German customs - a field report

...21 days to go: Visit to the inland customs office in Amberg.

We haven't started yet and therefore haven't crossed a border yet, but we had an encounter of the third kind with customs anyway.

Der deutsche Zoll ist nicht gerade ein Ort der Gemütlichkeit.

Even without crossing a border, one can get problems with the German customs.

A package from America

At the beginning of November we have won the company Flowtoys from America as a sponsoring partner, which provides us with a great equipment of light juggling materials for street art. But after the confirmation that the package was posted, we didn't hear anything about it at all. At first we didn't worry about it either. After all, the stuff had to be hauled around half the planet and that can take time. But it shouldn't have been more than two weeks after all. Slowly we got nervous and asked once. As it turned out, Izzy, our contact person at Flowtoys, had even sent the package by express.

Lost in the bureaucracy

It had also not been kidnapped, stolen or lost en route. No, it had been lying at the Amberg customs office for two weeks and was bored in a dark storage room. But for some reason they had forgotten to inform us about it. Why should they, because it was much more exciting that way! Scavenger hunts have fascinated me already as a child and I haven't had such a good one for a long time! According to the parcel tracking number, the parcel was at the post office in Neumarkt.

Leicht geht im Sumpf der Bürokratie so einiges verloren.

It is easy to lose a lot in the swamp of bureaucracy.

Service desert German customs

According to the Neumarkt post office, the parcel was lying in some customs office. You have to call there and ask. Either in Nuremberg or in Amberg. The customs officer from Nuremberg, who advised me on the phone as friendly as if I had just shot him in the knee on purpose, told me in circumstantial and professional words that he had no idea. He said that he couldn't and didn't want to use the parcel tracking number and that it wasn't his area of responsibility at all, and besides, the weather sucks and wherever I'm calling, I'm probably also to blame for the lousy world economy, climate change and his marriage crisis. Apart from that I should turn to DHL, because they are responsible for sending parcels.

Jede Menge Papierkram macht die Dinge nicht unbedingt leichter.

A lot of paperwork does not necessarily make things easier.

Trapped in bureaucracy madness

The DHL man was much friendlier, but just as unhelpful. Yes, customs really can't do anything with the package numbers, as they assign their own numbers as a precaution. Otherwise someone might get the idea that the system makes sense. After all, I now knew that the parcel had to be at the customs office in Amberg, because that was responsible for Neumarkt. The Amberg official was in no way inferior to his colleague from Nuremberg in terms of unfriendliness.

While I was still thinking about whether I should really shoot him in the knee to give his impressively dismissive attitude an obvious reason, I found out that he had the package and that it was still being processed. The problem now was how to get a bullet through the phone receiver into his knee without breaking the connection. I therefore decided to refrain from physical violence and use verbal combat. I explained to him in clear and forceful terms that we absolutely needed the package this week and that there was no time for long bureaucratic madness.

Diese Bürokratie ist zum Verrückt werden.

This bureaucracy at German customs is enough to drive you crazy.

Off to the customs station

Thereupon he explained with just as clear and emphatic words that I could pick up the package if I absolutely had to, but that I had to bring the invoice with a list of the value. On the phone he did not want to believe that the parcel was a gift. A few hours later we were standing in front of the customs office in Amberg with an invoice for 0,00 €. The building was about as inviting as a juvenile detention centre. It greeted its guests with a wide, sterile corridor, from which on the left and on the right were glass cages with officials inside. On the left sat those who were responsible for the export of parcels, on the right those responsible for imports. I turned to the first manned counter on the right.

So viel Bürokratie für ein kleines Paket.

So much bureaucracy for a small package.

Deliberately uncomfortable

Behind it sat a little fat man and told me through a hatch in the glass that I should sit down and wait my turn. So I tried to make myself comfortable on the wooden platforms, which were constructed in such a way that just looking at them made your bottom hurt. Heiko and I thought about whether there might be a system after customs stations, schools, employment offices and the like were deliberately built in such a way that you could only feel uncomfortable in them.

