I digitalized Berlin's registration form
It's a solution of a problem that shouldn't exist at the first place.
This is a pretty specific problem to solve, but I thought you might have a laugh at our desperately broken bureaucracy on our behalf.
I built a digital form filler for a poorly-designed that every Berliner must deal with. I explain what I did to make it clearer and easier to fill.
The worst thing is that this differs by state. In Hessen the communal IT provider (ekom21) offers the service to fill out the entire form online in a UI that resembles yours, but then you still have to go to the "Meldeamt" to sign it (although you do that digitally on a tablet there) because currently the "schriftform" (means: manually signed) is required. It might be changed in the future to be "textform" (means: must be written down) and then it can happen completely digitally.
Unfortunately, from the bigger cities I checked (Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Kassel, Gießen, Marburg, Wiesbaden), none of them used that service, only some smaller districts like Bad Vilbel or Limburg offer the service.
: https://onlineantrag.ekom21.de/olav/zuziehen?mbom=6440003 : https://www.limburg.de/redirect.phtml?extlink=1&La=1&url_fid... "Voranmeldung eines Zuzugs"
In France, they have the postman come to your house and verify your identity. It's such a brillian way to verify things without wasting anyone's time.
The German authorities have no incitive to digitize and fix the broken bureaucracy because for one, in their mind there's nothing wrong with it because Germany is Europe's wealthiest country so it can never be wrong, and secondly, digitizing bureaucracy means increased efficiency which means less public servant jobs and they don't want that. What they want is more bureaucracy and more cushy public servant jobs pushing pencils on great benefits. If they wintered to fix bureaucracy they would have don it already.
In German state and traditional company culture, digitization is seen as a threat, not an asset. I remember a few years agon when my gf at the time was working at a big German industrial automation company and she was struggling a lot with some horribile ineficient work process involving copy and pasting shit to and from Excel and some VB scripts. So being still locked down to a degree and bored out of my mind, I replaced all her Excel madness with some python scripts that streamlined everything. She took that at work and proudly showed it to her boss hoping for some recognition and he said "if you wanna keep your job, don't bring stuff like this at work, we don't need it, there's nothing wrong with the way we currently do things", and then it hit me that current German software innovation culture is completely FUBAR.
When you're a bit older and have done more consultancy, you'll realize this isn't the case.
It's just that most people are quite conservative, the middle manager your gf approached was the wrong person, the manager didn't want the headache of the discussion that happens with their superiors (who wrote it, what happens if it goes wrong, where's it sending the data, how much money does he want, etc.) and also simply don't trust some random like you.
If she'd been an external consultant talking to the upper echelons, they'd definitely want this, but not as some random python script. Probably as a nice easy to install Excel plugin.
So you were talking to the wrong person.
What she should have done is use the script to work less and get accolades for being a fast and efficient worker, and never shown it to her boss.
By the way, that's exactly what I did for a g/f myself 4 or 5 years ago, and I specifically warned her not to tell her boss about it as it'd be seen as a problem, not a boon. She loved it, turned a week's worth of work into 1/2 an hour, letting her get on with the bits of the job she actually enjoyed.
The problem is that the "political will" to change (especially in things like this which is municipal) is mostly due to older people who haven't filled an Anmeldung in 30yrs at least and who probably still pay 500EUR for a 3 bed apartment and thinking it's expensive
> She took that at work and proudly showed it to her boss hoping for some recognition and he said "if you wanna keep your job, don't bring stuff like this at work, we don't need it, there's nothing wrong with the way we currently do things", and then it hit me that current German software innovation culture is completely FUBAR.
This seems like a very justified reaction and could happen in any sane company in the world. If that company is using excel and VBA, then because this is what they know and where they have experience. Python is a foreign technology, and likely nobody in that company knows how to handle it. Also, the existing solution is battle tested over a long time, it's working, people know how to handle it, it's a well moving gear. Changing it for some unknown gear, from some unknown person, is insane, no good company would do that, this is too much of a risk.
It seems, you just don't understand the bigger picture of legacy systems, and the risks and costs of changes.
