Visa Card

15 02 2012

On Monday I went to the Ausländerbehörde to pick up my new visa.

They’ve changed the system for visas to conform to new European standards. The old visa used to be full-sized stickers stuck into your passport and ate up 2 entire pages of space. Now it’s just like the ID card German citizens get, except obviously it’s a residence permit.

Just in time, too, because I don’t have any pages left in my passport!  (And since I’ll be changing my name anyway in August, there’s no point in getting extra pages for a passport I’d have to renew anyway!)

There’s also an online function to speed up filling out various forms, for example, or as a secure way to verify your identity. But this time I opted out (since I have to get a new one soon anyway…sigh) and honestly I don’t think there is currently a great need for it. Apparently you can buy a machine and software (no thanks!) so you can use it at home, too, but to me, that sounds entirely pointless.

For my work permit, there is an extra piece of paper (similar to the Fiktionsbescheinigung, or temporary visa, I received before) that must also be kept with the visa, as it shows the exact information about where I am allowed to work.

More information about the process in English can be found here.  And in German, here is the information from the state of Hamburg: here & here.

Anyway, I’m happy to have that taken care of, even if it will only last me for the next 6 months until name and status changes require a new one (and unfortunately more expensive one, I might add!). I got there at 7:30, at opening time, and was number 57 in line. Yikes. The entire wait took 2 hours and 45 minutes. But the best part was that Tobias came around 9:30 with a thermos full of hot tea and some pastries from a local bakery. What a sweet guy!


Friday the 13th

13 01 2012

I’m not superstitious, but I was nervous about today.

Early this morning, at 6 a.m., I hopped on a train to Berlin for my appointment at the US Consulate to do some paperwork related to my wedding.

I slept most of the way over, in that special state of train dozing — in and out of consciousness, somehow waking up right as the conductor was there to check my tickets, even though I hadn’t heard him — as a large group of Polish people chattered around me. In my strange state of dreaming, I thought I even understood some of what they were saying! I’m pretty sure my mouth was open while I was sleeping, though. Umm…talk about embarrassing!

I made it to Berlin and followed my directions I had written for myself on how to get to the embassy. S7 to Zoologischer Garten, U9 to Spichernstraße, U3 to Oskar-Helene-Heim. I had been nervous about navigating a transportation system I didn’t really know. (Last time I just blindly followed Tobias around the town. I’ve got a bad sense of direction anyway.) But it ended up being quite easy, and I was impressed with my directional skills when I guessed the right direction walking out of the  U-Bahn station to get to the Embassy.

At the Embassy

Soon I saw an American flag on a big building, and a line of people standing out front. So I stood behind them. A [German] policeman outside asked me if I had any cell phones, USB sticks, mp3 players, cameras, or electronic equipment. I told him I had left it all at home (without a phone…another reason I was nervous about going to Berlin by myself!) and he joked around with me a bit – he was in a really good mood!

A good-humored American guard called a group of us in to the security check area. Easy peasy. I had gotten there a little bit early for my appointment, like around 9:40.  But that wasn’t a problem –  had an appointment list and they let me come in early (and it didn’t feel like they were making an exception or anything). So I went up and got things taken care of, and I don’t know if it was my luck (take THAT, Friday the 13th!) but I was finished and out of there by 10:00 – which was my appointment time!

That meant I had extra time to go explore a bit around Berlin. Although I didn’t really explore much – I remembered the name Hallesches Tor, so I just went there and walked. (VIP side note: I also found a Dunkin Donuts and bought a dozen to take back home with me, which I then walked around with for 2 hours. But for next time I now know that there are two Dunkin Donuts in Berlin Hauptbahnhof!) So I walked down the U6 line and ended up at Unter den Linden (a huge shopping boulevard with the Berliner Tor at one end) and then took the S-Bahn back to the central station. I spent the rest of my time there looking in shops and ate lunch at McDonald’s while waiting for my 1:24 p.m. train. And then I headed back to Hamburg, sleeping (once again with my mouth open…oy) most of the way back.

