Germans give musicians hassle to renew a residency visa

Germans give musicians hassle to renew a residency visa


norman lebrecht

December 09, 2017

From our American diarist in Berlin, Anthea Kreston:



I am home again after concerts in Munich, Weiden, Berlin, Geneva, Stuttgart, and two in Vienna. Stressful, exhausting, lonely and fulfilling. The concerts are great – Quartet is tight, strong, flexible, in command, and tender. Night after night, the halls are packed, many with extra seats onstage. The balance between life and Quartet remains difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible, but it happens, it manages.

I was only in Berlin one day these past weeks – and our family residency visa expires soon. No one does Christmas like the Germans, from top to bottom – which includes a generous shuttering of government offices, making obtaining such a visa that much more difficult. Now that we are outside of Berlin proper, our government services are more provincial, farther away and somehow less efficient. It isn’t even possible to make an appointment to get our visa extended – we have to just go and wait in a (surreally) long line. And get there early!

On the morning of our Berlin concert, the whole family bundled up, and at 7 AM picked up my German tutor Ramón at the UBahn (recommended by friends at the Berlin Philharmonic, Ramón is the unofficial tutor of the members, who have come from far and wide to join the Phil – he speaks so many languages, he is like the Tower of Babel of tutors, but in a short, rotund package, shirts somehow always slightly too small, and always just a bit smelly). Ramón is like an extended member of our family – he comes often and stays long, animatedly balancing one-legged on the couch, saying “tell me what I am doing auf Deutsch” and is a fan of Jason’s cold beat salad with feta and pecans.

So we went, a 45 minute ride away – and as Ramón reached to take a number (the waiting room was already crowded with multi-colored extended families), two hefty, thick-set security guards blocked his way. Asking what our purpose was, Ramón said we needed an extension on our visitors visa. They began a heated conversation, which continued to a senior staff person. It was clear that this type of paperwork was processed only on Thursdays, and today was a Tuesday. Voices we raised, fingers pointing quickly in a variety of directions as Ramón explained (louder and louder) that I was a famous violinist, and I wasn’t going to be in Berlin again on a Thursday until late January because I am so famous, did they really want to shoulder the responsibility of kicking out of the country one of the most famous artists, and here is an article about her in Der Zeit and look at this too!! I touched Ramón’s arm – weren’t we pushing a little too hard? And he said under his breath – no – we are almost there – one more minute. Some final pointing and harsh words, with some paper flapping, and we were escorted to the number machine by Thing #1 and Thing #2. We were 83, and they were now on 56. Ok not bad.

So we sat. And sat. The numbers changed excruciatingly slowly, despite there being 5 rotating slots. Around 11, I said to Ramón – I am feeling an impending lunch-break. And there it was – stuck at 68 until 1 PM. Jason took the girls for a walk, found a bite to eat, as Ramón stayed, eyeing the numbers.

Finally, and with a large box of binders in tow (letters of recommendation, work contracts, police documents confirming our address, passports, photos, marriage certificate, birth certificate, papers confirming that the girls attend school, health insurance documents, a certificate of our last toenail clipping, measurements of my diseased cat, and a scan of the contents of our stomachs), we were lead to a room, which was unlocked by Thing #2. A brief but scary altercation between a refugee and Thing #1 was causing a kerfuffle in the waiting room, and we were glad to escape the stuffy crowded space for a sterile office.

Here we were, 3:00, and my dress rehearsal at the Philharmonie was to begin at 5:30 in Berlin.

We were surrounded on three sides by floor-to-ceiling walls of hanging file-folders. Remember the dentist’s front office from 1997? You get the visual. Paper after paper was scrutinized – even documentation of our original flights from America were requested – huffing and puffing was had, many brisk walks to other rooms, phone calls. The result? Because we were outside of Berlin proper, the visa would have to await the physical delivery of the original paper paperwork from the Berlin office. And it takes 90 days to deliver. Nothing is on the computer, and no way of getting it faster (picking it up, emailing it) even though we had been at our new home for 7 months.

An emergency visitors permit was issued, ensuring I could continue living here until late February. A list of other letters and documents that I was to obtain was given to me, and as we left, we felt no assurance that all would be well.

We raced home, I grabbed my clothes, mother, and violin, and I peeled into rehearsal, fresh skid marks behind me. The concert was a success, but I had to fight for dear life to stay focused – I was wavering with exhaustion.

The rest of the tour went without hitch, except that I passed a kidney stone in Vienna. Jason and the girls came to visit me for a couple of days there -what fun was had by all between Sacher Tort, horses and palaces.

There is no doubt that this is a punishing schedule, but it is nothing compared to the rest of those people waiting in that office, some of whom will face uncertain futures. I count my lucky stars.


  • Dave says:

    And yet Germany has an open door policy to refugees flooding into their country. Go figure.

    • Gerhard says:

      Sorry to say, but at least on this subject you are entirely out of touch with reality.

      • Dave says:

        How is allowing hundreds of ‘thousands’ of refugees into the country, out of touch Gerhard? Are you an apologist for Mrs. Merkel??

        • Gerhard says:

          You claimed that Germany “has an open door policy for refugees flooding into their country”. This might be a correct description of the situation during a few months in 2015. Now we are at the end of 2017, and this claim has nothing to do anymore with today’s reality. One doesn’t have to be a “Merkel apologist” to realize this.

    • Andreas B. says:

      … what Gerhard said.

      and please see my comment below.

  • Glerb says:

    Yup, German bureaucracy is infuriating but that’s how it is.

    The detail about the skid marks was a tad unnecessary though.

