Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].
Q Dear Hans-Torsten: I’m an American who lived in a couple different states before coming to Berlin – I’m not actually sure which one I’m registered to vote in. Still, I’d like to vote in the upcoming elections. How do I do that? And will my vote be counted for my ex-home-state, or in a separate pool of “overseas” votes? —Nicole
A Dear Nicole: I guess this is the “American” issue, so I will ausnahmsweise answer a question about the tangled laws of your strangely organised democracy. The first thing to know is that the laws governing the election of POTUS are local – every state has its own peculiarities. But one thing seems to be clear: Americans living overseas should register in their last state of residence. You can register and request an absentee ballot quite effortlessly at www.votefromabroad.org, a non-partisan website run by the group Democrats Abroad. A tool will create a “Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Request” which you can print and send, fax or email (depending on local regulations). The “find answers” page will tell you the deadlines to submit registration and ballot requests, and whether or not documents can be submitted electronically or only by post. Does your vote end up in some mysterious pile of overseas ballots? No, it counts towards the votes in your ex-homestate, obviously somewhat demotivating if your state isn’t a “swing” state.
Q Dear Hans-Torsten: I moved here to work as an app developer for a start-up. This city is supposed to be leading the way into a high-tech future, but you still can’t pay by credit card anywhere. And what about the Bürgeramt?? You are required to register to be able to do anything, even get a bank account. Yet there are no appointments available online till December… arrgh.— Ken
A Dear Ken: Sadly, not all of life can be remote-controlled with an app, though I agree the state of Berlin needs to rapidly do something about its overloaded, antiquated Bürgeramt registration system. The city is growing at a rate of 40,000 people per year and the authorities can’t keep up. These days there are myriad ways of proving your identity online without actually showing your passport to a grumpy bureaucrat with dozens of kitten photos on her desk. Until that happens, though, one trick is to just show up at a Bürgeramt (any one will do, preferably one at the edge of the city, like in Pankow-Buch) and “bring some time with you” as we Germans say. They can ’ t kick you out if you show up during opening hours. Alternatively, as a high-earning developer you might be able to afford the €95 all-inclusive service offered by the start-up www.buergeramt-termine.de. You don’t need to go anywhere, they actually go to the Amt for you. But if you savour the challenge of “cheating” a little bit in the dog-eat-dog competition for appointments, consider monitoring Berlin’s official online calendar for openings using a browser plug-in like Check4Change for Firefox or PageMonitor for Chrome. If set up correctly, the software will inform you when someone cancels an appointment – a cue for you to swoop in and snap it up for yourself.