Becoming a German
It is official: I am German! Or, at least, half German. Thankfully, the process of becoming a citizen went relatively quickly and I managed to become a German citizen before Brexit. Phew! Thus, 11th March will now be known as Tag der Deutschen Danheit!
After a week of celebrations including German breakfasts, sausages and potato salad (three days in a row because Tim decided to make enough to feed the entire city), I thought I would write a blog post about what I had to actually do to become a German, as it wasn’t exactly the most straightforward thing I’ve ever done. Really, the highlight is the proof of German language skills. It is a pure, painful example of German bureaucracy.
First things first – you need to have lived in Germany for at least 8 years. However, like me, you can bring it down to 6 years if you fulfil certain prerequisites. My advantage was being able to speak German, at least at a B2/C1 level. Otherwise, if you have been living in Germany for 8 years, you can get away with a B1 level.
(For those of you who don’t know – language levels in the CEFR are: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2, where A1 is absolute beginner, and C2 is completely fluent. I’ve been told that people are generally level C1 after doing a bachelor’s degree in the language.)
Here’s the general list of things I had to collect and take to the Standesamt to become German:
- Proof of income
- Birth certificate (with official German translation)
- Results of Citizenship Test
- Proof of time lived in Germany
- List of state pension payments
- Proof of German language skills
“Well, this shouldn’t be too tricky”, I naively thought to myself. Passport and proof of income were, indeed, not too tricky at all. But after that, that’s when the fun started.
Long story short, I learnt how to apply for a deed poll when your name is incorrectly spelt on your birth certificate. Yay!
Results of Citizenship Test:
The next test I could sign up for was about 2 months after my initial meeting. Uh oh. I had to bite the bullet and do it and wait. The test itself wasn’t too bad and thankfully all the German history lessons at school and university really paid off. And I now know the difference between the Bundestag and Bundesrat (please don’t ask me the difference now it’s been three months I might have forgotten already maybe).
Proof of time lived in Germany:
Problem: I have technically lived in Germany for the required length of time, but part of that time was in Hanover on my year abroad, and I lived in England for a year in between Hanover and Frankfurt. The lady at the Standesamt told me not to worry and that it can be proved that I lived in Hanover because it will be on my proof of state pension payments because I worked in Hanover. Phew!
Yeah of course it wasn’t going to be that easy. I wasn’t paid a salary in Hanover, but as a kind of bursary, so I didn’t pay any taxes with it.
THANKFULLY, I keep every piece of paper ever received (how German!) and found a “Certificate of Attendance” at the school I taught at which was enough. Phew!
List of state pension payments:
“I refuse to wait in long German queues!”, I thought to myself, as I got to the place where you can get a print out of your state pension payments at stupid o’clock in the morning.
It took the lady 10 seconds to print it off at the reception desk. Didn’t even have to get a number and wait.
Proof of German language skills:
This is the most fun, and also the longest part, so get ready. Also, please don’t think I’m big-headed, as I’m really not! It was just quite funny how it all panned out, despite me having a degree in German and having lived in Frankfurt since 2014.
“You need to do a German test”, said the lady at the Standesamt with a smile.
“Oh no, don’t worry, I already have a bachelor’s degree in German”, I confidently replied.
Nope. Not good enough. The fact that I have a bachelor’s degree in German, have lived in Germany for years, had a 10-minute conversation with the lady in German with no problems whatsoever – that was all not good enough to prove that I can speak German. The problem? I didn’t do my bachelor’s degree in Germany. You know, who knows what kind of German I learnt in England?!
So, because I was going for the 6-year limit, I had to do a B2 or C1 German test. Being the geek that I am, I went for the C1 test. And this is really where the fun starts. Ladies and gentlemen, German bureaucracy:
To do the test, I had to do a test. That is, to see if I was capable of doing the C1 test. To do this pre-test, I had to go to the Volkshochschule (adult education school) at 8am to get a number for the queue. The queue that opened at 1pm. I got there at about 8.15am and got number 18. I went home and came back at 1pm. I got seen at about 1.30pm. I was then asked to wait until 2pm when the next office opens. Because I could apparently clearly speak at a C1 level, I was told to just go straight into the office at 2pm without waiting to be called.