Your thinking is very common in Germany. It is correct in a primitive sense: change is costly. But it misses an additional layer of thinking, which is that not changing is even more costly sometimes. The problem was not that the company was happily using Excel and VBA, it is that the process was clunky and required expensive humans in the middle. If it could be easily automated in Python, it could also have been easily automated somehow else, and that change was worth exploring.
With your logic, Germany has justified maintaining fax machines and printing online forms. Embracing change is an uncomfortable process, but not doing that is even worse.
> Your thinking is very common in Germany.
Like the rest of the world.. I mean, we have companies like Microsoft, who basically live from staying compatible back till the beginning of time. Cooperate-world is strongly focused on stability and the ability to control your turf, everywhere.
> But it misses an additional layer of thinking, which is that not changing is even more costly sometimes.
Interesting how you completely missed the point. I was not talking about the change, but the way it happened, and the reasoning for it.
> it is that the process was clunky and required expensive humans in the middle.
Actually, we don't know that. We know nothing about the reasoning for the process, or the details, or the company.. We only know the story of a 3rd party, who stumbled over their own ignorance.
> If it could be easily automated in Python, it could also have been easily automated somehow else
Yes, unless the company has some inhouse-knowledge of using python, it should have been automated with something else, like VBA, which they already are using. And it should have been done by someone from the company, not some strange from outside. As a long-running company, it's nonsense to use technology for inhouse-task, where you have no expertise at hand. This is just harmful and an additional burden longterm.
German administration is already understaffed, and this will get much worse due to increasing retirement and additional complex regulations and laws.
They only chance is simplifying processes and make them more efficient (which includes "digitization"). But apart from staff, this needs strong leadership and expertise, and is made complex by the federal structure.
None of that is true.
They'd love to "digitise" but their problem is that there is ZERO Software culture in Germany. Likely they'd have some shitty accounting or consulting firm with their 24 yr old associate who can do some Java code something for 10 Billion EUR. It'll take 10 years and obviously won't scale or work properly.
That's why it still hasn't happened. There is no one who can write a requirements doc with much useful content in it besides "make it digital" either.
When they wanted a mobile app to warn of Covid risks nearby they found no one who could write mobile apps besides SAP (not a mobile nor end-user company) and Deutsche Telekom (a Telco, used to be state-owned back in the day). That'll tell you how this will go.
I heard through the grapevine of the Berlin tech scene that actually both SAP and Telekom failed to deliver a working COVID Warning app. A small software company in Berlin purportedly ultimately 'fixed' the app for around 3 million EUR but this was kept under wraps (the app ended up costing 220 million taxpayer money by the end of 2022).
Not sure if this is true but it sounds like it absolutely could be.
> The German authorities have no incitive to digitize and fix the broken bureaucracy because for one, in their mind there's nothing wrong with it because Germany is Europe's wealthiest country so it can never be wrong
This is not true. The head of the Berlin Ausländerbehörde is well aware of the issue and frequently says that we need to digitalize in front of the cameras.
According to contacts on the inside, they are operating at full capacity with a personel shortage and have zero slack to stop and fix things.
They have every incentive to fix things, not just out of sheer embarrassment, but because more and more people are suing the state for failure to act (Untätigkeit). I wanted to make this lawsuit process as seamless as possible, but it would not help anyone.
As someone that haven’t ever been to Germany or interacted with any German government, but works with different governments a lot, it has really become apparent that Germans love telling the rest of the world how bad their bureaucracy is, then go on to describe something that sounds entirely common. It’s like New Yorkers telling you how good and unique bodegas are, and it turns out they either grew up in New York City or some one-traffic-light town and just haven’t had any worldly exposure.
Your personal anecdote as another commenter pointed out says much more about your lack of consulting and general workplace experience than it does about German bureaucracy. It all sounds very typical and again what I’d expect as someone that can count on one hand the number of people in Germany I’ve talked to professionally.