My Tips for going to the US Embassy and Consulate in Berlin

A big reason for my nervousness about this process was the lack of answers I found online to some questions I had, so I was worried I wouldn’t have the right stuff. So here are a few tips I’d like to share on the experience:

  • You’ll see it on your appointment print-out, but the embassy is located at 170 Clayallee. NOT the one near the Berliner Tor! Clayallee is about 40 minutes away from the Hauptbahnhof station.
  • Make sure you check the prohibited items list on the Embassy’s website. For this reason, I didn’t even bring any of those items with me from Hamburg. If you’re staying longer, leave them at your hotel. It will expedite the security checkpoint if you don’t have any of these items. That said, they have (tiny) lockers for you to keep prohibited items, so if you absolutely need your cell phone, or if you forget you’ve got a USB stick or a lighter in your bag, it won’t get thrown out. You’ll just have to pick it back up at security on the way out.
  • After you’ve cleared security, the guards will tell you where to go, but it’s easy – you just go inside the doors to the building and follow some red signs. The first floor is for visas. I didn’t need that, however, and went past the guard on the first level to the American Citizen Services section on the 2nd floor.
  • There’s a sign that says to go to windows 1 or 2. If you’re lucky like I was, the office will be empty when you get there. If not, you may have to wait in line, but that’s no biggie. I went to the lady with my documents. She told me what was necessary. (See below.)
  • As with any notarized document, if you’ve brought your own document to get notarized, wait to sign it until the notary tells you to.  For it to be valid, it must be signed in a notary’s presence. I brought a permission slip I wrote to allow my mother to pick up my birth certificate for me, which I just typed up and printed out to bring with me. (Included in that were my name, place & date of birth, my mother’s name and current address, and of course the purpose of the letter.)
  • If you’re looking for a Single Status Affidavit or a Marriage Affidavit (Familienstandzeugnis or Ehefähigkeitsbescheinigung), you DON’T need to bring your own letter. I had brought one just in case, because I wasn’t sure if they had their own form. They do. So just tell them you need one and they’ll type up the affidavit in English and German. They’ll need your passport and your current address, as well as the name of the courthouse you’ll be getting married at.  Wait while they type up the documents, and then they’ll call you over to another window to sign the document. The document is in English and German, and does not need an Apostille.
  • The Single Status Affidavit is just basically a document that says you’ve never been married before and that you are not in the US Armed Forces. (If you have been married before, then divorce papers would of course be necessary.) The notary will ask you to read the documents to verify the information is correct, and that you understand the document, as they are not permitted to explain the contents to you. You then swear (or declare) that the information is true, and they will instruct you to sign the form. You put it back through the window and they’ll sign it, and then you’re official!
  • You’ll need a birth certificate with an Apostille as well, which you can only get in the state where the birth certificate was issued. Since I’m not planning on going back to the US before the wedding, that was my reason behind the permission slip for my mom to pick it up for me. It’s possible via mail and via VitalChek, but the reason I decided not to do it through them was because they can’t get the Apostille part, at least for Washington DC. So I figured it was just as easy to get my mom to pick up my birth certificate as it would be to pay a company to do it.

So that’s a list of the information I wish I could have found before going there. Hopefully it will help someone out there with the same questions!

And last but not least, here are the links I read for information on all this stuff:


Beginning to plan

4 01 2012

(It’s funny how the yellow of the flower makes my blue sapphire look green!)

Monday I went to the Ausländerbehörde (aliens’ office) to get my visa renewed. Thankfully, during that 4-hour long process, Tobias came and waited with me. And since the Standesamt (Office of Vial Records) is in the same building, and we still had a long way to go until my number was called, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and went over there to get some information on what documents are needed to get hitched!

Cultural Differences & Paperwork

Unlike in the US, where you just go to the courthouse to pick up your marriage license and don’t actually get married there, it is a necessary first step here in Germany. Everyone must get married at the Standesamt first in order for the marriage to be legal, and then if you want to later, you can have a church wedding.

It’s different depending on where you live and other factors, but the lady told me I only need three things: my birth certificate with an Apostille (like an international notary stamp), an “Ehefähigkeitszeugnis” (a Single Status Affidavit) and my last paycheck. All Tobi needs is his birth certificate and his last paycheck.

The paycheck is needed because I think how much you pay to get married at the Standesamt is on a sliding scale. The more you earn, the more you pay. The lady told us it would be approximately 180€ for us.

Then there’s this Single Status Affidavit. I am not entirely sure how this works, but basically you have to get proof that you’ve never been married before. It’s strange, because how can you prove that something hasn’t happened? I’m interested in seeing how they find this out. Hamburg unfortunately doesn’t have a consulate here which does citizen services anymore, so I’ll have to go to Berlin.

