It looks like the train drivers’ union didn’t get what they wanted, because they went on strike again yesterday from 2 PM to 4 AM. Partly because I was expecting the same horrible commute that followed the last strike (trains running every 90 minutes instead of every 3) and partly because I just couldn’t even, I did not spend the 30 euros to get another week pass for the transit, even though I knew I’d need it eventually. Some days are just black riding days.

Contrary to all expectations, the S-Bahn service seemed to be running as smoothly as normally, if not more so–I don’t know whether that means that fewer people went on strike, or if the company just decided to take the union seriously this time and take counter-steps to avoid the disastrophic aftermath of the last strike (10 Internet points to whoever can pronounce “disastrophic”  most convincingly).


In case you missed it–we’re almost through the first week of classes.  So far it’s going swimmingly, with the exception of the calculus. I took a class over the summer on morphology, and today, we covered that entire semester in less than an hour and a half. Which, as Nathan points out, is exactly where you want to be positioned at the beginning of grad school.


It is also the first time in my life that I’ve actually liked some of my classmates. I got in a debate with a guy from Montreal about the proper pronunciation (and therefore, in the context of our lecture today, status as a word) of “red wine.” We  also discussed infixes, which are like prefixes or suffixes that go in the middle of another word, and which famously occur in English only in the form of expletives. At that point, the Russian next to me leaned into the middle of our table and said, “inbe-f******-lievable.” We both laughed, but for different reasons.

Although classes are going great, I’ve been missing out on a lot (mainly my department’s one-time informational get-together that everyone got an invitation to except me and the Canadian guy who also can’t get his paperwork act together) because the university took a million years (2.5 weeks) to process my enrollment documents. When they finally did process them, they said they wouldn’t enroll me because I didn’t have a visa, but I can’t get the visa until I enroll. Today, I went to the Student “Service” Center, with which I am thoroughly fed up, to be sure they understood how ridiculous they were. I spoke English, because that’s what I do with people I’m fed up with who I know speak English (I won’t put myself at a communicative disadvantage for just anyone), and … I think that made them more helpful. During the course of this first-ever pleasant interaction with the S”S”C, the girl who was helping me noticed that I was in the European Languages MA, and she told me that she had also done that program, and that I had picked a great program. I tried to conceal my horror at discovering that people who have achieved my goals now work at the vanguard of the lair of the hydra of bureaucracy that is Iltisstraße 4 (that’s the S”S”C), opting instead to comment that yes, it certainly does seem like a nice program, and wouldn’t it be a shame to be miss out on it because of  some ill-timed paperwork?


This particular employee has a history of sending me on wild goose chases and evading my questions, but today she not only provided more-or-less helpful answers, but also left a couple of times to check in with her colleague (boss?) about my options. That this blew me away should tell you everything you need to know about the university’s administration.


What she eventually concluded was that I could go across the street to the other bureaucratic hellhole, take a number, and talk to a representative. “Will they be able to enroll me?” “Nein.” “Then what can they do?” What they could do, she said, was give me a certificate to confirm that I’m going to enroll as soon as I get a visa. This made her best offer marginally better than doing nothing.


The problem, by the way, is that the earliest I can get a visa is Tuesday. After that I would have to submit my visa to the matriculation office for processing. When they finished that (and God knows how long that would take), they would snail-mail my enrollment packet to my apartment, where I would receive it, based on recent experience, between 5 days later and never. Only then could I register for classes. If this took longer than 9 days (including weekends), I would still be enrolled, and I might still have a visa, but I couldn’t take any classes for credit. Which is a lot like not being enrolled.


As you can imagine, I was getting desperate. Now, the office that the employee sent me to is only open 5 hours a week, and they don’t take appointments. On Thursdays the main desk opens at 1:00, but they don’t start handing out numbers to talk to the people with actual power until 1:30. Still, if you’re not there by 12:45 you’re not getting seen that day, because when the clock strikes 1, the place turns into this:



So I showed up at 12:30 and was second in line. At 1:00 the doors opened. People who wanted numbers were asked to sit down and wait. At 1:32 (but who’s counting?) they passed out numbers, and I and my fellow fourth-class citizens trudged down the stairs to the international students’ office, which, fittingly, is in the basement. But wait–SURPRISE! Although you have to arrive at 1, and you have to take a number at 1:30, the office doesn’t actually open until 2:00. So we stood awkwardly in the stairwell making small talk about how much better this would be handled in our countries (even my new Ukrainian buddy Zhenya chimed in).


Zhenya’s number got called first, so she went into Room 4. About 5 minutes later, my number  got called, also for Room 4. I knew Zhenya hadn’t left yet, so I was starting to think that maybe this was a trap. I fought the urge to run and discovered that there were no horrors behind the door–just two ticked-off bureaucrats who have to share an office and a desk that looks vaguely like a late stage of meiosis. I explained my situation to my deadpan bureaucrat (she had the left half of the zygote, if it matters) and pulled out the stack of documents that comprises my entire visa application (I have three copies in case of .. exactly what I’ve been dealing with for the last 6 weeks). She didn’t seem impressed, so I switched to a tactic that Zhenya and I had planned together in the hallway, namely, mentioning that I had an appointment at the immigration office, but that it was after the registration deadline (this wasn’t a lie, although I have no intention of actually keeping that appointment, which is just a week before my current visa runs out).


Then Leftie said something that caught me completely off guard: “If you could show me the appointment confirmation, I’d accept that.” I mumbled out that since I hadn’t been allowed to enroll, I had no Internet access on campus, so I couldn’t show her. I thought that that was the end, and that she’d tell me, too bad, bring it to office hours next Tuesday. But no. Instead, she wrote down her e-mail address and asked me to send her a copy of the confirmation as soon as I got home. In the meantime, she’d go ahead and mark my application as complete.


Never–never, I tell you, has the sound of a stamp meeting paper brought deeper satisfaction.


She warned me that the documents might not get processed this week, but she gave me a temporary enrollment certification that I can use for the immigration office, and which will also double as my semester-long public transit ticket (self-five for well-timed black riding!). When I got home, I forwarded the document to her and saw that my application had already been processed and marked complete in the online database.


And that, my friends, is possibly the second-to-last whiny post about bureaucracy you will ever have to read from me.




How do I *find* these things!?


(But there will probably be others.)