Thursday, 26 November 2015

5 Things I’ve Learnt From Half a Year of Freelancing in Germany

I wrote a post about my experiences getting up and running as a freelancer in Germany:

My part-time editing job in an office pays my rent and keeps me insured, while also making sure I have regular contact with humans and stay up to date with my industry just by showing up to work. I specifically chose this part-time position because I wanted space to continue relationships with the freelance clients I’d been working with before.
As a foreigner in Germany, I’m very, very lucky to be a Festangestellte (employee) and Freiberuflerin (freelancer) at the same time. From the first one, I make enough €€€ for basic living costs and am health-insured. With the freelance stuff, I can justify splashing out on something nice every now and then. 
But what are the five biggest headaches I’ve come across since starting to manage my own workload and income?
read the rest on Medium... 

By the way, if you're generally interested in reading stuff written by me that's been published online - and not just on this blog! - click right here.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

How to leave the church in Germany

I'd been ignoring the letters that had accumulated over the last few months, hoping the situation would resolve itself. 'We don't have any information on your religious affiliation for tax purposes,' they said. That in itself wasn't strictly true. When I registered as a resident of the city - nay, Bundesland - of Berlin, I'd written "none" in the field pertaining to religion.
The final one, as if reading my mind, said that even if I'd been baptised in another country, being in the church was a "worldwide membership". This is a bit ridiculous, because in England there's no church tax.

Yes, in Germany, you sometimes have to leave the church, even if you are not part of the church.

Having heard a few horror stories - or perhaps urban myths is a better way to describe them - I wanted to exercise due diligence.

I went to the court serving my district (just Google your district name + "Amtsgericht" to find yours). There were a surprising number of security measures - I had to walk through a body scanner and get my bag searched.
It was actually the first time I've had a less-than-savoury bureaucratic experience in Berlin. It's a worn-down cliché by now that newcomers to the city will complain about the various governmental offices, usually having something to do with the officials only speaking German in... oh, Germany.
I'd never found anyone especially rude in these situations, but when I asked the security guys which way I needed to go, and didn't quite understand as one of them was mumbling, they treated me like I was an idiot. The ladies at the hatch where I then had to cough up my €30 were rolling their eyes and insulting the person who'd just gone before me.
Dude, I've worked with the general public. I know how it is. Vent in private.

I took a ticket and waited for my number to be called. This didn't take long, as it was just me waiting. I went in, said I'd like to leave the evangelisch church (the closest counterpart to the church I was baptised into) and presented my receipt for the €30. I signed a legal document and was instructed to guard it with my life, basically, as all records are destroyed after 10 years, so if I needed to prove any tax stuff in the future and had lost it, I'd be screwed.

Security were very cordial when I left the building, strangely. Smell ya later.

Just to be clear, I had only started receiving the letters from the Kirchenamt since getting a freelance tax number. Yes, I know I hadn't been paying any church tax at my contract jobs, but I wanted to just formally shirk any possible membership and clear things up to avoid problems that might pop up later down the line.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Berlin Zinefest 2015

It's my second time at the Berlin Zinefest and this year it's spread over two days. That's not the only thing that's different, though. Last time, I was pretty new in Berlin. I went all on my own, vaguely hoping that I would see some cool zines to buy and even meet some cool people. Now, a little more self-assured, I wasn't too concerned about those things. I just wanted to support events like this.

Zines, in case you're unfamiliar with the term, are basically homemade magazines that you make about anything you want. They tend to be linked with DIY/punk scenes and tackle topics like capitalism, identity and mental health (to be very, very general). You draw your zine, photocopy it and take responsibility for getting it out there; whether that means leaving it around in spaces that are into that kind of thing (co-op cafés, for example) or submitting it to a distro who will sell it and take care of the proceeds for you.

In true anarchist spirit, this Zinefest takes place annually at the SfE - a self-described alternative adult education centre - where the classrooms and corridors are scrawled with phrases like "Stay Queer and Rebel" and the bathrooms are gender-neutral. You'd be forgiven for thinking it's an arty performance space rather than a school.

This year, I also actually contributed to a zine, Träume (Dreams), with a few other people who I got to know through one of those posters where you tear off the phone numbers at the bottom. I drew a little cartoon about a dream I had concerning a pizza that cost €150. The cover page was screen-printed, the first and last pages made with translucent paper, the binding hand-sewn.

A few different cakes are being offered at the event by Minor Treat, who bake and distribute vegan baked goods. I get a slice of salted caramel and chocolate pretzel cake for a donation. No sooner have I done this than my friend K. informs me that a zine workshop is about to begin. It's all about rethinking the phrase "my body is a temple" and how this refers to very narrow standards of health, beauty and representation. There's a deep pleasure I feel in stuffing my face with the cake I just bought while contemplating what I'm going to put into my zine that's going to be about not giving a single fuck what you're supposed to be eating or looking like. The next couple of hours are spent cutting up magazines and colouring in (therapeutic activities within themselves) then showing the rest of the group what we've made.

My zine, The Unhealthy Vegan, about how my veganism isn't about #cleaneating or some shit

After pootling around a bit and buying a few things to take home (including from the fab Claire), we decide it's beginning to feel a little claustrophobic. It's about 5pm and people are swarming around, making it difficult to really spend more than a minute or two at a table. I'm also still feeling pretty ill and everything is getting a bit much.

'This is like an OKCupid convention,' quips K.; indeed, over the course of the day we've respectively bumped into people we met a couple of times from the site but with whom nothing had significant had really materialised. I'm sure people thought the same about me: they can't place where they've seen my face before (this happened in a certain Neukölln bar once, actually). If you're a chick dating chicks, Berlin doesn't feel like such a populous city after all.

But I leave the fest feeling renewed, creative and powerful. I wanted nothing else but to go home, listen to Mitski and write little bits and bobs that would fit onto eight A6 sheets and say everything I really needed to say. I felt simultaneously validated and okay as I am, yet also struck with the urge to prove myself. We'll see how that pans out when the 2016 Zinefest rolls around.