31 October 2009

How I Lost My Visit to Lichtenstein

A new year in Germany has begun. I have actually been back since the end of September but a series of events and necessary work kept me fairly busy until now. In the first week after my return to Eichstätt I moved house from one apartment to another, albeit no more than 500 feet away. A stack of paper work greeted me back to the country as well, some associated with the change of address and some with staying for another year. It is this paper work that inspired the title of this post.

Immediately after my return I was faced with an important yet seemingly easily achievable chore: the renewal of my visa. My past visa, which granted me permission to reside in Germany throughout the last school year, expired on September 30; I arrived back in the country on September 28, leaving me two and a half days to renew the document.

My initial worry dealt with the supporting documents required for the extension. The government officials would need to see confirmation of my position at the university, but I fretted that because of my changed address the needed letter from the school would be delayed. Fortunately the letter awaited me in my new mail box when I checked it on the afternoon of the 28th. The next day I received the last necessary documents from the university during a personal visit that lasted longer than expected, and, along with the inconvenient government office hours, thereby erased any chances of visiting the visa office on the same day. I would have to wait until my last legally granted day in Germany to obtain the new visa.

If I could not receive the new visa before my current one expired, chances are that I could have remained as an illegal alien in the country for a couple days without any problems. These were, however, chances that I preferably did not want to entertain.

On Wednesday, September 30, I rode my bike over the cobblestone bridge into the old town and up to the Landratsamt, the equivalent of the county office building. I walked into the Foreigner's Office at an early hour so as to assure that I had plenty of time until noon, closing time for public visits, to wait if need. Luckily, only the standard, plain chairs occupied the waiting room.

After passing through the last door and greeting the worker behind the counter I started to hand over the forms and documents. To my surprise (this being my third year in Germany I have come to expect unforeseen problems with the Foreigner's Office), everything appeared in order. The current German visa, that is, the document itself, consists of two thick slips of paper that are pasted on two pages in one's passport. These slips display the holder's photograph, his pertinent information, and the conditions of his stay in Germany. Before retreating to the waiting room for the official to finish the work, I asked her if she could simply paste the new visa over the previous one, in order to spare some blank pages in my quickly filling passport. She answered that she wasn't allowed to do that, and I shrugged it off as a small issue.

After only a few minutes in the waiting room the office door opened and the official emerged with my passport in hand.

"We have a problem," she began. "I've looked through your entire passport and there is only one blank page available."

Assuming I had caught on to the alleged problem I quickly responded, "It's okay with me if the new visa covers a page with stamps." The solution would result in the loss of some travel mementos, yes, but considering the alternative I had to allow it.

"I'm sorry," she answered, "I'm not allowed to place the visa over any stamps either."

Surely, my eyes noticeably widened or my head cocked to the side a bit as my understanding of the "problem" improved. If there was no place for her to place the visa, what then was she suggesting, that I cannot receive it at all?

I reached for my passport and, as one does tend to trust only himself in stressful situations, turned each page carefully to see with my own eyes if what she had said were true. There were my two previous visas, one about to expire in mere hours and one from my year of studying abroad, and the many entry and exit stamps I had acquired through my travels. I came to the third- and second-to-last pages, both were blank.

"Here, you can use these. These are still blank."

"Hm," she thought out loud as she took the passport back, "no, I'm sorry. The titles of these pages read Amendments. I'm only allowed to insert the visa on pages with the title Visas.

"I really am sorry," she continued, "but there is no place for me to insert the new visa. You will have to go to the American consulate in Munich and request a new passport."

The bureaucracy, the waiting time, and the potential problems involved with that possibility were too much for me to accept.

"It really would be no problem with me if you placed the visa over some of my old stamps. I don't need them anymore." I hoped that some of her German bureaucratic ways would waiver, but she again informed that she was not allowed to do that. Then I had an idea.

I flipped to a certain page and pointed to the one stamp on it. "Maybe you could cover this stamp? It's from Lichtenstein, but it's not real, not official. It's just a souvenir; I actually bought it. See, the words Tourist Office are even on the stamp." The last truly blank page would be used, and only one stamp would be lost for the needed second page.

She inspected the stamp briefly before shaking her head. "I'm sorry, but," I almost repeated the words with her, "I'm not allowed to do that."

A long sigh signaled my surrender to her strict adherence to the rules. She returned inside the office to issue a certificate that would offer me temporary permission to remain in the country. From the waiting room I could hear her speak with her coworker, not well enough to distinguish every word, but enough to catch a few phrases. I understood, "not allowed to," and, "Lichtenstein," and then there was laughter. Soon after, as I contemplated when I could go to Munich and how much the trip would cost, the door opened and the coworker walked out. He gave me a brief hello and what seemed to be like a smirk. Not only were they putting me in this situation, I thought, but they also found humor in it.

After the coworker left the waiting room into the hallway, the original official cracked the office door open.

"After discussing the matter with my colleague, I have decided that it would be permissible to place the new visa over the stamp from the Principality of Lichtenstein. Would this solution be okay with you?"

I paused for a brief second as if to actually contemplate her question. "Yes, that would be okay. Thank you."

And so it was that I lost my visit to Lichtenstein. If I now hold that page of my passport up to a light I can still barely make out the hidden stamp from the backside.

After waiting a little longer for the woman to complete to visa and insert in my passport, I walked toward the exit. While doing so I recalled my visit to the tourist office in Lichtenstein when I bought the stamp last February. As the worker in that office was about to place the stamp on a blank page, I almost stopped her and requested if she could simply put it on a page with previous stamps. However, on quick second thought I decided it wouldn't be so important to keep that certain page blank, and the stamp landed on the page.

In order to prevent any future problems dealing with a scaricty of blank pages in my passport, I visited the American consulate while in Munich a couple of Fridays ago. After a tight security procedure at the entrance and about an hour of waiting, several new pages were stitched into the booklet. Hopefully that will suffice until this current passport expires.

Following the tiring first week or so after my return, things took an easier path. I traveled to Munich on another occasion to attend the Oktoberfest with a couple friends, and in the middle of October I went a little farther in order to spend a week in the splendid country of Croatia. Look forward to posts about these events in the days ahead.


Anonymous said...

Nicholas / well at least you had the experience to rely on / and even thought they found humor in the situation / remember your the one who found the resolution over their many years working in the office / government workers no matter what country aren't customer driven / they usually just punch a clock, follow the rules, so your suggestion I'm sure pushed them out of there comfort zone / luckly logic did prevail


mc said...

Good Story Nicholas - made me laugh!

quererysipoder said...

Well done Nick!! I'm tired of so many bureocracie! Why does people need VISA?? We are world citizen!

Nick O. said...

Quereryspidor: Well, thanks! Yes, sometimes it is a little ridiculous.