‘Why couldn’t they find a German to do your job?’

‘Why couldn’t they find a German to do your job?’


norman lebrecht

June 28, 2019

Our diarist Anthea Kreston comes up against the hard face of German society:

I’m basically a pretty relaxed, chilled-out person. But with a lot of energy and ideas and plans. I don’t get stressed out. I guess my regular life and my violin life are exactly the same. Early and detailed preparation, advice from others, believing in my instincts, concert-ready in advance with time to settle and re-work, acceptance of my short-comings, willing and eager to take risks as long as they positively effect those around me, and with a triple-set of plans in the face of inevitable emergency. I’m here to enjoy the ride, to help others enjoy their rides, and to always try to improve as a person.

So, today, when I showed up at the visa office, 30 minutes before they open, with my messenger bag filled with every conceivable paper I might need, I was casually optimistic. Since moving out of the city of Berlin over two years ago, our path towards a settled and comfortable family visa has been rocky, unstable, time-consuming and extremely stressful. It has something to do with the fact that we are in the countryside now – they ask me questions like “why doesn’t Jason have a job“, and “why couldn’t they find a German to do your job?“. They didn’t ask things like this in Berlin, but now we live in the former East, and people seem to have different priorities. Not to say that getting an American visa for a European is any easier. I know it’s not.

When in Berlin, we were able to make an appointment (no longer possible – 2 months ago I showed up at our foreigners office at 6 am, stood outside for 3 hours until the office opened, then waited in a claustrophobic room with people clearly in much more dire straits than myself – a room full of refugee families), and had to have Jason pull the kids out of school and drive the one hour to the office, and all wait with me from 9:00 until 3:30, at which point they gave us, again, a three-month temporary paper (expires July 4). We have waited like this as a family 2 other times in the last 2 years, and Jason and I have gone individually or together at least another 6 times. To reiterate. I know the American Embassy also makes it Hell for people trying to get USA visas.

Two months ago they assured us that a three-year visa was being processed. So that’s what Jason went to get last week. Our processor said – just come, and knock on my door. So he went. There are always two, beefy, bald, scary guys in uniform who you have to get past in order to get into that small, stinky room that reeks of desperation. Jason said – Frau **** told me to come and knock. But the bouncers turned him away. Well, actually they said – “you have to take a number, but we ran out of numbers, so you can’t have a number, and you also can’t knock“.

So, today, we went again. What happens on July 4 if we don’t have new papers? Who knows. Why can’t we get an appointment, and why can’t they send us our visas, or why isn’t there a pick-up window, or a notice telling us what our status is, why can’t we call or email? It’s enough to even make ME slightly nervous. And we have tried everything, from hiring a specialist to come with us (I think they thought we were pretentious), bringing a friend (angry that we didn’t speak fluently) to going it alone (seems to be the best solution). So – today, Jason ran interference as I knocked. And I was turned away. And we waited. And I knocked again. And I was turned away again. But I didn’t budge.

So – what did we get? Another 3 months.

But, guess what? I am prepared in advance, in detail. I have savings. I have multiple sets of plans, advice from others, am willing to take risks as long as it positively effects those around me, and I trust my instincts. And I know that I love what I do, have several different scenarios that are already in place, and have a husband and kids who believe in me and don’t get stressed out. So, where will we be on September 26 when our visa runs out? Together and happy. That’s for sure.


  • Marg says:

    Heaven help you Anthea if this how the German bureaucracy, viewed by us foreigners elsewhere as being highly organized and efficient, operates with what is presumably a fairly straight forward case …… I hope you are able to stay optimistic and somehow get through the maze. I thought getting my Green Card for the 20 odd years I lived in the US was bad enough but this seems diabolical.

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      The stories I hear about my German friend’s trying to get American visas are not that different. Yikes. But all is well – it’s always a pleasures to see your face here, Marg!

  • Been Here Before says:

    Dear Anthea,

    I have been a student in the U.S. for many years and then had to relocate to the U.K. Believe me, the process you are going through is nothing compared to those trying to obtain a residence. In either the U.K. or U.S. It’s certainly not a hard face of the German society – a European would have been asked the same questions in Ohio or West Virginia.

