Category Archives: Germany

My comments on all things Teutonic.

Becoming A Permanent Resident of Germany: 6 Tips for American Citizens with German Spouses

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“Those colors. So strong, yet so intimidating…” — Photo by Trine Juel (http://www.flickr.com/photos/tjuel/)

Are you an American citizen married to — or about to marry — a German citizen? Do you wish to move to Germany and live there as a permanent resident? Then congratulations! You have no sense of fear whatsoever! Man, woman or transgender — you have great big balls. Seriously, like 25% of your body weight is pure testicle. (And for that, I salute you.)

Because I have already made the leap myself, people email me all the time and ask for advice on moving to Germany. In response, I have sent fragmented tips, pointers and oblong nuggets of information on the subject all across the internet. My advice has been scatterbrained at best, so with this blog post, I am hoping to mash all my thoughts together like a fat kid sitting on a ham sandwich.

Before I begin, however, I want you to bear in mind the following 3 facts:

  1. My wife is German. If you haven’t figured this out by now, you probably wore a helmet to grade school.
  2. My wife and I got married in the United States and then moved to Germany. My only experience with German weddings has been as an inebriated guest.
  3. We moved from the United States to Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony). Immigration protocols in Germany may vary from state to state.

That said, here we go! I hope you enjoy our tips for Americans on gaining permanent residency in Germany!

1.) Bring your American marriage certificate

Before you depart the United States on your way to Germany, make sure you bring a notarized copy — ideally 2 or 3 — of your official American marriage certificate. (Not the pretty one for framing on your wall. The real one.) It has to be notarized, meaning you take it to your state’s notary public office, where they stamp it with an apostille. I know that sounds like one of the 12 dudes who used to follow Jesus around and tell everyone how awesome he was, but it’s not; it’s an internationally recognized seal of certification, and Germans love it. They love it so much, they won’t accept your American marriage certificate without it.

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“That’s right. You sign that filthy little contract…” — Photo by Mike Goren (http://www.flickr.com/photos/celebdu/)

2.) Get your American marriage certificate translated

Once you get to Germany, you have to have your American marriage certificate translated by a certified German translator. (And no, your spouse can’t translate it for you. That wouldn’t be painful enough.) After you have an officially translated certificate, you’ll need to take it to your local marriage department or courthouse. Once there, you’ll sign some paperwork and receive your German marriage certificate. This document is the key to attaining your initial, 3-year residency permit from the immigration office and getting signed up for everything else you’ll need, like health insurance and German language classes. (The next section is all about this infuriating process.)

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“Fatty pork products can help ease the suffering as you begin your descent into paperwork hell.” — Photo by Stacey Cavanagh (http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceycav/)

SPECIAL NOTE: Figure out your legal name before you go to the marriage department, because the German government hates middle names. For example, my middle name became my “second first name,” and now appears on every legal document I receive. (Not a problem, really, but my middle name makes me sound like a dandy Englishman.) The marriage department is cool with hyphenated last names, but if you ever remove the hyphen, you can’t go back; it’s a one-way street. Also, they’re supposed to give you the option to keep your name exactly the way it appears in your home country, but they will make sure you understand doing so would really break their balls.

3.) Get your sweet ass to the immigration office

Do not wait to go to the immigration office (Ausländerbehörde); go there as soon as you have your German marriage certificate in hand. I say this because the people who work at the immigration office are all functionally retarded. I had to make 3 different appointments and wait in unbelievably long lines because they lost my paperwork after my first appointment. If you know someone who works there, I want you to email me their home address so I can show up at their door and open-hand slap them as hard as humanly possible. I want the neighbors next door to hear it. I want their kids to start crying and their dog to start barking. God damn I hate the immigration department.

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“This place is exactly like ‘The Walking Dead,’ minus the sex scenes.” — Photo by Mark Hillary (http://www.flickr.com/photos/markhillary/)

Anyway, bring every piece of identification you have, along with your marriage certificate, passport photos and about €150 euros in cash. The cash is to pay for your 3-year residence permit, which is actually just an ID card, like your driver’s license. And remember to bring your German spouse with you, because the immigration office employees probably can’t speak English. (They can barely manage to dress themselves each morning.)

