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Der Paß Kampf

A (Ful)bright Future

Der Paß Kampf

Olivia Wilkins

Am 16. Juni, just seven days after visiting the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Günther received proof of his American citizenship. Applying for and waiting for the arrival of Güni's Consular Report of Birth Abroad and Paß was nothing short of nerve-wracking given that, over the next week, we begin our move [back] to the United States. Now that we have the necessary documents for Günther to leave Germany, I can provide an account of the experience without fearing the U.S. government maliciously delaying delivery of our baby's papers.

Applying for a passport abroad is similar to applying for one in the States, except that you need to apply at the Consulate rather than your local post office. This can make the price tag of travel documents significantly higher. For instance, our local Consulate in Düsseldorf (to which I can travel for free using my NRW student ticket) doesn't offer passport services; therefore, we needed to travel to Frankfurt for about 150€ round-trip (a steal given that most available tickets were 200+€).

Because Günther was born in May, Alex and I were left without about two months before our July-5th-move back to the United States to acquire his citizenship papers. When you factor in having to stay at the hospital for three nights after the birth, waiting for die Geburtskunde, and our lease ending 30. Juni, we had a window of less than six weeks to get to the Consulate. The earliest appointment we could get was on 8. Juni, giving us only three weeks of having a German address at which we could receive the passport and report of birth. We were told by the Consulate General that the documents would arrive in three to four weeks (whereas their website said two), so we made a phone call to inquire about whether we could get an earlier appointment to ensure we received the passport in time. Following the advice of the officer from our phone call, we emailed the Emergency Passports contact, only to receive a response that answered none of our questions, told us information we already knew, and gave us new advice to ask the officer the day of our appointment about an emergency passport.

Between the ever-changing information from the U.S. Consulate and the contrasting ease of gettings Güni's Geburtskunde (auf Deutsch even), the only time I felt completely helpless as a new mother was when interacting with my own government. I felt like German bureaucrats were treating me—a non-citizen—better than those of my own country. If I were fluent in Deutsch, I'd probably have looked for ways to stay in Köln and become an ex-pat.

Finally, the day arrived for us to apply for Güni's citizenship papers. We took an early train to Frankfurt, arriving at the Consulate well before our appointment. By the time we got through security, it was 10:00, the time of our scheduled appointment.

We were prepared with all of our documents: our passports, die Geburtskunde, photographs, applications. When we were finally called to the service desk around 10:45, things were going smoothly. All of our papers were in order, and we were assured that the passport would arrive within two weeks, i.e. an emergency passport was not necessary.

Then we handed over our photograph of Günther. The picture background was too yellow to be considered off-white, despite my efforts to lighten the photograph before printing. We had to proceed downstairs to the 6€ passport photo-booth where we tried everything to get Günther to look at the camera without cryign while we held him up in front of the white background. The first photo requried all ten of our attempts at a decent photo, yielding a picture of a very dissatisfied (to put it mildly) citizen-to-be. Another 6€ later, and we had a much better photo.

Günther's reaction to applying for a U.S. passport

We proudly went back upstairs to the passport officer, who was not as impressed with our new photo as we were. Güni has been losing hair, including all of that on the top of his head, over the past few weeks, giving a shiny crown that disappeared with the glare from the lights of the photo-booth. We were strongly advised to retake the picture because the officer doubted it would be accepted, so we repeated our process and spent six more Euros. The result was the same, even with covering the light a bit. On the screen, Güni’s head appeared fine; after printing, however, the top of his head was cut off. The officer reasserted her concerns over the photograph, but we decided to risk the photo not being accepted, having already spent 18 € and knowing that unless we could force Güni’s hair to grow back, removing the glare from his head was a futile effort.

We were then sent to another officer who oversaw our signing of the documents. At this point, I was in tears from frustration, but I managed to smile when this officer made a remark about hearing we had gotten into a fight with the photo machine. He said he couldn’t see why our new photos wouldn’t be accepted (more conflicting information from consulate officers), especially with Günther’s eyes being open unlike so many other children. The officer read us some statements while Alex and I raised our right hands, and we signed the passport application. After we signed, we were told that the passport would arrive in about three weeks (even more conflicting information); my jaw dropped. I argued that we had been told two weeks and asked what we should do if the passport didn’t arrive in time for our departure. The officer said that we would probably have to send the consulate a new envelope with the address of a friend in Germany who could forward the passport to our new address in the States. “But don’t we need his passport to take him with us?” “Oh yeah…. I guess you do.” Face-palm.

The mess of conflicting information and incompetence had me bawling on public transport from the Consulate to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, attracting stares of other passengers. I was so frustrated and unsure about when Günther’s passport would arrive, adding to the list of things to worry about as we prepare to check-out of Germany. Alex and I told ourselves that it would arrive on time, but this was hard to believe after trying to communicate efficiently with the Consulate. Thankfully, his passport is here, and we can take Günther with us, kein Problem.

Through this experience, the saying "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" has taken on a whole new meaning: ask not what your country can do for you because its government isn't capable of doing a whole lot.