Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

GW Expat: An international red tape experience

BERLIN – I would like to start off by making a confession – the thing I miss the most about GW is the bureaucracy. I know it’s hard to believe, but I miss RPM’s fix-it hotline. I miss GWeb. And I even miss the registrar’s office.

After only two weeks in Germany, I have come to discover what true red tape is. And folks, GW bureaucracy ain’t nothing.

In what was a revolutionary step, Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of a united Germany, introduced the idea of a social welfare system back in the 1880s. Since then the German social system has turned into a sprawling bureaucratic maze that Germans openly decry as lazy and inefficient. That characterization is right on.

Once in Berlin, I proceeded to tackle the “Upon Your Arrival in Germany” checklist I got from the German Academic Exchange Service. First on the agenda: get an Anmeldebest?tigung.

After some research, I was able to discern that Anmeldebest?tigung is a long German word for confirmation of registration. No problem, I just had to register with the Krauts to let them know that I am here. A quick Google search provided me with a list of what I needed to register and where to go, and off I went to the local Einwohnermeldeamt, or resident office, brandishing every possible form of personal identification short of a urine sample.

Of course, the office was not where its Web site said it was. So after walking in circles for nearly an hour, I finally gave up my pride and asked a passer-by for help. After initially giving me the German look of scorn, the lady pointed me in the right direction. The office is tucked away in the middle of a shopping center in between a German version of a dollar store and a tobacco shop. And to think that I thought Rice Hall was inconvenient.

Once inside the office, I took a number and sat in the Warteraum to wait my turn and wade my way through the necessary forms, which were full of long words such as Melderrechtsrahmengesetzes and Rehabilitationsma?nahmen. If you have no idea what those mean, you are not alone. Apparently the folks that compiled my German-English dictionary don’t either.

Some two hours and much head-scratching later, my number was called. As the worker put in all my information, she all of a sudden stopped to inform me that my flatmate did not live at my address.

Having seen him in our living room earlier that morning, I was a bit confused to find out that according to the government he had moved out two months ago. The lady asked if I knew his new address. No, I didn’t. Big whoop. I told her it must be a mistake and to just keep going. But, since I pay this guy the rent, he is my official “residence-giver,” and I therefore have to register with him – no exceptions.

“Sorry. Go find out where he lives, and come back,” she said.

I almost started World War III but I refrained and headed home to find out why my flatmate wasn’t registered at our address.

It turns out that he is now technically registered as living somewhere else, even though he still lives here. Armed with his other address, I went back last Monday, ready to get registered.

After schlepping myself across town, I arrived at the registration office at 1:15 p.m. only to discover that it closes at 1 p.m. on Mondays. A closer look at the time schedule revealed that the office has different hours every day of the week and is pretty much only open half-days, sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. However, there is an exception on Thursdays, when the office offers “extended” hours from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.

In comparison, the GW Registrar’s office is open every day from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. and the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles is open from 8:15 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily. God Bless America.

Confident that the third try would be the charm, I went back last Tuesday. Same drill. You take a number, get forms, fill out forms, wait while your hair turns gray (or in my case recedes) and finally, your number is called. I am happy to say that I managed to get registered. But my Swiss-friend Xavier, who also took a shot at registration, was denied because his roommate isn’t registered. Must be an epidemic.

I was feeling pretty good about having registered until a representative of the Foreign Students Office spoke to my language class on Wednesday. It turns out that registration with the government was just the beginning.

I now have to go to the university visa help service to get the forms necessary in order to go to the government visa office where I can fill out another form to get an appointment to come back and turn in my visa application forms. Then I can head over to the university’s health insurance office to complete a form so that they can give me a form saying that I have health insurance. I can then take that form to the Foreign Students Office to register and get the forms needed for the cashier’s office.

No more forms, please!

We Colonials tend to complain a lot about red tape, but all things considered we have it pretty easy. University offices maintain regular business hours, all forms and information are available online and Rice Hall is pretty much a one-stop shop for all things bureaucratic. Just think about how the new service center in the Marvin Center may make things even better.

But those conveniences won’t help me much here.

The only good news is that while the Germans may have invented bureaucracy, they also invented the biergarten, an open air area where beer is served. And I hear you don’t even have to fill out a form to order.

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