It's much worse than you think here. Germany is in the stone age when it comes to digitalization. As an example, most immigrants will be waiting months to hear back from the Auslanderbehorde - and the only way to get them to reply to you within 2 weeks is to send them a fax.
While I seriously sympathize with some of the above (and below) descriptions of byzantine German bureaucracy and its broad lack of digitization, there's another side to it all that's hard not to appreciate slightly in the context of our creeping, already vast, global surveillance state of constant digital monitoring by thousands of actors both private and public, or both and feeding off each other's surveillance carrion...
A wonderful excuse that German people like to wheel out to try to put a positive spin on being stuck in the 20th century.
Everything is Datenschutz.
Perhaps that's true of what the the GP is talking about, but if we consider the article we're discussing here, this requirement when you move to fill out a paper form when you move to a new house, and then wait possibly months for an appointment to bring that form in person to hand to a government official... dear god, that sounds Kafkaesque.
And I say this as an American who was under the impression that some significant bits of the US government bureaucracy are pretty wild. This German thing takes the cake.
Regardless, it's a little weird that you accuse GP of expressing an uninformed opinion about German bureaucracy when you admit that you only have limited secondhand experience with it yourself.
It might be common, but the German bureaucracy is a lot worse than what Germany's reputation of structure and order would lead foreigners to believe.
And while it might be common around the world, Germany is playing in a lower league than for instance the Scandinavian countries.
In Germany, you need to make appointments and do things in person.
In Sweden, you can change vehicle ownership or register your move to a new address online in minutes.
It's nice to know that here in the US we're closer to Sweden than Germany.
I think in most places the buyer of a vehicle still has to mail in a paper form (though if you buy from a car dealership, they'll take care of it), but at least in California, the seller can do their part of the transaction online (which is mainly to inform the DMV that someone else has the vehicle, so you won't be held responsible if something bad happens involving it).
And we don't have to register our moves at all; the government mostly doesn't care if we tell it where we live. Some agencies like the DMV do want to know our address so they can mail us a new driver's license or ID card when the old one expires (but these address changes and license renewals we can do online). The Postal Service will forward our mail to our new address for 3 months if we ask them to, but we don't have to if we don't care.
Obviously the government can and will eventually find out where you live if they need and want to, but there's generally no registration requirement.
No, it really is bad. I've lived in the UK and in Germany and Germany is definitely worse. I don't know why you would have such an opinion on something that you, by your own admission, know nothing about.
If anything the opposite of what you're saying is true. Everyone abroad thinks Germany is so efficient and Germany has this amazing reputation, but the reputation is a lie.
> secondly, digitizing bureaucracy means increased efficiency which means less public servant jobs and they don't want that
Increased efficiency doesn't have to mean fewer bureaucrats. It can (and usually does) mean that the same number of bureaucrats achieve all-new levels of intrusiveness.
I'm reading Stasiland right now (strong recommendation), and I shudder to think of what the Stasi could do with today's means.
However, in this case, it would mean that machines handle CRUD while humans can tackle the edge cases. Bureaucrat time should not be wasted on typing a printed form back into a computer.
The German state is already incredibly efficient at coming after you with threatening letters for not submitting the right tax paperwork in time on the 50 Euros earned form your online side-hussle. If only the same efficiency would get ported to everything else that benefits the tax-payer.
They're so efficient that sometimes they'll come at you even when you did nothing wrong. My tax advisor had his accounts frozen and sued them for damages. The same happened to me because of a clerical error on their end. They freeze your account and it's up to you to figure out why.
> It can (and usually does) mean that the same number of bureaucrats achieve all-new levels of intrusiveness.
Well, this turned dark pretty fast huh.
Well, it could also mean that the same number of bureaucrats take longer lunches.
to be fair, it's way easier now to do your taxes (as a private person). We can do it completely online with no paperwork involved and its actually quite alright. so some innovation is happening, even in the public sector.
what happens in the company is another thing. it really depends on the people working there.
I'm sorry, but that's just complete nonsense.
