Visit to the Job Center

Seeing as how WiseKid turns 18 next month and still is not gainfully employed, and has not made any motions of applying for a job, I marched him down to the "Job Center" today. That is what they now call the unemployment office.

A large building, with crowd-control waiting line ropes - space for a couple of hundred people waiting for a number. We are lucky, only about a dozen people in front of us. The atmosphere is charged - angry people, exasperated clerks. There are 13 clerks handling check in. We approach our clerk, I smile, greet her, and explain that I want him to apply for unemployment.

"Are you yourself a customer of ours?"

Tick.Tick.Tick. Right, they call the supplicants "customers" now. Newspeak right and left! We get a little note saying where we are to go, and are permitted to take a number. When our turn is called, we explain to the woman what we want. "Oh, no," she says, "you are in the Wrong Office."

This is a game that German officials love to play. They publish ornate web pages and print up brochures at taxpayer's expense that you study in order to determine a) where to go and b) what to take with you. Experienced people just take a shopping bag with all the documentation you have ever officially received. Because the first attempt to ward you off will be "You are in the Wrong Office." The second one is: "Do you have documentation on X?" X being something they think you don't have with you, like your vaccination records or your rental agreement.

I ask if the purpose of a job center is not actually to help people find jobs. She looks at me incredulously. People here only want money, I suppose, not jobs. She writes down the address for us and shoos us away. Good job I've got the car, it would be a long walk.

Outside WiseKid breaks out in giggles. "That was soooo funny," he bubbles. "They were so nice and polite to you. When I go with friends, they are really nasty to me."

The next place is actually quite nice-looking. Blue walls, a water fountain bubbling. We get in here quickly, too, this is starting to look too easy. We get a waiting number, and are soon shown into an office where three cases are being discussed at a high volume level at the same time.

I present our case. "Oh no," she says. "He can't apply for unemployment. You have to support him until he is 26." WTF? I paid a lawyer who told me that he could, under special circumstances. I ask her to please quote me chapter and verse on this.

She gets flustered, asks her colleague. He starts rifling through a booklet, desperately looking for the right paragraph. She finally decides to let us have the forms, cautioning that we will just get a "No" if we submit them. Fine. That's all I want. She types some stuff into her computer and it spits out a centimeter's worth of paper. The forms are written in Amtsdeutsch, a special kind of German that is supposed to be precise but is in general just not understandable.

We go outside to wait. And wait. And wait. WiseKid would have left by now. He goes for a smoke, comes back, we wait. I read the booklet. Aha, here it is: special circumstances.

After quite some time we get to speak with a very competent lady who makes very good suggestions. I do hope this works out, as I think she will be good for him.

At home we start to attack the pile of paper. It is worse than a tax form. You need to put in all the numbers you have ever had in your life. And dates. And make photocopys. And put in numbers. And sign all over the place.

It's about a third of the way done, his next appointment is on Thursday. Now I understand why most of the shops on the way to the Job Center were all either lawyer's offices or form-filler-outers. The rest had bread and booze.

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