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Congratulations! You’re on your way to a legal stay in Germany. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, modified)

An essential part of the Bard College Berlin experience for all foreign students is the residence permit application. The school provides assistance to obtain one, and the process generally goes smoothly thanks to Xenia Muth. But sometimes, things happen: you forget to submit a document, you fill out a certain form incorrectly, you put all of it off until it’s three days before your 90-day window. Should you find yourself in the sad — but not uncommon– predicament of waiting outside the Ausländerbehörde all night, here are a few tips to make the experience as enjoyable and memorable as possible:

Stage 1. Before Arrival

Preparation is everything. It is the lack of such a thing that landed you in this situation in the first place, so make sure you’re prepped and ready to go for your adventure.

Step 1.1. Be too nervous to take a nap before your overnight visit, and make irresponsible decisions that will come back to bite you later. For example, go out to dinner in Mitte and forget how long the M1 ride back home is.

Step 1.2. Make sure you dress for the occasion. If you’re planning on paying the infamous bureau a visit soon, wear three pairs of wool socks, all the shirts you own, and two scarves. Conveniently forget a hat and gloves.

Step 1.3. Pack yourself too many snacks that you will forget to eat while waiting outside the office and will find squashed in your backpack a few hours later. Make sure to download podcasts, music, or Netflix episodes that you won’t be able to watch because of some unforeseeable technological problem.

Step 1.4. Decide to get there at 1 AM instead of the recommended 3 or 4AM to ensure yourself a spot. You could probably afford to arrive at 3 or 4AM, but you want to feel safer and more responsible than you actually are.

Stage 2. On Your Way!

Congratulations! You’re ready to leave. The most important thing is getting there, so here’s how to do it right:

Step 2.1. Make sure you bring more bags than necessary so that everyone notices you struggling to leave campus and you have to explain in great detail where you’re going. Pretend that the “Good Luck!” calls aren’t patronizing and reminding you of your mistake.

Step 2.2. Get on the bus and type some journal-y sentiment with the notes app on your phone in an attempt to reflect on your predicament. Immediately get sleepy because of how nice and warm the M27 bus is, and think about how sad it is that such extreme circumstances finally led you to do the Berlin exploration you promised your friends and family you would do much earlier.

Stage 3. Arrival and The Infamous Wait

You’ve arrived. You’re armed and ready. Nothing can stop you now.

Step 3.1.  Get lost trying to find the nondescript parking lot and the tiny nondescript door to the Ausländerbehörde. Walk in a circle about eight times until you see some other sorry souls holding a piece of paper. Feel silly signing your name on the sign-up sheet.

Step 3.2. Have a seat in the parking lot where you will spend the wee morning hours. Make small talk with the group of people in front of you. You’re one of the first, which fills you with ease. Thank whatever you believe in for the fact that it’s not raining. Preoccupy yourself with your expertly packed activities until your hands get too cold or your eyelids begin to feel heavy. Stand up, call a friend or your brother, talk for awhile and be amazed at how quickly the hour passes. Maybe this won’t be as bad as literally every other person you talked to said it would be.

Step 3.3. At 4 AM, go with all the women that are waiting in the parking lot on a journey to find coffee. Ask where everyone is from, smile, and revel in your absurd shared experience. Cheer loudly upon finding a Späti, and drink your cup of watery, terrible coffee. Unexpectedly make a new friend.

Step 3.4. Pace the parking lot with your new friend. Talk about politics, friend each other on Facebook, talk about how annoying German bureaucracy is. When your new friend says she has to pee, spot her as she ducks behind a car. Afterwards, give her hand sanitizer and congratulate her on her first outdoor pee.

Step 3.5. Pace some more until all of a sudden it is time to line up. Stand in a huddle by the door until someone takes charge of this group of grown adults. Form a line, and laugh uncontrollably as one of the people ahead of you turns around and says, “It’s lonely at the top.”

Step 3.6. Struggle your way through the German and explain to the security guard at the door that you are here for your student permit. March up the stairs, take a seat. Fight sleep by making conversation with people who have a passport from the same country as you or your new friend.

Stage 4. The (Possible Non-)Bestowal of Your Permit

Step 4.1. Wait for your number to be called, and be greeted by an overworked, sleepy Ausländerbehörde employee. Try not to get mad when he tells you that your bank documents should have been notarized but that you’ve got some time to fix it. Ask him repeatedly that your overnight wait was not in vain. Receive a temporary extension and make a new appointment to come back that is at a reasonable hour. Alternatively, receive your resident permit and march out, successful. Pay for your permit at a nondescript kiosk while a security guard stares at you the entire time. 

Step 4.2. Congratulations! No matter what piece of pretty, pink paper you received in that hellish office, you’ve escaped. You’ve made a new friend, you’ve heroically pulled an all-nighter, you’ve experienced servicewürste firsthand, and you’ve got something that makes it acceptable for you to live here — at least for now. Emerge into the cold, cloudy morning and fall asleep on both the bus and tram ride home. Eat the food you packed for yourself when you arrive and remember you are hungry. Get your first sleep in 40 hours, wake up, go to class, and accept that your sleep schedule will take weeks to repair.

