Getting a License Plate in Germany

registering a car in Germany
das Autokennzeichen – the license plate / Image via Pixabay

We had to say goodbye to our Swiss licence number, and that is not that easy because my hubby inherited a super short number from his grandfather. There’s a possibility to suspend it for two years, but afterwards, it will be available to someone else. In Switzerland, it is quite a thing with the licence numbers. The shorter the number, and the more valuable it gets. Also, people are willing to pay a lot of money for that because it is something you can show off. I think it is totally overrated, but whatever.

Well, our licence number was the last visual thing that connected us to our homeland. Believe me, it makes a difference if you are driving in Berlin with a Swiss licence number or if you are just one of thousands with a B xxx number on your ride. Well, but let’s start telling you our story about getting a German licence number. My hubby took care of it. He made an appointment at the Kfz-Zulassungsstelle in Kreuzberg. He had to wait for two weeks to get one and then D-day had arrived.

When it was his turn, and all the papers were found correct, the civil servant asked him if he had a wish number in mind. He did not know what she meant because in Switzerland, you cannot choose the combination of your licence number, so he was a bit stumped for an answer and asked how much longer it takes to do a customised one. The lady estimated another hour and 10 euros on top. He declined because he did not want to be late at work again. After paying, he was sent away, confronted with a new challenge. He had to go to get the tag for his licence number right away. He hesitated and asked about the procedure. The lady told him he had to go to one of the shops in front of the office and just buy a tag. It was that simple! Well, how much would it cost to produce a tag? “Ask someone you run across in the hallway; the prices are different, and I am not allowed to tell you what’s an appropriate price,” she told him. Thus, he did ask anyone he met carrying a tag, and the price range was from 20 to 70 euros.

When he was outside, he found himself in a bazaar-like situation. Tag dealers approached him and offered him a “very good price.” It was way too much. Of course. What the hell was going on? Was he still in Berlin? Yes, he was, and he finally got his tag for an appropriate price and was happy to tick another to-do point off his list. When he arrived at his office, he showed a picture with his new licence to one of his colleagues. He was so happy that he made it in time and that he could go back to work. His colleague laughed out loud and said, “Did you choose that number yourself?” My hubby looked sceptical. Well, he got BFC 123. For him, it was just a licence number, but the guys in his office suggested he go back and redeem another one. Why? What was going on?

BFC represents a Berlin football club that tends to be right-wing extreme, and it is a statement when you have such a licence number on your car. The fact that my hubby is bold would make it even worse. Well, he first thought they were making fun of him, but then Google approved it. He got the Zonk* (Zonk is a duffer well-known from the German TV show called Geh aufs Ganze). When he came back home, he was mad and tried online to get another appointment at the “Kfz-Zulassungsstelle” to get rid of that unlucky licence number. Well, due to the fact it was close to Christmas, he had to wait for six weeks to get another appointment. However, there were two lovely side effects. We went back to Switzerland by car, so nobody paid attention to BFC, and we had enough time to think about our new number. After the holidays, my hubby went through that procedure like a pro, and we were all smiles when he came home with our new BZH 123 tag. (ZH stands for Zurich).

A Swiss in Germany – Shopping

A swiss in Germany - Shopping
© by Jarmoluk via Pixabay

With my new life here in Berlin, I also had to get accustomed to the different shopping habits. To be more precise on what I mean, I got the feeling that here, in Berlin, some of the shops assume that you are a criminal. And as far as I can tell, they are probably right to be that aware. Even on the shopping baskets, you can read in capital letters: Geklaut bei Kaisers (Stolen from Kaisers). I often shop at the Kaisers next to our house because I am not the type of person who is very well organized, so I have to buy some food and household goods every second day.