The more complicated part is that my birth certificate needs this Apostille. Which you can only pick up in your home state. Which means that when I go to the consulate next week, I’ll also be getting a document notarized that says my mom is permitted to pick up a birth certificate for me. It’ll take about a week for that to get to her via mail, although I may pay more to expedite it or make sure it’s more secure/reliable. After she picks up the birth certificate, Mom will have to go to the treasury and get this special stamp, and then send it back to me…which altogether makes a good month of just getting the official documents.

I’ve also heard that in general, documents in Germany must be no older than 6 months. And I may have to get it translated into German, as well! Sure is a lot more than we’d have to do if we just got married in the US…but our desire to do it in Hamburg where we live together is pretty strong nonetheless. Oh well.

Paperwork aside, we’ve been discussing ideas and looking at dates. We may have found one, but still have yet to ask the church, so…no news for you guys yet. 🙂 Otherwise, I’ve been doing a lot of browsing online and gleaning inspiration, and trying to enjoy these early stages of my engagement. And kissing my fiancé a lot, of course!


Happy October!

1 10 2010

It’s finally October – one of my favorite months of the year!  (Though how much of that is because my birthday is this month?  Hmm…good question.)

In all honesty, I am excited about my birthday.  I’ll be 24 this year.  Another even number.  Though I’ll be working all day on my birthday, I am excited about a weekend road trip that Tobias has planned!  Another fun adventure!

I’m official.

Speaking of working…I GOT MY WORK PERMIT! I am too excited about that to complain about how difficult it was to get.  Or about the fact that it’s only for 3 months, and I have to go back in December and prove I can make a living doing freelance English teaching.  Or about how rude the lady was at the office.  Or about how four different people at the immigration office told us four completely different things, four different times, making the process last four times as long.

I could complain about all those things, but I won’t.

Okay, fine.  It’s true.  You caught me: I complained about them just by mentioning them.  But you should know that I am way more excited about the positive things (being allowed to work in Germany) than I am frustrated by all of the negative things.

And now that I have my permit, I’m working like hell.  I’ve been so busy with work now that I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to finally have a weekend.

I enjoy what I do, though.  Being a teacher is great.  Lesson planning, however, is not so great.  It’s not the planning itself that stresses me out.  It’s an important thing to do so I don’t have to make up activities or examples on the spot.  But it’s really hard that I come home from teaching and spend hours planning the next lessons, staying up way later than I should.  Other teachers keep telling me it will get easier as time goes on, and I think they’re right.  I’m only just beginning.

I am incredibly lucky to already have three different language schools to work for so soon after arriving in Germany.  Everyone, including myself, thought it would take longer to find work.  And normally it should, especially with the way the job market is now.  But I just happened to get into contact with the right people at the right time – exactly when they needed someone.  And I’m really glad about that.


What a week we’ve got planned…

30 08 2010

Deciding on health insurance.  Taking the form to the dentist on Wednesday.  Doctors’ appointment soon.  Reading through policies.  Being confused and frustrated.

Insurance companies want to make sure I’m healthy before they insure me, and since I’ve never been insured in Germany…it means I have to go get checked out before they even consider my application.  Cross your fingers for me that all goes well!  (I’m extra nervous about the dentist…)

Homemade PSL

The excitement about fall brings to mind the soon-to-be-available Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) at Starbucks.

The PSL hype has been all over the blogosphere recently, and it left me feeling a little nostalgic and left out.  Though Hamburg has many Starbucks, I don’t know for sure if they have the exact same products.  You’d think they would, as a global company, but one time my good friend Sara asked for a simple iced coffee at the Starbucks in Paris and the following conversation ensued:

Barista: “You mean you want a frappuccino?”

Sara – “No, iced coffee…like, plain coffee with ice in it.”

And that’s what she got.  HOT coffee with a scoopful of ice cubes in it.  Result?  Lukewarm coffee.  Fellow coffee-lovers, is there anything worse than lukewarm coffee?

Even if they did have PSL at a Starbucks near me, I am not likely to have one unless I really want to treat myself to something special.  Besides, who can afford a 5-dollar-latte on a regular basis?  Anyone?  …do I hear crickets chirping?

I sure can’t afford it.  So this morning, I turned to google to see if it could scrounge up any homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte alternatives. Unfortunately, almost every mock-PSL recipe I found had one ingredient that is almost impossible to find in Deutschland: canned pumpkin.