> in their mind there's nothing wrong with it because Germany is Europe's wealthiest country so it can never be wrong
There's literally not a single political party that doesn't admit that Germany is being too slow here or that doesn't admit that it's embarassing. On a national and on a local level. You can Google that if you don't believe me.
> digitizing bureaucracy means increased efficiency which means less public servant jobs and they don't want that
Also wrong. There's plenty of unfillable public servant jobs in every city. Public servant jobs are not what they were in the 70s.
> In German state and traditional company culture, digitization is seen as a threat, not an asset.
Also wrong. Germany just upgraded too early, then let everything run and stopped upgrading because the current system works. That's all there is to it. It's also the reason why Romania has faster internet than Germany, for example.
> work process involving copy and pasting shit to and from Excel and some VB scripts
You're in for a wild ride when you find out what kind of IT infrastructure the world uses.
Your whole post is anecdotal and when you try to get to your own interpretation of German culture or why problems exist, you're wrong.
Don't get me wrong: Germany's digital infrastructure _is_ horrible. Just not at all for the reasons you mentioned.
Romania has better and cheaper internet because of the wild Wild West when everybody and every firm were allowed to pull cables anywhere they pleased. People would buy a 100-200mbit b2b connection for 40 euros and would split it between 15-20 people for 3-5 euro each. It was deregulated for so much time that when the regulations finally came everybody was already connected to fast and cheap internet and they were so used to it that whichever company tried to increase the price and lower the speed would see really shitty returns.
That’s why Digi exploded and Telekom (Romtelecom) needed years to take off. The Greek CEO of Romtelecom would hold meetings in 2008 with upper management where he would dictate loudly that Romanians only want stable internet with great customer care and that’s the direction he is leading the company. That proved not to actually be the case and he unceremoniously left the company afterwards.
Source: I lived all this and was close with the domain
>Germany just upgraded too early, then let everything run and stopped upgrading because the current system works
Upgraded too early to what? Letters and fax machines?
With the ISDN (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integrated_Services_Digital_Ne...) network, Germany had the most advanced digital switching infrastructure in the world. It offered two 64kbit/s lines into every household, and that in the 80s. Unfortunately, due to political decisions that were highly influenced by Leo Kirch and his commercial TV provider (Premiere), Germany's public telecoms infrastructure was a) privaticed into Deutsche Telekom and b) shifted to put copper TV cable into every household instead of fiber.
In east Germany, after reunification in the 1990s, Deutsche Telekom started to introduce a fiber into every home (OPAL - https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optische_Anschlussleitung) but then they shifted their focus to DSL and reusing the old copper wires for telephone lines and abandoned this. No, not only abandoned. They opened up the streets again to lay new copper wire.
Now, fiber to the home is back on the table.
Completely agree with you. I think it's just a problem of incentives for the people who make this decisions and work at these positions. "Verbeamtung" (tenure) also doesn't help.
One of the biggest reasons why digitization in Germany is so slow moving is that every municipality can (and does) decide on how to digitize individually.
There is no mandate for the upper levels of government to dictate which solutions are being used on a local level. Combine that with need for tendering on every single solution and you've got a big mess of small companies underbidding bigger companies that could unify the software landscape and instead build a cheaper, small solution that has zero interoperability with the neighboring municipality.
The need for fax et.al. is not because people don't know how to use computers, but because there's thousands of applications fulfilling the same exact job, but are incapable of talking to each other. Paper is currently the only compatibility layer that works everywhere.
There are ongoing efforts to provide a common data exchange format (technical working group) as well as redesigning how the software for government is being build (tendering processes, public money - public code movement, et. al.)
German government is currently incapable of doing its job in a way that is legally required, missing deadlines and not providing citizens with the services that they are entitled to because they are unable to manage the workload due to the paperbound processes. There is zero fear of humans being replaced by machines. It's rather that more and more humans are leaving government due to burnout.
> One of the biggest reasons why digitization in Germany is so slow moving is that every municipality can (and does) decide on how to digitize individually.
I find myself chuckling a little at this, because this is a common excuse for things being slow moving (or just wildly inconsistent from place to place) in the US. It's somehow comforting to know that countries of all size and population that are organized like this will still have the same problems.
