Category Archives: Europe 2022

Road Trip Europe – 22/11/26-27 Bicycling across the Atlantic

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Once I had my German passport in hand (see prior post), my plan has been to buy a car in Europe and do extensive road trips as we did so successfully in South America from 2017-2020.

Well, Covid got in the way a bit so here we are in 2022 resuming the plan. My son, Eric, also a German citizen by virtue of my status, in a happy coincidence, is now living in and has established residence, in Catalonia, Spain.

I say a happy coincidence because his experience and my research brought to light that just being a citizen of a European Union nation, by itself, doesn’t get you too far. Yes, I, my children, and grandchild can all stay in the EU for as long as we wish (US citizens are limited to 90 days out of each 180).

However, for commonly useful activities such as owning and registering a vehicle, opening a European bank account, getting a driver’s license, or buying property, citizenship isn’t enough. To do any of the foregoing you also have to establish residence in Europe and get a tax ID.

In my case, I have no current desire to be a European resident, although years ago I considered that a strong possibility. Eric, however has become a resident of Spain– just in time for my desire to own a car there. I’m not allowed to, but he is!

So today I’m flying to Barcelona to start shopping for a European car. I’ll buy it and drive it but Eric will be the legal owner and insurer. I’m off to JFK tonight.

Through his work as a bicycle tour guide, Eric has purchased an absurdly expensive, high tech bike at a still (to me) absurd but massively discounted price. Shipping this bike to Europe would be very costly but airlines will transport it, properly packaged, as checked baggage. In my case, that means without charge, so it’s my job to bring the bike with me on my flight.

My checked baggage to Barcelona, Eric’s enormous bike box.

We load the bike and me and Susan and her sister, Erelene, in the van and drive to the city where they drop me off at the American Airlines terminal. I’m dragging my own luggage and shoving this enormous, but not heavy, boxed bicycle to the ticket counter. Although I know it should work, I’m still pleasantly surprised that the box is checked without problems. Thus, in retrospect, I didn’t have to arrive four frigging hours before my flight left.

Since I [gross alert] tend to snore and drool when I sleep, on long flights I try to put myself into a semi-waking “trance”, where I’m not quite asleep but only minimally conscious of my surroundings. This probably doesn’t help my seatmates much but at least I feel like I’m trying to spare them. After 7 and a half hours in my torture chamber of an airline seat, we land in Barcelona. I’m entering Europe for the first time on my German passport, standing in the “EU citizens only” line.

For European Union citizens only — that’s me!

Irrationally, I’m imagining the Spanish immigration officer looking at my document and saying, “We’re not letting you in with this, you stupid American.” Of course, this isn’t the case and I’m passed through as a German with little more than a glance.

The bicycle beats me to the baggage claim and the box, thankfully, looks intact. For what that thing costs, any transit damage would be an expensive problem, probably far exceeding the airline’s liability limits. I claim the bicycle and load the 60″ wide awkward box on a totally inadequate 15″ wide luggage cart, balancing my remaining gear precariously on the 10″ wide box top. I could really use 4 arms to push the cart and simultaneously hold everything in place.

The Barcelona Airport is curiously awkward piece of architecture. I want to go directly across to the attached parking garage but the signage doesn’t tell me how to do that.

Several times, I have to maneuver the cart with the five foot wide bicycle box through 3 foot wide doors, only to struggle back through when I realize I’m not on track for the garage. Eventually, I do connect with Eric. He manages to cram the bike into his tiny car (after discarding parts of the box) but that leaves no room for passengers. Girlfriend, Gemma, drives off with the bike and Eric gets me on a bus and two trains for the 75 mile trip to their apartment in Girona. The apartment is a 5th floor walkup. In a masterpiece of Spanish residential misdirection, his floor is labeled “Second”. Dragging my luggage up five flights is the last overtly physical act of my 22 hour day.

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Road Trip Europe – 21/11/25 Twenty Year Voyage on the German Bureaucra-Sea

NOTE: The following history is all a preface to what I’m doing right now but feel free to skip ahead when your eyelids start to droop. All of my travel writing is primarily to preserve my own memories for myself and my children. While I’m gratified if others find it interesting (hello, you 3 people), I am in no way insulted if you do not.

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22 years ago, knowledgeable German friends, the Göldners, suggested I could obtain dual US/German citizenship by virtue of my father’s German birth in 1913.

In what would seem a procrastination record, but embarrassingly is not even a personal worst, it took 19 years for me to attain that goal.

