If you move to Germany you have to register your location, the place you live or will be living, and this requires going to the Rathaus of the district of the city you live in as that’s where the Bürgeramt. In my case, that’s Berlin, and specifically Charlottenburg.
My current roommate is a film producer, fellow author, and base guitarist for a blues band, a nice guy from what I know thus far, but not very good at giving directions. When I asked him where the Rathaus was, he moved about me a few times orienting himself, trying to determine a starting point to explain the way to me. He attempted a few times, then waved the ideas away before settling on one.
“Go out the front door to your left, then take a right at Krummestraße and walk maybe ten minutes then you’ll see the big building.”
Simple enough. But when you have no idea where you’re going except it should be a big place and you’ll be able to see it on the horizon, yet the street you’re on keeps getting smaller and smaller…
We kept walking and hoping.
And finally the once normal street now crooked, little lane did open onto Otto Suhr Alleé, and looking left we could see the storied edifice of Charlottenburg’s Rathaus. It also houses a bibliothek, a library but most of it is devoted to official business of a variety of kinds.
When we received the form we needed to fill out and a slip of paper that gave our place in line: no.294. We looked up to see they were currently on 182.
My son’s face fell. “I should have brought my DS (hand-held game console).”
To the left and down the corridor the young worker had told us. You can always tell the register’s office. You have a few Germans there for vehicle tag renewals, marriage licenses, etc. but the waiting rooms are usually filled with foreigners. New students, women with pregnant bellies who are newly married to Germans, Turkish, African, Asian and the fewer Americans, but you can always tell those.
We entered at 12:44pm, and sat ourselves to wait along the long hallway with several dozen others, a hundred perhaps, and most people occupied themselves reading a book or talking quietly among themselves if they had companions.
There weren’t enough seats for all, so some, like us, found a place on the sets of stairs leading upwards and downwards. Inevitably you have a group of children whose mother’s let them run up and down, even their little steps pounding loudly on the heavy floor. It’s excused in children.
Most of us would rather hear them run and laugh than hear them cry and whine. Eventually they get tired or one will trip and fall, and that will be that. By general consensus, perhaps having heard, “Told you so” from the parent, they find a spot to sit down.
Am I oversensitive? Do I remark on it just because I hear English being spoken? There inevitably will be one American in the group who arrives talking loudly, complaining that they have to wait, ridiculing the German system, irritated with the waiting facilities and making themselves look even more like an idiot.
Why, I ask myself. Does the complaining serve any purpose? It won’t make anyone move faster, nor the numbers speed by more hurriedly. This type of person is what spawned the term, “Asshole American.”
And guess what? He and his daughter of perhaps ten or eleven came to sit right next to us. His wife, who was perhaps European, was consigned to standing against the wall since he didn’t offer his seat to her. We tried to ignore his derogatory comments that spouted every thirty seconds or so, but I finally turned and looked at him and shook my head after he commenced to tell his daughter what how “fucking stupid” (his words) her mother was because she shouldn’t have forgotten the letter stating they had an appointment.
“See it’s 1:40 and our appointment was for 1:30!” he expostulated further, rising to stomp back down to the main office, his daughter trailing him. His wife…my heart went out to her. She sighed, looking near tears, then pushed herself off the wall to follow in their wake. Even if they’d had the letter to prove it, the office worker wasn’t going to put someone out of the chair in front of them to immediately accommodate him.
There might have been many reasons why she stayed with the bastard, but anyone who disrespects and insults their partner in front of their child in that manner, I have no respect for, not to mention what is likely done in private. Eventually and often enough, the child will begin to treat the other parent in the same way.
The other people sat watching this all with varied expressions of disgust or apathy. I was sincerely glad when they left. And no, with hindsight, it wasn’t because I understood what he was saying that it bothered me in that way. I understood the ones speaking German and Russian, and there were a few ones who expressed tiredness with having to wait so long.
My son had dropped his head on my shoulder so many times it had become sore so I decided to take a stroll to relieve my own boredom and deadened rear end. Down a hallway and around a corner I found the central staircase of the schloss that had beautifully carved stonework, and so occupied myself photographing and admiring it. I was glad I wasn’t in a USA office of the sort, for I’m sure security would have been all over me.
Finally, FINALLY, just as I was beginning to worry they wouldn’t get to us before they closed at 6pm, at 5:40 our number came up! My son was all smiles and I had to admit my relief was not only physical but emotional as well.
But guess what?
When you register your location, you have to supply your passport and/or other papers as well as the renter’s agreement or contract you’ve made to prove your address. I had f—ing forgotten it!
Oh Mein gott! I said. (Oh, my god!)
The worker replied, “Verdammt, das ist schieße.”(Goddamn, that is shit.)
„Genau“, I agreed. (Exactly)
After over five hours of waiting, I’d forgotten the most important thing, and since it was Thursday, and they’re closed on Fridays…I would have to wait until Monday to receive my official documents.
I was so friggin irritated with myself I could spit, but even more so I was sorry my son had had to wait with me all that time, and will also have to come back with me the following week. I thought he’d cry, but he stuck it out and even gave me a hug on the way home.
So more time at the Charlottenburg Rathauson Monday! As my son suggested, “You need to keep all your stuff on a chain around your neck.” These days, if it’s not attached to me in some way, I’m good at losing it. Definitely have to get that changed.
The photos are from the stonework in the rathaus.