Sunday, January 8, 2012

Zollamt Bureaucrazy: Take 2

The day after Andy’s adventure at the Zollamt (customs office) I got a letter in the mail informing me that my package from the USA could be picked up at this office.  A heavy sigh left my mouth when Andy told me about the letter, and I decided right then and there to suck it up and just go there for the second day in a row.  I hadn’t actually waited in line the day before, rather I had spent my time entertaining the girls, so I was …what’s the word?...excited?  No, not that one…interested?...not really accurate...totally pumped to get my wait on at the insanity of bureaucrazy that is the Zollamt in Sch√∂neberg…well…I think you get the picture.  Hip hip hooray, there went my day. 

When I arrived, I was relieved to find that the line did not snake all the way out the door.  This was short-lived, as I soon realized that instead of snaking out the door of the waiting room and around the large-ish foyer, it was instead just snaked around the walls of the very crowded, hot, and stinky waiting room.  American readers can imagine a very very packed DMV and have a fairly accurate picture.  I actually had to cross the room to get to the end of the line, which required a little maneuvering to get between the rows and rows of people.  I found the end of the line, and opened my Kindle.  I had just finished Bossypants on the bus on the way, and was really excited to start Mindy Kaling’s hilarious book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? while in line.  I am sooo thankful for my Kindle for this (and so many other) situations where I have PLENTY of time to use it without feeling guilty for reading fun books. 

I waited in the line to get to the “Anmeldung” spot for 40 minutes! 
Google translates Anmeldung as: application, registration, notification, declaration, booking, enrollment; Who knew it was such a diverse word for sucky things that you have to do?!?!  Here is a lovely picture of the spot I was waiting to get to:

3 things are funny about this desk:
1.      There are only 2 people at the desk doing intake of the bagillion people that keep filing into the room.
2.      The tiny window that is behind the desk. These 2 intake people check out your paperwork, give you a number, and then set the appropriate papers on the little sill that is in front of that little 1’ x 3’ window.  A mostly bald gray-haired man would intermittently open this little window to take the paperwork that had been piled there.  I’m guessing that the imprecise nature of the pile and knock system they had going was at least partially to blame for the seemingly incoherent nature with which the numbers were serviced, but I’m getting ahead of myself. 
3.      The picture of some German dude behind the desk.  I honestly have NO idea who that guy is in the picture.  Surely he’s supposed to be someone famous within German bureaucrazy Zollamt stuff, but there was not even a name there so I could Google him.

When I got to the front of the line (after 40 minutes), there was this really interesting case filled with extremely random things labeled with numbers such as a stuffed-Pikachu, a large turtle shell, gold-metallic puma shoes, etc etc.  See photo below.
I asked the very nice German woman in her 50s behind me if she knew what it was, and she replied, “Kunst?”  (Art?)  This made me laugh so much that I not only took that hilarious picture of it, but that I totally forgot to even go read the letter thing that was attached explaining what all the stuff was and why it was there.  Oh well! 

When I went up to get my number from the very over-worked Anmeldung lady, she asked me what was in the package.  I told her it was a Christmas gift from my mother.  She wrote down “Mutter” (Mother) on my form, and then launched into an informational speech that she’d obviously given a hundred zillion times before about “if there’s anything of significant value…” I interrupted her to finish that “yes, I’ll have to pay a tax on it.”  She smirked and seemed genuinely appreciative for my understanding of the role her office had.  She gave me the number 226 and told me it shouldn’t be long. 

Thank goodness there was a seat open.  I was still reading my book, but I also happened to notice a few of the other people in the office waiting.  I especially enjoyed watching:
-The white-haired gentleman wearing leather pants, some bad-ass long sleeved shirt, and 1” gauges in his ears. 
-The 20-something woman there with her 18 month old daughter who switched effortlessly between German, Polish, and English.
-The blind man who entered the crowded office and even though the lady at the Anmeldung made a point of saying that she couldn’t make an exception, she still helped him right away so he didn’t have to wait in line.
-The older couple, of which the lady had a walker with a chair on it (see photo below), and the dude kept walking around the room changing chairs when a new one opened closer to his wife. 
-The obviously too important to wait at the office group of 4 people very nicely dressed and scoffing at the common folk around them.  (Their number was about 30 after mine, and they still got served before me.  Maybe they really were important, or at least assistants to important people.  Who knows?)
√†Yes, excellent people watching abounds in these types of situations for sure.  I was also sitting there waiting for 2 hours! 

In those 2 hours, I not only people watched, but I also finished 50% of Kaling’s book.  This is less a comment on the book, which I love, and more a comment on the ridiculous speed with which I devour non-academic writing! 

Here is a picture of the little board that I was watching the whole time waiting for my number to appear with a “Platz Nummer” (place number) next to it to tell me where to go in the next room. 
I would have a clearer picture, but right after I took this picture I saw the sign posted on the bulletin board telling us not to take pictures.  It said something about the privacy of our fellow citizens who are picking up parcels, but I’m not taking the time to black out their pictures.  Random German citizens in these photos—many apologies for using your image without your consent---oh well! 

When I sat down, the numbers on the board were 129, so I knew it might be a while.  But 8 minutes after I sat down, the board showed 208.  I got hopeful.  There seemed to be no order what-so-ever to how they called the numbers.  Andy (who is usually right) noted that it could have something to do with the pile of papers getting picked up randomly from that little window behind the Anmeldung.  They really just knock on the window for bald-dude to come pick up the papers when the pile is big enough, so who knows what order the numbers are actually being taken back.  I thought it might have something to do with where the packages come from, but I’m usually wrong about this kind of thing too.  Our friend Brooke has speculated that the duder takes the papers in the back to the warehouse area and just throws them in the air as the workers surround him in a circle to compete for them as they fall to the ground.  Who is right?  We’ll never know! 

When my number finally was called, I went to the back where the lady asked me to open the package.  Inside were my Christmas gifts from my mother, which explains why I didn’t know what was in the package.  Thank you Mom for taking the time and spending the money to mail me presents all the way from home.  The contents were unimpressive to the Zoll officer lady, except for a zip-sealed plastic bag of green herbs. She asked me what they were, I told her spices, and that was the end of the whole thing.  She said, “Ok,” and our story ends here.  It was actually soo anticlimactic after 2 hours and 40 minutes of waiting, that I asked her if it was really ok to take my package with me.  She furrowed her brown, laughed that scoffing laugh of “are you serious?” and told me which way the exit was. 

It. Was. Amazing.    
One more note on the Zollamt before I’m off to bed:
I have to agree with Brooke who asserted that it does at least have the appearance of efficiency!
Appearances are NOT everything…as you can see from my cruddy photos.  J


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