First evening in Ottensheim, we all jump on the Drahtseilbrücke Ottensheim, a cable ferry that pendulums across to Wilhering on the other side, about 160 metres away. Up the river to Kraftwerk Ottensheim-Wilhering, Schloss Ottensheim on the hill, the town of Ottensheim itself with Pfarrkirche hl. Ägidius above the ferry pier (play spot the building with Wikipedia) on the market square where Kali and I did Friday in with goat cheese, bread, Most, smoked fish, apples and pears, and the most excellent Donau.hof restaurant where we ended up most days, either for eating or for drinking (& cheers to the head waiter for mad good service), further right the pointy apex of old church cum organ pipe factory cum rest home cum apartments where we had impromptu afternoon tea with a woman who lives there because we liked her garden so she showed us around, past the hills of Dürnberg and down the river to Linz, 10 km or so around the corner, and all the banks of the river we wandered and biked daily, if only to get our heads and emotions in order for Rest Area.
Yesterday, Tuesday, up hours before dawn without much sleep anyway, on my bike in freezing fog, through Kreuzberg, Hallesches Tor, up Wilhelmstraße by Brandenburger Tor, crossing the Spree, Luisenstraße, Invalidenstraße, skirting Berlin Hauptbahnhof, through the construction along Heidestraße, onto Friedrich-Kraus-Ufer and into the Ausländerbehörde.
Marie, my lawyer the last some years arrives shortly after I do. We sit in the E1 waiting room on wooden benches racked with anxious others waiting for their number to chime. Half an hour after my appointment time we’re still waiting. Marie goes in search, moving through the building in ways I alone never could. This is why I have a lawyer, or from her perspective, why she is assisting me.
It’s slightly over two years since I began the grind towards permanent residency in Germany, or an Aufenthaltstitel with unbefristet Niederlassungserlaubnis as it’s called. Two years of acquiring documents, more documents, back and forths, hitting walls and dead ends, being navigated through the system by late-night emails and phone calls from Marie, seeing the system tighten and close up the grey areas, the older ways of living in Berlin increasingly proscribed and delineated. Months of silence as my application was lost, the Behörde in chaos, Berlin city elections, new regulations, having to repeat collecting all those documents to fill in the gaps for those six months, the date of my current residency permit expiry drawing near then passing, more letters from Marie to them, more weeks and days and hours of collecting and changing and updating documents, filling in those gaps.
And finally a stack of paper about 2cm high fulfilling the requirements to be accepted as a permanent resident. There were lot of nights not sleeping these last weeks, and drinking the edge off this. Marie more than once telling me it was going to be ok; me preparing for the worst, pragmatic about outcomes for those who fall into those grey areas. Every time I’ve walked through the Ausländerbehörde, sat in those waiting rooms, I’ve seen that same anxious pragmatism on the faces of people, alone, in pairs, small groups, families. I’ve done it alone every time but this, and there’s no way the outcome would have been positive without Marie.
After all that preparation and waiting, the outcome is entirely dependant on the person sitting opposite. I’ve had a gruff old dragon lady of the ‘hard but fair’ school, a young woman of the Willkommenskultur type years before that word became common parlance in Germany. I’ve also had a young woman whose face could not conceal the disgust and physical discomfort at me, who explicitly turned that bigotry into an interpretation of the regulations to try and deny my residency renewal. This time, Marie said, “He’s new, he seems really positive.”
I barely see him. He’s young, friendly, we three sit in his office while I complete a German language test to prove I’m at least B2, all looking kind of bemused at each other, at the questions he’s reading to me and my answers. “Describe the room you’re sitting in.” “Well, there’s a big window, you can see the Spree out it, and Wedding on the other side, there’s some tables, a calendar on the wall … umm … some shelves, a computer, buncha chairs—” “Yeah, I think that’s enough, eh?”
More waiting. Marie runs off again. She’s carrying a pile of folders, I’m not the only one she’s cutting a path for here today. Then back into his office, collecting all those documents I’d handed over, collecting my passport. Marie hustles me down the hall, “Show me,” she says. “Nie wieder, Frances, nie wieder. You’ll never again have to come here.” And there beside that headshot I took on Monday, underneath my name, it says, “Gültig bis: unbefristet” and “Art des Titels: Niederlassungserlaubnis”.
It’s not a place for celebration. It’s a place for anxiety, fear, disillusionment, heartbreak. More than once I’ve gone through the process and been spat out with a Fiktionsbescheinigung, a temporary piece of paper because my application wasn’t complete to their satisfaction, a function of the idea or romance of living in Berlin as an artist and the increasing liminality of that within the bureaucratic system here. On the wall in the waiting room was a poster of a young, smiling woman wearing a hijab. Underneath it said, “Ich bin Berliner”. I’m not sure that was a comfort to the women in the room wearing hijab or coming from Middle Eastern countries—or born in Germany with the vagaries of citizenship here. Whatever celebration and relief I have, it’s tempered by knowing for others yesterday didn’t work out as they needed.
I rode along the Spree, into Wedding, stopping at Leopoldplatz for the small market, bought some excellent German bread, cheese, and some Hirschsalami, feeling weirdly like I belonged, stopping at Uferhallen to visit Dasniya for Tuesday morning Shibari. Which led to Tuesday afternoon eating of those supplies, along with glasses of gin. It was the morning after a wanker stole a truck and drove it into the Weihnachtsmarkt at Breitscheidplatz in West Berlin, killing 12 and injuring close to fifty.
Without Marie, my Tuesday and today would be very different. Without my friends here in Berlin and spread across Europe, likewise. Marie Ellersiek is the most excellent lawyer and I owe her so many bottles of wine. Dasniya Sommer and Katrin Sellerbeck supported and helped me in so many ways, and lamb curry will be cooked. There are many others, and thank you to you all.
Icke bin Berlina.
An excellent day of cyclocross in Jungfernheide, finishing Lewis’ website, seeing Florian & Der Name der Rose puppets … & figs in Markt!
Oh perfect beginning to the last month of summer, warm and sun-kissed, and the Saturday Wochenmarkt in Wedding full with the season’s change. And … Figs! Oh my, it’s time for fig and lamb tajine and other fig-ish delicacies. Gaah, I drooled when I saw the fat, plummy-eggplant-coloured syconium basking in the warmth. Two euros for five? I’ll have ten.
Because I never manage to be here on the one Sunday a month, and shall be gone to Vienna tomorrow missing it again…
Katrin, whom I lived with in Kreuzberg when I first came to Berlin, has been helping Mischi with a website. Mischi had an idea some months back after flying lantern balloons across Berlin, to have a fleamarket along the Landwehrkanal. Nowkoelln Flohmarkt is the result, tomorrow along Maybachufer (und jeden 3. Sonntag im Monat!)
South-East Asia’s biggest sex market that is, though I always expected Thailand, or Korea or Japan who have the first three places when it comes to matters of size, located off 战前路 Zhanqian Lu, near the main station, and like all main stations in all cities I’ve been, the part of town I have a mental border around labeled ‘dodgy’, though that is not the word that springs to mind to describe a meter high fat, erect schlong radiating a smutty deep orange glow.
Really I didn’t know whether to choose the walls of full-leather masks, ball-gags, restraints, harnesses and designer ropes, or the shelves of 20cm high manga-porno models, or the endless fields of dildos, vibrators, plugs, jelly-vibrating-crustations, things to insert into other things… So I settled on Orgaster! super vibration!, something about skinship scandal g-spot pornography? Is this turning into one of those sex-spam blogs? The other option was a poster of 鄧小平 Deng Xiaoping.