April 2008


A Good Surprise!

As an American living abroad I lack something that fellow citizens take for granted.

(Relatively) easy contact with the US Government is difficult: my postmen (and there are multiple ones on a daily basis) do not work for the US Postal Service, the men in blue (or green) wear badges labeled POLIZEI, and the men in camouflage are often cute, albeit young, and on the trains going home for weekends with Mom and Dad instead of off to fight a pointless war.

So when I realized that my passport had two problems, I started trying to figure out when I could make a trip up to Berlin to visit my government and renew my passport.

For those of you who are curious about the problems: First, despite the fact that I had extra pages in my passport, I was running out of whole blank pages—the kind needed for full page visas; and two, it expires early next fall, and, generally speaking, passports become useless six months in advance of expiration. Therefore, while I could get a second set of additional pages added to my passport, it seemed easier just to get a new passport and save the hassle of getting a whole new passport in the fall.

I hatched a plan and in mid-February I headed up to Berlin. You might remember that trip: I went dancing, saw some museums, and had dinner with Snooker and No Nickname Guy. I had a great time, with the added bonus that on Friday morning I went to the US Consulate and ordered my new passport.

It was surprisingly easy and fast—I got there shortly after the offices opened at 8:30 (they are open from 8:30 to 12, daily), handed the man my form, my credit card, filled out another form requesting extra pages in my new passport, and was finished by 8:50. Twenty minutes including security, paying, form filling, looking at the posters, and exiting.

Honestly, I had budgeted a lot more time for the whole exercise, so I was completely and totally amazed.

One week and one weekend later, that is to say not the next Monday, but the following Monday, I got a phone call at work: it was the US Consulate in Berlin wanting to make sure that they weren’t supposed to mail me my new passport, a question that could only mean that my passport was ready.

Imagine that: seven working days to get a passport: the forms were filled out in Berlin, the new passport was made in America, and it was shipped back to Berlin and was ready for me to pick up. Now I had specifically declined having the passport mailed to me for a number of reasons, principally because I don’t quite trust Deutsche Post that much. There are several other minor reasons, but that’s the biggest one.

Under ideal circumstances I would have already picked up my new passport: I planned a return trip to Berlin for early March, only to realize that Ver.di, a public employees union that represents the bus, u-bahn, and tram workers in Berlin, was going on strike, so I cancelled my trip.

I could have made it to Berlin and enjoyed walking around the neighborhood where I was going to stay, but the US Consulate is not, shall we say, centrally located. I would have needed a taxi to get out there and a taxi to get back to the city center—something that although not impossible, I suspect both expensive and scarce, especially given the strike.

Given my upcoming travel schedules, I wasn’t really certain when and how I would have made it to Berlin and the US Consulate before my next trip to the States, unless I forced the issue—so after examining my calendar, I landed on this weekend.

Happily my initial impression of the citizen services section was reinforced. I was in and out of the facility in less than 10 minutes—the longest single time was spent waiting for the security guard to inspect the purse of the woman in front of me—she seem to have brought a lot of stuff that she didn’t really need at the consulate, never mind on a regular daily basis.

It was time to enjoy the rest of my time in Berlin, and I had plans!

5 comments to A Good Surprise!

  • ann

    That’s crazy. In Frankfurt I have always had a _considerable_ wait in the security line, and getting on the line early doesn’t necessarily help. I got to the front of the line before the office I needed opened (the consulate was open mind you, just not the office I needed). You think I could wait inside where it was warm?
    They sent me for a walk and I had to get back on line.

  • Lee

    Recently renewed my Passport. Drove to the consular service agency in Bremen. Made the transaction. This was on a Thursday. She said 7 to 10 days back in my hands. I received it by mail the following Friday. Like you? She sent it to Berlin. They sent it to USA. They sent it back to Berlin. They mailed it to me. Pray tell??? 8 “mail” days?

  • Wow, that is quick.

    This new passport is more well traveled than you might think. It started life at the US Government Printing Office, then it travled to The Netherlands where the microchip was implanted. After this it went to Thailand to have the antenna installed on the microchip, then it finally made it back to the US.

    In the US it had your information placed in it, then it made it back to Berlin, and finally into your hands at the consulate.

    I’m amazed that with all the talk about secure documents and making sure there is an adequate chain of custody, that the US Government would allow the entire stock of blank passports to, 1. Pass through so many countries, and 2. Go to one whose government has fallen victim to a military coup relatively recently.

    Ah, I just love the US false sense of security. 😉

  • @ann: I actually had the same impression with the Frankfurt Consulate: I thought it was awful. The Berlin one seems a whole lot nicer on a number of counts, including having free Handy lockers in the guard booth…

    @Lee: I am impressed! I, however, don’t trust Deutsch Post that much.

    @CQ: Lots of things take strange paths from pulp to you…

  • J

    The only problem I had with the Frankfurt consulate was they forgot to sew in the extra pages I had requested. Other than that, it was quick and easy.