SPECIAL NOTE: Before they will give you the residency card, you will have to pass a little test. It’s a quick verbal exam to determine your ability to speak the German language at approximately A1 level. (A1 is for extreme beginners, but they want you to have some knowledge of the language so you can begin your German integration class. More on this later.) My test was exactly 5 questions long:

  1. What is your name? (Nailed this one.)
  2. Can you spell your name? (Blew this one.)
  3. Where do you come from? (Scraped by this one.)
  4. How old are you? (Nailed this one.)
  5. How did you get here this morning, e.g. subway, on foot, etc.? (Stumbled through this one like a drunken toddler.)

In short, I barely passed. I honestly don’t know what happens if you fail, but don’t stress about it; you’re married to a German. They can’t kick you out of the country unless you break some laws and do something super bad. Like, James Bond movie villain bad. And although it’s unfair, you will receive preferential treatment because you come from America. That’s just the way it is. Be glad you don’t come from some evil country where warmongering, corruption and greed run rampant (oh wait…).

4.) Sign up for German health insurance as soon as possible.

When I came to Germany, I was so concerned with playing by the rules I accidentally broke them. I stayed on American travel insurance for almost a year after my arrival, and that pissed the German insurance people right the hell off. They wanted me on the books, in the system, and paying my dividends from the word go.

I was penalized a little for this mistake, but in the end, it wasn’t a huge deal. The real hassle was trying to get my basic healthcare needs met. If your spouse is German and has a decent job, chances are you’re entitled to coverage already — you just have to sign up. You may qualify for the public health option, or you might need a private one, but either way, don’t wait; have your spouse inquire at work and figure out your benefits.

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“Here comes your communist root canal!” — Photo by Conor Lawless (http://www.flickr.com/photos/conchur/)

On a side note, Germany is not exactly the utopia of free health insurance and abundant healthcare we’ve been led to believe; there is a public option for people with lower incomes, but they wait longer for appointments and their prescription medications are limited to the basics. Yes, everyone is ‘theoretically’ covered, but you’ll find a world of difference between public and private insurance no matter the country in which you reside. If you have money, you’ll get doctor appointments sooner, enjoy preferential treatment overall, and have enough pharmaceutical options to kill a rock star. I’m sorry, but when it comes to healthcare, having money is the tits.

5.) Enroll in an integration course as soon as possible

Germany is a popular country for immigrants, and most of them are coming from countries closer than America, so language classes required by the German government fill up quickly. It was the beginning of September when I first arrived, and I was told the next integration class would begin after the first of the year. I returned in the second week of January only to find the class completely full. I had to wait until spring for the next one to begin, so please, do yourself a favor and sign up for your class immediately.

Now, assuming you’ve already attained that 3-year residency permit I mentioned, but you still suck at German, you’ll need to take exactly 3 integration classes: A1, A2 and B1. After you’re done, you’ll then take the B1 exam. It has several portions, including reading, writing, speaking and listening comprehension. It can seem really hard at first, but don’t worry; you’ll be prepared for it after all those hellish hours spent in the classroom. Also, you can find all sorts of sample B1 tests on the Goethe-Institut website (www.goethe.de) — so you know exactly what sorts of things you need to practice.

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“There are 16 articles in the German language. Who’s up for some ritual suicide?” — Photo by Shane global (http://www.flickr.com/photos/shaneglobal/)

After you pass your B1 exam, you’ll probably have to take a month-long ‘orientation’ class afterward. This is where they teach you all about German politics, geography and history… as if you miraculously overlooked every single World War II movie and History Channel documentary ever made. Anyway, you’ll need to take another little test for this orientation course, but then you’re done! Once you’ve lived for a full 3 years in Germany with your initial residence permit, you’ll get a letter from the immigration department telling you to come in and update your visa status. You’ll bring your test certificates and maybe another document or two — along with some cash and a heroic amount of patience — and they’ll submit your application. After a few weeks, you’ll receive your permanent residence permit (though some states will simply extend your permit by 5 to 10 years, but still, you’re golden). They might actually give you your permanent residence permit right there at the appointment, but it depends how long you’ve been married to your German. (I think you need to have survived at least 5 years without killing each other.)