Was there probably a casting for architects, where the jury decided on factors such as sterility, inconvenience and uncomfortability? "Thank you very much Mr. Hallhuber for your architectural design, but unfortunately we cannot implement it like this! The building that they propose has a comfort factor of around 10%, which is 7% above the limit. But if we leave out the ceiling cladding so that you can see the bare, stained concrete and if we choose the wall cladding in this yellow-brown shade, which would be too old-fashioned even for my great-grandmother, then it could work.

Anträger über Anträge

Applicants on applications. This is German customs at its best.

An environment that spoils the mood

Slowly I understood why the officials were so unfriendly. We could hardly stand it if we were only here for 10 minutes, but the boys had to spend most of their lives here. The only way to survive was to put your feelings about the confiscated drugs, snake skin bags and cigarettes on the shelf and become a zombie. We were called and sent to zombie number five, the man I had talked to on the phone before. When I saw him, I realized that I had been very good at saving my bullet for him, because this man had shot himself in the knee with his career choice a very long time ago.

Without a word of greeting, he reached for our Flowtoys bill and looked at it sceptically. Then he told us to wait again. We used the time to plan our route for the next 11,000 kilometres through Europe on a yellowed map of Europe on the wall. When we were finished, we started to read through all the information about customs regulations, the success against drug smuggling and the danger of dubious drug dealers.

A profession that creates zombies

After we ran out of reading material here too, we started to observe the zombies in their glass cages. Apart from one woman, who stared dreamily at her screen with open mouth and staring dreamily at us, there were only men around fifty. All had exactly the same mood, the same figure, the same charisma and the same style of dress. Was that a hiring criterion? Or was it simply the result of years of perseverance in this building? If I had thought until now that the mail was slow, I had to put this picture into perspective in view of what we have seen here. Besides us, there were three other visitors in the corridor and there were four or five officials per area of responsibility. Nevertheless, we had been waiting for half an hour already, without which something big would have happened. Our trusted official came crawling out of his office cage and asked without hesitation: "Are you serious about the bill?" Heiko and I looked at each other. "Sorry?"
Es bleibt ein Drahtseilakt

It remains a tightrope act

"Are you serious about a $0.00 bill?"

A slightly sarcastic voice in my head replied: "No, we were just thinking about how we could stir up the shop a bit and thought that such a bill without any amount for a gift would surely be a lot of fun!

Killing Time at German Customs

I said out loud, however, that the bill was serious and that the package was - as mentioned before - a sponsorship. Thereupon he disappeared without comment and let us wait again. Unfortunately we slowly ran out of employment opportunities. Fortunately we discovered a free magazine about Amberg on a counter. It was the kind of magazine that was so boring that you could only display it in places like this, otherwise no one would ever read it. In fact, it was so boring that the authors couldn't even proofread it because they would have fallen asleep otherwise.

Even inconvenience is not free

When the zombie official finally emerged from the catacombs of the customs office with our parcel and saw that we were amused about all kinds of things in his realm, he looked at us in astonishment. His expression left no doubt that we were the first people to laugh in these rooms in the last 10 years. Against a signature, the confirmation that the package was really a sponsoring gift, and we did not intend to resell it and for a storage fee of €7,50 we got our Flowtoys handed over.

"Wait a minute, are you serious?" I asked the man.

"Excuse me?"

Noch ein Sprung, dann ist es geschafft

One more jump, then it's done

"Am I to understand that we're paying €7.5 because our package was stored here instead of being delivered to us?" Obviously, I got that right. This is really bureaucracy at its finest. It's not like we asked for the package to be stored at customs. "Excuse me, but could you store our shipment from the USA for two or three weeks? We don't know where to put it at home, and we'd like a little more thrill before the trip if we don't know where our equipment is. We would then also like to drive the 60 km to Amberg to pick it up..."

Thanks for the entertainment

After all, the customs with its bizarreness gave us a very amusing and funny afternoon. We would like to thank you very much for that. Of course, we would like to thank Flowtoys even more for the great juggling utensils with which we will soon practice and perform. For all of you who want to have a foretaste, here is already a video.

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