Sometimes, you just can’t flout rules, even with an eagle on your passport. As tourists or businessfolk, we star-spangled Americans are allowed to spend up to 90 days in any given six-month period in most of Europe without having to actually visit a country’s consulate and applying for a visa. And as a star-spangled American, I simply took for granted that I could come and go as I pleased, the consummate jetsetter, throwing diplomatic caution to the wind and never paying attention to the 90-day rule on any of my previous visits. Well, as of December 22, 2012, I had hit Day 90, having entered and left the European Union six times since July. I had only discovered this grievous transgression on December 21st.
Now, I, Fly Brother, should have known better. I’ve lived in four countries outside of the States and have snagged more than a few visas with little more than a Coke and a smile for the consular official, so I’m usually up on my visa game. But we’re talking about Europe, here; specifically, Germany. I mean, we spanked Germany in 1945. Badly. By rights, I should have the run of the place, nahmean?!
Well, I’m in the process of applying for a PhD program in Germany (fingers crossed), and the Germans are actually pretty good about letting foreigners (well, Americans, at least) apply for work and student visas while on German soil. Catch is, you have to register with the municipal government in the city you’re living in before your 90 days are up. In order to register, you have to provide a lease agreement or some other proof that you’re indeed living in Germany, and in my case, I was going to register as the roommate of a German friend I live with.
Well, when I went to register with the municipal government, I found out that said friend never registered with the municipal government. In fact, he’d moved from his hometown, two hours away from Berlin, ten years ago and never filled out the simple single-page document stating his new address in the German capital. So in order for me to register, we’d have to wait for the landlord to send a letter stating that said friend still resides in the same apartment. Two weeks later, no letter. Landlord’s office said they’d send another one, but it wouldn’t arrive before Christmas. That’s when I get the idea that maybe I should check to make sure I’m not spending a little too much time in Germany. This was December 21st, Day 89.
Well, I had to get the hell outta Dodge. Immejitly. Germany is known as being a stickler for rules and regulations (me, not so much), but I didn’t want to jeopardize any future chances of obtaining a work or student visa in Europe—remember, we’re talking almost the entire EU here, not just Germany—so I went online and found a 600-euro one-way ticket from Berlin home to Florida, including a transatlantic crossing on—ta-daa—the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380! For an airline geek like me, it can’t get much better than this: flying on the world’s largest passenger airplane operated by arguably the best airline in the world.
Well, my elation was short-lived, however, when I realized that a) I didn’t really have 600 euro earmarked for last-minute plane tickets, b) I had, oh, about 12 hours to pack for a trip with an undefined return date, c) I would conceivably have to remain out of Germany for another 90 days minimum, and d) all the plans that I’d made, including Christmas and New Year’s parties, work projects, German lessons, social activities, errthing, had to be postponed indefinitely or canceled. Yes, I’d get to spend Christmas with my family (always a good thing, even though I’d just seen them at Thanksgiving), and I could send off my PhD application and apply for the student visa from the States, but damn if this wasn’t an expensive way to take an unscheduled break from the limb-numbing central European winter.
Well, on Day 91, I embarked on my six-airport, five-leg, three-airline itinerary (the type you get when you snag a “cheap” last-minute deal): Berlin to Munich to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, Frankfurt to New York on Singapore (the route goes JFK>FRA>SIN and back), and New York to Washington to Jacksonville on US Airways.
The saving grace was that borderline-luxurious flight on Singapore, which included two full meals in economy, plus between-meal snacks, served up by an attentive, courteous flight crew. To top it off, I caught four great films I’d either been meaning to see for a while, or figured, “why the hell not?”: Frankenweenie (Tim Burton!), Oslo, August 31st (poignant and evocative), ParaNorman (EXCELLENT soundtrack), and Vertigo (one of the few Hitchcock opuses I hadn’t seen).
And though I’m still unsure when exactly I’ll be returning to Germany, I did make it home in time to catch the 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon on TBS. All is right with the world.
Merry Christmas, everybody!