Tag Archives: Registering in Germany

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.

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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

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…