We are in Berlin! This wonderful, exciting, surprising city. After a cocktail in Simon-Dach-Straße last night I gushed to Chris: Sometimes when I walk around here I think I’m in paradise! (You can see for yourself in these photos from our walk today.)
But it took me a while to cozy up to Germany again. In fact, from the uncomfortable moment when I thought we weren’t going to get Olive through customs, I began treading on the brink of panic and wondering how naive I’d been to move here.
It wasn’t just the gruff-manners of some Berlin residents, the famous “Berliner Schnauzer,” which on one occasion brought me close to tears when I was trying to buy ice cream. How tragic to be brought down so low while attempting a happy indulgence!
Obviously rude people shouldn’t be allowed to sell ice cream.
I had less acute but more persistent difficulty with the necessary task of plodding through multiple public offices in order to register myself and Chris, and, on occasion, Olive. Despite Kafka, I had forgotten what it was like to have to argue my way through German bureaucracy.
With most city and state officials, and many private ones, I’ve found repeatedly that it doesn’t matter how many times you double or triple check your collection of certified documents. Upon presentation of these materials something will be found missing, or incomplete, or incorrect. My impression, confirmed by others, is that ‘official’ requirements here are often not clearly laid out, and it’s common to get different advice/responses from different officials on different days. As Chris noted, “this makes the DMV look easy!”
The good news is that instead of giving a straight-forward refusal to your oh-so-humble request (“l’d like to declare my place of residence in your city please”) officials like to spend a few minutes to shake their heads and explain the severity of your misstep, before waiting with forehead twisted impatiently for your response. If you’re like me, the elaborate show of exasperation will bring about your quick apology and prompt you to sprint for the door. But you can’t run away! You have to stand your ground!
Methods I’ve employed:
“Yes, I understand the frustration, but I’m sure that this is not what I was told by X.” [enter name of probable city authority]
or — if you’re desperate, “what do you suggest I do to prove to you my eligibility? I’m sure I can return with a letter from X.”
Perhaps not wanting to deal with you again, they will eventually sign and stamp your paper with a customary: “Well, I’ll let you through this time…” Read: You better realize that I’m doing you a favor.
Since being here I have successfully concluded these exchanges with: customs, the Bürgeramt, an insurance provider, the university, two cell phone providers, the local bank, four libraries, and an all-important archive, which [thank God!] was graciously welcoming.
For a person who typically avoids confrontation, I have to say, it’s liberating to stay in the ring and throw a few punches. The heavy-weight bout, my dissertation research, has yet to feel like a win, but I let myself enjoy these small early victories. Walking up out of the subway into Karl-Marx-Allee, I feel I’ve earned my little niche in this vast, impressive city.