If my year abroad were a tv series, this week’s episode would begin with a montage of various German bureaucrats shouting ‘nein’ at me. I wouldn’t mind these rejections if they offered the possibility of a lengthy German conversation, perhaps even the opportunity to utilise my set rhetorical phrases (“on the other side of the coin…it simply cannot be denied that..”) in a debate over the necessity of bureaucracy. However, these personnel are only capable of speaking monosyllables and I was denied the right to both conversation practice and to register in Berlin.
Just to recap from my previous blog, without attaining this ‘Anmeldungsbestӓtigung’ (confirmation of registration), I can’t open a bank account, get paid, get any kind of membership to anything, sleep at night, etc. So this week’s mission was to get hold of this piece of paper at any cost. Germans, obstinacy, putting up walls to deter outsiders. I think I’m getting déjà vu.
On the 29th September, between the precious hours of 16:00 and 17:30, I had reason to believe that I would finally get my hands on this piece of paper. Here are the events that were to follow:
16:00: After refreshing the appointments page for 3 hours in the hope of a cancellation, a miracle happens. An appointment for 16:50 appears on my screen and I immediately book on.
16:01-16:05: I dance around my room in elation.
16:05: I realise that my appointment is in 45 minutes- it takes about 50 minutes to get there. I run out the flat.
16:05-16:50: Whilst travelling to my appointment, it dawns on me that I am about to have an appointment with not only Germans, the most punctual people in the world, but German bureaucrats, the very ambassadors of this people. And I’m about to be late.
16:50-17:00: I jog out of the Ubahn station, Yorckstraße. I am now certain that I am going to be late. Have I blown my one chance of getting an appointment, which would get me an Anmeldungsbestӓtigung, which would get me a bank account, which would allow me to receive my salary? My jog turns in to a sprint.
17:00: I realise that I’ve been sprinting the wrong way down Yorckstraße. I am already 10 minutes late. Determined this is not the end, I turn around and run in the opposite direction.
17:10: Drenched in sweat, I finally arrive at the Bürgeramt (translation: hell). I explain why I am late in an ambiguous mix of German and wheezing. She offers one word in response, “vorbei” (“over”). As I start to well up, she mumbles to go to the third floor and points to the stairs.
17:12: Whilst catching my breath at the top of the third flight, I catch sight of the lift.
17:13: I apologise profusely at the registration desk and beg to still be seen. She types in my details on the computer, before announcing that my appointment never existed. I show her my email confirmation. She checks again. It still doesn’t exist. She accuses me of appointment fraud.
17:15: She eventually concedes that it’s more likely that there’s been a mix up than that I’ve forged an appointment and, in any case, if I were so desperate that the latter were true then I deserve an appointment anyway. She gives me a ticket with a number on it, but I feel like I’ve won the lottery already.
17:26: My number is called and I go in for my appointment. Fingers trembling, I hand over my passport and rental contract.
17:27: The longest minute of my life.
17:28: Like Rose afloat on the wardrobe before she loses Jack to the ocean, the woman tells me that I am ineligible to register. As I am currently living in student accommodation, I am not allowed to register without the permission of the ‘Studentenwohnheim’.
17:29: She gives me a form to be signed by the Studentenwohnheim, which then needs to be returned to the Bügeramt so that I can register, so that I can then get a bank account, so that I can get paid.
17:30: I explain that without this piece of paper I won’t receive my salary and will therefore starve (accidentally omitting the back-up plans of my Erasmus grant, student loan and middle class parents) yet she shows no mercy. I leave empty handed.
I’m now back to square one, but sweatier and more disillusioned.
I should probably clarify that the past few weeks hasn’t been all fear and misery but, as my dear old friend Bertolt Brecht will tell you, tragedy is a better read.
There have been lots of highlights: Oxford friends (Harriet, Tamanna and Alex) coming to visit, being told off by the deputy head for not being in class, receiving an apology from the deputy head for mistaking me for a student, going out in Berlin, teaching a few classes by myself, shutting children out the staffroom who are waiting for teachers, fun in the sun, etc.
I even went swimming today as I realised I hadn’t exercised since the Anmeldung saga, and even that was accidental. Going to a public swimming pool in Germany is a completely different experience to going to one in England. Now that I am over the age of 10, I would only really go to one in England if I were seeking a verruca or an STD. In Germany, by contrast, they are more like Roman baths than swimming pools, kitted out with jaccuzis, saunas and even a waterslide (without a trace of urine.) They can’t be too bad a people.
The problem, however, remains; I am still without an Anmeldungsbestӓtigung and, with a 6-8 week waiting list, God knows how I am going to get another appointment. I’ll probably have to forge one.