Thursday, February 27, 2014

In search of an EU passport

For me, a passport for an EU country would be a gift from God, the holy grail, a map to Shangri la. So many fears and anxieties about staying in Europe would be lifted if I could somehow get my hands on that lovely burgundy booklet. Unfortunately, the countries that I have resided in, Denmark and Germany, do not make it easy. At all. 

To qualify for permanent residence in Denmark, one has to to first qualify for a residence permit and then keep it for at least 5 years. Only then are you eligible for a passport from that nation. Considering that even getting a residence permit in Denmark is, in and of itself, a great feat, keeping one for 5 years seems to reside in the realm of impossiblity. 

Germany also has a 5 year residence rule required for permanent residence, but it is possible to have this waived if you are a highly qualified immigrant. 

I have not lived in any one place for five years and while I think of myself as extremely talented, others have refused to refer to me as highly qualified. Therefore, obtaining permanent residence at this point in time seems unlikely. 

That was, until I remembered my father.....

My mom, dad, older brother, and great grandmother

He and my mom separated when I was really small and I have had no relationship with the man since then. No birthday cards, no well wishes, no child support for more than 25 years. But, he was Portuguese. And Portugal is part of the European Union. So there is the smallest sliver of hope that I can jump over the waiting periods and other arduous requirements and procure that sweet piece of immigrant gold. 

Since he and I had no relationship, this route is only marginally easier that my other options. To obtain my Portuguese citizenship, I have to prove that he was one. That means finding his original passport or naturalization papers and Portuguese birth certificate. Then I have to prove that he was my father by providing my long form birth certificate and my parents' marriage license. 

A preliminary search revealed his petition for naturalization. From there, I have to track down his naturalization application to find out where in Portugal he was born. Then I have to contact authorities in Portugal to request his birth certificate. The search also revealed that he passed away in 1997, so I'll have to supply a copy of his death certificate along with my birth certificate in order for them to release such sensitive information to me. Is your head spinning yet? 

I have no idea where this adventure is going to lead and I have no idea if it is going to be successful. But considering that I packed up all of my belongings and made the trip to Europe with little more than a hope and a dream, this part seems easy. And the worst thing that could happen is I discover more about a part of my identity that has long been ignored. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Looking for a quiet place

If you're like me, getting work done at your house can be extremely difficult. Sitting in one's bed does not have the same formality as sitting at a desk. Since it doesn't really feel like work, taking a Facebook break every now and then feels totally normal. Until Facebook leads you down a Google hole and before you know it, several hours have passed and you have accomplished less than half of the tasks on your to-do list. So what are your options? 

When I lived in New York, my favorite study places were the Stephen A. Schwarzman building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street or the Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL) at Madison Ave and 34th Street. The former was the library with the famous lions and history filled the building. The latter was much more modern, but both places felt like great halls of knowledge. To me, they were like places of worship, and I immediately felt calm and serene when I walked through their doors. 

Reading Room at the Stephen A. Schwarzman building.

Lobby and lower level of SIBL. Photo:

In Copenhagen, the Black Diamond became my place of respite. Again, the reading room in the old part of the library felt like old knowledge and I could imagine the students before me, huddled over their texts, furiously writing essays. The Black Diamond had an added bonus of a cafe in the atrium which served the best hot chocolate I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. And if you were lucky, you could snag a free glass of wine during performances at the theater on the ground floor. 

But now I am in Germany and it has taken some time to find the right place that can be used as my surrogate office. My first thought was to find a nice library. But that proved more complicated than I originally thought. Most libraries in Munich have closed networks which require a student ID to access. Since I am no longer in school, this was not possible. But a thread on Toytown Germany said that you can get around this by signing up for a library card. I followed their advice and can confirm its accuracy. The only caveats are you need to have a valid residence permit and passport. Also, it does not give you access to all of the libraries and so far, the only one that I have been successful with is the Bavarian State Library (also known as Stabi) on Ludwigstrasse, which is also where I got my library card. I only tried it at two libraries, so your experience may be different. 

Another thing you should be aware of if you decide to come to Stabi is the place has one main reading room which gets packed. I came once on a Saturday afternoon and there were no seats available, at all. It was so crowded that students actually took to sitting and working on the stairs. My second attempt was successful, but at 10:30 on a Friday, there were only a few chairs to choose from. So come early or stay at home. 

The alternative to libraries would be a coffee shop. But, unlike many cities, WiFi is not a given and I have found far too many coffee shops without internet. Even more disturbing is the Coffee Fellows near Hauptbahnhof which actually charges for internet! If I can correctly recall the prices, I believe it was 10 euros for two hours and 20 euros for 4. WTF? Granted, if you buy food, the price of your items will be applied to the fee and I think it also granted you access to the multi-function machine. But still, 10 euros?

Luckily, I live in a cool part of town and discovered the place that has satisfied my needs, Trachtenvogl. The atmosphere is cool, the seating comfy, and the staff laid back. I can order a coffee for less than three euro, and stay there as long as I want, without any hassle or dirty looks from the waitstaff. And their music selection is on point, ranging from folk, rock, funk, and chill hip-hop. 

Look at all the Macs!
Trachtenvogl can also get crowded later in the evening and on the weekend. But many of the tables are large enough to share and can accommodate a big group or several small ones. 

If you're in the Munich area and have discovered the perfect work location, I'd love to hear about it. I'm always on the lookout for new spots and I'm pretty sure the people at Trachtenvogl will soon tire of me. At least I hope not.