A couple of weeks ago, I ended up talking about weddings with one of my groups.
Me: Which hand do you wear your ring on in Germany?
Students: The right. Unlike the rest of the world.
Me: Yeah, pretty much. Oh, you don’t wear your engagement ring on the same finger?
Students: Germans don’t do engagement rings.
Me: What?! But how does that work? He gets down on one knee, proposes and gives you, erm, nothing?
Students: Pretty much.
Me: But that’s just… I don’t know… it’s just…
Students: Engagement rings are expensive.
Good old German practicality strikes again.
A little later, we were doing a listening exercise.
A: Patrick and I are getting married!
B: Wow, that’s fantastic news! Congratulations!
Me: So, let’s see the ring!
Me: There is no ring. I’m marrying a German…
Anyway, there is a point to all of this, and no, it’s not that a German has proposed to me (but hopefully some day – hint, hint…). I’ve been invited to my first German wedding!
When I lived in Latvia, if someone came out with “I wanted to ask you something”, it usually ended up with me working for no money, or a promised beer that never materialised. In Germany, however, this was followed up by, “I’m getting hitched in Berlin next year. Want to come?”
I do, I do, I do, I do, I do, I doooooo!
The invitation was all the more surprising as I don’t even know the bride that well. In fact, we only got to know each other after she started reading my blog and got in touch to ask if I wanted to meet up some time. We did, got along like a house on fire and have been friends ever since, although mostly on Facebook as she lives in London. (She’s marrying an English man which means that if my German starts to fail at the wedding, I’ll have his side of the family to talk to. Totally gewinning.)
The day itself sounds amazing – first of all, the wedding is not going to be in a church so there’s no risk of me being hounded by a priest for back taxes. There’s going to be a two-hour boat trip to Potsdam and, best of all, a 7-hour free bar…
I now see the point in not spending stupid amounts of money on an engagement ring.
Bridehilde: And you MUST write a blog post about it.
Bridehilde: You can black out my face though.
Me: Umm, that might look a bit creepy…
We might need to rethink the photography angle. But after a 7-hour free bar, there might not be much of an issue anyway.
Everyone told me Berlin would be a tough nut to crack. In fact, reading some of the expat forums, it’s a miracle anyone moves here at all. But, me being me, I like to take all of these things with a pinch of salt and find out for myself – the hard way. Berlin was my dream and I was going to achieve it or go down fighting. And I won’t lie; the last few months have been rough, far rougher than I’ve let on in this blog. I’ve spent many a sleepless night (and panicky day) wondering if I could afford to make it through the next month.
But, lest you think this post is going to be one long whinge-fest, fear not. It seems like things are finally starting to come up Linda. In the last few weeks, I’ve moved into a flat by myself, which is still standing; I’ve been made Senior Editor of Berlin Logs, which is going into print in the next couple of months; I’ve been invited to the first birthday party of Nestpick, simply because they want to “strengthen their relationship with great bloggers”, and I’ve been brandishing my shiny new press pass to get a complimentary ticket to one of the biggest shows in Berlin.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention… I GOT A JOB!
This in itself was a bit of an ordeal – two Skype interviews, a face-to-face interview and a “test day”. They said they’d let me know last week. And as I’m practically German now, I took them at their word. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday passed by in a blur of clicking “refresh” to see if THE email had arrived. It was reminiscent of being a teenager waiting for THE boy to call – which he usually didn’t. (Looking back, I dodged a few bullets there.)
Finally, on Friday, in a fug of desperation and knowing they work until 6pm, I sent them an email at 5.55 to see if there was any news. Cue almost breaking my fingers clicking “refresh” – to no avail… until 7.20 when AT LAST the email came through telling me that I had the job. Oh, the sweet blessed relief! The messages, the phone calls, the wine, the celebrations!
The details still have to be figured out and it will probably be at least a month before I start, but I’ll be working for a small start-up company (perfect), doing sales and marketing (perfect), with three men (perfect).
Now, I just need to figure out how to do my German taxes and life really will be perfect. But then, there’s a four-day weekend coming up, complete with a four-day beer festival, so maybe the taxes can wait…
So, on Friday, I made my way to Möckernbrucke and easily located the exitingthechurchtoavoidpayingstupidtaxesoffice. For some reason, they had roughly the same amount of security you find at major international airports. Luckily, I’d left my knuckle-dusters at home that day – something I would later regret.
