How to move to Berlin in 2016 or 2017, part 2: Registration!

Registered Future Past Suzanne Forbes Aug 24 2016About moving to Berlin: It’s a PROCESS!

There are multiple stages to moving to Berlin. Which ones you trigger first has a lot to do with your goals. If you just want to live here for a while, you can skip many of them. But since a huge, huge part of the benefits of living here come from integrating into the system, you should seriously consider it.

Benefits of living in Berlin as a peripatetic foreigner: housing still much cheaper than London, Paris, New York. Bars don’t have a closing time. Doner kebab for 3 euros.

Benefits of living in Berlin as a person whose hope is to become a citizen or permanent resident: incredible state or “public” healthcare plans much better value than private insurance, state pension, disability and long-term care plans, unemployment insurance, state-subsidized healthcare plan for artists, fantastic rent-control and tenants’ protection,  12-14 months parental leave and four weeks vacation for full-time employees, strong employment protections, the crazy concept of perfect credit as a default state.

I won’t lie to you: integrating into the system is a significant, front-loaded hassle.

But once you’re in, SO MANY of the things in your life that made you miserable in the US will be either gone or easier, cheaper and better. You just can’t imagine how much better things will be until you experience it. Unless you’re Canadian.

Let’s talk about the stage that I see the least discussion of outside of Germany: registration.

To reside in Berlin, rather than visit, you must be registered with your local burgeramt. You can do this without a visa, which is good, because you should do it within two weeks of moving into a new home. Whenever you move, you have to do it again, within two weeks. That’s right, you have register where you live with the German government. Sounds injudicious at best, huh? But it turns out that a) it’s the first stage of a cascade effect of integrating into the system that has many benefits and b) you have to do it. Just stop thinking about it and do it.

How? You go to the burgeramt. It’s like the neighborhood administration center.

burgeramtWhether you have to go to the one in your neighborhood or any burgeramt in Berlin seems to be in flux; check (gag) Facebook* for the latest status. Whether you can make an appointment online or you have to go and wait for hours also seems to be in flux. Your burgeramt might be in a huge government building, or it might be a little office in a mall. Again, check Facebook. Bring your passport.

You’ll need your passport for everything you do in the beginning. And technically, as a foreigner, you’re supposed to carry your passport at all times.

I had a passport card made when I got my latest passport, and I carry that. But our bank, for example, finds it unacceptable. For registration you’ll need a form called Einzugsbestätigung des Wohnungsgebers from the person who is the primary lease-holder or owner of the place you’re staying. You should prolly bring your lease too.

Registration generates a German Identification number for foreigners, aka Tax Number. You will need this number for most things. Registration starts the clock for so much; you simply can’t truly live here until you do it.

When registering, you MUST record your religious or non-religious status. If you leave the Religion box blank, you will not be subject to the 8-9% Kirchensteuer or Church Tax. (You also won’t be able to get married in a church or take communion. Not kidding. This is all real.) There is also a place on the form to put “VD” or “Verschiedene”, which means godless heathen I guess?

Bring someone who speaks German to every amt you go to. “Everybody” speaks English in Berlin, if they work in a third-wave coffee shop.

Nobody speaks English at any of the -amts, unless you get really lucky. And even if they do speak English, they won’t speak it with you. Why? Because Germans are stern judges about their English skills; they don’t speak it as a first choice unless they speak it really well. Or they may be pissed about you and your kind driving up the rents, or they just don’t like speaking English. I like to ask, “May we speak English?” before I say anything in English. It’s a tip from some blog I read; it gets consistently good results.

Here is the insane part of bureaucracy in Germany: it has a totally different end goal than bureaucracy in the US.

Here, the goal is to provide services to people. That’s it. There’s no catch. The lady at the burgeramt or health insurance company may *seem* rude and obstructive, but she’s just concerned with following the exact process she’s supposed to. Because following the process is seen as an intrinsic, collective good. She doesn’t want to prevent you from getting services. She doesn’t want to make you go away so she can move on to the next person, make a quota of denied claims, or protect her job from your possible lawsuit.

