On Bouncing Back

“I only wanted to anmeldeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh…..!”

We all know that the Germans love their red tape. So, after a wonderful Maitag – which is a holiday in Germany – spent drinking alcoholic syrup at the Baumblütenfest, I began the rest of my week diving head-first into the various bits of delirious admin that are involved in moving to Berlin. What follows is a series of stories, all of which have the same moral: always never accept what you’re told.

To begin my adventure, I needed to Anmelden – register as a Berlin resident – at my local Bürgeramt. Of course, my local Bürgeramt were only accepting pre-booked appointments on the day I loped all the way there, so I smiled wanly and trotted to another Bürgeramt kilometers from the original. Get used to it, we’re all metric here.

At this Bürgeramt I was handed a waiting number and went to sit among the tribes of forlorn people gradually dissolving into the upholstery of the waiting-room furniture. Minimum waiting time: 1 hour 45 minutes. I passed the time wondering why there were three Turkish children running between two of the consultation rooms every few minutes as if they were in a custody battle between two quarantined parents. Finally, after I had reached the manopause, my own number was called and I went into my own consultation room.

The stern, polyester-shirted, Bono-hairstyled woman sitting at the computer commanded me to sit and began to ask me questions about my living situation and cetera. When she asked if I had been in Berlin before I replied in the affirmative and she stopped. Her eyebrows descended like thunderclouds. 
“You are registered here on the Rigaer Straße,” she stated.
“Why yes, I suppose I am,” I replied.
“If you have not de-registered since then and went back to your home country you are now in line to pay an enormous fine of 500 euros!!” she barked with a harrowing glare. I assured her I was sure I had de-registered and she roared that if I was unable to produce a confirmation of this I would be fined to kingdom come and back, so I stuttered a weedy lie about having left the confirmation at home and fled the room like it was on fire.

500 euros?! Two hours wait??! Not even registered!? I googled my options for a while, not sure what to do, and then eventually simply gave up and decided to just try to bodge it the next day somehow and to go to sleep until then, which I enjoyed considerably more than waiting in a beige waiting room.

The next day I went to a different Bürgeramt where I was seen within 45 minutes. I asked to change my address from Rigaer Straße and the whole shebang was sorted in a smooth few seconds with time spare before lunch. Always never accept what you’re told.

I then went to the Sparkasse bank to open my account. The sweet blonde girl who helped me set up the account was overjoyed to meet an English person who apparently has the added bonus of speaking German in a Dutch accent – who knew? She therefore bent over backwards to help me and explain the entire process from start to finish, and so when I then produced a wad of Sterling traveller’s cheques to pay into my new account her consternation was visible. She didn’t actually know what they were; her colleagues also did not know what they were and they whispered together frantically in a corner for quite some time holding one of the traveller’s cheques as if it were an alien embryo. BankGirl then decided to ring head office and speak to the Travel Money department for their help, and they asked her to fax them a photocopy of one of the cheques as they couldn’t quite believe it either. After the fax reached Frau Brunch (that was her real genuine name), Frau Brunch declared that the cheques must be fake. She could tell because they were in sterling pounds and YET the cheques said American Express and had ‘New York’ printed on them which must have meant they could only be in dollars if they were genuine. ‘Send her away,’ Frau Brunch cried down the phone, and BankGirl apologetically told me I’d best pop off to a Bureau de Change to get them all converted into euros before I tried to pay them in.

The woman at the bureau de change, who must have been the sister of the woman in the Bürgeramt, then informed me that on top of the conversion fee for the entire sum there would also be a fee per cheque which, as American Express had kindly sent me the entire sum in £20 installments, would amount to £50 in total fees. After sobbing in a corner for a while, I shuffled off with my traveller’s cheques still uncashed.

I then went to another Sparkasse around the corner where the stern man informed me that it was no trouble to pay the cheques directly into my account and would I mind paying a 10 euro handling fee for the whole shebang. Always never accept what you’re told.

Finally, determined to set everything up that day, I went to the phone shop to get a German SIM card. I asked the man in the shop if he could sell me a pay-as-you-go card which included Blackberry functionality and he told me with distinct outrage that such a thing did not exist and only a cretin would assume it does. I assured him that I thought this was possible and he simply shook his head and asked me to leave the store before my raging stupidity offended him even more. 

So I went to another phone shop around the corner and bought a pay-as-you-go card which included Blackberry functionality and got offered a discount of 15 euros for it. Always never accept what you’re told.

Unless they tell you to go around the corner and ask again.

Rose T