My first day in Berlin

18th February 2014

In my previous blog, The bureaucracy of starting a job in Germany - Part 2, I listed a number of appointments that needed to be made to receive my work permit. Just as a reminder, I had to first register my residence at the Bürgeramt and then apply for the work permit at the Ausländerbehörde. Thinking I had enough time to get everything done, I left myself 3 working days in Berlin before I was due to start work. What this meant is that I needed to attend the Bürgeramt and the Ausländerbehörde on the same day. More specifically, I was attending the Bürgeramt at 8am and the Ausländerbehörde at 10am, after arriving in Berlin from Australia at 4pm the previous day. In this blog I will detail the experience of my first day in Berlin.

Arriving in Berlin - Tuesday afternoon

If anyone has taken a flight between Australia and Europe, you would know how long and painful the whole process can be. After 36 hours of travel (door to door), I arrive in Berlin to see a nice layer of snow on the ground. Fortunately a friend from my new workplace was able to pick me up, so I didn't need to worry about taxi's or public transport in the cold weather. It felt especially cold to me since a week earlier I was moving house in 40°C, then I step into -4°C upon landing in Berlin. However, I have never seen snow on the ground, so it was just as much exciting as it was a shock.

Attending the Prenzlauer Berg Bürgeramt - Wednesday 8am appointment

The information about the snow and temperature was given to set the scene for the day. An 8am appointment requires an early start, meaning really cold temperatures. So I was struggling a little bit when walking to the Bürgeramt. But hey, it is all an experience. Now, my appointment was at 8am, and you read on many forums that you must be there at 8am or forget you even have an appointment. So I arrange to meet my German friend, who we will call Ray for this blog, at the Bürgeramt at 7:50am. This worked out well, both myself and Ray were on time, so at this stage everything was fine.

Arriving at the Bürgeramt, we are informed that the computer systems for the Bürgeramt all throughout this particular city district are out (kaputt as they say in German). As a result, that meant nothing was going to be done at the Bürgeramt where I had an appointment. Given that I need the residence registration before I can attend the Ausländerbehörde, this was going to cause a slight problem. If I didn't have Ray to explain what was happening, I would not have gone any further than this. However, Ray springs to action and after calling a help desk he finds out that it could be possible to get the residence registration completed at a Bürgeramt in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. It is currently 8:30am and the Bürgeramt in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is about 30 minutes away, so things were looking a little tight for me to make the Ausländerbehörde appointment. But I needed the residence registration before I could do anything else, so I thought that I might as well try.

Travelling to Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg to attend the Bürgeramt

The trip to the alternate Bürgeramt was fairly quick and we got there by about 9. While I had an appointment at Prenzlauer Berg, I didn't have an appointment in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. So I needed to take a number and wait for the next available officer. This could have taken quite a while, but fortunately there were very few people in the waiting room. I get called into the office to complete my residence registration at 9:30am, so it was looking unlikely that I could possibly make my appointment at the Ausländerbehörde.

I must say, that because of the unique situation I was in, it was absolutely necessary to have someone who could speak German. While it may not always be necessary, it was very helpful to have that support.

Now back to the Bürgeramt, Ray manages to swiftly get my residence registration by talking to the officer and explaining everything that I needed. This is great news, but the time we left there it was 9:45am. A small miracle was required if I were to make my Ausländerbehörde appointment.

Attending the Ausländerbehörde - trying to make my 10am appointment

Leaving the Bürgeramt at Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, it was decided that the best course of action was to take a taxi to the Ausländerbehörde. It was expected that a taxi would be quicker than taking the train and walking, saving us precious time.

The taxi gets us to the Ausländerbehörde at 10:20am. Too late, but still we were at the office where I could potentially get my work permit. We head up to where my appointment was supposed to be, and just try to get in. If you have been reading about the Ausländerbehörde on forums, you are told that it is a big office building with may corridors lined with doors. All of these doors are closed and you are only allowed to enter when your appointment number is displayed on a board. Normally you just sit on an uncomfortable bench, which would not be out of place in a church, and wait.

Upon arriving at the Ausländerbehörde the first thing was to see whether my number was still on the board. No luck there, so we needed to try something else. Again this was where Ray came in. He manages to find a door you could go through and talk to someone about my situation. This was very successful and I was asked for my passport and the lady behind the counter took it away to talk to the person who would inevitably issue my work permit. When the lady comes back I was told I have an appointment! Well done Ray, this was the best news that I had all day.

All I had to do was wait for my number to be called, then go through the process at the Ausländerbehörde. After a little discussion with the officer at the Ausländerbehörde (Ray discussing, me just sitting patiently), we found out that when I didn't arrive for my appointment, the officer just called the next number on the list. When we arrived, the officer was still working with that same person. So it was no trouble for me to slip into the queue and receive an appointment. I have to say that I was very fortunate.

All good news from here

As it turns out, applying for the work permit at the Ausländerbehörde was a very streamlined process and not too difficult at all. The end result of this was that I was able to get my work permit by 11:30am, and I was ready to work on Monday. All I needed now was to take my permit to my employer and get a contract issued. So, while my first day started off a little bumpy, by the afternoon I felt like it had been a success. I must say that this only happened because Ray was able to take charge and navigate through the German bureaucracy. For that I am incredibly grateful.

There were a number of things that happened at the Bürgeramt and Ausländerbehörde which I will update in a later blog. I just thought I should share this incredible experience of my first day in Berlin with you.