You can take all of the classes I mentioned at your local VHS (Volkshochschule), or anywhere else recognized by the immigration department. I believe your local VHS will be the cheapest option, but remember: Even in Germany, you get what you pay for. (This is a polite way of saying the VHS can be a hit-or-miss experience. Half of my teachers were awesome. The other half can lick my unholy scrotum. Consider looking for a ‘Bildungsverein’ — or virtually any other language school — if you value your sanity.)

6.) Don’t Panic.

I really hope this article helps you feel more prepared for your life in Germany. It can be a scary prospect for an American — I know — but one which will very likely turn out to be the best decision you’ve ever made.

Life in Germany rules; it is a beautiful country, safe, stable and full of wonderful people. However, if you still feel stressed about the big move, remember the following:

  1. You are married to a German citizen and you come from a so-called ‘respectable’ country. You’ll be allowed to stay no matter what anyone tells you.
  2. Most Germans speak some English. In a pinch, you can usually default to your native language. This is a huge advantage, and it’s totally unfair (but totally awesome).
  3. You are going to die someday. I know this is depressing, but it’s also liberating, because none of these little details really matter. Picture yourself on your deathbed, sucking in your last feeble breath before greeting the great void beyond; did it really matter if you filled out that one little immigration form in exactly the right way? Did the Germans throw you on a plane and deport your ass because you turned in that one document a day or two after the deadline? Were you separated from your beloved spouse for the rest of your life because you didn’t ace that stupid language test the first time? No. Lots of idiots have done this before you. You will be fine. Everything is going to work out beautifully.
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“Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Photo by Johan Larsson (http://www.flickr.com/photos/johanl/)

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“Deutsch Points” – Take Our Infamous German Personality Test

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The Wife and I have been wondering lately; just how German are our blog followers? Oh sure, tons of them are from Germany — they live there or speak the language — but do their cold, pessimistic hearts truly pump black, red and gold? And some of our followers are from different countries entirely — America, Canada, England, Turkey, Japan, etc. — and yet their souls are just as Teutonic as Frau Weinerjiggles down the street. You don’t have to be a German citizen to take this survey, so let’s find out just how German you really are.

Take the survey below, share your results on Facebook and Twitter, and let’s see just how many “Deutsch Points” you can score!

Wedding Tips for Marrying a German: 5 Things to Know Before ‘Die Hochzeit’

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“… to have and to hold, to honor and obHEEEEYYYY!”

I am American. My wife is German. We got married in the States and it was awesome. So awesome, in fact, I was inspired to write this blog post for the benefit of every American who has married — or is about to marry — a German person while in the United States of America.


‘Die Hochzeit,’ meaning ‘Wedding’ in German, sounds rather intimidating, doesn’t it? Unless you’re familiar with German pronunciation, ‘Die’ is probably the word you’d least like to associate with the happiest day of your life, and ‘Hochzeit’ sounds, at least to me anyway, an awful lot like ‘Hogtied.’

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Pictured: the bride, about to die… hogtied. — Image courtesy of Orin Zebest (http://www.flickr.com/photos/orinrobertjohn/)

But marrying someone from Germany really isn’t the frightening ordeal one might reasonably expect it to be. In fact, the wedding process will most likely be a totally smooth and completely awesome experience… with the exception of these 5 little details of which you should probably be aware before you bring your German over to the United States to get hitched:

1: Your German Will Be Unfamiliar With diamond Engagement Rings.

Until very recently, giving diamond engagement rings was a tradition largely ignored here in Germany. I have seen more and more jewelers carrying these sorts of rings as of late, but the vast majority tend to be unadorned bands. Thick, depressing, German-as-hell wedding bands. But we are Americans, godammit, and we want our fiancés to wear engagement rings mounted with bright, shiny, blood diamonds. And we want the cost of these diamonds to absolutely decimate our savings accounts, because if they don’t, it means we don’t love our fiancés enough.

