Tag Archives: germany

My hipster visa wedding

2 Oct


Eternal love? Whatever. For the non-Germans among us, getting married in Berlin might not be romantic – but it sure is pragmatic. John Riceburg tied the knot and couldn’t be happier about it.

What am I doing here? I’m sitting next to my girlfriend in a Wilhelminist chapel in Berlin. Stained glass, brass chandeliers, angels painted on the wall – the only thing out of place is me. A middle-aged woman is sitting behind a desk with a book and an absurdly large stamp. There’s no question about it: I’m entering the holy bond of matrimony, Prussian-style. But what I’m feeling is more than cold feet – it’s more like existential doubt. Why would anyone in this day and age want to get married?

The story began almost a year earlier when I went to a consultation about getting a work visa in Germany. Within 18 months after getting my university degree, I would need to show a full-time, permanent job contract that was somehow related to my field of study. He warned me that the clock would start ticking the day I got my diploma. So I mentioned I had a German girlfriend. “Then definitely get married,” he said. Hands down the best option.

I broached the subject with my partner, as carefully as I possibly could, and she agreed it just made sense. So we set off on our paperwork adventure.

The main thing we needed was an Ehefähigkeitszeugnis, a certificate stating neither of us were married to anyone else. Any German citizen can get this from the Bürgeramt, but as an American, I couldn’t. Instead, I had to go to the US consulate and swear to a clerk that I wasn’t married. They provided a form, in English and German, explaining that I had made this declaration and that they had no possibility to check whether I was telling the truth. The cost? Fifty dollars.

Next, we went to the Kammergericht and asked for an exemption of the need for an Ehefähigkeitszeugnis. After two weeks, the court gave me an individual exemption that was good for exactly six months. Then all we needed was my birth certificate (translated from English at a cost of €25!) and we were off to the Standesamt, where we had to fill out a form assuring them we were not getting married for immigration reasons. Well, not only those reasons…

Friends had told me their marriages were “checked” by the bureaucrats: They were put in different rooms and had to write down the story of how they met. Others got a home visit to see if they slept in the same bed. I asked, ever so carefully, if we would be checked. “Don’t worry,” the registrar said with a big smile. “We only do that with Turks or Africans.”

“This is all so unromantic!” my partner complained. It was true; all the forms and stamps were making our relationship start to feel like a visit to the tax office. So it was at the 2012 Fusion Festival, that I dragged her to the theatre at 4pm sharp, somehow successfully convincing her we absolutely needed to go see a documentary about light bulbs. The lights went down, and the Latino theatre organisers, happy to help me win the hand of “la mujer de mi visa”, projected a one-minute film (thoughtfully including German subtitles!) in which I asked her to marry me. I got out some gigantic neon-pink rings I had gotten for €5 each from H&M. She said yes – but then again, she didn’t have much of a choice with 500 people watching.

Paperwork? Check. Proposal? Check. In our eyes, we were done, but to our chagrin, our parents insisted on bringing together dozens of relatives for a traditional ceremony. Still, we refused to sacrifice our individuality. After we left the chapel, we celebrated at Tempelhofer Feld, where we all sung the song “Lieselotte XXL” about an old woman, Lieselotte Meyer, marrying a young man from Kurdistan to protect him from deportation. Next, we went to an abandoned building and had a big group of seniors spray graffiti. I almost wished the police would come so they would admit this was the sweetest case of Sachbeschädigung ever.

We had strange colours, boots, masks, and a bolo tie made by my grandfather. It really was an individual ceremony… or so we thought until a few weeks later, when we encountered the next hipster wedding at Tempelhof, complete with hodgepodge outfits and a singalong.

So, the balance sheet after a year of marriage? It still feels anachronistic to talk about having a “wife”, but besides that, It’s fucking awesome to be married! My last trip to the Ausländerbehörde, previously an hours-long affair, took just seven minutes. Plus, my partner is saving a wad of cash thanks to Ehegattensplitting, the rule by which a married person pays the average tax rate of the couple – she’s the breadwinner among us, so her rate has dropped significantly. And there are even more legal advantages that I don’t want to mention in case a right-wing politician thinks to close the loopholes.