The security guard panicked a bit when he realised my German was limited so I was waved through with minimal hassle. He explained that the building is divided into different zones, each represented by a letter of the alphabet. I needed to find room A53. I thanked him and went on my unholy way.
Twenty minutes later, I was back in the same spot, having done a complete lap of the building and failed to find the elusive A53. He paled a little and ran to get a policewoman who spoke a few words of English. I now realised that the building was also divided into an old building and a new building and that the room I was looking for was in the old building. This was information that would have been useful 25 minutes earlier.
I set off again, up and down stairs, in and out of offices, round and round the labyrinthine series of corridors.
I think I asked five different people where room A53 was, all of whom gave me different directions. I found room A52 and room A54, but there was still no A53. Another 25 minutes later, I was sending up a last prayer that I’d eventually find the room and my way out of the building again. I figured God wouldn’t mind me having one last request.
At this stage, I looked like the wild woman of Berlin-eo. I was sweaty and wild-eyed, and my hair had worked its way out of a neat pony-tail and was now sticking out in all directions. I stopped in front of yet another indecipherable map that had room A53 on it. A similar-looking creature caught my eye so I asked her in German if she knew where room A53 was.
“No, I do NOT.”
Clearly, we were in the same boat and had both been wandering around this building for what seemed like years. Afraid of this girl attacking me in a fit of “exitingthechurchtoavoidpayingstupidtaxesoffice rage”, I left her staring glassy-eyed at the map and asked yet another security guard where the damn room was.
I followed where she pointed and Angry Girl followed me.
Finally, in the depths of the basement, we found it. Opening the door, we were greeted by a little woman sitting behind a glass window. I let Angry Girl go first so I could see what she did and then copy her.
This, it seemed, was the room where we paid. Unfortunately for Angry Girl, she had assumed that they would take card. They did not. No problem, the lady assured her – she could go to the other room, fill in the form and then come back and pay later. I handed over my €30, she handed me a sticker and then we were both on the hunt for room F27.
As she had seemed pretty sane while talking to the lady in the hatch, I decided to risk striking up a conversation since we’d probably be wandering around together for a while. She turned out to be an American-German who’s dating an Irish guy so, in no time at all, I had an invite to a St. Patrick’s Day event he’s organising.
Naturally, the office we were looking for was all the way over the opposite side of the building (anyone would think they didn’t want you to leave the church), but we found this one quite easily. We took our numbers and sat down in the waiting room, chatting about Irish people, the insanity of German bureaucracy and whatever else popped into our heads.
Around twenty minutes later, my number was called. As soon as I sat down opposite the world-weary woman in the office, every German word I have ever known exited stage left. She fired a couple of questions at me; I panicked because I couldn’t understand one of them. I pushed my registration document and passport across the desk, hoping one of them might have the correct answer.
Me: (tempted to run away and too scared to speak English) I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand the question. Do you speak any English?
Kriemhild: (in rapid-fire German) NEIN! The official language of the Amt is German and if you can’t understand German then that’s your problem.
Me: OK, OK, keep your granny pants on. Can I get my friend?
Kriemhild: (with much eye-rolling at the stupid foreigner) JA…
I stuck my head out the door and asked the now-not-Angry-at-all American-German to help me. She trotted in after me and we sat down again, waiting for the storm of bureaucracy to be unleashed.
Britney-Bertel: She wants to know which area you live in.
Me: Jesus, is that all? It’s right in front of her on the bloody form.
Of course, with the confidence of having a sidekick, my German switched on again and I could understand pretty much everything from that point on. I answered questions, Kriemhild tapped away on her computer, and around ten minutes later, I had a printout declaring that I was no longer a member of the Catholic Church.
I then got a lecture on keeping this form FOREVER. The exitingthechurchtoavoidpayingstupidtaxesoffice only keeps a copy for ten years, so if the Finanzamt asks me for it twenty years from now and I can’t produce it, they can charge me twenty years of back taxes. Point taken.
As Britney-Bertel was next in the queue anyway, she thought she’d kill two birds with one stone and get her document too. NEIN. She had to pay the fee first – it was not possible to do it the other way around, despite what the lady in the hatch had said. Britney-Bertel resigned herself to coming back another day, while I notched up another victory against German bureaucracy.
As I left, I pondered the need for the lady in the hatch. Why couldn’t you just fill in the form and pay at the same time? Oh yes. This is Germany…
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain