The big day started at 6:30 a.m. when I suddenly woke up and realized that today (November 27, also my mother’s birthday) was the date of my appointment at the Berlin Ausländerbehörde (Aliens Authority) to apply for my long-term residence visa (Aufenthaltstitel, not to be confused with an entry visa). I had made a reservation online and then received a confirmation email for an 8:00 a.m. appointment. That part of this experience had gone smoothly.
Unbelievably, the night before I had gone to bed without even setting my alarm clock! After a recent trip to France to visit my son and his fiancée, it had just plain slipped my mind. Totally weird how I just woke up and – bang! – realized it was visa day.
OK, even at 6:30 I was cutting it short. It takes an average 45 minutes on the S- and U-Bahn from my apartment to the Aliens Authority (30 if all goes well, all connections connect). I jump out of bed and try to find my required German health insurance forms. I had put everything together before I left for France, so that was the only thing missing. Where the hell is it? – Turns out I wasted 10 minutes looking for it, since it was already there, hidden among other documents.
After a quick shower, I have no breakfast, just an oatmeal bar. I get dressed, cram everything in my red Sparkasse cloth zipper bag, and dash out the door to the elevator and run to the U-Bahn (metro). I now have less than half an hour to get there by 8:00 a.m. The U-Bahn is OK, but when I transfer to the S-Bahn (commuter rail) there seems to be a problem. Trains are running infrequently and are jam-packed! When a train finally arrives, some guy barks at me for shoving to get on. “Entschuldigung!” (“Excuse me!”) – but I’m getting on this train, and now! (Another new Berlin experience.)
My original plan was to fill out the visa form on the train, but that’s impossible now. I’m standing there mashed in with all the other sardines! Even if I could get to a seat, I doubt I’d be able to write anything. (Turns out there was some technical problem that delayed all the trains on my line. Today, of all days!)
After what seems like an eternity, I struggle to get off at the Westhafen station. I had planned to do a test run to the Aliens Authority, but never did. So now I’m going to have to find the Ausländerbehörde office from a station I’ve never been to before! On top of that, it’s freezing cold and windy! At least it’s only cloudy and not raining or snowing. I don’t even want to look at my watch as I dash out of the station. I head down a street, praying it’s the right one and I’m going in the right direction. If not, I’m doomed! The next cross street is actually the one I want, but I still have four long blocks to go. I cross a pedestrian bridge I had seen on the map… but then I see a sign that says “Ausländerbehörde” – with an arrow pointing back to where I was! I was already on the right side of the canal. OK, only a few minutes lost there. Although it’s freezing, I’m now sweating. I find the building, but where the hell is Zimmer (room) 328? On the third floor (US fourth floor, via stairs, of course).
The door to Zimmer 328 is closed (as usual in Germany). I knock nervously and go in. It’s an office with two ladies and their desks. Frau A, the lady who is my “case worker” is not happy that I’m almost 20 minutes late. Great! Now we’re already starting out on the wrong foot! But I muster my best German, explaining about the S-Bahn breakdown (she looks doubtful), and apologizing for being late (a deadly sin in Germany). When she finds out I haven’t completed my application form yet, she tells me gruffly to sit down at a small table and fill it out. I’m doomed.
Still sweating after my marathon run from the S-Bahn station, I start filling out my form, hoping that Frau A wouldn’t deny my application just because I’m an idiot American who can’t get to an appointment on time – with completed forms. Finally, I’m done and it’s time to discuss my application form and documents with Frau A. I think the fact that I can speak German softens her a bit. She asks a few questions about my income, health insurance, and few other things. As we talk, I get the impression that she is no longer really angry with me. Whew!
I had done my homework; I had all the required documents and photos. (See Getting a Residence Permit for details.) Frau A’s icy demeanor was thawing a bit. In an almost friendly tone she told me that I could have my Aufenthaltstitel for a nine-month stay, as I had requested. I would have to pay 50 euros (cash only) and wait for the Aufenthaltstitel visa pages to be attached to my passport. (See photo above.) They have a waiting room with a digital display that shows your number when your passport is ready to be picked up. I don’t remember how long I waited, but the entire process, including my time with Frau A, didn’t take much longer than an hour. I left with good feelings, the joy of having averted disaster, and most importantly with my Aufenthaltstitel in hand.
Also see: Ausländerbehörde Berlin: Aufenthaltserlaubnis (LABO website, in German)