Things got off to a rocky start when Brian and I arrived at our local Rathaus to renew our German passports last month. With the stern tone of many a German bureaucrat, Frau O. admonished us that we needed two appointments rather than one to complete our business and that my passport photo did not meet German requirements. As we waited in stunned silence to see if our appointment would proceed, she delivered the final punch. She could not process our applications until she contacted the German Consulate in the U.S. to see if we had already requested new passports. What?
As my blood started to boil and my head spun with memories of the bureaucratic hurdles and delays from my first German passport application, Frau O. explained that she needed confirmation that we were not engaged in… I’m not quite sure what… subterfuge, identity theft, espionage??? Despite my proficient German, I could not understand the basis for this extra step in the process. This was a simple document renewal, not a claim for new rights or privileges.
As my emotional temperature rose and I tried to explain my family history through clenched teeth without crying, something happened that I’ve often observed with German officials. Frau O. became a lot nicer when she saw my distress and assured me that this was a routine procedure that would not cause a significant delay.
Bureaucratic rigamarole notwithstanding, it’s actually becoming easier for descendants of families persecuted by the Nazis to reclaim their German citizenship. Some of the exclusions which I’ve previously written about (see New Citizenship, New Responsibilities) have been eliminated and a new legal entitlement to citizenship for certain individuals and their descendants has been created. You can read about these changes on the German Consulate website.
Three weeks after our appointment with Frau O. and just before my birthday, we got the news that we were all clear for renewed passports. Time for a celebration at one of our favourite restaurants, Royals and Rice. Our documents still haven’t arrived, but my anxiety has abated and I trust I’ll have my new passport when I head to California to visit my sister next month.
Starting our second decade as German citizens reminds me of all the privileges and benefits we enjoy. Germany’s social democracy continues to provide citizens and residents with a strong safety net just as our family continues to have a higher standard of living than we did back in Montana. In fact, social benefits have gotten even better since we first moved here:
- Berlin provides free public transit passes for all school kids as of 2019
- no quarterly payments at the doctor’s office for people with public health insurance
- increase of monthly Kindergeld payment per child from 184 euros for your first two children in 2010 to 219 euros for your first two children in 2021
- free entrance to Berlin museums on the first Sunday of every month as of July 2021
German society still has many social ills to address and there’s much at stake in this weekend’s federal elections. In July I wrote about the need for the Jewish community to pursue a more inclusive approach in fighting hate and the role we can play in strengthening German democracy. Over the next year I will volunteer as a mentor for people at risk of dropping out of their educational programs. I can’t think of a better way to contribute than to support the educational pursuits of Germany’s increasingly diverse population.