When the UK leaves the European Union, I’ll be staying in Oberursel

‘On 23rd June voters in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland decided in favour leaving the European Union, the so-called “Brexit”.’

How often have I read these words in the past half year, or even written them myself?  I wrote them in July for the Oberurseler Woche and again later in the year in a slightly different form to report on a information evening about German citizenship.  I have used similar words on my blog and I have given interviews about the referendum to the Taunus Zeitung and Frankfurter Rundschau.    But having reported and answered questions about the facts, there remains a personal side to the issue.  My story, as a British Citizen living in Oberursel.

I was not allowed to vote in the referendum, because the rules of the vote were such that only British citizens either actually living in the United Kingdom or who had left the country within the past 15 years could have their say.  Regardless of where they had moved to.  So it was theoretically possible for someone to have “only” lived 12 years in Australia and be able to vote.  But those, like me, who have been living in Germany for 21 years, were not so lucky.

The result surprised me.  Whilst only 52% of those who took part voted to “leave” (which works out as 37% of those eligible to vote), and the vote was not binding, suddenly there it was – the United Kindom was going to leave the EU, come what may.  The new Prime Minister Theresa May said “Brexit means Brexit”, and it was her of all people who, as home secretary would not guarantee the status of the EU citizens living in the country.  There are now cases known of people who, as EU citizens, have tried to apply for permanent residency status, only to receive a letter from the home office telling them to prepare for their departure.

So what would happen if other countries started to do the same to British Citizens living there?  What would happen if my permanent residency status was withdrawn and I had to re-apply every five years?  What would happen if it was not extended at that point?  Germany is where my business is based and it is in Germany that my children live.

At the end of June I decided to take all the necessary steps in order to stay in Germany and therefore in Oberursel, regardless of what happened in the UK.

The first thing I did was to have some passport photos taken.  Lots of photos.  My British passport needed renewing and I knew I would need them for lots of other things I would be applying for.  I even had a copy of my passport certified at the local court, just in case I needed to show it while the original was at the Passport Office in Liverpool.

Then I made may way to the driving license office in Bad Homburg.  Following a change in the law in 1996 driving licenses from other EU countries did not need to be exchanged for German ones.  Except that this created a new problem: the German licensing authority knows nothing about British drivers in Germany (unless they get awarded penalty points), and DVLA in Swansea will not send replacement licenses overseas.  With yet another new rule meaning that all licenses will have to be exchanged eventually, it made sense to take advantage of the current EU regulation on swapping licenses and obtain a German one.  I will never have to explain my British paper license to German traffic police every again, now I have a shiny new plastic German one, issued in Bad Homburg.

For the citizenship itself I was given a preliminary appointment in Oberursel’s town hall.  I took everything with me, that I thought could be of use: information about my income, a copy of my University degree certificate (I studied German and Computer Science at Aston University in Birmingham, and had had presented the original certificate on a previous occasion at the town hall), and even some copies of the Oberurseler Woche where articles of mine had been on the front page.

This was not sufficient.  In Hessen – unlike some other parts of Germany – proof of German language skills has to be issued by an authority in Germany.  I was told that I would need to take a language test to show that my German language was up to the European standard “B1”.  The test normally takes 4 hours, but luckily I received a tip that the “International Language School” in Bad Homburg was offering more compact tests and that they were accredited by the Regierungspräsidium (the office that processes the citizenship application) to do so.  In just over an hour I finished my test not for “B1”, but for the highest level – “C2” – which I passed with a mark of 96%.

I also had to take a citizenship test.  Anyone who is interested in German politics and culture should be able to pass this, as the questions are not difficult and the whole catalogue of possible questions can be found online at www.einbuergerungstest-online.eu.  For example, you need to know that the flag of Hessen is red and white – the blue is only in the coat of arms.  You should know what the abbreviations of the political parties stand for, and what different government departments do.  You also need to know the difference between the BundestagBundesrat and Bundesversammlung.  The test is carried out at the adult education centre (VHS) in Oberursel, and I passed with full marks.

If I had been employed by a company somewhere, I would have then produced my payslip and a pension statement, and it would have been the end of the story.  But being self-employed meant that I needed to prove my average income, using documents prepared by my tax advisor.  I also needed to prove that I had lived in Germany for eight years: not just registered here, but living here, working, and paying tax.  To do so I had to submit copies of the tax statements of the past eight years!

Some five months after the referendum, I returned to the town hall in Oberursel and went through the application with one of the citizenship specialists.  My documents, certificates, etc. were all scanned and sent to the Regierungspräsidium digitally for processing.  I also had to pay a €255 fee.

With just a few days of the year 2016 to go, I received notification that my application had been processed and decided in my favour.  The citizenship certificate would be sent to Oberursel, and it is only when you actually receive the certificate that you are officially a German citizen.

And so it was that on 29th December, 2016, I was back in Oberursel’s town hall once more to make the following statement:

“Ich erkläre feierlich, dass ich das Grundgesetz und die Gesetze der Bundesrepublik Deutschland achte und alles unterlassen werde, was ihr schaden könnte.”

(I solemnly declare that I will respect and observe the Basic Law and the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany, and that I will refrain from any activity which might cause it harm.)

Outside Oberursel's town hall with the Citizenship Certificate (Photo: Beppo Bachfischer)
Outside Oberursel’s town hall with the Citizenship Certificate (Photo: Beppo Bachfischer)

I received my German citizenship certificate and was able to apply for my first German identity card.  That may not sound like a particularly grand affair, and in other towns much more is made of it, with the presentation being made by the Mayor with a brass band in attendance.  But this could also change in Oberursel if a motion by BÜNDNIS90/Die GRÜNEN is successful.  This would mean that everyone who has been awarded Citizenship in the past year would be invited to an annual ceremony to celebrate (the Bürgerempfang).  For 2016 that would apply to 108 people, 25 of which were British nationals.

But being a digital person I was happy to receive messages of congratulation on Facebook from Alderman Christof Fink and Town Council Chairman Gerd Krämer, as well as “Likes” from Mayor Hans-Georg Brum and Town Treasurer Thorsten Schorr – along with many other Facebook friends.

So what has changed?  Well, apart from the security of being able to stay in Germany, whatever happens in the United Kingdown, I am looking forward to voting in German national elections for the first time in 2017.  And I will no longer need to go the town hall for proof of my address when I want to register a car, or for other official institutions like the library or the recycling centre.  Although the Ausländerbeirat does now have one less voter.

This article appeared in German in the Oberurseler Woche on Thursday, 5th January, 2017

About Graham Tappenden

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Oberursel in 1993 and returned with his family to live there in 2003. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.

Comments

  1. http://Donna%20Gannon says

    Congradulations!!

  2. http://Frank%20Rust says

    Well done Graham. If I was younger I would have joined you!

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