From freelance to Angestellte to Arbeitslos

Remember my last post where I talked about my wonderful new job? The one I was excited about after the eight months of freelancing and running around in many directions trying to make a living? Well, one of the perils of working for a start up company is the very flimsiness of it all. They depend on investors and the investors want results. What appeared to be a safe bet for me and the perfect place turned out not to be.

I went in to work at the end of January only to receive a mysterious meeting request from the CEO. I turned to  my direct manager and saw from the look on his face that I could expect bad news. And bad news I got. The company had grown to0 quickly, and documentation people are not the ones who bring in the cash. I was unfortunate enough to still be in the first few months of my probationary period (Probezeit), so I was chosen to be one of the victims. They assured me that they weren’t letting me go for performance reasons, but that doesn’t really make me feel any better, to be honest.

Needless to say, I was absolutely floored and devastated. I managed to get home, called my husband at the airport (he was on his way to Graz) and conveyed the horrible news. Then I went home to start looking for a new job. The company had assured me they would support me in any way they could, with a Zeugnis or by calling people they knew at the software behemoth nearby – my former employer, SAP. However, I have a very specific skill set. I am a technical editor, which is common enough in Germany, but I am not especially keen on writing in German. My German is fluent (written and spoken), but as a word person, I don’t feel comfortable writing less than perfectly in any language, especially when it is for publication. I love the actual writing and editing process and am very picky about language. But most jobs for technical editors are looking for native German speakers.

I was told to call the Arbeitsamt right away to register myself as being unemployed. I have never had to deal with them. I’ve been working in Germany basically since 1994, but have never officially been unemployed. I called the friendly enough 0800 number and hoped for the best. They have a call center somewhere, and it does appear that they have been schooled in customer service. They addressed me by name and attempted to be friendly. They weren’t especially clear on the various American degrees I have, and whether they were recognized her (um, MBA, yes they have that in Germany! BA, yep, that too!). But they did try. After several attempts at spelling the university and even high school names, we got through the majority of the initial data collection. But I was told there would be more. Of course there is more!

Apparently only the last two years of employment are relevant when it comes to determining if and how much Arbeitslosengeld a person receives. Because I was self-employed in the summer, that time doesn’t count. I needed to get a particular form from Ireland indicating how much money I made there and how long I was employed. It seemed to have a number of names, new and old. Luckily it was easy enough to find in the internet, so I sent it off that day. I also needed various bits of paper from my former employer, one from the Finanzamt (tax office) indicating my tax class, and a very long form to actually apply. I also need to make an appointment to meet an Arbeitsvermittler (job agent) at the office in Heidelberg. And I needed to personally show up on the first day of my unemployment at the office in Heidelberg with passport in hand. However, they neglected to tell me that I also need my Aufenthaltserlaubnis (residency) card when I went in. So that already made three trips in to Heidelberg, without even having gone to speak to anyone about finding a new job.

In the end, I was able to call in a few old contacts and will be starting a new job on March 1st. Thank goodness. I was lucky there. I can’t imagine how it would be to have to regularly visit the Arbeitsamt to be told how to apply for jobs, etc. But I do have two week of proper unemployment before then. I guess it’s not a bad deal in the end, and I can now say I’ve had that experience. And one more benefit, and this is a big one – because I am unemployed, I can get back into the public health insurance system. I had to go private when I was freelance and really have been hoping to find a way to go back. So I guess I can count my blessings…Not everyone is so fortunate.

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