If you show yourself to be unbothered by the fact that there is a process, and willing to follow the correct procedure, you’ll be working together to get what you need in no time. If you say you need this thing, and you didn’t know you did the wrong step first or you should have had an appointment, she will sigh heavily, roll her eyes, possibly actually yell at you, but she will help you. There’s no benefit to her in blocking you- in a social welfare state, it all works better when everybody gets their needs met.

Get off on the right foot by respecting the fact that you’re a guest in their country.

Indicate you respect its rules and its love of rules. Then they’ll consider breaking them for you. What? Yeah, Germans break their systemic rules all the time. They just want to know the reason.

Helpful links: My German Expert, updated anmeldung guide at My German Expert, How to Leave The Church, guide at Red Tape Translation and the wiki of miserable expat board Toytown.

Next: VISAS!

*Facebook is so useful for expats that I had to open an account, after having deleted my US one a while back. The new one is under my legal name and is strictly for useful stuff; I hope to delete it soon.

*Note: I realize the joke of the drawing is in questionable taste. Once I thought of it I had to draw it, and I might have resisted posting it except it came out so well….

 

Painting Mitch Altman at 3am.

Mitch was here in Berlin, so of course I had to ask if I could paint his picture! He was a great model, and this watercolor thing is SO FUN!Mitch Altman in Berlin By Suzanne Forbes Aug 22 2016

Field trip with ESDIP Berlin Summer Illustration students!

What an incredible pleasure it’s been working with the talented group of students we had!esdip Berlin summer illustration students Aug 20 2016 Suzanne Forbes

I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have met these gifted young women (and one fellow!) and shared some of the knowledge I worked so hard for. Although the ESDIP Summer Illustration program was over, I couldn’t say goodbye to these amazing artists yet.

So we went on a bus ride on the M29 and did some drawings.

drawing by Shine - Hyungbok Shin August 20 2016

drawing by Shine – Hyungbok Shin August 20 2016

bus M29 by Ana Vigueras

bus M29 by Ana Vigueras

Then we got off the bus and went to my house! Where we made more drawings.drawing by Suzanne Forbes Aug 20 2016

Drawing of Suzanne Forbes by Shine August 20 2016

Drawing of Suzanne Forbes by Shine H.B. August 20 2016

If I was one-tenth as helpful and supportive to these women as Trina Robbins was to me at their age, I’ll be delighted.

drawing of Suzanne Forbes by Sara Pinilla Aug 20 2016

drawing of Suzanne Forbes by Sara Pinilla Aug 20 2016

Visiting Trina and her much younger partner Steve Leialoha in their Mission house in 1986 and 1997 had a huge impact on me.

Trina’s warmth, her humility even though she was already a comics legend, her compassion and kindness- all inspired me to become to a person who would have something to give to the next generation of women artists.

And the fact that she lived with a tall thin dark-haired younger man in a big magical apartment full of history and mystery, in a cool city, may have been formative for me as well.

I watched Xena Warrior Princess with Trina one time; you could not ask for a better moment to shape you.

drawing of Suzanne Forbes by Elaine Oller Aug 20 2016

drawing of Suzanne Forbes by Elaine Oller Aug 20 2016

I have so much hope and excitement about what these young artists will do. I can’t wait to see!

Update: check out Ana Viguera‘s work at her Instagrams of beautiful drawings and photos!

If you want to get in my next class, I’m teaching Perspective For Masochists again at ESDIP Berlin starting October 4th.

 

ESDIP summer students and teachers 2016

ESDIP summer students and teachers 2016

Watercoloring my Never-Muse.

When you live in Berlin, lots of people visit.