Fueled by my desire for that autumnal PSL taste, I kept looking.  And I found it.  It’s a recipe for a syrup to put in your latte that includes all of the spices you typically find in pumpkin pie: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.  It took a little searching at the grocery store (and a little help from my German dictionary), but I found all the spices I needed and whipped up the recipe tonight.  It’s on this lovely blog called Sugarcrafter, which I intend to bookmark and use again for more recipes.

I can’t wait to try it with my coffee tomorrow!  I will be sure to let you all know how it turns out.

Out of commission

I may be out of commission, so to speak, for the next few weeks.  Our neighbor, who has let us use her internet for free, is moving out early tomorrow morning.  We’ve ordered our own internet service, but it takes a few weeks for them to come and install it.  I hope to post some during the next few weeks, but I probably won’t be able to do it on such a regular basis.

So, in my absence, enjoy the beginning of fall (and Pumpkin Spice Lattes!), and I hope to see you soon!


Human beings

20 08 2010

The Ausländerbehörde office opens at 8:00 a.m.  Tobias and I headed over there early, hoping we wouldn’t have to wait so long, and got our ticket at exactly 8:02.  And we were number 35. Obviously, people had gotten there much earlier to stand in line.  Crazy.

We left to go get some breakfast at a lovely little café that made hearts in our lattes.  (I wish I could get the hang of that!  I’ve tried, but there’s only so much a microwave and a handheld milk foamer can do!)

We came back to the immigration office around 9:00 a.m.  They were only on number 12 at that point.  Oy.  We spent a total of 4 hours there, as our number didn’t get called until noon.  We rejoiced when our number 35 appeared on the screen and went back to our assigned office.  The lady there was constantly being interrupted by her colleague, who was answering questions from people on the phone, and who very obviously had no clue what he was doing.  No wonder things were taking so long.


I showed her my documents and the list that the previous advisor had printed out for me.  She then told me that her colleague was wrong, and had given me information as if I were a student, and there are different requirements for freelance workers.  And because I’m poor (living in France really broke the bank last year), Tobias has to bring in all sorts of documents that prove he can support me in case I can’t provide for myself.  That’s quite a commitment on his part, and I really appreciate everything he’s been doing to help me out.  But then we had another question to which she did not know the answer, and she had to go ask her colleague.

This experience makes me more hesitant to give any real advice to others who are looking for visa information in Germany.  Because in the end, immigration officers are human beings and they don’t know everything.  To err is human.  They don’t always know all the rules, and sometimes will give you wrong information.  If it doesn’t work, go back again.  Someone will likely tell you something different.  And eventually it will work.

At least we got more information out of that 4-hour wait, and I’m a little bit closer to getting my visa.  I just hope we aren’t given another different set of information when we go the next time.  Now the most important thing is to get my health insurance taken care of (also necessary for the visa), and let me tell you – that is no easy feat.


Staying busy

12 08 2010

There’s still a lot to do before I can send in my residence permit application to the Ausländerbehörde.  But I’m at least one step closer, as I now have a bank account at Haspa.  And additionally, I have a cell phone number, which is definitely necessary for me as I send out applications to different language schools in the area.  I’ve made myself a list and am writing cover letters out the wazoo.  Oh, and I also can’t forget my “business plan” that I must write and submit with my residence permit application.  Lots to do!

Where did summer go?

It’s cold here in Hamburg!  I mean…it’s not that terribly cold, but considering the fact that it’s mid-August and I’m used to the stifling heat & humidity of Washington DC, I can’t help but shiver in these low-to-mid-70s temperatures.  And those are just the highs.  It’s getting down to 60ºF at night.

It was quite a bit warmer this weekend, though.  On Saturday, T. and I spent the day walking on the sand at the Elbe, and napping a little in our new hammock under a tree near the water.  We went back later in the evening with our grill and some Bratwurst, and had a nice little picnic.  There were lots of other people there with the same idea; it’s a great hang-out spot.

It’s nice to live near the “beach”. During the afternoon, were people swimming and laying out in the sun.  Sure, the waves were much smaller than in Ocean City, but it was nice to walk barefoot in the sand again.  And, I must say, it’s quite exciting for this American to be allowed to grill and drink beer outside on public property.  🙂

Happy Birthdays

This past week, a few people I know have had some milestone birthdays.  My mom turned 50 on August 8th.  Tobi’s Oma turned 99 on the 9th.  And my brother’s lovely girlfriend, Jaimie, turned 21 on the 11th.  Happy birthday to all of you!


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