  • Bruce says:

    “The rest of the tour went without hitch, except that I passed a kidney stone in Vienna.”

    Oh. Well then. 😛

    (It’s a bit like the old joke “Aside from that, Mrs. Kennedy, how did you enjoy your visit to Dallas?”)

    • Mikko says:

      Indeed. Or my sister’s comment on passing a gallstone: “First you think you’re going to die, and then you wish you’d die.”

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I wonder how the next visa interview goes after they read you calling them “Thing #1 and Thing #2”


    • Scotty says:

      As with the “skid marks,” the reference is benign. It’s from Dr. Seuss. Thing 1 and 2 are The Cat in the Hat’s assistants. They’re nice.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Having spent more than twelve years in Germany I can safely say that if you get yourself organised and turn up on time, things work just fine.

  • Mitzouko says:

    Isn’t that ridiculous? Almost a million refugees entered Germany without passports or ID’s or visas or anything which could tell where they came from, how, and who they were. Mrs. Kreston should have asked for a refugee visa or status. It would have come in a jiffy.

  • Thomas Silverbörg says:

    Normal in Munich, where I live. Not long ago, I waited over 3 hours to get a new card driving license. Many offices are hopelessly overfilled and understaffed. Many papers and stamps and needless running around are the rule.

  • Marg says:

    I’m stunned – my (obviously naive and misplaced) view for years of the ability of Germany to run an efficient bureaucracy has just come crashing down. This sounds more like some under-developed nation with the only thing missing being the need to quietly pass a bribe. The fact that you cant do a lot of this preliminary work online, and that they dont provide on line a complete list of documentation to bring, and that documents are mailed (for gods sake) between offices, is very surprising. Heaven help you if you dont have a Ramon to bring along for the day. Anthea, I surely hope you get your visa renewed without another round of this red tape before end of Feb.

  • Tom Moore says:

    This is the shape of bureaucracy worldwide these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens in the USA too.

    • Max Grimm says:

      I’ve been to quite a few countries and I have yet to come across a country with a bureaucracy that could be described as “efficient/straightforward/user-friendly”.

  • Anon says:

    Come on, it’s much easier than in the US for instance. You have only one day time for it this month? Guess what the US authorities do to a foreigner with such a cocky attitude? They don’t give a damn. Ask some of the Germans about their experiences with US embassies trying to get – short term – work visas these days. You can’t even line up in front of it, if you don’t have a prescheduled appointment, and those are hard to get. You had it very easy, relatively speaking.

  • Thomas Koch says:

    Green Card renewal in the US:

    1) Online application
    2) Pay $500 in advance
    3) Go to your biometrics appointment
    4) Wait four hours – Get Green Card extension for six month
    5) Wait seven month, while old Green Card expires
    6) Email Homeland Security
    7) Get new Green Card in the mail about one week after your old card became worthless
    8) You are fine for another ten years

    • Scotty says:

      Right. But I think that she has a German visa that is similar to mine. It’s a renewable work-and-residence visa, not a visa for permanent residency (like a USA Green Card).

      And unlike the States, in Germany you can apply only at the office in the district in which you live. The efficiency and friendliness varies widely from office to office, even within a single city.

    • Thomasina says:

      In the US, they must pay 500$ for Green Card renewal moreover there is no National Health Insurance?

  • Anon says:

    When can you apply for German citizenship? It would save you the ridiculous double taxation the US as the only civilized country in the world imposes on its citizens, since they force you to pay taxes in the US even if residing abroad.

    • Scotty says:

      Double taxation applies only above a threshold. Currently, for an individual living abroad US taxation starts at about 100000 euros net (after deductions for expenses and such). That said, expats do have the hassle of submitting tax forms in both countries.

      Indeed, the only way out is to renounce US citizenship. But then you are treated like any other foreigner if want to perform in, work in, live in, or even visit the States.

  • Andreas B. says:

    Anthea’s posts are always a great read, entertaining as well as enlightening.
    thank you!

    I’m sorry you’re struggling with local authorities (so are we Germans from time to time).
    Glad that Ramón is there to help at least.

    Having an orchestra as an employer can help musicians in similar situations, as they would have HR helping them.
    Well, but then again they wouldn’t have Die Zeit articles to support their application … 😉

    (Having once applied for a US work visa, that seems to be a process quite a bit more complicated and strenuous, as mentioned above by Anon.)

    also: great pic in the spectacular Elbphilharmonie dressing room!

  • Gerhard says:

    BTW a wonderful Lebrecht headline, upholding the highest journalistic standards as ever.

  • psq says:

    Anthea, have I mistaken that you have a teaching position in the Universitaet der Kuenste? It is worthwhile to find out if its HR is resourceful and may be able to help. It has a lot of personnel in the same situation. As a non-German I went through such rigamarole with the Berlin Auslaenderpolizei for a few years before I found out that my employer’s HR was able to relieve me of the annual painful experience. The pain was removed permanently when my job became permanent.

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      Hello PSQ –
      Yes I have been in contact with the UdK office but as of yet they have not been able to resolve this. I have gathered the next round of papers and letters, and once the papers from Berlin are delivered, I hope that all will be ok. Very stressful though. I just did send another email to UdK. This will be the third Aufenthaltstitel for me, so it should have just gone through. Especially stressful as Jason and the girls only have until January 10. But I am working on it…..

  • Sarah says:

    Doesn’t happen to musician’s only. Happens pretty much to everyone who doesn’t have a German passport. Especially in Berlin, a city that’s famous in Germany for its unorganized offices…
    I had friends queue from 3.30 in the night to get a low enough number for their visa stuff to be dealt with the same day. That happens in no other city in Germany (at least that I know off)…