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German Design: Functional AND intimidating. — Image courtesy of Jyri Engestrom (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jyri/)

Another thing about Germans and their wedding rings — many wear them on their right hands. They wear them on their left hands during the engagement period, switch them to their right hands during the wedding ceremony and then keep them there for the rest of their Teutonic lives. I wear my wedding ring on my left hand, where it belongs, and so does my wife — we roll American style on this one. Unfortunately, this means our rings often go unrecognized as symbols of marriage here in Germany. To Germans, we appear merely to be engaged — perhaps not even coupled at all — and my wife’s diamond engagement ring looks more like a piece of blindingly expensive jewelery… or an outright invitation to hit on her. I’m not worried though. Have you ever seen a German guy hit on a woman? It’s adorable.

2: Your German Will Expect a ‘Polterabend’ before the wedding.

The word ‘Polterabend‘ consists of the German verb ‘poltern’ (to make a racket) and the noun ‘Abend’ (evening). If you’ve ever seen the movie Poltergeist, you’ve probably already guessed this name is, at the very least, a discouraging omen.

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“I’ll marry you! I swear! Just please don’t ever touch me again!” — Image courtesy Jennifer Mathis (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenxer/)

A Polterabend is a German wedding custom — a big, all-night party prior to the wedding itself — where guests smash porcelain objects in order to bring luck to the couple’s marriage. The symbolism of this ritual is expressed by the old adage, “Scherben bringen Glück,” which means “Shards bring luck.” And I’m sure they do, for what could possibly go wrong when you combine magic, superstition, copious amounts of alcohol and flying shards of razor-sharp death pottery?

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“Best. Polterabend. EVER.” — Image courtesy of [Duncan] (http://www.flickr.com/photos/duncanh1/)

In practice, however, the Polterabend is mostly an excuse to have a raging party. And if anyone knows how to both rage and party simultaneously, it’s those wily Germans. I, however, think it is a spectacularly bad idea to go nuts the night immediately before your wedding. Not all Polterabends occur the night before — some take place a week or two earlier — but you know all those videos of people passing out right at the altar? That doesn’t happen when you’ve spent the previous evening in your hotel room, quietly rehearsing your vows and going to sleep at a reasonable hour. That happens from Polterabends.

The Wife and I did not have a Polterabend, however, because most venues in the Unites States close at a reasonable hour. Not in Germany. Here, you can rent out a place and go ballistic until the sun comes up. It’s basically expected of you. My wife was highly offended by the American peculiarities she encountered while researching Polterabend venues, because she was entirely unfamiliar with terms like “closing time,” “last call” and “noise ordinance.”

3: Your German Will Party Harder Than You At the Reception

Yes, we are Americans, and yes, we can party. But there’s something deep inside German DNA which allows them to party harder than us by orders of magnitude. A real German party makes an American party look like a bunch of diaper-wearing toddlers trying to hump a piñata.

Your German will drink, but will not get sloppy drunk — just the right amount of fuel to feed the machine. He or she will take — or be featured prominently — in every single picture taken that night. He or she will dance, sing, eat ridiculously heavy foods, laugh and then dance some more… all while you have long since passed out. Germans are cosmic partiers, you see. Your German will be the sun in the solar system that is your wedding reception, and its gravity will pull all celestial matter toward its center — including you, the wayward planet with the decaying orbit — where you will burn in its white-hot embrace for all eternity.

German Wedding Reception

Rocking you all night long… to death. — Image courtesy of JasonParis (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonparis/)

You know how Americans don’t have any traditional drinking songs? Your German has forgotten more drinking songs than you will ever learn. (But don’t sweat this part too hard; their drinking songs are pretty retarded.)

And you know how Americans don’t have any traditional drinking dances? Germans know dozens of dances, and at your wedding reception, you will be expected to participate in every goddamn one of them. Watch out for the Chicken Dance , Cowboy und Indianer (komm hol das Lasso raus) and the Slap Dance. They look great in the pictures you will see later on, but right in the moment? Right when it’s happening, as you hop around in a circle holding hands with your spouse on one side and some hairy cousin you barely even know on the other? You may think your life has spun dangerously out of control, but don’t be scared; this is all German engineering. This is the Autobahn, baby. Hold on tight and try not to look like a pussy.

4: Your German — and the other german Guests — Will refuse to drink and drive.

