Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953
18 April 2024

Student Life
& Society

The Day I Became A German Orphan

He was told in hushed whispers that Dutch bureaucracy was a lumbering beast that consumes all who dare oppose it. Nonetheless, the day third year bachelor student in literature Marcus Hewitt became swept up in its machinations came shockingly unexpected.

My first job in Amsterdam was working in a bar, serving great mixers to a great mix of Dutch natives and inebriated tourists. To start work I had to show my employer a VOG certificate—essentially a background check—as soon as possible.

So I navigated the necessary websites to order the certificate from the Ministry of Justice and Safety. I was asked to verify the information they held was accurate, but I barely looked because it all seemed to be correc- wait a moment. Under nationality it read: Citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Huh. I sat back in my chair, sipping my tea thoughtfully from a Union Jack mug. Unless they knew something about my family tree that I didn’t, well, then there seemed to have been a mistake. My grandparents grew up alongside the Thames, not the Rhine. No matter though, as the city hall for Amstelveen wasn’t far: I could surely head there with my passport—and my accent—to have this corrected in no time.

Despotic and cruel fiend

I was told in hushed whispers that Dutch bureaucracy was a lumbering beast that consumes all who dare oppose it: there were rumours of a fearsome and merciless creature of fines, delays, and endless letters in the mail.

However, I felt that I had nothing to fear; they couldn’t be any slower than the British systems I’d dealt with at home. Yet, it was my fate to become a victim to this despotic and cruel fiend before the year was out.

Barren wasteland of boredom

There is no waiting room like a government funded one. Dentists, hairdressers, doctors, and even repair shops create a sort of pleasant environment in which to do nothing. Perhaps some refreshments are made available, a magazine rack could be placed, or simply some WiFi you can use so that eye contact with others can be avoided.

They couldn’t be any slower than the British systems

Put simply, these small luxuries were not available when I arrived at city hall. The soundtrack for this room was the pitiful spluttering of an Out of Order coffee machine, dripping vaguely caffeinated liquids into a gently overflowing tray. In this barren wasteland of boredom, I sat anxiously wondering if I could get this sorted out in time for work, the echoes of my friends’ warnings bouncing in my skull. Delays. Paperwork. Bureaucracy.

After 45 gruelling minutes I was called into an equally lifeless room to speak with someone who could restore my heritage.

No encouraging look on their face

They showed me a screen with my information. Citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany was still clearly printed. “Are you not German?” asked the staff member politely. This was an amusing alternative to the rather overused “Hey, you sound British!” I held out my passport, adored with its bold United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland script.

Ah. There wasn’t an encouraging look on their face, and I was informed that a birth certificate would be required. This was odd, because it hadn’t been referred to or checked in order to register the incorrect information when I had arrived.

Finding my Mutter und Vater

My protests were futile. I had become swept up in the machinations of Dutch bureaucracy. I was asked to return with my birth certificate at the earliest convenience, which wasn’t going to be convenient in the slightest; I hadn’t even brought it to Amsterdam with me.

Just as I made to leave the office, the staff member asked me to check the other information they had on record, just in case any other mistakes had been made. With the utmost care, I verified my name, birth date, address, and contact details. All seemed in order there at least, but I did notice a noticeable lack of information on my parents. I remembered having to provide at least the basics when I registered as a student, so what had happened?

Further inspection revealed that I had, in fact, no registered family members on record. Realising you are a German orphan can come as quite a shock to some people, and I confess I was no exception. I would really have to step up my Duolingo game if I was going to be in with a chance of finding my Mutter und Vater.

Marcus Hewitt graduated from the bachelor literature & society at VU and was a blogger for Ad Valvas. In September he starts his master European Studies at UvA. Read Marcus blogs.


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