June 2004


Bureaucracy I

At the end of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Dr. McCoy notes that “The only constant in the universe is bureaucracy.” I remember once reading that that line was the only line that generated any response from a (then) Soviet audience watching the movie during the cold war.

That phrase comes to mind for me today, as I started that long winding road to living in Germany.

Due to a minor problem last night with my inability to find the cell phone charger at midnight, I opted to not use the phone as an alarm clock in case I had actually lost the darned charger. I managed to oversleep until 7:45, thus dooming myself to miss the 8:08 train. In the extra hour I suddenly had, I popped into my office and immediately spied the phone charger.

I caught the 9:08 train to Weimar and caught up with J, who took the large heavy suitcase filled with my winter clothes into my future home and asked if we could unpack it later. Fortunately the answer was yes, and we headed out to conquer bureaucracy. We did this on bicycles-something I haven’t actually ridden since a very cold winter evening in Rotterdam a couple years ago (not counting the spinning classes I adore).

The first stop was in a building-I would tell you which one, but we parked the bicycles out back, went in a side door, and pressed a button that resulted in us getting a number-744. We waited about 15 minutes before our number appeared on a little display and we were called to room number 015. Once in the room I filled out a form. Thankfully J was there to help me-this is where my extremely poor German skills are coming back to haunt me. There wasn’t one word on the “Anmeldung bei der Meldebeh” that I understood. According to Babel Fish, that is the “Registration at the reporting authority.” All I know is that I now have a pink piece of paper that is supposed to be very important. So important that I used it at a later stop. I was also rewarded with a brown piece of a paper entitled “Lohnsteuerkarte 2004” – the tax card.

I think the most important thing I’ve done so far with regard to my future German taxes is to declare that I have no religion-otherwise taxes would automatically be taken out to support the church. (Which church, I am not certain, but since the last time I was in a church was to vote in the Indiana primary, I’m not religious at all.)

From that first room, we went around the corner to another room (after picking up another number) to find a massively long yellow form that I filled out. I think this is the form that I will ultimately end up paying €50 for – when I get the visa documents put into my passport in August.

When we stepped out of that office, the number we had picked up was called-and this was truly a moment torn from high school. J, after much effort, had received her driver’s license! Not that she had not had a license before; but her German Drivers License was officially given to her. She was like a teenager in her excitement. Apparently getting a German driver’s license is a several month long experience that- well- is a challenge. I will be undertaking this challenge, starting tomorrow because we ran out of time today.

From there we stopped by the landlord in order to get started putting my name on the lease (important for the massively long yellow form) and the we were going to grab a bite to eat, but Joanne spied the Deutsche Bank-and since they are closed from 1-2pm, we ran in to open an account.

Naturally, we were rebuffed! We did not have an appointment! The next appointment was available next week! J explained that I wasn’t going to be here next week, and so the lady acquiesced and said I could see her at 7 that evening.

We walked up the street a few blocks, into the VR Bank Weimar and after detailed explanations in German, I had my bank account. I opted for an online bank account-you know the kind where you pay huge fees if you talk to somebody. J was there translating key information for me-and at the end Katrin, the woman helping us, handed me the instructions for online banking, and apologized because the instructions were in German. Oh well – the whole site is in German. I’m going to have to learn, but thankfully I will have several people here who can help me do whatever I need to do with my bank account.

The one downer is that I will not be able to get either a true Visa Debit Card or a true MasterCard Credit Card for at least three months.

After a quick bite to eat, we went for a stop that I thought would only take a few minutes. Instead it took a very long time. I never really stopped to look at my watch, but it had to be about an hour. It was the T-Punkt Store on the Theaterplatz in Weimar. I thought it would be relatively simple to reconfigure the phone service to something I wanted-instead J got into a very long discussion of which I understood little, but I think ultimately I will get what I want: DSL.

