Friday, January 9, 2009

"Y'all Don't Have Your Car?" The long saga about our trip to the US Consulate

Before Myrna was born I had joked about how the bureaucratic process associated to her birth would be longer and more painful than the birth itself. This may be true. It wasn't helped by the fact that her early and speedy entrance into the world meant labor was less than three hours, nor that her early birth also resulted in us tracking down a new Bescheinigung which included her far less than average weight. So far we've had to only deal with the German bureaucratic side of her birth (a process that every new parent in Germany must embark on). Wednesday was the day to see just how the Americans do it.

Once upon a time, when Bonn was the capital of Germany, the US Consulate was there, and a visit there was just a hop, skip and a jump away from Köln. After that, the American Embassy in Düsseldorf was the place to go for registering the birth of an American citizen. But in the last year or so, the process changed and those of us living in Köln must go to the US Consulate in Frankfurt (which, I might add, is in a different state). Köln and Frankfurt are joined by a very fast (albeit expensive) ICE train, so it's only an hour and a half away. But the US Consulate keeps up some German traditions and only offers appointments between the hours of 8 and 10:30 a.m. So Wednesday morning before 7:30, we bundled up and headed out the door for our journey to Frankfurt. A few days ago it started to snow. Nothing like Seattle's recent snow - only about 5 inches - but the high hasn't even come close to 20 deg F, so a tad bit freezing. And pushing a stroller through two inches of snow is no easy task. Being a bit nervous about getting there on time, and not knowing how long it would take us to get out the door, I had our morning very well planned. I had forgotten, though, that all plans go out the window when a baby is involved. Myrna apparently didn't get a copy of the schedule - which gave precise times of when she was to wake up for feeding during the night. We did leave our apartment on time, only to find that our train to Frankfurt was late, and thus we arrived at the US Consulate for our appointment with minutes to spare.

As you can probably guess, there is a little bit of security at the consulate. Luckily they first check you in for your appointment before you deal with security. Apparently, we were supposed to know that absolutely no electronics were allowed. I'm sure it probably said this on their website, but no where in the printed materials I received about our appointment and what to bring with us, did it mention this fact. So here we are standing out in the freezing cold (a quick check shows it was 4 deg F) being told that there are no lockers on site for us to deposit our camera and computer. The security guard in his Texan accent acted astonished when he said "Yall don't have your car?" Now, we couldn't be the first people to come to the consulate with electronics and no car, and he finally gave Chris directions to a Kiosk near the UBahn station that for a small fee would watch our bag (not in a locker, but in a little newspaper stand that would probably blow over in a light wind). Not having any choice, Chris left the bag and hoped it would still be there in a few hours.

Before arriving to our appointment we had to fill out quite a bit of paperwork. I was most fond of the question in which Chris and I had to give the precise dates of our presence in the US since our birth - and the square for putting that information in was about a half an inch tall (to be fair, you could attach a second page). Try listing all the dates you've ever been out of the country, and I can guarantee your passport with it's stamps will not come close to telling the whole story. Our first task was to to get Myrna's passport pictures taken. Even though there are photo-booths on every street corner in Germany, it is very important that the photos conform to US standards, so basically they have to be taken at the consulate. We learned that holding a baby upright with one hand is quite difficult (don't ask me why she even needs a picture - it's not like she will look like it in a year). Anyway, the last try was good enough:
All went smoothly thereafter. They didn't ask for half the documentation we were told to bring, and although we did photocopy all the necessary documents (as instructed), they actually made their own copies - something that never happens at the German offices. Their copies, though, were all made on 8 1/2" x 11" paper, a strange sight for us now that we are in the land of A4 paper. Sadly, that and the flags of the 50 states were really the only American reminders. There was no popcorn machine, Budweiser, or pop with free refills. Rumor has it that the US Consulate is the one place in Germany with air conditioning, but that was one perk we were not going to enjoy. (One quick aside: Chris learned this week from one of his students that American military bases are the places to go to get fireworks during unsanctioned holiday times when they are sold at every grocery store. Chris could only laugh.) The ever important marriage certificate was really all that was needed in addition to our passports and Myrna's birth certificate (and a credit card, of course). I don't think we will ever get so much use out of our marriage certificate when we return to the US.
By 12:30 pm, we were retrieving our bag of contraband electronics (all still there) and heading back to the center of the city. Our train back to Köln didn't leave until 4, but with no map and no real plan of what to see, we spent most of our time indoors. If Chris and I were freezing we knew Myrna couldn't be too comfortable, and so we hopped from restaurant to cafe to stay warm, and thankfully little Myrna just slept. We did, though, see some of the famous Frankfurt skyscrapers (which are famous because skyscrapers are so uncommon in Germany).
I now must add new entries to her baby book - to track her paperwork trail. There is a "memento" envelope, for things like a hospital bracelet. Since those certainly don't exist here, perhaps instead we'll just put her appointment number slip (think DMV "Take a Number") in it.


Mark Jabbusch said...

Welcome to the U.S. of A. Myrna! How long is that passport picture good for? She never has liked posing for outsiders... like Ultrasound techs or passport photags. For all the bennies of having a baby in Germany, this paper chase was not one of them.

Christina Merhar said...

Great story. How wonderful it will be for you and Myrna to have all of these stories as Myrna grows!