Crushed By Paperwork: A Personal Tale Of Getting A Berlin Artist Visa

A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am.” – Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller

I vividly remember when I first moved to Berlin last summer. After tiredly exiting Tegel airport and arriving into Kreuzberg, I was greeted to a home filled with young artists roaming the streets excitedly with a beer in their hands and a glimmer of optimism in their eyes. The air was fresh back then––autumn was creeping in around the corner, and I knew that I wanted to breathe in as much as I could before the Siberian winter would blanket all my senses. Although this would soon change, at the time I had no plans to extend my stay beyond the 90-day visa reserved for those coming outside the Schengen Area. Yet after a few kebabs, uncountable late nights (that bled into days), and innumerable art exhibitions visited, I knew that I had to remain in Berlin. When the leaves turned brown and fell as the first snow arrived, I instigated the tiring procedure of getting the coveted artist visa.  As known by potentially over 40,000 individuals already, this would be one of the most stressful yet fulfilling chores of my life. This is that story.

The Romantic Beginning

Half a century ago American author Henry Miller published the gritty and inspirational novel Tropic Of Cancer that detailed the romantic lifestyle of expatriates in 1930s Paris. Like Hemingway and Ezra Pound (Ezra exchanged poetry lessons for Ernest's boxing tips!), Miller looked across the Atlantic for a new home. Years later artists are repeating that history here in Berlin. Partially thanks to the current mayor, Klaus Wowereit, who sought to fulfill his dictum "Berlin ist arm, aber sexy" (poor but sexy) by allowing artists to obtain easily a freelance work visa. While there has been protest against this increase in the city's expat inhabitants, creatives are not deterred to remain in Berlin. The effort to make this dream a reality, however, is easier said than done.

For those that aren’t fluent in German, every step in getting the visa is a challenge. First you must prove that you have a permanent residence in the Berlin. Since most of us are subletting until we know we that can afford to rent an apartment, the best thing to do is to bring a rental contract and your personal papers to your local Bürgeramt. Here they will give you a wonderful piece of paper that officially declares that you are a resident of the city. I remember the morning I went: after waiting for my number to be called, I sat on the other side of a desk where an older woman examined my rental contract. After 10 minutes she slammed a fat, black stamp adorned with the infamous Berliner bear and smiled as she handed me my documents. The feeling was amazing––my first step was over. Little did I know of the ordeal ahead of me.