The other thing I got, which, since 9/11, is more complicated, was a SIM card for my phone. (I had to show my passport.) Last November I invested in an unlocked tri-band phone. Consequently I only had to buy a SIM card, open the back of my phone, put in the new SIM card, and presto! I have a German phone! And the best part is that the menus are in English- I won’t have to try and figure out German Mobile Phone Language. Wooooo! For those of you who text message me, I am not going to leave the German SIM in all the time, so please keep texting me at my US number. If you want my German number, let me know and I’ll tell it to you.

Anyway, we ran out of time, as I am now- I am supposed to have dinner in 20 minutes and so I must close. Tomorrow I am going back to Weimar to finish off the housing set up.

Life is looking up. I’m not questioning my move as much right now.

7 comments to Bureaucracy I

  • Chris C

    Wow, all that red tape is wonderful… sounds like my experience getting my car registration and drivers license in hand in Virginia. The idiot clerk at my local DMV tried to tell me that my valid US Passport was not proof of legal residency in the US. I came unglued.

    On another note… I know you’re not in Germany today Adam, you are in Greensboro, NC. Why do I know this? Eric and I were having lunch and he pointed to some guy in the line at Quizno’s and said to me, “Isn’t that Adam?” This caused me to look up and, sure enough, there you were. This guy was an amazing duplicate of yourself. Facial features, body, etc.

    So, if you ever become a really high profile big wig 🙂 You know where to go to find your double.

    I take it you’ve obtained a machete to cut through all the red tape. Good luck!

  • MT

    Bureaucracy is our friend… Just kidding! However, I bet that you wish you were in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so you could have your own translation system put into place. It is a bit scary (annoying? baffling?) not to know what people are saying about you! For instance, after you go for a haircut: “Adam, das ist ein sch�ner Haarschnitt” or “Mein schlechter Trick hat gefolgt! Ihr Haar sieht wie Donald Trump’s aus.”

    Sidebar: Isn’t Babel Fish a marvelous invention???

  • MT

    Start learning German now!!! I am saving my pennies for my trip to see you and I really *DO* suck at languages. Hmmm … maybe I could take advantage of my faculty benefits and take a FREE German class here at school. Hmmm … maybe not!

  • I would estimate that by the end of September (two months into my immersion) I will know how to do on-line banking, find toilets, order off menus (hopefully avoiding pork, that wonderous local food that I am allergic to), and get train tickets. I can do everything but the first thing to a limited extent right now.

    When are you coming?

  • Chris, There was a point in time after 9/11 in which getting an Indiana Driver’s License was nearly impossible. Even today it is a challenge even to just change your address. Last November when I went to change my address, I needed a document with my new address — like a bank statement. This of course was a problem since I didn’t have a bank statement with that address on it! Ultimately they changed the address on my car registration, printed that off, and then used that as sufficient proof for my address change on my drivers license. I was, of course, impressed.

    German Drivers Licenses do not have your address printed on them. However the registering with the authorities is more challenging and makes me not want to move from my new flat.

  • Chris C

    Actually, Virginia has a rather interesting “gatekeeper” system of conducting business at the DMV (or BMV for the folks in IN). You have to go to a counter immediately inside the door where they check that you have everything you need to conduct your transaction. It was the person at the gatekeeper station that told me my valid US Passport was not proof of legal presense in Virginia. Obviously this person had never applied for a passport.

    I also ran into the chicken and egg problem of needing something with my Virginia STREET address printed on it. This was a paradox, because I couldn’t get car insurance without a Virginia drivers license and I couldn’t get a drivers license without car insurance on vehicles that I own.

    I nearly reached the point of asking my friend that lives in North Carolina if I could register my cars at and change the address on my NC license to their home. I figured if VA was so disinterested in receiving the taxes from my cars then I might as well register them someplace that might appreciate the money. Oddly, on a “moral” principle, it would make more sense for me to have the cars registered in North Carolina since I do most (around 75%) of my driving there.

    I encountered so much red tape in February and March that I can save it and use it for wrapping paper this Christmas.

  • MT

    Starting to save my pennies now. At this rate, I might be 80 before I come to Germany. Just Kidding! If you have survived until Spring, I may venture forth over my spring break or during the first part of May…