Dienstag, 29. Oktober 2013

German authorities’ failed attempt of proactive punishment to avoid “possible wrongdoings” before they happen; without a reasonable suspicion

Upon my move to Germany, after having lived in the USA for 13 years, I made a list of papers that I needed to get in order, before starting my new life here. One of the items on my list was to reestablish a valid German driver’s license.  

As for background information—I had gotten my initial driver’s license in Germany. When I moved to Michigan, it was easily transferred. Since then, I only have been carrying a US license.
Given that the transfer to the US was so easy, I assumed that the transfer back to Germany would be somewhat easy as well. I found out quickly, that it was not so. The first challenge that I had to face was caused by the fact that my most recent driver’s license was issued by the Government of District of Columbia.

Licenses from some US states easily transferable—Washington DC not among such “states”
The license issuing authority told me that they had a list of various US states from which the licenses can easily be transferred, but Washington DC was not on the list. Neighboring Virginia however was. Which I thought was very interesting, since parts of Virginia make-up the Metropolitan DC area. Either way, I could accept the fact that DC was not on the list. After all, DC is not a state.

Plus, DC not being on the list did not pose a major challenge for me anyway. I remembered that my license originated in Germany, in the first place. So, all I had to do was to prove this. I contacted the appropriate US base where I had gotten my license and in no time I had what I needed: the proof of my initial driver’s license obtained in Germany.  
In order to receive the German/EU license, one would be required to turn in the US license?

Prior to physically going to the license authority, I found out that in order to receive my German license, I would have to hand out my US one. Something that was not an option, in my opinion, because the US license is also my government issued US ID. Plus it is the property of another government. I cannot just hand it out to someone who I did not believe, was authorized to ask me for it.
When I asked why they would want to have it in the first place, I was told that the misuse of the licenses was to be avoided and that such was the law. I could not follow the “logic” but after going back and forth, I was able to talk the official who I was dealing with into agreeing to let me keep my US license. I then went ahead and applied for my German license.

Colleague refuses to honor agreement
Few weeks later, I went in to pick-up my new license. The lady that I was dealing with was on vacation. The substitute official refused to honor his colleague’s agreement. He insisted that he would not give me the new license without getting the US one from me.

I told him that I had already had an agreement with his colleague and that I would like to follow-through with the procedure as discussed. I asked him to double check my records if he wished. I was sure that there must be something in the records regarding the agreement. He did what I asked him to do and confirmed that the lady had, in fact, made a note and that what I said was true. But he claimed that this was against the law and therefore I needed to hand him my US license. I could not believe that this man was not only discrediting his colleague but also that he was refusing to honor a procedure that was agreed on.
German government has reasonable cause to suspect everyone of attempting to fool a police officer?

He explained to me that if he did not take my US license away, I could, in case I lost my German license and was stopped by a police officer, use the US one. The US license however may have expired but the police officer would not know that. (Since the expiration date on the license is not identical to its expiration date for Germany. Please note there that the German license is valid for good, so even if you lost it, you still basically have a “valid” license.)
I simply could not grasp what he was insinuating. Let me rephrase this: even that I didn’t even have a car and had one valid license for another 5 months or so, I came here to apply for a second, valid license. Only to find myself being “proactively” accused, of possibly, some time in the future losing my one license, attempting to use an invalid document, and trying to fool a police officer.  Meaning, I was suspected of possibly committing a punishable act and therefore had to be “proactively” punished by turning in my ID? And that was a common official procedure in Germany? If I did not know how serious this man was, I would have started laughing so hard and not known when to stop.

Either way, at the end of our discussion, the man gave in—he possibly was satisfied with the demonstration of his power— and let me walk away with both licenses! 
Talking to other Americans living in Germany

Since this incident, I had a chance to talk to several other Americans living in Germany. I found out that what happened to me, also happened to them. They, however, had to actually surrender their US document to the German authority! Keep in mind: they can turn around and apply for a new one in the USA, any time. Without the German government being able to stop them! Because the law apparently does not regulate what happens “afterwards”. It only tries to regulate the initial process. Which makes a lot of sense, I guess.
PS: in this context, I would like to mention that I have no idea where I put my US license. I may have lost it by now ;-)

As long as there is peace and order, the lack of transparency in the way government does business may not pose an imminent threat
The reason why I am sharing this experience is because I have some serious concerns about the lack of transparency in the way the German government does business and deals with its own people.  

Many public procedures often not only lack logic, but also lack clear guidelines and are very inconsistent; features that are critical to democratic processes.
Most disturbing in this context is however, how much power is apparently granted to people in official positions, how arbitrarily such people can act, and how seldom their authority is questioned.

Final words
Germany’s public administration demonstrates a deeply rooted leaning toward authoritarian systems. Much of the structures that are in place are far from a democratic mindset. A mindset that could cause serious damage in unusual situations such as unrest.

Let’s hope that we will never find out how far removed from a democratic mindset we are.

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