I’m going to tell you about the time I talked my way into a visa at the Consulate General of France in Germany. A few years ago, I was studying in Berlin for a brief period of time. Before my student visa expired, I decided that I wanted to spend some more time in Europe, about six months. But, with an American passport, I could only stay in the EU for 90 days, after which I would need to go elsewhere for 90 days before I was eligible to return. The immigration offices in Berlin are notorious, and it is common for people to wait six months or a year to get a visa appointment.

I didn’t have that kind of time. So, I did a little research, and realized that I could get a long-stay “visitor” visa for up to six months from France, which would allow me to bop around Europe without worry. But I would have to go to the Consulate General of France to get one, and there wasn’t one in Berlin. So I would have to go to Frankfurt.

I booked an (expensive) train from Berlin to Frankfurt, crashing in a hostel overnight and arriving at the Consulate General in the morning for my 10 AM appointment.

After waiting my turn, and laying out my extensive collection of documents, a consulate employee (we’ll call him Jacques) reviewed my application. He told me everything looked good, and seemed about to approve it, when he paused and squinted at my German visa.

Jacques then explained that my visa needed to be active for three weeks out from the current date, but it was set to expire in two. Typically, he said, two weeks would suffice, but most of the office was about to go on vacation for the next two weeks, and there wouldn’t be anyone here to process my new visa in time. (How French, I thought.)

My visa application had been rejected, because I didn’t have proof that I wouldn’t overstay my current visa while waiting for the new one.

“But what if I can get something saying it’s okay?” I said. He shrugged. “You’d have to bring it back before we close at twelve.”

That’s right—they were only open between the hours of 8:45 AM and noon. And I’d eaten up a lot of time—I had an hour to get them what they needed. I was panicking. I couldn’t stay another day; I had a train in the morning. I couldn’t afford to make the trip down again. I didn’t know what to do.

I ran to find the nearest cafe with wifi, and started digging around. I’d been told that, because the situation in Berlin was so backed up, there was a legal gray area when it came to visa renewals. Allegedly, if you emailed the immigration office and notified them that you were unable to get an appointment, you were placed in a holding pattern, where your visa was considered unofficially extended, and you could continue to work or study in Germany, so long as you didn’t leave the country.

I sent my email, not sure what to expect, and immediately received an automatic reply. The note said, effectively, that they would take their sweet time getting back to me. But it also said that, if I had written requesting a visa extension, this email exchange would be classified as an application, and I would be able to stay in Germany under the stipulations of my original visa.

I ran (literally) back to the consulate. It was just a few minutes past noon, and the gates were closed, with no one in sight. I banged on the gates, ringing and ringing the bell, until someone came out. I explained the situation and he let me through the gates, then called up for Jacques.

Jacques came down, slightly bemused, and found the keys to reopen the office, noting that the staff had already gone to lunch. He looked at the email on my phone, then called over a woman, who appeared to be his superior, to advise. What followed was some of the finest BS I have ever produced in my life. I explained to them, with a smile on my face, that this was exactly what they had asked for, and that everyone in Germany was well aware of this little legal loophole.

For twenty minutes, I watched them argue, with her continuously saying, “C’est pas possible,” and shaking her head. Since it was an automatic email, not from an actual person, she didn’t think it qualified. I figured she was already a little pissed to be distracted from her lunch, so I stayed as quiet as possible, barely breathing.

Eventually, the woman flicked her wrist like she was done with the whole situation, and left. Jacques turned to me and smiled: I had been approved. He just needed the return envelope so they could mail my passport back.

Well, guess what? The one I brought wasn’t the right kind. (It needed to be padded.) It was easily 1 PM by this point, and I asked him if I could rush out and grab one, real quick.

I was out the door before he’d finished nodding, looking for a post office. But, of course, it was the midday lunch break, and everything was closed. I went to four shops all around town before I found one selling what I needed.

I rushed back, convinced that they wouldn’t let me in again. Again, much ringing of the doorbell; again, much waiting for Jacques to return. I nearly cried when I handed him the envelope and he nodded, and said I should expect my package in a few weeks. (JK, I absolutely cried several times that day.)

Anyhow, after this very stressful day, I was able to spend two months traveling around France, and then enjoy the rest of the summer in Berlin with my friends. So it just goes to show that, with a little persistence, you can turn any “C’est pas possible” into an exasperated shrug of acquiescence.

Catherine Rickman

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