There are some things which are very diverse from shopping in Switzerland. I think you have to look more precisely at what you buy, and if the quality is good enough. For example, eggs; check to ensure they are not broken. With vegetables, here, you choose, check them if they are still fresh, and then put them in a bag. In Switzerland, you do not have to eye them precisely, and you scale them yourself, press the related number and then you got the price. Here, you do not do that in most of the shops. I do not know if it is so risky that someone would press the wrong number on purpose to pay less. Many things such as coffee beans, some kinds of alcohol, cosmetics, and razor blades are locked up. Even coffee beans are 5 euros. You have to find an employee and ask if he/she can unlock it, but it is sometimes hard to find the one with the key, so if you are in a hurry or if one of your children gets nervous, you have to give up.
Then, there is this thing which I will never understand or get used to. If you dare to approach the shop employees, they seem pissed at you because you are disturbing them while they are restocking the shelves, and if you expect them to say hello or give you a smile, dream on. Well, there’s something I like when you are at the counter. You have the choice of the no candy counter (Süßigkeitenfreie Kasse). It can be very helpful if you are with children. You know what I mean.

When you are at the counter and everything is on the moving floor and you are there, ready to pay, one of the strangest things happens. The cashier looks up in the mirror, which is placed on the ceiling right above where you are standing with the stroller and the empty shopping cart. At first, I was very irritated, but then I realized that they have to check on every person if there’s nothing left in the cart or somewhere else. This final check, before you pay and pack your groceries, was new to me. And it was also strange. At Lidl, it is even worst. They stand up to look into your shopping cart. In Switzerland, I have not experienced such forms of control. Well, as for me, it keeps me observing the different things, and that is what I like most about living abroad. And please, do not get me wrong, I like being in Berlin.

A Swiss in Germany – Hiding

a swiss in germany - cat
© by Rihaji via Pixabay

There are some days when I try to avoid contact with other people, and it is amazingly easy to do so in Berlin. You do not have to talk if you are not in the mood. That is a bit sad, however. You can go to the supermarket, or for a walk, or to the playground, and you do not have to say anything to anyone. Once, I queued up at the post office, and a guy shoved me away and went in front of me. I did not say anything because I was not in the mood to defend myself in front of other people. I was not afraid of the confrontation, but rather of speaking German. I felt insecure, and I did not want to expose myself and my different way of talking, so I kept quite.

As a Swiss from Zurich, I naturally understand and speak German. However, it is not possible to hide my nationality because of my accent. I figured out that people are sometimes irritated by the choice of my words or when I try to be funny. Humour is a very tricky thing in a foreign language, especially when you are so close to that foreign language that people expect something from you. German people mostly understand what I am saying, but it sometimes can lead to misunderstandings or strange situations. I once tried to buy some bread at the bakery. I thought the slang word for a sandwich was “schrippe,” which is just a plain white bread roll, but it was in fact “stulle.” I pointed at it and told him in my best German that I’d like a schrippe. He nodded and rolled his eyes and then answered impatiently in English: “What do you want? A sandwich?”

Sometimes others try to copy my accent and make fun of me. I paused to visit my favourite coffee store, and one of the waiters shouted through the entire place, “Grüezi” when I entered the store. I am sure he just meant to be nice, but I felt uncomfortable to be exposed. I do not wish to talk about cows, mountains, chocolates or gold – not with strangers and not with my friends – although perhaps about Swiss cheese because that is something I really like. I wish to adapt to my new daily colloquial, and I realize after having been in Berlin for a while that I have to learn a new language. Moreover, I think it is much harder to relearn than to learn a language from the very beginning. Sometimes I wish I could, at least, pretend to be German to feel like I am undercover. I also think that prices increase when store employees recognize that I am Swiss. Especially when I go to the organic farmers market at Kollwitzplatz. Is it just a feeling that I have? A Swiss inferiority complex?

During one of the parent assemblies, we were told what to bring for our kids to the preschool called Vorschule. (During the year before they begin school, children attend Vorschule. It means that they learn some basics in writing and counting once a week). I did not understand half of the equipment we were supposed to organize for them, for example, Federmäppchen (a case for writing tools), Hefter (a folder), and Riss which means a Papierstapel (a paper stack).

While I was watching my daughter’s favourite movies, I also detected that they often have characters with a Swiss accent in the German version. For example, in Frozen or Tinkerbell. I do not know why it is often the characters which are a bit daffy. Don’t get me wrong. I really like being Swiss, and I know I am privileged. I can live abroad and be very comfortable with my everyday life here in Berlin. However, I can comprehend how many people have to deal with prejudices, language barriers, and inhibitions. As a consolation, I will soon go to the movies to see the latest Heidi movie.

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