They weren’t happy about me just going straight into the office at 2pm without waiting to be called. Luckily, there was one lady who was nice and called me over. I told her my story, about wanting to do the C1 test, already having a degree in German, having lived in Frankfurt since 2014, blah blah blah, and I just want to get the pre-test over and done with, please.
She asked me to firstly write down the answers, in full, to five questions on a piece of paper, and I had to do so in front of her.
“Fair enough!”, I thought.
She handed me the piece of paper.
“Question 1: What are you called?”
“Question 2: Where are you from?”
And so on.
I answered the questions in as complex German as possible to prove to her that I can speak German, to which she replied: “Oh, you finished that quickly!”.
After a brief chat with the lady, she slowly started to realise that, yes, I could speak German and I wasn’t taking the mick. She then told me about having to do the pre-test. She went through the four tasks. The final task required me to write a fake letter of application.
“Have you ever written a letter in German before?”, asked the lady.
“… Ja”, I replied.
“Do you speak German outside of the adult school?”, she asked.
“… Ja”, I replied.
I was given the test and had an hour to do it, and it was kind of a simplified version of the exams and tests we did at university. To be honest, it really wasn’t difficult. I finished within about 40 minutes and headed back to the first room. The lady called me over.
“Oh, you’re finished quite early… do you have a problem with the test? Can I help you with anything?”
“Uh… no, I’m just finished…”
She marked the test and DAMN I got one wrong. But the lady laughed and said native Germans would also get something like that wrong. Phew!
Then came the speaking part of the test. We were in a room with six desks and people were having small speaking tests all around me, such as talking about the weather, talking about how horrible German grammar is, and talking about plans for the summer holidays.
The lady looked at me and started off my speaking part with the question: “Why the hell do you have to do this test?”
I told her the story in more detail to which she could only laugh and complain about her own experiences at the Standesamt.
She filled in a sheet of paper to say, yes, he can do the C1 test. I then had to go downstairs, get another number to wait in another queue for 20 minutes to simply hand in a piece of paper to sign up to do the damn test. So it basically took me a day to sign up for a test.
Test day came about 2 months after. The reading, listening and writing parts were in the morning and went well. Then, as a Walker, I was at the end of the list for speaking tests in the afternoon and had to wait two-and-a-half hours in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of Frankfurt. I had my 15-minute preparation time and then walked into the exam. C1 speaking tests usually consist of two people at a time, but with me being last on the list and there being an odd number of us, I was alone.
I introduced myself as asked and had two women glance at me in surprise.
“Wh… why do you have to do this test?”, they asked.
Anyway, after my short presentation on cooking shows and their pros and cons (yeah, you read that right), I had to have a fake conversation with one of the elderly ladies about how we are going to finance our studies. Result: she wanted to find a rich man to marry because she reckons that she’s old and knows that love dies out anyway so, what the heck?
I decided to find a scholarship.
My results came 8 weeks and 2 days later (they really weren’t joking about “approx. 8 weeks”). I managed good results in reading, writing and speaking, but only got 19 out of 25 in listening. Thus, if I am ever asked to do something in German, then sorry… I didn’t do very well in listening so I can’t understand you so I can’t do what you want me to do (hasn’t quite worked out in my favour with house chores… yet).
So, with results in hand, I headed back to the Standesamt to hand everything in, and finally I got the letter to say I can pick up my citizenship certificate a few weeks after (I just looked up the word for Einbürgerungsurkunde… do we really say “naturalisation papers”? Sounds so formal!).
And that is that – I am half German, half British!
Now I just have to go to the Bürgeramt to apply for my ID card and passport (which will then be ready around three weeks after).
The next available appointment is on 27th March.