A bureaucratic saga

For the past two days, Aaron and I have been dancing amidst red tape, growing ever more entangled as we’ve tried to extricate ourselves. The crux of the matter is that we need to prove we’re married in order to receive the spousal subsidy from the grant. Before leaving the States, we asked what proof we should provide, and the DAAD (the German Fulbright) explained that we’d have to wait till we got over here and then get a “certified” copy of our marriage certificate. So, our original marriage certificate is here with us, glowing uselessly in all its official glory inside its own private folder.

The saga begins earlier, though, with our trip to the German Citizens Office, where all residents are required to register. That sounded very ominous to me. I didn’t at all like the idea of registering with the German government. But, maybe overlooking a requirement of the German government would get us into more trouble. So off we biked to the Citizens Office, a bleak, officious building in a nearby suburb. Think of the DMV. Jurgen and Martina forewarned us of hours spent in endless lines waiting for our number to be called, but the office was mostly empty. We didn’t even finish filling out our form before the electronic counter announced our number, expected at Counter 5. From the drab waiting hallway, we showed ourselves through a drab door and arrived in the pleasantest bureaucratic office I have ever seen, complete with reassuring peach walls, potted plants covering every inch of windowsill on each of the numerous windows, and cozy incandescent lighting. Counter 5 was staffed by a mom-looking type who seemed truly delighted to welcome us to Germany. Her friendliness in no way interfered with her efficiency, and we were soon on our way.

We assumed that would be the hard part of completing our request for the spousal allowance. We next embarked on our quest to get a certified copy of the marriage certificate. The Citizens Office personnel explained that by law they could not refer us to, or even so much as acknowledge the existence of, any sort of notary or copier. So, we went to the nearest bank where we were told to try our own bank. They would only deal with customers. The post office had never heard of such a request, nor had the various copy centers we inquired at. So, intrepidly, we biked to another suburb where we had set up our bank account with Deutsche Bank. D.B. apologetically proved just as incapable as everywhere else we’d tried. Dejected, we returned home where Martina told us only the town hall could make certified copies. The town hall is not the same as the Citizens Office. We’d have to go to another suburb for that (Kopenick, home of the famous imposter captain), but naturally, the town hall was closed for the day, it being past 12:30.

So, we investigated on the internet and discovered that the German town halls can only certify copies of German documents. After all, how are they supposed to know if this ostensible New York State marriage license is for real? Pleased that we’d saved ourselves a fruitless trip to Kopenick, our next inspiration was to order a certified copy from the source itself, the Manlius, New York clerk’s office. I called the Manlius town clerk, Debbie, and explained our predicament. She was very sympathetic, and offered to email me the form to request a copy of the marriage certificate. I was overjoyed. All our problems could be easily solved!

“Then, all you need to do is have the document notarized and fax it back to us,” Debbie finished.

I again explained that the notarization was the whole problem. If we could get notarized copies here, we wouldn’t need to order an additional copy in the first place. Debbie was flummoxed. She promised to brainstorm our options and get back to me over email. I have yet to hear again from Debbie.

Our next move was to appeal to the authority Americans overseas can always count on, our very own embassy. Surely on the American soil there they would have a notary for us. Their website specified they would provide notarization services for a mere $30 – aggravating because Aaron’s philosophy department secretary at Syracuse U would have done this for us for nothing. The upside was that the American embassy is at the same U-Bahn station as Aaron’s school, where he needed to register anyway. Both offices closed at 12:30, so we decided to split up to make sure we accomplished both tasks. Jurgen had again warned us of the long waits at the embassy. Aaron went off on his own adventure to the Freie Universitat, and I faced down security at the embassy.

Despite the armed guards and the posted reminders that Germany is under a travel advisory, I found the embassy a friendly place. The guards smiled out from behind their weapons, gave me a little locker to leave my Kindle, since all electronics are verboten inside, and waved me through the glass doors. Upstairs, I was the only American in need of assistance today, and the German man working behind the counter was only too pleased to assist me. Except that the embassy can actually only certify copies of federal documents like passports. Marriage regulation is a power reserved to the states, which anyone who has read (and taught) the Constitution should remember, so the embassy can’t help us there. The embassy lackey sent me away with the recommendation that I check with the Bureau of Vital Statistics, or the New York State Department.

Defeated again, I went to wait for Aaron. We don’t have cell phones yet, so we had to agree on a reunion plan beforehand. I waited over an hour and a half for Aaron, long enough that I became certain I had misunderstood the plan and that we would never find each other again in our entire year in Berlin. But it turns out it takes a very long time and many bureaucratic steps to register for school, much longer and many more steps than it takes for the embassy to throw up its hands.

So, we and bureaucracy seem to be at an impasse. We can’t get an official copy here in Deutschland, and we can’t order a new copy from New York. I’m stymied. To top it all off, one of the green garnets fell out of my wedding ring the day we arrived here. What do you make of that?

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6 responses to “A bureaucratic saga

  1. Oh, my darling! What a nightmare. Sounds Kafka-esque, no matter how pleasant the people. How ’bout asking at the Yahoo scholars group? A’s school? I’m so very sorry.

  2. Hi Sweethearts, Do you have the stone from your ring? If so go to any jeweler and see if they can fix it. I’ll bet your excited about your Mom & Dad’s trip to visit you. I feel sod bad at all the trouble you are having, but I am sure it will all work out. Love you

  3. do they have private notaries?

  4. try googling “notar berlin”. looks like a lot of lawyers are also notaries.

  5. What a nightmare! Would it help if I reminded you of a more stressful and frustrating time? How’s about the night before the Inauguration?

    Good luck though. I have the utmost confidence in your ability to defeat bureaucratic ridiculousness.

    Also, I found this: http://kenyanbirthcertificategenerator.com/ I’m not sure if you’ll find a need for a fake Kenyan birth certificate, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

  6. Susan dearest and Aaron too! Welcome to the federal system. I believe your New York clerk is asking you to copy her emailed “Request for Certified Copy” sign it, have it notarized, and return it -Xpress Mail? All this should be on the form emailed to you. Micah suggestion to get it notarized at a lawyers office is your best bet [You might also see if the NY county has a web site for its Probate Court tho they use odd names for courts in NY. Don’t give up; there has to be an easy solution. We think of you. Love,

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