The Bürgeramt conjures up fond memories, doesn't it? Long waits on plastic chairs. Gruff, often magenta-haired ladies with not a smile to spare. Twenty-first Century Prussian bureacracy at its finest.
Getting angemeldet at the Bürgeramt is the key to a more permanent life in this country. Without your Anmeldebescheinigung, you're a nobody. The Ausländeramt wants it. The bank wants it. The car rental company wants it.
The problem is, getting a Bürgeramt appointment online is virtually impossible at the moment. On the website for the Kreuzberg Bürgeramt in Yorckstraße, for example, there are currently zero appointments available. "Check back in a few days," the site informs. What about elsewhere in the city (you can register at any Bürgeramt, regardless of which district you live in)? The Bürgeramt Marzahner Pronemade is surely less busy than Yorckstraße! But no: not a single online appointment to be had. Ditto for Bürgeramt Spandau at the other end of the city. "Keep checking back regularly."
In this sad state of affairs, three Berliners (including the one-and-only Mister Germany 2013, Jörn Kamphuis) recognised a business opportunity and developed an online service, buergeramt-termine.de, that literally "checks back regularly" by scanning the Bürgeramt calendar 24 hours a day for appointments that become available. When it finds a free slot, the robot automatically reserves it for you. For €25, buergeramt-termine.de promises an appointment within five days. Their two-day "express service" costs €45. It's an ingenious hack of the system - and something people are willing to pay for.
This is not the first time private enterprise has stepped in to replace public services. In Berlin public schools, for example, the operation of lockers for pupils has been outsourced to a private company which rents the lockers out on a yearly basis. Or take public toilets: long ago Berlin exonerated itself from the responsibly of providing public toilets by granting permission to the outdoor advertising company Wall to build fancy pay toilets. Wall also provides bus shelters to the city "for free" – and gets plenty of ad space to sell in return.
Both of the above examples are relatively harmless. But registration at the Bürgeramt is a basic public service. It's a disgrace that the only way of getting a timely online appointment is by paying a private company. Unsurprisingly, politicians would like to see buergeramt-termine.de shut down. Legally, however, there's nothing the Senat can do: buergeramt-termine.de argues that it's simply offering a kind of secretarial service.
The Senat has responded to the Bürgeramt crisis by hiring 31 new people. An increase of 5%. With half of all Bürgeramt staff off sick or on holiday, that's not going to make a much of a dent. Looks like "appointments for sale" could be a business model with a future.
Then again, all the uproar about the lack of online appointments might be much ado about nothing. Two members of the Exberliner staff reported that they recently got Bürgeramt appointments on the very same day – just by walking in and asking for one!