This means more than just taking stock of your surroundings, which I also recommend you do. And this is something separate from obtaining or renewing a visa, which you can read all about in my lengthy tirade here, here and here. When you move to any German town, you have to register (anmelden) with the officials in that town. And when you leave to move to another country, you deregister (abmelden). In the U.S., you just do this by changing your address with the post office for $1. However, this isn’t the same as changing your address in Germany, which is something you’ll do through Deutsche Post additionally and it costs a lot more than $1.
The best explanation I could ever get for why this process exists is that “they like to know where everyone is.”
This is also one of a few instances, and the first one that we encountered, where we were asked our religion. Yes, this was inside of a government office while filling out a form for the government and talking to government government government. If you don’t pick the equivalent of “N/A,” you will pay an automatic church tax to whichever denomination you select. Luckily, we had a representative from the international center come with us to help us fill out the forms. I say “luckily” because she knew how to fill out the forms. I also say “luckily” because you could have felt the temperature in the room drop when the stern man behind the counter asked me my religion. Funny how we can be programmed to react in certain ways, even when we know we shouldn’t. I’m glad my German was good enough to at least understand his question, but not good enough to formulate a U.S.-appropriate response.
As you may guess, there are many things about this process that wouldn’t fly in ‘Murica. If you are American and you just found yourself going, “What?” “WHAT?” and/or spitting coffee at your computer screen in shock and contempt, then I guess you know what they are.
Deadlines and processes vary depending on your location, but you usually need to do it within a week or two of moving in. This Toytown post is pretty helpful, if only because I didn’t know until looking it up right now that it’s actually okay that we didn’t deregister in Bielefeld before moving to Muenster. I was sort of enjoying the imagined thrill that we were undermining the system by being registered in TWO places AT ONCE, and therefore technically living as expatriate criminals. Guess I’ll have to find other ways to feel like a badass in Germany. Suggestions welcome.