Stuff that's scuzzy

November 16, 2016

Well. I had a bit of a day on Tuesday. When I was hired I was told “You’re American? Just come on a tourist visa and we’ll convert you to a work visa when you arrive.” OK, seems easy enough. I went to the ForschungszentrumResearch Center last week to sign the contract, and I scheduled a meeting with the International Employees Office (which is just 1 person) for the first day (Monday). Nobody said “Do you have a work permit? Where are you registered?”

Registration is something Americans would never put up with—you must tell the police where you live in order to have any legal status, and as proof you registered you receive a MeldebescheinigungRegistration certificate . Every government service is contingent upon your registration, and you must go to your local office or the central city office (which has a huge line). Different municipalities may have different requirements or charge different fees for the same service. The visa change I need is €20 in Jülich but €100 in Köln.

Canal in Lindenthal, near Dürenerstraße in Köln, where I hope to live, eventually.

I get to the meeting, where we’re supposed to sign me up for health insurance and switch the visa over.

Where are you registered?


Oh, that is outside of my geographical jurisdiction for switching the work visa. I cannot help you. You must take your Meldebescheinigung, your passport, and your employment contract to the local government office tomorrow. If you have a problem, here is my card and please have them call me. And you should not sign up for the health insurance until your job starts, because the laboratory pays for a big fraction of it.


Here is my card, so that you can have the officer call if you have a problem.

Get up Tuesday morning, go to the government office with the 3 important documents. Nope. Sorry. You are missing X, Y, and Z papers, and you don’t have the proof of health insurance. I cannot give you the work visa, and if you come back with the proper papers, it will take up to two months for processing, even for the temporary work permit. You understand that you cannot currently work, even with this contract?


I get the government employee and my helper on the phone together. They speak Deutsch very fast together for a few minutes and I have no idea what is going on. “Ja… OK… Please take the phone Mr. Berkowitz.”

[from Jülich:] Mr.It’s Dr. Berkowitz. I don’t usually offer the correction, but people take it seriously in Germany. Berkowitz please come to my office at 2:30 PM tomorrow.

But my advi…

Mr. Berkowitz, I cannot spend any more time on you today, I have many appointments.

:blink: :blinkblink: You sent me here today and told me to call if I had a problem!

I cried as I walked down the straße back to my AirBNB, completely frustrated and defeated and alone.

So now I’m in a scramble.

The only plausible solution is to move as quickly as possible into the jurisdiction of the person who can help me at the laboratory, and she goes on holiday at noon on Friday, and there is no substitute who can perform her job. Moreover, her jurisdiction is in the middle of goddamn nowhere.

I saw a room in a house in Jülich that same day. The house has 3 ponies, 4 horses, and beets. Fields and fields of beets as far as the eye can see. And I must sign a lease for at least 3 months, and must by law give 3 months notice before moving out. The first 3 months may not be a problem, because if I move during the processing of my work permit, it will have to transfer between offices and then the requirements can change! So, 3 months amongst the Pferde und Rüben.

I’m eager to try the Chinese restaurant to the east by southeast. I have brought the entirety of my creative imagination to try to guess what it might be like, with no success. My colleagues tell me there is what sounds like duckpin bowling in the basement.

The lab I’ll be working at has 6000+ people. How are they totally unprepared for my circumstance? Why didn’t someone give me a checklist? I could have done this stupid thing at a consulate while I was in the US! Why didn’t anybody ask me when I was in last week to sign the contract? Why didn’t the International Employees’ Officer warn me that being in the geographical region where she has sway is extremely important? Why didn’t she know that more than 3 papers are required?! Then there’s a Catch-22 on the health insurance. I was totally unpreparedperhaps “misinformed” is fairer , and the lab was wildly unprepared for me.

So I have an AirBNB in Düren, which is the “big” place near JülichRead: boasts its own radio station , but I won’t be here for long—I will move all of my things into my room in Jülich in the next few days.

Jülich is known for the Forschungszentrum, stallions to put out to stud, and beets. In the winter time, they process the beets into sugar. The whole place smells vaguely of ash and muted beets. Like a beet brewery burned down. Mild but off-putting and entirely pervasive.

If you need me, I’m the one doing computational nuclear physics and tending the ponies.

When I told this to a PhD student I’ll be working with this whole spiel, they asked me if I knew the word “Schadenfreude”. I am aware that this will make a funny story some day / may currently be funny if it’s not happening to you.

Otherwise, Germany has been great!

The day of my arrival was AllerheiligenAll Saint’s Day which is a recognized holiday in this portion of Germany. I walked around Köln a lot—everything was closed.


I got sick on the airplane. I thought at first it was just jet lag, but then it turned into a nasty cough and a really stuffy nose. But: no health insurance!

The next day, I got a Handytelephone service and a bank account. My research group’s leader won the Lise Meitner Prize so there was a symposium at the Forschungszentrum, and I got to see many people in my field.

The next day was the Trumpocalypse. I woke up just as PA was being declared. I basically read all day, and looked for flats.

Kölner Dom

Finding a flat is very difficult. There’s a huge market problem, which is that it is way too cheap. I’m not sure if it is by law, or just custom. The demand is therefore through the roof, and any opening gets 100+ applicants, so the supply is washed out. When I told my AirBNB host that I had two weeks to get settled before starting work she just laughed. Most flats or shared flats are secured by the I-know-a-guy method, and I don’t know any guys. So if you know a guy in Cologne who isn’t me, let me know.

I got a car (which required me registering in Köln). Driving stick was new—I’m still not perfect at it. That switch from 1st to 2nd gear…

This most recent Friday was the start of Carneval (11:11 on 11/11).
My AirBNB host brought me along with her friends, which was great. They have Carneval celebrations straight up until Lent, but the kickoff and the Fat Tuesday celebrations are the biggest. A lot of “We are Köln, We are the best” kinds of singing, and schunken—traditional “dancing” which is really just locking arms in a big circle, swaying back and forth, and singing. Not knowing or understanding any of the words makes it a little bit confusing. I grasped “Schön ist liebe”Life is Beautiful and then logicked out that the following line is along the lines of “Even if you’re really old.” Many old people were superpronounced “zoo-per” into it. They either dress like (non-scary) clowns or in red and white (the Kölsch colors). But people of all age participate. I don’t understand. It’s just some random Friday. Don’t these people need to be at work?

Saturday I spent in Aachen,
Aachener Dom
looking at a potential flat, before I knew I’d need to live on the farm to solve my visa problem. Their Christmas Mark[e]t was under construction, and sits just outside the huge cathedral and Charlemagne’s seat.

People have made many jokes about me being the first American refugee. Which is… yeah. Especially in light of my hilariousword choice? visa difficulties. It’s funny. But also it’s not funny.

Soagain, pronounced “zo” : it’s been up and down. Once things settle down and the visa issues get fixed, I think it will get better.

I already didn’t really like beets. I mean, once in a while, fine. But, and I think I know enough Deutsch to say it: beets up der wazoo?

The Döner is fücking goooöoood though.

November 16, 2016

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