An American in Berlin
11 September, 20161
So the reason I haven’t written in a while is not because there isn’t much going on, but in fact because there’s actually quite a lot going on. Specifically, there’s quite a lot going on with respect to my work status and ability to remain here in Germany. And frankly, it’s all been quite stressful and so I’ve resisted writing about it. But now, I think, it’s time to say a few words.
I suppose I should explain how this all works. Basically, as an American, you can come to Germany without a visa for 90 days. While you’re here, you can dig around for employment and make arrangements, but you’re not allowed to actually work. For that, you need a kind of work permit/visa. Believe it or not, this is not terribly difficult or complicated. At least not when compared with what’s required in the States, for example. Still, there’s a fair amount of red tape and bureaucratic hoops to jump through.2
Obviously, you need to have a job offer, and preferably more than one. Even this is not so onerous. Because really what you need, is for somebody to write you a letter saying they’d be interested in working with you, if you can legally work. That is to say, there’s no binding obligation. So it’s a lower bar. You also need to show proof of health insurance (easy enough), proof of residence (not quite as easy, but still manageable), and then bank statements, letters of reference and qualifications.
In fact, the hardest part is just getting a fucking appointment with the Auslanderbehörde, the ‘Foreigners’ Office,’ for lack of a better translation. Because of the refugee situation, they are completely overworked and overbooked. So just getting in to see them is a nightmare.3 And so, for quite a while, I’ve been operating under the assumption that I need to get in to see them before my 90 days are up, otherwise I’ll have to leave, no matter how valid my case. And yet, the earliest available appointment wasn’t until November. Meanwhile, my 90 days are up at the end of this month. So yeah, I was stressing, big time. It seemed like the only option was to show up at, like, five in the morning, be the first in line, and hope to get a number. But even if you’re the first in line, there’s no guarantee of getting a number or of being seen. My head was spinning. But we’ll come back to this in a sec.
Now, as I said, you need to show that you have health insurance. But not just any health insurance. It seems Germany is quite particular in terms of what your insurance must cover. Show up to your appointment with the wrong insurance and they could send you away. To this end, I met Wednesday with an insurance broker who was recommended to me by my last-year-roommate Lisa. And this wonderful woman peeled the scales from my eyes. “First things first,” she said, “we need to make you an appointment. Without that, all the insurance in the world won’t help you.” “Sure,” I said, “but how do we get something before the end of September? That’s when my 90 days are up.” And that’s when she told me.
“As long as you book your appointment while your visit is valid and legal, then your legally allowed to stay here until the date of your appointment.” Wait, what? You mean, I can add another two months to my visit, just because they’re booked up? Apparently so! So we booked the earliest available appointment…for November 21st. W.T.F.
The upside of this is, it meant I was legally allowed to stay in Germany until 11/21. The downside, I wouldn’t be allowed to work until 11/21. That’s quite the constraint. Then she told me that once you’re in the system, you have rights to reschedule. What this mean is, you can now check for cancellations and if a spot opens up, you can take it. So she suggested that I check the system daily, on the off chance something comes free.
And that’s just what I did. I met with this woman, Anke, on Wednesday. Thursday night, I decided to try my luck. Lo and behold, there was an open spot at 9:30 AM, Tuesday September 13! OMG, OMG, OMG!!! I jammed the ‘Enter” key like a million times and secured the appointment. Right, so now, instead of having literally months to get everything in order, I have, like, a few days.
So I’m stressing. Rather a bit. And yet, everybody tells me there’s nothing to worry about. Anke told me, and others besides, that it’s basically like the DMV. They’re so overworked, and so generally annoyed, that if you show up, are polite, have all your papers in order and just make their lives easy, they want nothing more than to stamp your papers and send you on your way. Gods, I can only hope!
Oh, I mentioned a job offer. A mate of mine from the CELTA rang me up last week and said they needed a teacher ASAP at one of the language schools he works at. So I went in last week for an interview and the guy “hired” me on the spot. Which is to say, he said, “As soon as you’re allowed to work, I have a class for you.” And he was only too happy to write me a letter to that effect. So I’ve got that going for me in my interview on Tuesday.
Well that’s the story there. By next writing, I should be able to say that I’ve got my papers, or that they’ve sent me away for lack of…who knows? Anyway, that’s taken up most of my brain-bandwidth lately, leaving little room for writing or anything else.
But of course there are other things else. There was the night out with a group of French and German people where the common language was actually German and not English for a change. There’s the MaidenLane-iversary. There’s the NWOBHM kick I’ve been on. There’s the Yankees being all-of-a-sudden exciting. The craft beer bar in Wedding.4 The BBQ in Tempelhoferfeld. The apartment hunt. And also Charlotte is coming to Berlin for a couple of weeks, and the road trips we are planning: Krakow, Prague, Bavaria. So there’s lots going on.
But lately, this whole visa thing has overridden it all. And now it’s all coming to a head. Tuesday will be a big day. The biggest of days, in fact. So I think it’s best if I say no more until I’ve had my appointment. Until then.
- It goes without saying that 9/11 holds a significant meaning for any American, and especially New Yorkers. But for me, today, I’m reminded that 9/11/15 was the date that Charlotte and I embarked up on the most epic of road trips, and one of the best experiences of my life already. [↩]
- Needless to say, I’m speaking from the perspective of trying to work here as a freelance English teacher. Other types of employment have other types of requirements. [↩]
- And while this is inconvenient for me personally, it’s hard to find fault with this. I mean, of all countries, Germany has done more than any other in terms of accepting refugees. And I laud them for it. [↩]
- Wedding is the name of a neighborhood in NW Berlin. [↩]