A passport story

“Der Pass ist der edelste Teil von einem Menschen. Er kommt auch nicht auf so eine einfache Weise zustande wie ein Mensch. Ein Mensch kann überall zustande kommen, auf die leichtsinnigste Art und ohne gescheiten Grund, aber ein Pass niemals. Dafür wird er auch anerkannt, wenn er gut ist, während ein Mensch noch so gut sein kann und doch nicht anerkannt wird.”

“The passport is the most noble part of the human being. It does not come into existence in as simple a way as a human. A human being can come into the world anywhere, in the most careless manner and for no good reason. But a passport, never. That’s why the passport will be recognised, if it is good, whereas a human being, no matter how good, may not be recognised.”

I have been in South East Asia for about two weeks now. I am currently in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Yesterday was a very good day, because I got to pick up my German passport.

A few years back it became possible for German nationals living abroad to apply for a national ID card at their embassy. Before, ID cards were only for people actually living in the home country. I decided I wanted one of these new ID cards because they can be used as online identification when dealing with the German administration on the internet. But you can only get them at the embassy in Stockholm, not in Gothenburg where I live, and you have to book an appointment a long time in advance.

Knowing that I was scheduled to fly from Stockholm to Bangkok on Sunday 8 April, I made an appointment at the German Embassy for Friday 6 April.

When I applied for a Chinese visa in Gothenburg in March my first attempt failed because I didn’t have all the required paperwork. When I tried to reschedule an appointment, the Gothenburg visa application service centre was all booked up. But there were lots of free times at the centre in Stockholm.

Since I was going to be in Stockholm anyway for a few days in March, visiting a friend, I made an appointment in Stockholm. This time the application went through, but of course I had to leave my passport at the Chinese Visa Application Centre together with my application. To be picked up the next time I was in Stockholm, or sent to Gothenburg by mail. I chose the pick-up option, thinking I would just come get it the same day I had the appointment at the German embassy. I asked the caseworker dealing with my application whether I could pick my passport up at that date and she said that was no problem.

But when I arrived at the Chinese Visa Application Centre on Friday 6 April I found a locked door and a notice that the office was closed for Tomb-sweeping Day. A Chinese holiday I had never heard of. It felt like my heart stopped there for a moment. I called the office’s customer service number – just a recorded message of course, informing that the office was closed and would reopen on Monday morning.  I stood in the corridor in front of that locked door, a bit dazed, trying to think. No passport meant I couldn’t fly on Sunday.

The next flight I could rebook to would be a week later. But how much would rebooking cost? I had just moved out of my room and packed all my belongings into an attic. Where would I live? I would have to change all my plans, cancel accommodation, rebook connecting flights – how super annoying…

A minute later it struck me that I had a perfectly good second passport stored away with my stuff in the attic in Gothenburg, my US passport. Maybe I could get someone else to pick up my German passport and send it to me somewhere on my itinerary (because I definitely needed that German passport with the Chinese visa in it to get into China later on, in May), but fly to Thailand now with my US passport. If I could change my passport details on my Norwegian.com booking. Which I determined, after two calls to Norwegian.com customer support, I could. I phoned a friend and asked if she would pick up my passport for me the next week. Yes she would. I started to relax a little.

I then got on the next train to Gothenburg, dug up my US passport, slept a few hours and got on the first train back to Stockholm Saturday morning, so I could be back at my base there for an 11 o’clock Skype meeting with my Radical Contact co-organisers. Later on Saturday I passed on my Chinese visa pick-up form to the friend who had agreed to go to the visa centre for me.

The last time I had left Sweden using my US passport (going to the US), the Swedish border police had insisted on seeing my German passport as well. I got to passport control as soon as I could on Sunday, with a paper copy of the ID page of my German passport in my pocket, a bit apprehensive and wanting to get this over with. I was asked whether I had a residence permit. I answered in Swedish that I didn’t but that I was also a German national. That seemed to satisfy them. They didn’t even want to see the copy.

For readers who don’t know: as an EU national you automatically have the right of residence in all other EU countries – at least for a while and under certain conditions.

 

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