September 18th, 2010
Berlin, Germany

Turns out we’re going to be in Berlin until the end of October. This is because of how shockingly time-consuming and difficult it is for Chris to apply for a British working visa. Earlier this year the British government, in its infinite wisdom, decided to privatise the visa application process and hand it over to a company called Worldbridge. We’d already tried to figure out the Worldbridge application process on their website back in Beijing, but finding that it was akin to getting blood from a stone, figured we could just go talk to someone face-to-face at the consulate in Berlin. Instead we found ourselves rebuffed by the guards out the front, told to go apply online.

“You should write something up about Worldbridge for the blog,” I said a few days later, after Chris had spent most of his time in Berlin clicking through their labyrinthine website, or making phone calls to dead numbers.

“With pleasure,” he said.

If I were to describe them in one sentence it would be this: “Unbelievably, incomprehensibly, impossibly, unfathomably shitting awful.” I’m confident we all know who I’m talking about; that’s right, Worldbridge, the chosen contractor of the United Kingdom Border Agency.

I’ve spent more than twenty fucking hours of my time in Berlin fighting this Chaos Snail with barely anything to show for it. It is easier to get into fucking Russia you stupid stupid dick of a company. The web layout is that of an overconfident twelve year old whose daddy gave him the job because the previous graphic designer died the day before; the so called ‘help’ section is as informing as a drunk Vietnamese hotel manager; the contact numbers and email addresses are no-numbers and dead ends and the ten or so questions asking if I am a terrorist were just frankly a waste of everybody’s time. I wouldn’t be a very good one if I just fucking told you would I? I mean seriously, ‘Are you a terrorist?’ ‘Do you think that you are a person of good or bad character?’ ‘Oh yeah I’m actually thinking of shooting the Queen, soooo… can you let me in now?’

I have completed the Online Application – nearly killing myself in the process – and have scheduled an appointment and biometrics test on, get this, the 28th of September. That is a whole two weeks from the day we landed in Berlin. That’s two weeks until just the interview. And then, only then will they send my application and documents and passport off to the UK to be processed. Once they’ve been sent off, I have to wait a further three working weeks until I get a reply; a reply that could either be well deserved yes, or a big, wet, heavy slap-in-the-face no.

I cannot express how difficult it has been to get as far as I have in this visa clusterfuck. I’m still yet to compile the required documents for the interview. But here’s the real kicker: the list of required documents link is broken. It is a dead link. I literally cannot get this visa without the correct documents, and yet the incompetence of the company whose sole purpose is to help people get these visas is preventing me from getting the information I need. I turned helplessly to the ‘contact us’ section. And after wading through swamps of thick red tape, I eventually found an email address to some legal department.

‘To whom it may concern. My name is Chris and I have a problem. I have an appointment booked on the 28th of September 2010 for a UK Youth Mobility Visa. In order to gain this visa I need to provide the correct documents. I have found the link that is supposed to provide me with a list of these documents but it is broken and does not lead me to any answers. Why do you have to make things so hard? What did I do wrong? It’s like I didn’t leave Asia at all. Are you trying to push me to the edge? Are you all evil dinosaur monsters from hell?’

I totally said that.

I’m still waiting on a reply. Until then I am stuck up shit creek without a paddle… or a boat. And by shit creek I mean lovely Berlin.

Googling around, it seems clear that Worldbridge has frustrated many a prospective immigrant, and I agree with this fellow who argues that Woldbridge is designed to prevent people with credit cards and internet access from getting a visa. But the fact that it has generated only this small amount of outrage is mind-boggling. As far as I can tell it’s been rolled out across the board, in every country, for every type of visa. And the amount of people who apply for British working visas every year must be at least a hundred thousand. Maybe it’s just the Berlin office that’s a bunch of incompetent idiots who sit around all day throwing pencils into the ceiling, but even then, the website is a staggering black hole of customer service. I thought the point of privatisation was to make things more efficient? I’ve a good mind to write an angry letter to the Home Secretary.

So anyway, Chris’ appointment is on the 28th, and he won’t even get a visa for weeks afterwards, so we’re in Berlin for quite a while. We were trying to find a decent hostel that wasn’t booked out when it occurred to me that we could just rent a short-let apartment.

We applied through two different English-language real estate agencies, and fired off emails to about ten ads on craigslist, which I have now discovered to be a festering swamp of con artists. I’ve receieved no less than three emails from separate charlatans who claim to be living in London or West Africa, and who for some reason have the apartment keys with them, but will mail them to us as soon as they receive payment. They’re sorry we can’t see the apartment first, but they can give us the street address so we can go look at it from the outside. I have replied to every one of these emails with a query about how many suckers per month they manage to fool, because I’m genuinely curious. Seriously, what the fuck? Even if they were legit, are we supposed to just sleep in the hallway until the keys arrive?

We did go see a genuine apartment offer today, but two Finnish girls were moving in at the beginning of October. We were therefore going to have it for just one week and move there tomorrow (because it beats a hostel, even if it’s just for a week) but Chris emailed the Finns and asked if they’d be okay with sharing for an extra three weeks. They are, so on the plus side we have an apartment and will be saving a lot on rent (750 euros a month, split between four) but on the downside we’ll still be sharing a room. Hey, at least it won’t be as bad as the hallway-sized room we have at this hostel, with a bunk bed that squeaks like a hammock made out of rusty paperclips.

In the meantime we’ve been exploring Berlin. It’s wonderful to once again be in a city that’s a pleasure to simply walk around in. By my Australian sensibilities it’s fairly cold most days, despite only being the first month of autumn. I can’t imagine what January must be like. In any case I love it – you all read my bitching and moaning about the heat in South-East Asia.

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There’s a lot of graffiti in Berlin, some of which is actually very good public art. And this cool little plaza, which was like a funhouse attraction:

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Edit, September 30: Chris came into my room a moment ago after talking to one of our roommates and said, “Dude, you know that funhouse thing? The big tall pillars that we climbed up and messed around in?”

“Yeah, why?”

“It’s a Holocaust memorial!”

At which point I shrieked in horror. Turns out it is indeed the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and we are deeply sorry for treating it like an amusement park. In our defence, all the other tourists were too, probably because (as Wikipedia points out), “Nowhere inside the memorial, or around it, does it say what it commemorates.”

These swans are the wrong colour!

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We wandered through a park, saw a squirrel and some statues, enjoyed the brisk weather.

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Here’s the Reichstag from the other side of ther river, where you can’t see the ranked buses and crowds of elderly tourists:

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I’m sure we’ll do a lot more exploring in the many unemployed weeks to come.

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