This is it

Eingebuergert

I’ve joked about it a few times and now it’s been reality for a good year already: my English husband officially became my English-German husband. After an eleven-month trekking trip through the jungle of application deadlines, waiting periods and scraping together of long-forgotten pieces of paper, Mr K is officially Herr K. For those of you with a Brexit-induced interest in self-Germanisation, here are some of our experiences…

If you want to become German, the first thing to do (or so it says on the website of the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF)) is contact your local Ausländerbehörde and make an appointment for consultation.

This turned out to be helpful advice, as the person at the Ausländeramt told my henceforth-split-personality husband not only what specific documents he needed to provide in his particular situation, but also that the recommended next step was to make an appointment for filing the application for citizenship.
That’s right – first lesson in being German: don’t just do things – make appointments to verify you do things properly.

The thing is, and that’s useful to know, the waiting period for an appointment to file your citizenship application is about six months (or was at the place and time we did it). If you try to collate all the necessary documents and pass all the required tests before making that appointment, you may find that the overall process will take much longer.

So Herr K’s timeline was this: first meeting with Ausländerbehörde clerk in March 2017, German-language test in June, Einbürgerungstest in August, appointment for filing the application in October 2017, Einbürgerung ceremony in February 2018.

My ECGH (English-come-German husband) and I are convinced, though, that for German authorities the real proof of eligibility for citizenship is not in the formal tests but in the trials and tribulations they throw your way on the journey. For example, to receive a physical copy of his German-language certificate, my then-still-exclusively-English husband had to pull off the stunt of being at the right place (5th floor, turn left, go through two sets of doors, turn right, then left, then right again, 2nd but last green door behind the Benjamin’s fig – which is compulsory in public-service buildings in Germany) at the right time (between 14:03 and 14:18 hrs on the fifth day of the Ides of August, but only if the wolf howled three times during the last full moon) and in person with his passport, favourite socks and 100 most recent income statements in tow. The letter stating this was sent during the summer school holidays with one week’s notice.

Another tribulation: making it through the daunting, windowless corridors of the Ausländeramt, adorned with aggregate-concrete on the outside and larded with miserable misers on the inside, in the otherwise cheerful and welcoming Cologne district of Kalk, only to find a hapless figure hunched over their big ledgers, throwing suspicious glances and sneering at you. As you pass each doorway, neon-light signs flare up that say, in progressing order, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’, ‘Are you REALLY sure you want to do this?’ and ‘Are you my-life-depends-on-it-and-I-will-never-be-happy-again-if-I-fail-sure about this?’

For my husband, being German is a no-nonsense responsibility. We have therefore since welcomed stringent German order in our home. For example, we are now the proud users of an app (for desperate parents: FAMANICE) that manages your entire family’s schedule up to and including the Mitbringsel (small gift) that our older daughter’s second-BFF’s second-youngest brother gets for the second-BFF’s 10th birthday in 2021 (Ides of April, I think – but let me double-check).

As for next week’s planning, I made an appointment with my newly-German-among-other-things husband to confirm that the filing of an application for spending Tuesday evening on the couch watching Queer Eye (our current ab fav after-work-build-me-up programme of love) was made in due form and time.

The Pommes Buddha says: Mind the Benjamin’s fig.

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Advent adventure

Paar auf dem Weihnachtsmarkt

As my fellow observer of the German culture Adam Fletcher writes in his new book How To Be German – Part 2, Christmas is serious business in Germany. And it all starts with the run-up to Christmas, which is Adventszeit (Advent season). There are certain things any self-respecting German should do. Here’s a bit of Adventiquette …

Christmas seems to be coming sooner each year. Supermarkets started displaying Christmas paraphernalia such as Lebkuchen (a type of gingerbread), Spekulatius (spicy biscuits) and not to forget the all-German currency Dominosteine (cubes of layered chocolate, gingerbread and marzipan) in late September this year. So you’ve just waved off your beach towel into hibernation and, poof!, it’s Christmas!

And every year I make the mistake of thinking I have plenty of time till Christmas. And every year, the Erster Advent (first Sunday of Advent) comes as an utter surprise. We interpreters have high season in November. So there I am, working my arse off with no figurative room to swing a cat, and I suddenly find myself hauling my exhausted body into the catacombs of my home to find the box with the Christmas decorations because – Lesson 1 – Germans perfuse their places with Räuchermännchen smoke and clutter them with tinsel, an Adventskranz (advent wreath) and possibly even a Christmas tree the fricking second the clock strikes 24th December minus four Sundays, which was 27th November this year.

Lesson 2: Have Adventskaffee on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. In the hardcore (read: default) version, this includes offering a home-baked variety of at least three different sorts of Christmassy biscuits you prepared earlier in life. Not to forget the lighting of the candle(s) and, should you be so inclined, a dollop of Hausmusik.

Lesson 3: Craft an Advent calendar for someone. Honestly, parents go mental just before the end of November. My friend saw one of her friends in a shopping frenzy the other day because when confronting her fourteen and fifteen-year-old daughters with the fact that she assumed they had ‘outgrown’ Advent calendar age, she saw tears dwelling up in her teenage offspring’s eyes.

My own mother, much to my amusement, kept doing Advent calendars for us until we moved out. Thanks to her, I will never run out of little ‘useful’ things such as permanent markers and paper clips in my whole life.

Regarding the crafting front, I went on strike this year, though. After giving my older daughter one little present a day from 1st to 24th December for several years, seeing her roll her eyes at most of the gifts I had so lovingly and carefully selected, I decided it was time to opt for the path of least resistance, hop on the capitalist toy industry’s bandwagon and buy a Playmobil Advent calendar. And what can I say? They. Just. Love it. Every shitty little farmer’s fork provokes outbursts of limitless delight. I’ve spent less time and money, and they are happy as shit. Win-win. What more could a parent’s heart desire?

Lesson 4: On the evening of 5th December, children put one of their (polished!) boots outside the front door and wait for Nikolaus to fill it up with goodies (read more here). Yes, this is on top of Advent calendars and Christmas presents! I know: in November most German parents are left with nothing but heels to chew on while their children feast on the horn of plenty. Modern German Parenting 101.

Lesson 5: In the ample free time that is not used on crafting, baking, decorating, shopping, cleaning boots or playing music, see to your other Germanic duties such as downing some Glühwein (mulled wine) or Feuerzangenbowle (read more on this here) at the Christmas market, eating some Grünkohl (kale – yes, forget the smoothie movement – we started it many moons ago) and, most importantly, joining a round of Wichteln (Secret Santa) or Schrottwichteln (‘Scrap Secret Santa’ – find the most horrible gifts).

Any questions?

Ah, did I mention it’s one of my favourite times of year?

The Pommes Buddha says: Have a lovely German December!

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