Alone Like a Rolling Stone

The long arm of bureaucracy

If you think that with a project like ours, a circumnavigation of the world, you can leave the bureaucracy in Germany behind, you are far from it. At  latest when you set your foot on German soil it has caught up with you again. After we had started our home leave and arrived at Stuttgart airport at 0°C (32°F), acclimatization was the first priority. After all there was a temperature difference of 16°C (61°F) to cope with. Thickly wrapped up we froze ourselves home. The next day it was the turn of the mail that had accumulated over time. A lot of things were already known to us, some things had been answered for a long time, but there were also letters that still had to be answered or a few things had to be initiated. After half a year I held my German driving licence in my hands for the first time.

Back then, 12 years ago, when I moved to Switzerland, they simply took away my "grey rag", which had cult status at least with me, and gave me a Swiss driving licence. When I entered Germany again, the whole thing had to be reversed. Of course it is not enough to go to the district office and say "Here I am", it is also not enough to prove that you have a residence in Germany again. No, our authorities are very thorough about that, the proof that you have also left Switzerland is the most important thing. Although, experienced in other areas and as the following example shows, a document from a foreign authority is not necessarily accepted as proof. But first of all, the driving licence. Not having a driver's license changed can cost a lot of money and nerves. In Switzerland, this cost Gaby around 3000 francs (3050$). These costs included criminal charges, driving school and a new driving test. It is therefore important to have your driving licence rewritten in time to avoid this hassle. But where? Well, if you can believe the internet, it varies from state to state, from county to county, even from town to town. In my case, it said, the citizen's office of my town is in charge of the rewriting. But unfortunately, the administrative employee did not know what I wanted from her. After some telephone conversations it was then clear that I had to go to the district office. So I got on the train and spoke to the district office. They pressed an application form into my hand, on which was written in big letters, in bold print, "to be processed by the Citizens' Office". I didn't ask any more questions, but filled out the application form and got back in line. The lady checked the information, asked me a few more questions and said, "The application is now being checked and you will be informed when you can pick up your driving licence". When asked how long this would take, She was answered with just under six to eight weeks. I think this is the standard answer and if it is, there is no need to ask how long it will take. The message came after 12 weeks and it was a bigger action to pick it up, because normally you have to appear personally. All this had happened in May of this year, so I was very happy that I held it in my hands. As already announced above, the whole thing could be even more complicated.

In the mail there was a document from the Z├╝richer Kantonal Bank. I am taking this example here to make it clear that the long arm of the authorities is not limited to Germany alone. Every application must of course be signed. The latter also required a notarization of the signature and, if certified by a foreign authority (in Switzerland, Germany is a foreign country), an additional apostille. What is an apostille now? An apostille is in principle a certification of the authentication. If someone thinks I am exaggerating, unfortunately not. Sometimes such actions are not rationally comprehensible for the normal citizen. Anyway, early in the morning, always thinking positively, I went to the citizen's office to be grinded in the mills of bureaucracy. I found a sign saying that authentication is now carried out at the information desk. Great I thought, I don't have to queue. My enthusiasm quickly subsided when the lady behind the counter asked me about the document. Sensing that dark clouds were gathering, I showed her the application and she promptly replied, "we don't certify such documents". She did not accept my objection that she should not certify the document but my signature under it. The question of what the difference was, she rejected annoyed and simply said "We cannot certify every document, you have to go to a lawyer". She simply ignored the fact that I didn't need a certification for the document, but only for the signature under the document. You get an apostille from the regional council of the respective country. But only from the location in whose jurisdiction you fall. The problem is that you can not simply go to a lawyer, but you have to use a lawyer who is also listed at the regional council, otherwise the official at the regional council says that he unfortunately cannot give an apostille because the signature of the certification is not known. So you see, such a simple application can have it quite in itself, should authorities or offices be involved. In the past something like this would have thrown me off balance, today I am more or less relaxed. A little hike in the surrounding vineyards lets me see the whole thing in a different light and look for new solutions.

In the evening, Gaby and I celebrated our 20th anniversary, which once again made us aware of how fast time goes by. We chose the same restaurant, under a different name, and sat a table next to the one where we had been sitting at that time. In the same occupation as at that time, we still had Steffi, Philipp's partner, with us. A wonderful evening passed by, but we could not think about it for long, as one date chased the other. Yes, if you have not seen each other for a long time, everybody is looking forward to see you again. Who we meet and visit and what else we do in our home country, we will tell you next week. Until then we wish you as always faie winds and keep your ears stiff.