At the end of our marriage ceremony, the racist registrar told us: “Now, the two of you have joined up on a common path. But maybe soon it will be three, four or five people.” My partner and I looked at each other in shock. Did a bureaucrat just encourage us to enter a polyamorous marriage? Oh wait, we realised simultaneously, she was referring to kids. Now that would be really anachronistic! Why would we want a baby when we’ve already got legal residency?

Tying the Knot: Oct 8, Laika, Emser Str. 131, S+U-Bhf Neukölln.


Five reforms to bring Germany out of the Middle Ages

27 Aug


John Riceburg is currently lying on a beach somewhere in crisis-ridden Southern Europe. Before he left, he sent us this letter…

Ask any member of the American expat community what we like about Germany, and most of us won’t have to think for long: Health care, public transport and science education all seem to work (give or take).

But having settled in, one starts to notice things that seem downright medieval. Here’s my list of Germany’s top five legal anachronisms. In the tradition of Mark Twain’s suggestions for improving The Awful German Language, I’d like to think of this as some more friendly American advice.

1. Stop giving tax money to the church

Every modern country is based on the separation of church and state, right? Well, the German state collects a Kirchensteuer (a church tax) from every member of the the Katholische or the Evangelische Kirchen. They take an amount equivalent to 8-9 percent of your income tax right out of your paycheck. Theoretically this is all voluntary, but many people are signed up at birth. If you want to get out of this racket, you might be forced to pay up to €60! In this way, the Catholics get €5.2 billion a year and the protestants €4.6 billion (2012 statistics).

It’s no problem if the churches need cash (“God is all-powerful, he just can’t handle money!” – George Carlin), but they should have to collect it themselves!

2. Drop the multi-tiered school system

Most of Germany’s universities are mostly free (which is great). But to go to university, you need the Abitur or an equivalent. Students are sorted into different kinds of schools when they’re only 10, 11 or 12 years old. Only those that get selected for the vaunted Gymnasium have a real chance to go to college – all others have at best a rocky road to higher education. Now this might have made sense when the Gymnasium taught the children of the landed gentry Ancient Greek and Latin. But now it means that Germany’s school system shows a particularly high correlation between social status and education level in comparison to other OECD countries (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). In other words, poor kids are less likely to get a decent schooling.

Send all kids to schools with the same quality!

3. Give people citizenship

My friend at university had been born in Germany. Her parents had been born in Germany. Her grandparents had come here from Turkey in the 1950s. She spoke some Turkish, but German was her mother tongue, and she had never lived outside the German borders. So her passport? Turkish. At the same time, Russians who have no connection to Germany except for some distant ancestors who lived in Germany centuries ago can get a German passport relatively easily. This Blut und Boden concept of citizenship has to go! Now the Große Koalition has plans to give people born in Germany the option of double citizenship. But why not just introduce the tried-and-true American system? Anyone born here is a citizen. Period.

So just give people who live here citizenship. And don’t even get me started about the need to just let the refugees stay!

4. Introduce bilingual education

The banker’s toddler has to go to a Kita with a Chinese immersion program. And Berlin has a score of Europaschulen offering classes in German in combination with another European language. This is a great thing: not only does everyone benefit from learning multiple languages, scientific research shows that kids who speak one language at home and start school in a different language have long term disadvantages. So why is bilingual education mostly restricted to the elite? Kids who speak Turkish, Arabic or other languages in their families need a chance to learn that language at school alongside German. Anything else means they will be way behind their German-speaking peers.

Let every child learn in their language and German!

5. Again, stop giving tax money to the church

Now the €10 billion the two churches get from the “church tax” every year is surely enough, right? Well… Back in 1803, Napoleon expropriated certain church properties on this side of the Rhine. Cities and states paid compensation: a city might agree to give the local bishop six cows each year. This wasn’t intended to go on forever, but it has been 211 years and counting. All these payments add up: The state gave the churches €480 million in 2012 with no sign of stopping. This is tax money, paid by everyone in Germany regardless of their religious beliefs, to finance the luxurious salaries and houses of bishops and other religious functionaries.

Have the church pay for itself! Then all those Berlin churches, which are mostly empty anyway could finally be turned into dance clubs.

Now I’ll be gone for the next few weeks. Any chance of getting this done by early September?

P.S. What reforms do you think Germany needs? Let me know in the comments.

Source: http://www.exberliner.com/blogs/the-blog/five-reforms-to-bring-germany-out-of-the-middle-ages/