The German way

“Long live the Soviet court, the most humane court in the world!” – the accused shouts at the beginning of the trial in the final scene of The Caucasian Lady Prisoner. The German bureaucracy is the most human bureaucracy of the world. Not only in terms of the principle “to err is human,” which they exploit to the maximum. But also because the incompatibilities and dead ends are encoded in the uncontrolled and obsessionally over-regulated system, and the whole is one rusty Kafkaesque puzzle padlock, where the official way necessarily leads to failure. However, in every office there are a few people who are willing to assume responsibility to a certain degree, and to settle the matter in a creative way. The whole system works due to these few people. Therefore, if you see that in the official way you run into a wall, then the key of the solution is not to ask, “what should I do?” but instead, “can you do something?” This usually works. But this also means that no case can be arranged by post or telephone. You must always personally go everywhere, and to find the customized solution personally, together with the appropriate officer.

I have lived here for three years, for three years I have managed to settle my business only in this way. Today I decided to start a chronicle about my encounters with the German bureaucracy. On Monday I transferred an amount from my bank account to my VISA card, within the same bank. In Hungary, this goes through in a few minutes. Since Monday, I go to the bank every day to say that the money has not yet gone through. Every day we chat half an hour – paid to him, not to me –, and every day he assures me that tomorrow, for sure. Today, Friday is the last day that I can transfer an advance to Sardinia, only under my own name, only with my own VISA card. The amount is still not on my card. Again I go in, so that they should really do something now. Again he checks the transfer history, and only now he discovers, that the last two digits of the card number, written by him on the blank, were read by the system as OS instead of 05. A code, where only numbers can figure. And the system has not signaled yet that a thousand euros have been hovering for days over a non-existent account in the same bank. He corrects it. “It is now okay, by Monday it will be there.” “Cannot it be today?” “Leider nicht, the transfer period is one working day.” “I’m sorry, I need it today. For four days it has not come through for your fault. Now, do something.” He’s talking a while on the phone. “The colleague will transcribe it manually, it will be on your account within an hour.”

In the bank there is also a Russian colleague, Nadya. If fate brings us together, we usually talk in Russian about the long-unseen dear Urals. Last time, in a similar case, she immediately corrected the mistake. So far I have thought, she was employed here, in Berlin’s Russian quarter, so she could arrange the affairs with the Russian clients in their own language. But now I see that she is there rather so that the Russian clients, who are accustomed to a quite different, hand-controlled administration, should not explode on the spot. Or, rather, they should not blow up the bank.

George Ipsilanti – Pyotr Leshchenko: Я тоскую по родине (I’m longing for my motherland). Sung by Alla Bayanova. For its text and translation, see here

Postscript. Having noted this down, I tried the transfer again, of course, without success. Thirty minutes before closing time I went to the bank again, and, according to the Eastern European custom, I shouted at them. In five minutes they arranged it, now it finally works. Beyond all anthropological considerations, sometimes this is the only way that works.

the photos were taken on the Siemensbahn außer Betrieb