  • An American in Deutschland says:

    Couldn’t agree more!
    Going to the Auslanderbehörde is the most frustrating and stressful part of living in Germany as a foreign musician. In two years here employed by a radio orchestra, I’ve had more temporary visa cards than actual work permits. The whole process is absurd and arbitrary. I picked up my third temporary visa yesterday.

    All of that said, one can’t help but feel extremely privileged, when seeing the refugee families struggling with the same problems

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      Absolutely. I do feel the desperation and pain in that room, and am totally aware that no matter what happens to us, that all will be well in the end. Not the case for many of the others in those offices….

  • Thomas Silverberg says:

    As long as it is documented that you are working actively to resolve any problems, you won’t be tossed out. As to their questions regarding why a German cannot be hired, you need not answer, rather directing them to the employer. Americans are considered as members of an aggressor nation, who basically control parts of europe. They are wary of you, but will make your life miserable at times.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It’s not particularly German, it’s the European way of welcoming non-Europeans who will be contributing to its society, which is aging and which needs fresh foreign blood willing to work hard for the pensions.

    Whatever politics may decide, there is an overall anxiety – also with officials – that non-Europeans will undermine the local ways of life. So, regulations are applied in such a way that while they are carried-out, they are made as difficult as possible, as to make it clear who is master.

  • Vienna calling says:

    American singers can work in the EU for 90 days with zero paperwork. European singers need to fill in hundreds of pages on three different applications, pay for the privilege and might still be refused if they want to sing one concert in the US.

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      Yes – I have a friend who was asked to fill in as a soloist with a major us symphony, but they weren’t given a visa – wasn’t considered a life-threatening situation….

  • Eric B says:

    Sad collateral effect of so many abuses for so many years. But yeah, we’ll all have to get used to the fact that this earth is going to get a tougher place to live on, for so many reasons.

  • Gary says:

    Could be something we in the UK may all be looking forward to post Brexit.

  • Gaudenzia Barese says:

    I’m a citizen of the world. All national boundaries should be torn down, everyone should pay their fair share, and everyone should speak Esperanto. Then everyone will be happy and we will have a perfect society.

  • John Rook says:

    I was asked the headline question when I started working in Germany over thirty years ago, but it was by a rather sozzled forty-something divorcee in a Pommesstube, who then went on to tell me what she thought of my country and its natives. Rather amusing, actually. There was still a lot of paperwork in those days but the process was smooth and almost pleasurable in its efficiency. Germany had, presumably, not yet been subjected to the excesses and abuses of recent years.

  • psq says:

    ….. they ask me questions like “why doesn’t Jason have a job“, and “why couldn’t they find a German to do your job?“. They didn’t ask things like this in Berlin, but now we live in the former East, and people seem to have different priorities….

    “different priorities” is a polite way of putting it. Berlin is still an island in the midst of ex-DDR. German government allows citizens of European Union countries to hold double citizenships. Soon after Brexit I acquired German citizenship, although I could have done it ages ago- that’s how long I’ve been living in West Berlin. The local Bezirk Charlottenburg held a welcoming party for the new citizens in the Rathaus. The speaker of the Charlottenburg Council gave a welcoming speech and explained how citizens can put forward their inputs in the Council debates. She introduced representatives of the all the political parties that have seats in the Council. All except 2 parties sent representatives. They were the AfD and die Linke. Outside Berlin means you are in the AfD and die Linke country.

    By the way, the paperworks for German citizenship was the most stress free/pleasant (kurz und schmerzlos) dealings I had with any German Behörde that took a mere 3 months. I could have given the Beamter/in a kiss at the end.

    • John Rook says:

      I could have given the Beamter/in a kiss at the end.

      There are quite a few Mannweiber in Germany, so your confusion is understandable.

    • Tamino says:

      Well isn’t it like that in many metropolitan areas and their rural surroundings on this planet? Try a motel bar in rural Alabama for instance. You might wonder which planet you are on.

  • Tomtomtom says:

    I would rather have more highly educated Americans working in Europe that more and more refugees from Afghanistan and Syria without any studies and ready to live out of Europe’s generous social support. Please go ahead and call me whatever you want, I know so many people agree.

    • Tamino says:

      There are actually quite a lot of well educated refugees from Syria. The refugees who actually are form that war zone are a lot of middle class families who wanted a better future for their kids than that war zone the US et al instigated with their stupid proxy wars there.