It’s not all my fault — really. Since I first started visiting Germany again as an adult in 1979 (I had spent months there as a 5-year old with my mother), one of my joke lines has been, “The German bureaucracy grinds very slowly but it grinds extremely fine.” Getting anything official accomplished can get you thinking about resorting to hostages even faster than trying to understand your 4-page electricity bill. In the old days, everything had to be done in person. First, you had to find the correct bureau in the correct town. Appointments had to be made during the few hours of each work week that were designated for public contact. Required documents were often frustratingly hard to produce. Having been the joint owner, with my sister, of a property outside Berlin since 1990 — a weekend retreat owned for decades by my paternal grandparents but lost for 45 years to the East German government — I’m well acquainted with slamming into German brick walls.

It turns out German law allows dual citizenship in only one circumstance, when one parent is German at the time of your birth and the other is not. Luckily, this applies to me as I was born to my American mother in 1950 while my father was still German. It did not apply to my sister because he had become a US citizen (and thus was no longer considered a German by Germany) by the time she was born in 1956.

I long ago located the complicated form required to prove my German rights and filled it out, but the list of required, authenticated, and officially translated documents was daunting. These included birth, marriage, and passport documents dating back to the 1800s. Some of these were kept locally in churches and city halls — if they weren’t destroyed during World War II. It required a ton of research, letter writing, and phone calls in German, which I pursued very sporadically since I didn’t plan on visiting Europe for more than tourist purposes, anyway.

Then came 2016, when America culminated it’s 26 year descent into right wing insanity by doing the absurdly impossible — electing Donald Trump!

I was in London the night in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected. I spent a couple of hours in my frigid, cheap, closet sized, classically British hotel room debating whether I should abandon the US right there and then. I didn’t, but Reagan’s election left internal scars that were brutally reopened when nutcase American voters put the joke that was the Orange Tornado into the presidency.

An interesting aspect of the German dual nationality law is that people like me are citizens from birth, even though that has no practical effect until they document their status. So now, with Trump the president-elect, I’m suddenly looking for a possible place to jump if the US as we know it comes to an end. More important, once I prove my citizenship, it means my two children can show they were also born German citizens. When asked, they made it clear this was of great interest to them. German passports would give them the right to live, work, or study in the EU without having to ask for permission.

So then in 2017, I seriously got to work. I started collecting documents. With great help from my genealogy-expert sister, I figured out what towns and churches might be holding long forgotten records. I ordered some from Germany, others from the US, sent fees in Euros, and painstakingly built up the collection (most of the pain came as I sent money over and over) . The ones regarding my grandparents were particularly hard to get and remained an issue.

I had begun emailing a staff member of the German consulate in NY about various details: did he have a list of certified translators I could contact, did the back side of documents need to be translated, etc. After a long set of exchanges, he abruptly said, “Here at the consulate, we have the authority to issue German passports. Your case is straightforward, so we can issue one for you with only proof of your father’s German-ness and an interview in Manhattan. We don’t need certifications or translations, If you follow the other procedure, which is processed in Berlin, it can take years. A passport is proof of citizenship and we can issue it in weeks.”

I was stunned. I politely thanked him while muttering under my breath, “Shit, man. Couldn’t you have told me that 6 months ago and saved me a ton of effort and money?”

Since I had everything I needed, I made my appointment and was approved. I was at the consulate on the same day in 2019 I flew to South America for one of our long road trips in our Chile Subaru. Although the consulate website stated the interview had to be conducted in German, while I was there I saw others speaking English. This was important for Eric and Helene since neither of them speak German.

I had the passport sent to my son in Denver, who used it to apply for his own passport. This went smoothly and when his was eventually issued, he sent mine on to my daughter in California for her to use.

She likewise applied to the San Francisco consulate and encountered only one hitch. A cranky official with the personality of a thorn bush who apparently didn’t like the idea of Americans getting German citizenship objected that my 2019 passport proved I was a citizen but not that I was one when Helene was born. This had not been an issue in Eric’s process, so she suggested that the SF consulate could verify my lifelong status with the NY staff. The official tartly answered, “We don’t do that. You have to supply proof.” That position was apparently overruled because some months later that third passport was issued. The icing on the cake is that Helene finished the process by getting my 2-year old grandson a passport as well.

Unless German law is changed, all of my direct descendants will also be born as German citizens. Pretty cool.

My hard-won German passport

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