Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I'm an Alien. I'm a Legal Alien.

One more piece of identification, where I look like a monster.
It's official: I am now a legal resident of Germany.
Last Thursday, I got my unbefristete Niederlassungserlaubnis. I have an unlimited residence permit for Germany. Some residence permits have rules on what jobs you can have and how long you can stay. I married a native, so after three years Germany is my oyster. I can get Hartz IV, the German version of welfare. (I can't really get Hartz IV because we have too much income.) I can get a spot in a kindergarten. (Many day care centers are administered by the government.) (I have no children, so I don't need a spot.) My life is not too different today than it was last Wednesday. The big difference is that I don't have to get my visa updated. That's a big deal to me. I ma so nervous going before the immigration officer. I speak German to prove that I belong here and I am trying to be funny because I want them to life me. It is like a really bad first date. Now, I got a commitment, so I'm done with the awkward meetings.

This is wild as my life can get now. Germany only allows people to have the nationalities that they are born with. If I were to get German citizenship, I would have to give up my American citizen. That ain't gonna happen.

Germany has many faults but difficult immigration isn't one of them. We thought about getting a green card for Asmus. We needed reference letters, a physical, a 10-page form and interviews. The form asked about his education, his parents, his current job, etc. Even after jumping through all those hoops, it's not even assured that you will get the card. However, if you are a normal couple in an actual marital relationship, you are going to get it.

In Germany, I showed our marriage certificate and my passport and I got the first visa. Of course, I had to spend a day in New York going from the city government office, the county government office and the state government office to get an apostille from each for the marriage certificate. An apostille is an official notation that says a document is legal that foreign nations must recognize. Thank God, I am American. Europeans, Americans, Israel, Australians, South Koreans, Japanese and New Zealanders can just show up. People from other questions have to enter the country with some German skill. As a citizen of the United States of America, I had the ability to start life here without knowing any German.

Wir sind jetzt Kielers - We are Kielers now

In 2009, we moved to Kiel from Hamburg because he had a contract to work in Kiel. Because contracts are not permanent, we maintained our cheap little apartment in northern Hamburg. When he was offered an full-time job in Kiel, we had to find an official place to live. We were living in furnished apartments in Kiel and we needed to find our Home.

It is a bit confusing because Germans do not categorize apartments by the number of bedroom. There is no official way to deem that a room is officially for sleep. In Europe, built-in closets are rare [except for newer domiciles], so you can't use the American determinant that a bedroom must have a closet. A friend here, Tanja, said a "room" is any room that you can sit in. Using her definition, a kitchen, a bathroom, a hallway and a cellar are not "rooms." Asmus and I were looking for a three-room apartment. A living room, a bedroom and an office/guest bedroom.

The temporary apartment that we lived in in Kiel sat in the epicenter of Kiel. We walked everywhere and were surrounded by restaurants, parks, water and museums. We wanted to keep that lifestyle. At first, we looked to buy because the prices were so low. However, because the prices were so low, owners don't want to sell. We saw some real crap. We looked at an apartment for 180,000 euros in an apartment missing doors sitting in a building that had mold. As an owner of an apartment in this building, we would have to contribute to fixing this.

We soon gave up and looked for a rental. I saw apartments with no parking; apartments with room for the kind of refrigerator I used in college; apartments without tubs; and apartments with microscopic "bedrooms". The most frequent problem was that two of the rooms were merely separated by pocket doors. It was really one room with a partition.

After almost nine months of looking, we took out a long-term lease on the apartment we had been living in for two years. Our saint of a landlord took out all the furniture, dinnerware, electronics, paintings, sheets, towels, etc. that we didn't want and left all the things we did.

Life is different in Germany.

Obvious, right?

One of the biggest differences is in the fluidity of migration. No one leaves where they grew up or where they went to college. In America, my friends and I followed work. I knew my family and friends would always be there for me but a paycheck was much more fickle.

One of the things that keeps Germans immobile are the tenancy rules. When you leave an apartment, it must be in move-in condition. Spotless, newly painted and empty. Some of the newer apartment stock has FIXTURES. Most apartments come with floors, walls, radiators, sinks, a shower and a toilet. That's it. Tenants bring refrigerators, stoves, ceiling and wall lights, medicine chests, mirrors over the sink, kitchen cabinets, kitchen countertops, and toilet paper holders.

Armed with this knowledge, Asmus and I moved officially moved to Kiel over three months from September 2011 to December 2011.

We personally moved all our clothes on one trip. The DVD player and TV on other. The idea that Kiel was our home was real when we moved our bed. While we spent most of our time in Kiel, we spent a lot of time in Hamburg. "HH" was where family, friends and the bed were. Because of these people, Hamburg was our real hometown. Because of our very comfortable beds, the cozy apartment in the Volksdorf section of Hamburg was our home. Plus, with a bed there, we could stay out all night in Hamburg. With no bed, we had to plan according to a clock.

We put various parts of our life in the trunk and the back seat of our car and hauled them to Kiel over different weekends from September through October.

In our former home, a packing box lay behind the side table we bought at a Hamburg flea market
for the "new" apartment. Our air mattress/bed sat next to our prized purchase.

In the "new" apartment, a packing box, which was waiting to be thrown away, sat on the old sofa and leaned against the new recliners we had bought from Ikea.

When we moved all the things we could, Brigette, Asmus' old housekeeper, cleaned the apartment. Then, Asmus ripped out the countertops, shelves, medicine chests, carpets and mirrors and we hauled things to the dump and to the recycling center. These were long weekends that ended with us sleeping on an air mattress. In November, we hired moving men to take the rest of our lives to Kiel.

With all the furniture out of the way, we started to clean. Without furniture and carpets, all the undercover dirt was visible. We attacked it with a variety of cleaners, chemicals and tools. Before he quit October 3, 2008, Asmus was heavy smoker. The landlord demanded that we get rid of all the yellowing from the years of tobacco. This required some special potion. Removal of the ancient carpet created one set of problems and required a different potion and tools. After these excruciating days, we had to drive 75 minutes back to Kiel. The apartment had no dishes, towels or refrigerator, so there was no living there.

When the cleaning was over, then the painting started. That was easy. We used some industrial strength stuff that only required one coat, so I got sick the first night. The one-coat stuff took two coats in some places, so painting took two sessions. We left all the light fixtures and with the clean up after the painting, we were officially done. November 20, 2011, I left for America.

We are Kielers now. Kielers who are frequent visitors to Hamburg. I have my own bedroom at Asmus' mother's house.