparent if the Terminator liked a glass of wine and busting out Dusty Springfield tunes.) Aaaaanyway, the point is, one year on, I’m still here and I’m still standing.

Because this is my life, this is Berlin, and this is home. There’s always something amazing around the corner. And even if there isn’t, there’s only a few months to go ’til Glühwein season…

20141124_183008[1]

So, I hope you’ll all be sticking around, because I know I will be.

*The German version of Dragons’ Den/Shark Tank. The 50% I can understand is massively entertaining.

Pope on the ropes

I decided a day before my 37th birthday to leave the Catholic Church. But just the German Catholic Church, not the actual Catholic Church. Leaving the actual Catholic Church is impossible; leaving the German Catholic Church is possible for the bargain price of €30 in Berlin. Confused? So was I.

It all started when I received a letter in the mail with the catchy introductory sentence:

Festellung der Zugehörigkeit zu einer öffentlich-rechtlichen Religionsgemeinschaft

Trips off the tongue, doesn’t it? Even with my limited German, I could still recognise that the church was after me. Not for my shoddy attendance, but for cold, hard cash.

23431_10150180734690377_1528428_n
I’d thought they wouldn’t find me

You see, in Germany, if you’re a member of certain religions, Roman Catholicism being one of them, you have to pay church tax. The letter explained that I’d “forgotten” to tick the religion box when I first registered my address. Naturally I hadn’t forgotten; I’d been forewarned of this tax and advised to leave that box empty. But it seemed they were coming after me anyway.

I haven’t set foot in a church in years – I’d probably burst into flames if I did – so the thought of paying for something that was about as relevant to me as fly fishing rankled.

I joked with Hildeberta that I might look into excommunicating myself. Oh, how we laughed. Until I looked up the church tax online and discovered that they take around 9% of your annual income tax. NINE PER CENT. Jesus… Excommunication didn’t seem so ridiculous now.

Maybe I'd become Greek Orthodox instead
Maybe I’d become Greek Orthodox instead

I Googled “leaving the Catholic Church” and discovered that it is actually impossible to leave voluntarily – once you’re in, you’re in for life, whether you like it or not. It seems that a lot of people didn’t like it and in 1983, the Vatican brought in a law that allowed its members to defect.

However, in 2009, they changed their minds canon law and those defections had no legal standing.

Or Russian Orthodox
Or Russian Orthodox

I cranked up my internet searching skills and discovered that it is possible to leave the Catholic Church in Germany. They even have a nifty website that tells you how to do it. You “simply” have to make an official declaration at the local exitingthechurchtoavoidpayingstupidtaxesoffice. In Berlin, this costs €30 but it varies from state to state.

I weighed up paying 9% of my annual income tax for the rest of my time in Germany versus a one-off payment of €30 and the decision was made. Almost.

I just had to make a quick phone call to a higher power – Mammy O’Grady, not God. God’s wrath and maybe even a plague of locusts is mild in comparison to the wrath of an Irish mammy… Thankfully, Mammy O’Grady is a sensible woman and was equally outraged at this money-grabbing malarkey.

It was time for the chop
It was time for the chop

It seems we’re not alone either. More than 181,000 German Catholics left the church in 2010, and 126,000 the following year. In short, German Catholics are dropping like flies and the church is freaking out, sensing that its bottomless money pit might be about to dry up. Diddums…

You might think that I could simply tick the “no faith” box and send the letter back, or just ignore it. NEIN. This is not an option. If you’re from certain countries, the Finanzamt just assumes that you are a certain religion (Ireland = Catholic) and may just start charging you at some point in the future anyway. This had to be official.

It states on the home page of the website that “It is not possible to leave the church by means of a letter!” I guess they assume that most foreigners would rather tick a box and take the financial hit than go to a German office and deal with the nightmare that this usually involves. Well, not this foreigner.

The bell tolls for thee, church tax
The bell tolls for thee, church tax

Tomorrow, I will be hauling my 37-year-old ass down to my local exitingthechurchtoavoidpayingstupidtaxesoffice, filling in the form, coughing up the €30, and excommunicating myself. After all, as Herr Christ himself said, “It is written… My house will be called a ‘house of prayer’, but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'”

I wonder what he’d make of the German church tax…

 

Sources: 

Article on trying to leave the Catholic Church in Ireland

10 facts about German church tax

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…

 

 

Hermann makes a woman of me

I’ve had my first German sexual encounter. I think. As with most things, it wasn’t what I was expecting and I’m not even sure it was a sexual encounter. At least, I know it wasn’t for me anyway…

So I’m sitting in my room, working away on my laptop and dressed in my (very nice, mostly cream) interview dress. Hermann knocks at the door. When I open it, he’s standing there looking a bit dishevelled and out of breath. He draws a line with his finger from his throat down to his crotch, which I take to mean that he’s had some sort of major operation. (Now I think he may have been pointing at something else entirely.)

He asks me to help him in the kitchen, so I dutifully trot along after him. When we get there, I see that he’s emptied the fridge and now wants me to clean it. Sigh. He pulls out an apron and puts it on me, fastening it with a chain… Then I get my instructions on how to clean a fridge, German-style.

So, I’m bent over with my head in the fridge; Hermann has placed himself on a seat right behind me. Suddenly, I hear cries of:

JA, JA, JAWOHL! OH, WUNDERBAR, WUNDERBAR. JA JA!

coming from the general direction of my ass.

Hermie: Wait, what is this?

Me: Umm, it looks like a bit of card stuck to the back of the fridge.

Hermie: NEIN.

Me: (scrubbing at it ineffectually) Maybe we can put some hot water on it and let it soak for a while…

Hermie: NEIN!

So he grabs a knife, bends over my back and starts attacking the offending bit of card like a man possessed. For someone who didn’t have the strength to wipe down the rest of the fridge, he’s making up for it now, grunting and working up a sweat as he hacks at the card, his considerable girth finding repose on my nice-interview-dress-clad behind.

JA JA! DAS IST WUNDERBAR! JAWOHL! JAWOHL!

Close encounters of the fridge kind
Close encounters of the fridge kind

Smelling of industrial strength cleaner and old man sweat, I retired to my room, only to be disturbed again a few minutes later. Hermann needed my help printing something. When I managed to do it, he kissed me on my cheek. I guess this is the German version of snuggling.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned, I was in my nice interview dress because, yes, you guessed it, I had interviews. The first was with a German man and I was in and out in 15 minutes flat. The second was with an English woman and I was there for almost two hours. We bonded over Hermann and his dish towels in the first five minutes (she’d had a similar experience when she first arrived) and got on like a house on fire after that.

Me: So, when do you think you’ll let me know?

Sally: Oh no, we definitely have work for you! 

And she gave me a group there and then. Later that day, I got an email from the other school, saying that they also have a group for me. It’s not much, but it’s a start – and a big relief to know that I am hirable in Deutschland. So I went and celebrated with a cup of tea in a Mercedes-Benz showroom – as you do.

All in all, it’s been quite the week. JAWOHL!