A night at the Ausländerbehörde won’t be as scary as other students have told you if you follow this expert guide. Embrace the restlessness, the bad coffee, the absurdity, and, most importantly, keep your new document close.

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Berliner Dom

Berlin Cathedral sits like a crown atop the Museum Island, resplendent in the dying light of day (photo by the author)

I arrived in Berlin from South Africa on the 8th of August – a day that was very memorably the kind of hot that had sweat droplets budding from one’s pores seemingly instantly after they were wiped away – in the same fashion I believe most Euro virgins do: unbathed, unslept, unattractive, and excited. Ignoring the prodigious weight of my suitcases, crammed with what then seemed like the most ludicrously inappropriate (warm and fluffy) apparel, I stumbled enthusiastically through Tegel Airport to meet the Bard College Berlin staff member that would guide me to my new home for the next four years.

Despite the lack of sleep, I felt electrified. I had resolved to make a conscious effort to remember my first impressions of the city. From inside the airport, already I attempted to piece together a profile of the Berliner population. There were all sorts there: Young and old, families and businessmen, the practically dressed and the stylish. What struck me most was the variety of skin tones: creams gave way to toffees, toffees to chocolates, chocolates to coffee. All were on the move. Their footsteps resounded in the low ceilinged hall. It was a buffet for the senses. I knew that airport goers would not necessarily be representative of city goers, but I nonetheless took pleasure in observing the ebb and flow of the multihued people. There aren’t many places where one can find such diversity.

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Photo by Howard Hall.

Photo by Howard Hall.

I have been thinking a lot about lists. And I have been thinking a lot about reasons. What inspires us to make the choices we make? Many weeks ago I started compiling lists of lines of poetry, not full poems themselves, but simply lists of one line each that one-day could belong to a poem. And I started to think: all my lists of lines had themes, had reasons behind them, reflected how I was feeling. It was impossible to separate the list from myself, and thus the lists became reflections of myself in the moment of their creation. With this realization I found I could experiment in making a multi-dimensional self. One that wasn’t me, and actually wasn’t anyone, but was made out of the lists of as many people as I could convince to give me their words, and by combining them I could create some sort of universal, shared, yet nonexistent person. 

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"The Family without Borders” / 2014 (Photo: Inasa Bibic)

“The Family without Borders” / 2014 (Photo: Inasa Bibic)

If you thought Pankow was the most boring, uneventful borough of Berlin – think again! Only ten minutes from the U-Bahn station lives the most fascinating, unique family you will find in Berlin – “The Family Without Borders.” The Alboths are a travelling family who together with their small daughter Hanna decided to live their life’s dream in 2010 – doing a 6-months long road trip Around the Black Sea, through the Caucasus to the Caspian Sea and back to Berlin. In 2011 and 2012, they continued their adventures when their second daughter Mila was born – the Between the Oceans Tour took them through Central America from Mexico down to Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. In the summer of 2013, they went to Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2014, they did their next big trip – Looking for Taka-Tuka-Land, through New Zealand and the South Pacific, with two big backpacks, a tent and hitchhiking enthusiasm on sailing yachts. It might seem strange to first introduce Anna and Thomas’s daughters in describing their travelling adventures – however, the Polish mom journalist and German dad photographer give their children a lot of credit when it comes to choosing the destinations and learning from people’s stories on the trips.

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The lonely garden in front of Ecofutura's vegetarian restaurant on a cloudy summer day.

The lonely garden in front of Ecofutura’s vegetarian restaurant on a cloudy summer day.

The image of my home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina––as the “land of adventures”(read here misadventures) in the eyes of many Westerners––has always puzzled me before this summer. Darn…we have come such a long way in terms of infrastructure since the 1990s war, and yet, even the National Geographic placed us on its “Best Adventure Destinations” list in 2012! Sure, we have our bumpy roads and curvy mountains – but, despite the popular beliefs, we also do have decent roads, electricity, (supposed) pyramids in the town of Visoko and (a couple of) Western-looking cities. Oh the stereotypes… always so insincerely insightful.

In any case, there is a reason why this stream of consciousness on the often misinformed, premature, and even judgmental representation of my country precedes the tale of my summer adventures. Experiences surely can change perceptions – and that is precisely what happened to me on my trip to the Ecofutura eco-village in the proximity of my hometown and the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo. In case you ever wander off to Sarajevo, see a poster for Ecofutura (which is by the way in the ownership of the Bosnian Hare Krishna community, of which I learned quite a few things during my trip), and decide to go there to enjoy a relaxing day with fresh air and organic, vegetarian food, here is some advice for you: gear up with mountain hike tires, multiple layers of clothing and lots of patience.

Read more for a full experience of Bosnian (mis)adventures