My Never-Muse comes to Berlin all the time. I had been planning watercolors of her since she went pastelgoth last year. I hadn’t painted a watercolor portrait in a very, very long time- 25 years. I did do a little watercolor experimentation to warm up earlier this summer.
E in Berlin by Suzanne Forbes August 19 2016

Eva in Berlin August 19 2016 by Suzanne ForbesI started the painting above, then set it aside to dry for a while and did this other one. When I came back to the first painting, we were talking about some very heavy things, and that’s why she looks so sad.

I feel like sadness is a part of life and sharing it with friends is a way to make peace with it, so I don’t mind that she looks sad.

I’m glad we did two though.

I was so happy to spend a day making art with my Never-Muse again.

 

Is this prettiest creepy thing I’ve ever made? I think so!

Suzanne Forbes beaded beetle August 2016I’ve been pretty much reeling with exhaustion after the sprint to finish (95%!) the house for the party, so I haven’t done that much art this month.

Suzanne Forbes beaded beetle August 2016I opted to ease back in with bead embroidery, which is the most pleasurable creative work imaginable to me.

Painting a portrait for me feels like a mix of a final exam you’re decently prepared for, a job interview ( I like job interviews though), a workout-to-exhaustion with weights, and learning to rollerskate (which I have not succeeded in).

Making a drawing varies from feeling like going to the office midway through a tough project that you have a good handle on, with co-workers you like, to going to the gym for aerobic exercise (which I hate doing but never regret having done).

Bead embroidery is like a cross between eating a delicious black-currant mousse cake and getting a back rub.

Suzanne Forbes beaded beetle August 2016I’d say it’s my version of smoking pot, except I quit smoking pot when I was fourteen because it did NOT agree with me- I fall in the very paranoid from thc camp. After the very, very bad month I had in July with PTSD and nightmares, I needed soothing art-making, and this project delivered.

I’m thrilled with how the flourishes of beadwork on the sides came out- I foresee quite a foray in this direction.

This one is not for sale, as I chose the colors specially for the salon, using the very last scrap of lime velvet from Aimee‘s grandma’s garage, but I could easily (and pleasurably) make similar ones, in the color themes of your choice.

My biggest big project of all, finally done. Well, 95% done.

The big reveal: our actual house! Holy cow, I worked so hard!
Suzanne Forbes decor SalonSeriously, I thought I was going to pass out 11 feet up on that ladder, so many times.Suzanne Forbes decor salon into library windowsAnd I hate painting walls.Suzanne Forbes decor salon into library easelBut my easel has a home again.Suzanne Forbes decor library

Suzanne Forbes decor library windowsI finished the hub’s room first, so he could relax in it. 13 boxes of his books were the first thing I unpacked when the shipping container came.Suzanne Forbes decor hallway mirrorSuzanne Forbes decor hallway

I’ve been obsessed with designing, collecting and curating my environment since I was a tiny child.

Suzanne Forbes decor hallwayI have always been terribly interested in things. Things made by hand, things that were kitsch, things that were weird, things that were old, things that were dead.

We finally have a home big enough for all of my weird stuff, and all my husband’s weird books.

Suzanne Forbes decor hallway creaturesPainting our house and the furniture I bought for it on eBay, and planning and building our kitchen and workshop (I designed it and constructed the cabinets but the actual building was done by the amazing Handyman For Berlin, James!) took about ten months.Suzanne Forbes decor hallway front door

Along with unpacking the 480 or so boxes that arrived on January 24 in the shipping container (again thanks to James, whose moving crew of good-natured Ozzies ran everything up the stairs).

Suzanne Forbes decor library into salonDecorating, hanging, and installing window treatments was in there too. James hung all the heavy artwork and other stuff, with me handing the tools up to him, and installed the window treatments, because I’d sworn I’d never fucking do it myself again.

James also installed all the light fixtures, which sometimes necessitated a hilarious degree of resourcefulness. Not only does your Berlin apartment come with an empty room with pipes sticking out instead of a kitchen, it comes with wires sticking out of the ceiling instead of light fixtures.

