The old woman and the sea (of paperwork) or, advanced parenting in Germany
[by Nicolette Stewart]
Every since Baby Pickles arrived I have felt like I’m being buried alive. Letters, forms, papers, confirmations, more forms, more forms, and more fucking forms. Welcome to parenthood in Germany. Not so pleased to meet you, but thanks for the mad cash that you keep telling us we will someday get for working on your shrinking population problem. (“Problem.”)
I suck at paperwork. Though I vaguely enjoy filling out forms in a sort of obsessive compulsive way, I have trouble filling them out and getting them to the post office on time because at the end of the day I just don’t care. Taxes, registering my address, getting visas—how do people manage to give enough fucks to get this shit done before the very last second? At least some of Pickles’ paperwork will result in money in the bank, but still, paperwork is paperwork is hell, and I always procrastinate getting to the post office for as long as possible, and I am very, very good at forgetting things.
The paperstorm began immediately after Pickles’ was born. Her birth certificates could be picked up at the Standesamt, we had been told. We were supposed to pick them up right away, but I could barely walk because I’d just had fucking abdominal surgery you assholes, and duh, we were pretty fucking busy just trying to stay alive those first weeks. When I finally made it there, they told me that I needed to “order” the birth certificates, and I could pick them up later. Futile trip to the ugliest building in town! Thanks Standesamt!
A few weeks later I finally had the honor of taking home a handful of certificates claiming that the Beard and I were, in fact, Pickles’ parents. (They do this at the hospital in the United States, don’t they?) A few copies were free, the rest—and you need them for all the other paperwork you are going to have to fill out for your baby and they have to be originals—were ten euros a pop. Why it costs ten euros to have someone print out and sign a sheet of paper that they were printing a few of at the moment anyway is beyond me. And the system grinds on. Cha-ching!
Quadruplicates of the birth certificates in hand, we started filling out forms for the health insurance company, which went surprisingly smoothly and resulted in a little pickled insurance card and no further hassles. Then I filled out the novel of pages of paperwork for her American citizenship, passport, and social security card applications. (None of which we have been able to afford to actually get yet, ho hum.) The Kindergeld and Elterngeld paperwork, however, (which we really should have filled out months before and sent in the minute Pickles was born, and no I am not kidding) are still coming back to haunt us.
First, let me explain. Kindergeld is money that the government gives everyone who has a German baby. So if you have a German baby and live in Germany, you will receive 185 euros per month until said baby is 25 or graduates from college. After you’ve had a couple kids (each of which will result in an additional 185-euro-per-month check), they raise the bar and you get 205 euros a month and on and on. Elterngeld is money that the government gives people who are raising German babies so that staying home with a baby is a little less financially daunting. There is a minimum of 300 euros per month, or you can fill out even more paperwork and get a percent of your previous salary for one year.
These would have been the forms to not procrastinate filling out. Cough cough, shuffle shuffle, blush. Around month seven I finally got them all in the mail. Done! I thought. Soon we’ll have that financial help, I think. Wohoo! I thought. And so began the avalanche of letters and further paperwork that I am sitting in as I type this.
We made a few mistakes on the Elterngeld paperwork, only two of which were found initially (another one was found after we sent back the first round of corrections), but at least that only involved a few more checks and a few more signatures. The Kindergeld people, however, have just written to tell me that I need something called a Haushaltsbescheinigung, aka a paper that has been stamped and signed by the people at the Bürgeramt. What that means in plain English is that I have to go to an office in Mainz to have a stranger sign a paper saying that, yes, the Beard, Baby Pickles and I all live in the same house. Couldn’t we just send them one of the other hundreds of pieces of paper we have had to fill out to prove that we live at the same address (which we had to provide for my visa after our marriage)? Without the extra trip to one of their rings of hell? Couldn’t the fucking German bureaucrats just pick up the fucking phone and communicate with each other—or better yet, have a computer system do it for them? As usual in my encounters with German public offices, I find myself tearing at my hair.*
The positive side of all this is that we might really be another few days closer to getting our monthly “thank you for breeding” money, which we could really use right now. I really appreciate that the country tries to support parents, particularly since they changed the laws so that both mamas or papas could apply for Elterngeld for taking on the majority of the kid responsibility. Still, I do wish it was all a little easier. If everyone is entitled to Kindergeld, then why don’t they automate the process through the reports of birth, send parents something to sign in confirmation, and cut a bunch of people who are struggling with one of the busiest, most chaotic events in their lives a fucking break from all the forms? Have you ever tried filling out paperwork with a baby on your lap? I have. And while I was annoyed at having to get a new set of forms, I have to admit that I understood why she wanted to rip them all to shreds.
* Yesterday I was informed that the reason that these offices don’t communicate is actually one of data protection. It is illegal, for example, for the police to just go to all these offices and get all the info they have on you there without your permission. Good call. Though in this case I wish I could just sign something allowing them to do it in this situation.
Also: All the paperwork is done and sent in! Now to wait and see what we’ve fucked up on it this time…
Nicolette Stewart is a freelance editor and writer based in Frankfurt, Germany. She is the editor of Young Germany and author of The Hunt Frankfurt. You can find her writing about books on www.bookpunks.com and about life in a tiny house in Germany on www.clickclackgorilla.com.