To be fair, though, the US and many decent-sized municipalities do actually have a pretty good digitization story. I'm actually having trouble thinking of routine government-related things that have to be done in person... or even by mail. I guess you have to send mail to apply for or renew your passport (though the State Department already has an online form that fills out a printable application for you). And you have to go in person to get a marriage license (but I think that's a feature, not a bug; and hopefully that's not a routine activity, anyway). I had to do an interview to get my Global Entry (eliminates most of the wait at immigration when re-entering the US) thing approved, but the application process was all online, and my recent renewal was completed from my couch.
Otherwise...? I've set foot in a DMV perhaps 3 times since I moved to California 19 years ago (once when I first moved, to take the written driving test; once when I lost my driver's license and had to prove who I was to get a new one; and once when I had to apply for the ridiculous new "REAL ID"). I file my income taxes online, and whatever money I'm due or owed gets electronically transferred. I pay my property taxes online. I activated the electric and gas utility service (not quite government, but adjacent) online when I last moved. Mail forwarding when your address changes is done at the Postal Service's website. I even signed all the paperwork to buy a new home online (if you have a mortgage lender, they'll want some things signed in person, but they can someone to your house for that, and at any rate the government-related paperwork is all handled by a title company for you, at least where I live). You can even pay parking ticket and driving infraction fines online, if you don't want to contest them.
The online systems to take care of this stuff do all vary in clunkiness to some degree, but some of them are quite modern-looking and have decent or even good UX. The federal government even has 'login.gov' now, which they're slowly (very slowly) getting various agencies to adopt so you have a single sign-in. I don't think states and municipalities are allowed to use it, though.
Building a form like Nicolas did can totally happen on the municipal level. This is two weeks of work for a good developer. Totally affordable.
More like one week, while travelling, and most of it was obsessing over design details.
You’re probably faster than the typical “good developer” I had in mind.
But two weeks of dev time for every municipality adds up quickly.
The issue is that germany is deeply federated, different decisions are made at different levels. This could translate well into software by having the higher levels create interop standards and reference implementations that allow for plugins while the lower levels use the reference implementations (with plugin extensions for the myriad of special of special cases) or just implement their own according to the standard.
But unfortunately it doesn't translate because the german state either picks the cheapest contractor (which almost always leads to blown budgets and delays) or they pick by nepotism.
They are also dead set on waterfall projects and don't seem to realize that if they keep blowing budgets anyways, that might not be the best strategy.
If you make it centralised, it becomes a huge project that costs hundreds of millions.
I agree that this would be ideal, but on a local scale, these projects are easier to manage.
>There's literally not a single political party
We're talking about people, not parties, and I've definitely met people who have this view. To them, the German way is the proper way, and any way that's easier must be cheating or skipping something.
Of course they want digitalization, but they want a German digitalization. A good and proper German one, and not a flimsy foreign one.
Of course this is nationalistic cope, but it's pretty common.
Just a quick thank you. I don't live in Germany, so it doesn't affect me. But I'l sure you will make a lot of people's days just a little less miserable - so thank you from then. Nice write-up, too.
This is highly useful. You could take the idea, generalize it to be reusable for any German form, and make a plan to develop such a thing as open source with funding from: prototypefund.de as their applications close end of the month.
This is great! Impressed by your work to make arriving in Berlin easier, especially for foreigners.
I've been planning to move to Berlin and your site  is a life-saver.
Best of luck finding an apartment
Yeah, I know all about that. I've just seen my ex girlfriend go through the process of finding something nice that isn't excessively overpriced, which was exceedingly grueling, even more so considering that she makes 2.5x what I do. In the end the only decent opportunity was taking an appartement in her current building, skipping the entire selection phase as they already know her (which she knows is unfair).
I've already accepted I'll have to overpay short-term rentals for months and bot the shit of out Immoscout to have a chance.
> German apartments don’t have apartment numbers. If your name is not on your mailbox, postal workers can’t deliver your mail.