James hung endless hooks for things using his “Super-Drill”, an impact drill which is the only way to hang things on foot-thick, crumbly altbau concrete walls.Suzanne Forbes decor hallway fuse box

I bought the ram’s horn, porthole and ouroboros mirrors right before we left, knowing Berlin altbau apartments tend to long hallways and envisioning a Hall of Mysteries that would recall the one in The Dawn Treader.

The tin fish was listed on my packing list and shipping manifest as “fish from Gail’s abortion”, which is an even stranger and sadder story than you can possibly imagine. Eventually the fuse box door will be wallpapered in some quirky-ass FlavorPaper or Timorous Beasties print I can only afford a meter of. I also plan to wallpaper the salon double doors, and just haven’t got there yet.

I’d say my overall decorating scheme is at 95% here.

Suzanne Forbes decor Berkeley Flea lamp

James rewired this 1970s lamp I bought for ten bucks at the Berkeley Flea Market in 1998, as well as half a dozen other lamps. (European current and plugs and sockets are very, very different.) I gold-leafed five-euro mirrors from the discount store. I glue-gunned trim to all my eBay-score and email coupon chairs and sofas. I painted tables.

I assembled and stained countless pieces of heavily discounted furniture, and attached Anthropologie  knobs I’d been hoarding for a decade. I repaired broken things I bought for cheap with epoxy clay and paint. I made more shadowboxes, and frames, and converted lampshades. I built a new base for my dollhouse, and finished filling and decorating it at last.

I dug through boxes of my husband’s childhood mementoes to find his snowglobe collection, his piggy bank collection, his signed baseball and his sports trophies.

Suzanne Forbes decor libraryMy birthday gift to him was getting the special limited edition poster from HOPE 11 he brought home framed and hung immediately (above, sorry it’s blurry). On July 30 we had our housewarming/husband & Daria’s birthday party and revealed it to the world.

It was fantastic and joyful, and afterwards we slept for a combined total of 42 hours in a 24-hour period.

Suzanne Forbes decor Salon dollhouse

Suzanne Forbes decor workstudioJames came and took these pictures a day or two later, wisely recognising that parties are the only time our house is really clean.

That’s why there are like ten thousand bottles of wine on the counter- when you give a party in Europe, everyone brings booze. I’m ferrying it over to Daria a backpackfull at a time, since we have no use for it. The workshop is really a fine example of how beautifully James realized my crazy ideas.

The kitchen is going to be amazing once I sew and hang all the newsprint-patterned curtains over the open shelves. And once we get our dryer.

Because you can buy a dryer here, it’s just that people don’t, because the planet or something.Suzanne Forbes decor kitchen

Wow, I’m so tired from writing about how much work this was that I have to go lie down. Anyway, our house (except for some final details and making the bedroom nicer)!

Isn’t it completely amazing?

 

 

July Bricolage Roundup

Lampshade and lamp cords: Have you ever used spray-on fabric dye?

blue sinkI’d only used it once before. I needed to dye just the white pique cotton cutwork cuffs and collar of a black maid uniform I bought at the San Francisco uniform store red, for a “Servant of The Devil” costume. It worked pretty well in red. So I got some in blue and used it for a lampshade!

Kare lampI’d waited a year, constantly surveying prices, ’til I found a deal and bought this beautiful chandelier for the hallway. Then i found it  wasvery out of scale for even our huge hall. But it was perfect for the enormous salon.IMG_1853 - Edited

I still wanted the style for the hallway, though, to help sell its Alice theme. So I found a smaller model (Butler’s 30% off coupon- only a couple times a year, but I’m insanely patient!).

Unfortunately the smaller model had one white shade, and white cords.

Unacceptable!

lamp2I sprayed the lampshade in the sink and the cords on a turquoise towel. It worked pretty well- the white fixture got faintly blue, which I probably could have removed with a solvent, but twelve feet up in the dark hall, it was good enough for me.

