Thursday, June 16, 2011

The most Frustrating Waiting Room in Berlin

You too can be greatly annoyed in Berlin in just 3 easy steps!
  1. Arrive in Berlin in need of long-term visa
  2. Carefully study rules, regulations, and documents required and assemble your file
  3. Go to the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigners Authority) where they will not give you appointment, keep you waiting for hours, have an almost indecipherable accent, ask for documents they hadn't mentioned up to this point, and then merrily (this is a joke as nothing is "merry" here) send you back home to come try again another day.

Eastside Gallery & Fernsehturm
Oh, the Ausländerbehörde. How I hate you.

The "system" is just too bizarre. They deal in actual paper files. When we showed up this spring, they had pulled our actual files with all of our info from the 2007-2008 year. Weird, we have a file with the Germans. From what I understand, the US and any place that isn't crazy now deals with files digitally. You send them all the paperwork by attachment before your meeeting so no one wastes any time coming with improper documentiaion. Makes sense.

Also, about your only option since they are close to impossible to get a phone number or e-mail for is just showing On our latest trek, we arrived just after 7 (this place is between two S-Bahn stops in the middle of nowhere so there is always a great deal of walking involved) we arrived to find that there were no wait numbers left and a busting full lobby. Huh.

The agent we have been working with told us to just show up and go into room 205. Room 205 is heavily marked with "DO NOT ENTER" signs. We re-group, re-read the e-mail (thank you ipod), and bust on into room 205 with incredulous stares knifing us in the back from the full waiting room. For about 5 minutes you can see people bustling around behind the glass but they are steadfastly ignoring us. We brave the icy German glances and wait. A German girl  enters behind us and asks if we have a number. Ian starts to tell her our life story as I jab in the ribs and finally a woman appears the the desk. The German girl attacks, asking about a visa she is trying to get for her Brazilian husband. The woman cooly asks if she has a number. "Nay, aber...." The woman cuts her off and lets her know she can come back at 10 on Thursday. She tells the girl to be punctual, which the incensed visa-seeker retorts "I was über-pünktlich! I was here 7 before 7!" and storms out.

With that heated exchange out of the way, Ian and I try to be as precise and nice as possible. The woman gives us the "Do you have a number?" spiel and tries to turn us around, but I held fast. Shoving the ipod into her hands with the e-mail, we explain exactly what we have been told to do, and what we are doing. Suddenly- she is helpful! She takes the documents that we are submitting for a second time (as the office they are sending them to is apparently not communicating with them) and gives us a number.

We re-enter the lobby and watch a long line of anxious visa applicants come and go. We had planned that Ian would have time to go to work, but time ticks on by, 8 o'clock, 8:30...he is supposed to be in at 9. He calls out of work and someone's ring tone was seriously "This Endless Moment". All I could do was laugh hysterically.


Finally we were called back in and another stamped extension was waiting for me, as well as an actual appointment in September if they hadn't heard from the other office. What- actual helpfulness?! We were brought back to reality a few days later when our usual agent wrote, first asking us to come in again, and then writing once more to tell us they had our original paperwork so that last trip was a waste of time, AND we would be hearing form them in 2 weeks. Um, thanks.

Ian's visa was a snap as he is in the standard position of teaching English. But the words:
works at home & off-shore company do not compute for them. I figure they are just trying to find how best to tax me, so come on and let's do it! Enough dog & pony show, let's get this visa worked out.

At the same time as we're doing all this complaining, I am reminded how much more difficult it is for many people to move about . As Americans, we are in the same group as African immigrants who get a lot rougher go than we do. And for anyone who has ever tried to come to the US withtout a very good reason (study/work) it is near to impossible. Just recently there was a "bug" on the Diversity Lottery that allows people to just try for a visa to the US that mis-informed 22,000 people they had a chance. Ouch.

So for all our bitching & complaining, we realize it could be much worse.... (but seriously Germs, give me that visa.)

At least good friends make things much better

Want to hear more about stamps & frustration at the Ausländerbehörde? 


~ cheryl said...

This was an interesting read, although it probably wasn't that interesting to live it. Always enjoy your humor and perspective. Like that addition of tags for future searching. Loved this photo of you and friends. Would like the link moved nearer the top of the site. Hope the next time to the visa office is magical and productive!!

shoegirl said...

Oh the Ausländerbehörde... We've got to plan our trip there in a month or two for our third visa (somehow, it never really gets easier). The paperwork thing with them is just out of control, no? My husband might actually have a fit the next time one of his co-workers brings over a printed out email to ask a question - an email that they've already sent him. *sigh*

They obviously were responsive to you because you showed you were following the directions given to you. The only thing the Germans love more than paperwork: rules! We've gotten the whole we-haven't-heard-from-the-other-office/you-mean-you-don't-have-the-forms-that-weren't-on-this-list-? so-you'll-have-to-come-back-AGAIN thing before too. So frustrating.

And I'm loving über-pünktlich. Gonna have to find a way to use that one soon...

ianandebe said...

The place is a straight up bummer. I really can't believe they still deal in paper files. I know the US is incredibly difficult to get a visa, but their method seems more efficient. You send in your files digitally before you ever come in and they can tell you if you are missing something. Genius!

Steal away! My German is still terrible, but über-pünktlich is pretty good.

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008