    • John Borstlap says:

      As has been well-documented, almost ALL refugees from those countries want to work, to adapt, to live a normal life when accepted. They quickly become Westernized if they were not already. German national TV regularly shows stories of how well refugees settle, not only supported by government programs but very often by companies (in need of new workers) and the civilians themselves, often elderly couples whose children have left home which is now filled with new engagements. But good news is seldom news.

      Also it often goes unnoticed that the majority of refugees who could make it to Europe, come from the cities which were already quite Westernized – the poorer people from the countryside have much greater difficulty to embark upon the life threatening journey.

  • william osborne says:

    I’ve lived in Germany for 39 years. The only bad experience concerning residents permits is that my wife took the Munich Phil to court for gender discrimination. An orchestra official said that rather than fight the case, which I think they suspected they would lose, the county of Munich would simply not renew her residence permit. So we moved to a different county, Rosenheim, where we had no troubles at all. They would see that Abbie was in the Phil and we were treated very respectfully. And even more so when she became a Professor–a position and title traditionally honored in Germany more than almost anywhere else in the world.

    During the 80s, there were still 350,000 US soldiers in Germany contributing to the country’s defense. Americans were thus treated with a deference they didn’t always deserve. In fact, GIs would sometimes commit very serious crimes, but the German police almost always just turned them over to the MPs. Sometimes it was outrageous.

    The one problem that remained is when black soldiers would tried to find off base housing. They were often unwelcomed. Not always so different in the States. For the most part, the Germans and the GIs seemed to get along OK, but I think the country as a whole was glad to see them go.

    I’m not surewhat its like getting a permit today since we’ve had permanent residency for about the last 25 years or so. The big key is if you have a long term or permanent job. In that case, one will very likely get a longer term permit. If I understand Anthea’s situation correctly, her free lance status makes it a problem.

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      Very interesting! Actually my status is firm – this has been a problem for 2 years since we moved out of the city. My papers are gorgeous – I am also a Professor. Glad it worked out for you!! And thanks for your thoughtful comments!

  • Jonathan Cable says:

    When I studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, getting an Austrian residence permit was always kind of an adventure. You really never knew who you would be seeing (it was NEVER the same person, in all the years I lived there), and you had no idea if it would be approved or not (in my case, it always was, but sometimes I think I was just lucky).
    When I moved to France, that was a whole different ballgame. I was basically an undocumented foreigner for more than two years, despite all my efforts to legally reside there. I was finally able to come out of the shadows, so to speak, when I got married to a French woman, after which I was immediately given a 10-year residence permit from a very friendly official at the Préfecture of where we were living – in Paris they would have still let it drag out forever, it’s what they do there.
    I got French citizenship in 1995 – best thing ever, with the European Union, plus I got to keep my American nationality (at the time, that wasn’t a given). So at least for now, I can live and work in any EU country I want.
    Anthem, I know that probably isn’t an option for you, at least not now, but that’s how I was able to solve the never-ending visa/residence permit/work permit problem!

  • sycorax says:

    As a German I’m sorry that you’re experiencing such stress in our country. German bureaucracy at its worst! It’s really a shame – and the fact that getting a visum for USA isn’t fun either, isn’t a “comfort”. I’d actually like that Germany would be more welcoming towards you and your family.

  • Tamino says:

    There is no permanent teaching position at Hanns Eisler or UdK for you, if only part time, that would secure your family’s permanent residency?

    Also, the comment “Why couldn’t they find a German…” sounds a bit cliché to me. Are you sure it was said? Not just a little writer’s creativity to give some spice to the article? 😉 I’m wondering because it’s an oxymoron in your situation, as a freelancer, since you don’t have a job a German misses out on in the first place? And if you had a job, you would get more permanent residency.

  • Anthea: Das alte Lied! In 1990, after being appointed Professor and Studiengangsleiter at the HdK (now UdK) my wife and I went through the same Kafkaesque nightmare.Except that it was mid-Winter and we had to wait for hours outside- my wife came down with a severe bronchitis and after several attempts we had to cancel a bunch of classes. Finally, in desperation, I turned to the administration and they used whatever moxie they had to have us granted our “unbefristete Aufenthaltserlaubnis” (try saying that 3x fast) which we used for the next 15 years.

    My advice: use whatever connections you have to circumvent the line…don’t be shy.