IMG_1851 - EditedYou can set the dye with heat, either in an oven or by ironing; since neither of those was an option I used a blow dryer and hoped. James didn’t get blue hands when he hung it up, so I assume the dye is sufficiently set. It rinsed out of the sink with just a little bleach.

More furniture: gel stain on raw wood.

wardrobeWe have a place to put coats at last. This wardrobe was my first time using gel stain on raw wood. And as wonderful as it is on already stained surfaces, it’s a thousand times better on raw. It doesn’t raise the grain of the wood. You don’t have to sand between coats.

It’s almost aggressively nontoxic. You can put it on with a foam roller- the secret is to roll it on, then immediately drag the roller over the rolled area to smooth the finish. As a product, it’s highly mistake-tolerant. If you accidentally leave a thick rope of glopped-on stain, you can sand it and re-stain the same day. If you wipe it over an area of raw wood you didn’t mean to cover, you can wipe it off back off so it’s nearly undetectable.

Gel stain is an incredible product for someone like me, who does projects at breakneck speed and is also highly mistake-tolerant.

dresserI assembled and stained another Amazon-score dresser for our hallway, on the left- looks good, right? Gel stain, I’m tellin ya.

I remember spending hours in my mom’s backyard in my early twenties, using tradional stain and shellac, staining and sanding and staining and staining and sanding the cage for my first iguanas. It was horrible. I became intensely stain-phobic.

But now I’ll stain anything. Keep an eye on your dog around me.

My DIY modus is predicated on the 3 Laws of TV News:

  1. Get it Done

  2. Get it Right

  3. Make it Interesting

I learned them from a CNN reporter when I was a courtroom artist, and have since applied them to many things. Particularly to the next project:

My Passementerie Obsession and my glue gun love affair.

What is passementerie? It’s French for dust-catching textile! Ha ha no. Here is what it is.passementerie

Suzanne Forbes paintings with pink model chair 2005 09

 

I love adding trim to things; I will add trim to anything (see: keep an eye on your dog, above). The fastest and most effective way to do this to upholstered furniture is with a glue gun.

I had trimmed a lot of the furniture in my house in Berkeley in burgundy (burgundy is the goth khaki) bullion fringe to match the bullion fringe on my window treatments. It helped bring together the disparate thrift-shop and craigslist pieces while adding Victorian detail.

We left all that furniture behind in Oakland, including one piece I hadn’t planned to leave.

 

 

Tragically, I had to leave my pink model chair behind.

pink model chair Mark II - EditedThe terrible night of the shipping container loading, when for the last few hours Slim and I were alone in the dark trying to get everything in, it didn’t fit.

Although it was just a crappy yardsale 80s dusty mauve wing chair with twenty bucks worth of trim, it had appeared in a dozen or more paintings and I loved it. I had to ditch it outside the Hayward Salvation Army the next day, and I’m still grieving it.

So I was determined to get a new pink model chair.

blue chairThe one you see here was also stalked online for over a year, ’til the magic 30% Butlers coupon. The blue armchair and little bench I got earlier, with a 40% off BonPrix coupon! Subscribing to email newsletters and the patience to open every single one so your spam filter doesn’t start grabbing them, my dudes.vivienne on bench 2016 - Edited

I got the trims from UK eBay, another thing Brexit will ruin.

Suzanne Forbes bug frame 2016 So mostly furniture this month for making-stuff, besides Horribella, except this little frame I made for a dollar-store lenticular picture.

 

 

Berlin Graphic Days Nr. 8, July 2016

Daria and I had a table at the Summer Session of Berlin Graphic Days.Berlin Graphic Days Suzanne Forbes July 1 2016

Patrons Berlin Graphic Days July 1 2016 by Suzanne ForbesWe chose to be there only for the Night Market on Friday from 6pm to 2am, which was the right choice given my health challenges and Daria having a full-time art job.