As an American, it physically hurts me to admit Germans are better drinkers than we are — hurts me right in my star-spangled heart muscles — but it’s true; they grow up with some of the least restrictive alcohol laws in the world, which seem to encourage drinking responsibility, rather than drinking recklessness.  Maybe it’s because Germans youths are legally allowed to purchase beer and wine at age 16, and then allowed to purchase hard liquor at 18. There’s no excitement in it for them. They’re not breaking any rules. Oh sure, there are spectacular drunks and catastrophic failures of alcohol abuse in Germany too, but they’re not nearly so prevalent as in the States.

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“Where do you go to Highschool?” “Brewdogg Academy yo!” — Image courtesy of Gregg O’Connell (http://www.flickr.com/photos/greggoconnell/)

Wisely, Germany’s relaxed age restrictions on the purchase of alcohol do not extend to driving while intoxicated. Unlike the United States, there is no legal limit of 0.08% blood alcohol level in Germany (though I’ve heard in some parts of the country there is a limit 0.05%, which can be achieved by accidentally swallowing a thimble full of mouthwash). In Germany, if you get pulled over and the officer determines you’re even slightly intoxicated — there goes your drivers license. You’ll be slapped with a massive fine, community service and a restriction on your ability to drive for the foreseeable future. You may even lose your license forever.

Germans grow up with this reality, and they won’t take any chances. They intuitively know how stupid it is to drink and drive. This is why you may need to organize shuttles and taxis for your German wedding guests. (And screw the American ones, right? Because they have the freedom to die in a fire of twisted metal and broken windshield glass if they so desire. It even says so in the Bill of Rights… probably.) So, unless you arrange for safe transportation to and from your wedding reception, some poor German is going to remain sober all night, and just one sober German alone is enough bring about a second Great Depression.

5: Your German won’t understand why American Weddings are so incredibly expensive.

Listen — you and me? We’re American. Our weddings are traditionally extravagant. We get hitched using so much money either our parents pay for everything, or we go bankrupt attempting to handle the cost ourselves. It’s just how we roll.

expensive wedding cake

“Is that a cake or a delicious monument to capitalism?” — Image courtesy of Anthony van Dyck (http://www.flickr.com/photos/maoman/)

Germans, however, are a practical bunch of squares, and we could really learn a lot from them about simple money management. They use local churches, restaurants, hotels and the backyards of affluent relatives to get married. Their wedding venues are cute, quaint, and so utilitarian you’d likely observe better scenery in a dentist’s office while having your wisdom teeth pulled under general anesthesia. That said, American wedding venues overcharge young couples just as hard as they can. So hard it should be illegal. Like, porno hard. But since it isn’t illegal, you’ll need to have a conversation with your German fiancé about the realities of American wedding expenses:

GERMAN: “Do we really need to rent a ballroom with an inflatable bouncy castle?”

AMERICAN: “Yes.”

GERMAN: “Are they really going to charge for food on a per-person basis? That’s like $100 per person!”

AMERICAN: “Yes, but kids are half price.”

GERMAN: “Why do we have to put a 50% deposit down?”

AMERICAN: “Because they’re afraid we might destroy the place… and we absolutely will.”

GERMAN: “Wedding cake prices range between $250 and $1000. Is this normal?”

AMERICAN: “Yes.”

GERMAN: “Do we really need to have an open bar?”

AMERICAN: “Hell yes.”

Now, before you attempt to describe the sorts of expenses involved in a typically lavish American wedding, email this infographic to your German and let it do the talking for you:

Wedding Cost Infographic

“Wait, wait… why are we doing this again?” — Image courtesy of CreditSesame.com (http://www.creditsesame.com/free-credit-score/)


I hope you find these considerations helpful and encouraging. Marrying a German is likely to be the very best decision you ever make in your life, and I congratulate you for having such excellent taste when you chose one to be your lifelong companion.

Now please, as you are planning your wedding while attempting to work all day, run errands, do chores, get enough sleep, maintain a healthy relationship with your German and retain your sanity, remember it is all worth it in the end. The organizing, the calls, the emails, the decisions and the expenses which go into American wedding planning will feel overwhelming at times. And unless you can afford a wedding planner, the stress will increase each day leading up to the wedding itself. But when that day is finally here, and things really get rolling? Everything will fall right into place. I promise.

Congratulations on scoring a wonderful German to be your spouse, and have a blast at the wedding! You’ve earned it!

Herzlichen Glückwunsch!

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