Turns out, it's a good thing high airfares delayed our family trip to the States until October. It only occurred to me last week that since my daughter recently turned five, her first US passport had probably expired. “Oh,” my German wife said, “then her German one probably did too.”
They both had.
At first, I was excited that I'd finally get to see the inside of the drab new US Embassy at the Brandenburg Gate, but, just like the old one in central Berlin, it's useless to the average Joe. We still have to make a family outing to the fortress that is the other US Embassy in southwestern Berlin. For those not familiar with it, crossing the Hauptstadt to get to the old Cold War American facilities is as difficult as it was for George Washington to get to the other side of the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War.
Once there, the tribulations don't stop. In order to renew a child's US passport, both parents have to be present and you might even be asked to show a photo or two proving your familial bliss. Maybe Ambassador Timken would care to inspect our Kita too?
Then after all that, we get to go wait in some dusty Berlin government office for some lifer bureaucrat to take too long to renew my daughter's German passport before telling us to return weeks later to collect the new one.
But I'll only have to do this one more time with my daughter – then the burden is on her for the rest of her life. Still, it's a privilege not every kid with dual citizenship gets to have. Most in Germany have to decide when they're 23 which nationality they want to keep. Millions of permanent residents here – mostly Turkish – who were born and raised in Germany are forced to give up their other citizenship if they want to obtain or keep their German passport.
It's a tough and pointless decision – if you want immigrants to integrate, why play brinkmanship with their children just when they're about to forge a cultural identity that will last a lifetime?
The Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens want to eliminate the decision and allow everyone to keep two passports, just like France, Britain and the United States do. But the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) apparently want to go back to the old Fatherland method – that is, only children of German citizens can have their so very precious nationality. The blood test, so to speak.
Let's be honest – what Angela Merkel's conservatives are really trying to say is that they don't want Turks becoming Germans too.
After all, the current government thinks it's just fine for Germans to take on other nationalities. The Interior Ministry recently said 23,000 Germans living outside of Europe have applied to keep their German citizenship while taking on another one since 2000. They have no idea how many Germans living elsewhere in Europe have won a second passport – but the figure has to be similar, if not higher.
Of course, nothing drastic is likely to happen to German citizenship laws anytime soon – just as little has been done during the entire tenure of Merkel's coalition of Christian and Social Democrats. In its final few months, rather than exploit its lame duck status to pass hard reforms, the two sides are going instead stake out irreconcilable positions ahead of the next general election in 2009.
The problem is what comes next – with the SPD on the ropes, Angie's conservatives are likely to win the next election and perhaps ditch the Social Democrats for the ever eager-to-please Free Democrats (FDP). That could make revamping Germany's outdated ideas about citizenship unlikely for the foreseeable future. Who knows, maybe they'll even get the liberals from the FDP to swallow returning to the blood test. Instead of governing into the future, the Christian Democrats are already looking like a ghost from the past.
And it's not just Turks they're denying. I'd love to have as many passports as my children. I may not agree with much in America nowadays after spending so long in Germany, but the indoctrination of my youth (Pledge of Allegiance, anyone?) makes me simply incapable of forfeiting my blue passport. At the same time, I admire Germany's social democracy and would love to have a voice – a vote – to go along with the hefty taxes I willingly pay here.
But apparently I'll never be German enough for some people. Instead the Christian Democrats would rather dole out citizenship to some Russian farmer whose German forefathers settled on the Volga River in the 18th century.
Oh well, I suppose I have enough passport offices to go to as it is.
Since a good German Stammtisch is a place where pub regulars come to talk over the issues of the day, Portnoy welcomes a lively conversation in our Discuss section.