However, there was definitely not as much action Friday night as there is during the Saturday session, and we missed some amazing fellow artists who didn’t make the Friday event. We both sold a few things (Daria’s cool F*ck u I’m Evil bags sold out instantly) and met some lovely people, and friends came to see us. You can see the delightful scene here– be warned the link takes you to Facebook 😛

 

I made some drawings of people with fabulous hair.

Suzanne Forbes July 1 2016 Berlin Graphic Days

It was the first time I’d tabled at an event in quite a few years, maybe since 2009, and in between I’ve had some ridic-ass health issues that mean my energy level seems to be permanently much lower. I’m a spoonie, at least for now, and just can’t do all the things I’d like to.

Suzanne Forbes July 1 2016 Berlin Graphic Days

 

Still, at the end of the night Daria and I were whipping out portraits for people, and it was heavenly.

And I got to visit Urban Spree at last. And it is amazing, a crazy fuck-you honey badger of a venue where artists rule and the feasting and drinking goes til dawn.

Fast sketching Tiepolo-style!

aklamio 5 year anniversary party berlin by Suzanne Forbes June 17 2016Here’s a sketch from the five-year anniversary party of the wonderful company my husband works for.

sketch with midtone Suzanne Forbes July 17 2016This is how I did it- first pencil sketch for structure and gesture, then a 50% grey pen to spot in midtones, then fine line outline, then brush pen strokes for the heavy line weight on the undersides of things and solid blacks.detail pg 27 Advertising Layout Techniques by Harry Borgman 1983

This approach is a callback to the old-school commercial illustrators’ pen and marker techniques I learned from books in the 80s.  Scan to the right: detail of pg. 27 from “Advertising Layout Techniques” by Harry Borgman, pub. 1983.

I loved this style of rendering because it was about drawing– it was didactic as hell, a formatted iconography for storytelling through pictures. The audience had been taught to read the visual language of illustration and comics over decades. They had an encoded understanding of what kind of mark-making represented what textile, what line weight meant highlights.

I have a whole collection of books in my art library that offer instruction in now-obsolete techniques like Prismacolor and Chartpak markers and beloved, vanished Zip-A-Tone. The earliest layers of my library reveal just how little I ever intended to be a fine artist- I just wanted to be a working stiff journeyman illustrator.

Detail pg 18 from New York The Big City by Will Eisner 1986

Detail pg 18 from New York The Big City by Will Eisner 1986

Comps Storyboards and Animatics by james Fogle and Mary E Forsell 1989

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grey-scale rendering methods of the great 20th Century advertising artists were already disappearing from the curriculum of art schools in 1989, when I left New York. They stayed alive in comics for a few years longer, because of the specific exigencies of comic printing before direct digital and the Black-and-White Boom.

By the time I was sober and enrolled in the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, in 1990, the career emphasis had shifted to digital graphic production. There were computer labs and programs like Illustrator and Photoshop and the illustration program at MCAD was skeletal. Teaching drawing for commercial art was over.

Tiepolo_angelLucky for me, I was able to become a painter. I pivoted to FIne Art in the MCAD curriculum just to get enough teaching in things I cared about, but there were many hidden benefits to leaving the commercial illustration track, and I had some fine teachers.

Tiepolo Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra

Tiepolo Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra

One of my painting teachers at MCAD told me my preparatory sketch for a painting reminded him of Tiepolo‘s ink wash drawings. He showed me what he meant and I was amazed at how modern an eighteenth-century drawing could look.

Of course, we don’t know how Tiepolo produced these works- he might have done the pencil sketch and line-work first, then added the midtone wash. Either way, the grey-scale (or sepia-scale!) is a thing of beauty.

tiepolo_satyr

 

I hope to do some ink-wash drawings utilising grey scale values later this summer, as well as some chalk drawings on grey paper. I’ve been thinking about how Sargent said if you get the midtones right, everything else falls into place. I’ve never been a midtone person; I’ve always focused on line quality and hard black and white values. But people change 🙂