Recently I went to collect a parcel.
In Germany, this is not so straightforward.
After trekking across town, we locate the Berlin DHL delivery depot, nestled in between a dual carriageway and a quite frankly scary looking building complete with gargoyles and an ominous sense of authority (that now seems to have been turned into the HQ of a German Radio station).
Upon entering the building we were greeted by a scene that looked like a doctor’s waiting room. All the classic signs were there. Chairs in rows of five or six with that little bit of extra space between them to stop the spread of disease. People sitting on their own, or occasionally in pairs, nervously flicking through several month old magazines whilst repeatedly glancing at the clock and eying the person who came in before them. The occasional cough or shuffle. All it needed was some posters about herpes and the picture would have been complete.
My partner and crime and I join the queue for the counter and eventually get to speak to a very officious looking bearded German man. Once we get the inevitable language hurdle out of the way, we get on to the task in hand.
In the UK this is relatively easy. You give the bored guy at a desk your piece of paper containing the postman’s scrawl and after tearing themselves away from The Sun’s page three (or in delivery offices in more middle class areas, a Sudoku puzzle), they slope off to get your parcel. Usually, if they can be bothered, they ask for ID. In Germany things are not so simple. Forms need to be filled in!
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from spending an extended amount of time in Germany, it is a country which likes paperwork and bureaucracy. LOVES IT in fact.
Herr Beard roots around in his draw and produces an extensive document to be filled in. I have no idea what he was diligently writing down.
He asks us what is in the parcel. We inform him it is a charger for a video camera.
Do we have a receipt? We inform him that we do not as it was ordered online. This is a problem.
The solution is this; we go to the computer in the corner of the room which is kitted out with a cutting edge 56k internet connection and find a picture of what the item is so we can show him. Okaaaaaaaay.
We go online and find the item, a picture of this is then printed off and stapled to the extensive document and given to us. We are then given a number and slope off to the seats to read the June edition of Deutsch Dentist Monthly as Herr Beard troops off to the next room.
Granted, I’m not the head of an international parcel delivery firm, but I’d say the most important thing someone should do when picking up a parcel is show ID. After offering to show ID several times our passports were waved away as unnecessary. Perhaps there simply wasn’t a box on the form for this?
We thought we’d have to wait a while but this is not the case. I’m just beginning to learn the developments in German root canal treatment that happened four months ago and considering going back to the computer to download some MS Paint stickman pornography, when our number is called and we can proceed to the next room. Obviously, as foreigners, our case is treated as urgent!
We go to the first desk in the next room and show our documents and print outs, but are greeted by a shriek of “NEEEEIIIN!” and a stern point to the far end of the room, where who is waiting for us but Herr Beard himself.
He examines the form closely, which of course he’d written himself five minutes earlier, before declaring everything satisfactory and handing us our parcel. We are then firmly instructed to leave through the exit door and not to return to the first room. I’m sure if we did this, chaos would ensue and forms would have to be filled in to detail our misdemeanors.
Beneath the gaze of stone gargoyles on the street, chastened and feeling like we’d just got out early from a school detention, we celebrate collecting the parcel and muse if we did actually go into a DHL office, or instead somehow stumbled into a scene from the movie Brazil.
Next time: Pirates, prostitutes, Nick Cave and coughing on middle class Germans over breakfast