Papierkrieg: A silly story about a serious system (or trying to get a visa to live in Germany) — Day 1

Ladies, gentlemen, people of the earth! I have discovered the first circle of hell, and it is the German Bureaucracy. Yes yes, I know, this discovery is not new to many of you, and many more have long suspected it. I am late to the party, I‘ll own it, but I’m going to try to make it worth your while anyway.

I moved to Berlin on April 1st, 2018, exactly 45 days ago. No it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke, and yes the fact that it was 45 days matters. I was a starry-eyed young thing — not even the icy sleet, road-rage prone cab driver, and lack of open grocery stores (it was a Sunday) could get me down. I’d come to the land of unpretentious Spätis, of impeccably well-trained dogs, of comfy-chic fashion, of streets bursting with expression, of people who know how to soak life in.

In the 45 days that followed, Berlin and I fell in love. Well, I hope she fell in love with me, anyway — we haven’t DTR’d yet…but ahem back to the point. I love that the streets are covered in stickers and graffiti — the words of the city’s people. I love that moms let their children roam free in the park while they hash out their dreams over beer. I love that when I go on runs in the morning, the clubs are still pulsing with techno beats. I love that as long as there is an open surface, no matter how grimy, people just chill the fuck out on it — the important thing being to be with your friends and participate in the street.

So I decided I wanted to stay longer.

And promptly tumbled headfirst into the Berlin Wall of Bureaucracy. (And here I will sort-of-not-really refrain from making a trite comment about asking Ms. Merkel to tear down this wall).

To stay in Berlin, I need income and a visa. And I have 45 days left to figure it out, because the passport stamp that let me in is only valid for 90. I don’t really want a full-time job, and I don’t want to study. That leaves me with the option to freelance. Wiser, more put-together beings than me have already written the play-by-play to getting said freelance visa. My goal in writing this piece is to do a colorful live narration of this deeply-trying, questionably-rewarding journey.

Let the battle (sitcom) begin. Or as the Germans would say, Gesundheit!

(Jk they would not say that please don’t confuse the locals)

Day 1

After browsing numerous articles and talking to several friends who’ve been through the visa process, I am confident in my first step: select a kuddelmuddel jam. Kuddelmuddel can be loosely translated to “unstructured mess” (thank you, Buzzfeed). Your kuddelmuddel jam is crucial for pumping you up, calming you down, and reminding you of your humble hot-mess origins at every stage of the visa process. Without it, you will flounder. At this point in time, I have selected Downtown as mine, primarily for Ryan Lewis’s exquisite facial expressions.

Photocred: Substream Magazine

The second step is to acquire a binder. This brilliant advice from new friend Andrew (who also taught me the magical term Papierkrieg — paper war) seems deceptively trivial. This binder will not only hold all the many documents you will gather over the coming days (and if you manage to make it, months, and years), it will serve as a totem of your power. It will remind you, that yes — you are an organized grown human and you can keep your shit, or at least your papers, together. Literally.

Figuring out which binder to get was a tough decision. I almost downloaded this fancy new Pros and Cons app to help with the decision but then curbed my millennial-ism.

First I thought I’d go all-out silly:

But I figured the government officials might be less inclined to find me suitable for respectable business with that one.

So then I thought I’d take a zen approach — where they’d be soothed by the sight of my binder.

But I thought it might be too obvious a play.

So I settled on a soothing color that also matched my hair and also was the cheapest option.

It is now 8:30 PM and I need to do other adult things like find calories, but I feel like significant progress has been made today.

Suggestions, absurd and practical, for this visa journey are welcome. Ideas I’ve been entertaining today: finding a local expat-oriented fashion brand to sponsor photo shoots at the various bureaucratic offices for a campaign called vis-à-vis. Or collabing with a local musician to make a order-of-visa-operations rap set to techno beats.

Till the next update — choos (properly spelled Tschüß but I might as well be reading Dostoevsky in alien).


Read on to Day 2, featuring battered pillows and bitter spreadsheets