This can also cause delivery failures the other way around - a friend in Germany once sent me a package but didn't bother writing the apartment number on it because she assumed the postman would use my name to find the right box. Instead it got sent right back to Germany. (Austrian bureaucracy is just as unforgiving as German, they just have different rules to follow...)
My sister sent a parcel this week with presents for my daughter's birthday (Happy birthday Ruby!), from Norway to the UK. She filled in all the spoiler customs parts but must have gotten stressed and completely forgot to write our street name and house number. Just my name, post code and country.
3 days later our postie knocked on our door and asked if this parcel was for us!
We don't live in a big city but still it is a town of 20,000 so not that rural where everyone knows you, so I was impressed that they cared enough to try to figure out the address. Granted the post code narrows the search down.
I am certain had it been shipped the other way the post office in Norway would have rejected it immediately for not being 100% by-the-book.
As long as the postcode is complete, there are only few full addresses that the postie needs to check against. If you got a letter the same day to your full address and your name is unique, then it would be fairly quick to find you.
BTW in Scotland at least, during the Christmas period, it is customary to leave a Christmas card for the postie outside with a small bank note in it. An easy way to say thank you for their efforts and to ensure that the postie will remember your name even better next time ;)
Customary (and extremely welcomed by the many postmen & women I've had the pleasure to know, my father having worked for Royal Mail / CWU) in England as well as Scotland (and I'm sure in Wales/NI too - probably elsewhere as well, and even in places where it's not customary it won't do any harm to thank people providing year round services to you with a small gift once a year!)
Also, while I agree with you that in this case (having a full postcode as well as name) it would have likely been an easy task for the local postie, Royal Mail do actually have a small team* of people who work in figuring out more tricky ones, so if a local person can't work it out for being on their beat it can be sent to the "address detectives" (great title!) to try to solve.
This is a great example of that from a year or two ago, including a few other similar stories at the end: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/jan/07/lives-across...
* My knowledge is both 20 years out of date and fuzzy in my memory, so I've no clue how big a team it is nor if there's enough confusingly-addressed items to need anyone working on it full time, or if it's just one aspect in a wider set of responsibilities that a team does when needed.
> I am certain had it been shipped the other way the post office in Norway would have rejected it immediately for not being 100% by-the-book.
The postal office in Norway tries hard to deliver to the correct destination. I've heard of similar stories where they only had a name and a city to go on, and it was delivered at the correct location. During Christmas, they even have a team of dedicated "detectives" who tries their hardest to figure out who the packages should be sent to.
Maybe, but Norway do make it harder for themselves by having just a 4 number postcode that could include many thousands of addresses. A UK postcode is often down to just one street or similar size.
Once, someone I knew in Norway (ok, my sister again...) somehow managed to combine her old and new address when ordering something online. And that parcel back and forth between 2 cities for a long time... :)
I grew up in the country side of Norway in the 80s, and the small road to my house didn't have any name. I guess there was no need since that road serviced less than 10 houses. It wasn't until later (late 80s perhaps) when my road was given a name and my house was assigned a number.
> A UK postcode is often down to just one street or similar size.
It's even better than that. Unless you are incredibly rural or the street is tiny, most streets have at least two postcodes - one for the odd side and one for the even side. In most cases, there's only about 15-30 houses in a postcode, any more on a road and it's split up into smaller chunks.
I have a theory that if a postman wants to deliver something, then it will be delivered. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Adding small texts about the importance of the input you provide is missing in so many forms. OP handled it perfect here.
Whereas the Irish post office (An Post) seem to pride themselves on solving puzzles to deliver to ambiguous addresses.
Same for England from what I gather, probably not on the same scale as Ireland though.
I wonder if some of the countries referenced in the thread have different laws regarding opening post - in England it’s illegal to open post that isn’t addressed to you, so if the postie did make a mistake it’s not the end of the world as the receiver would just pop it back in the letter box (in an ideal world)
> German apartments don’t have apartment numbers
They do (at least sometimes?). They are just not listed anywhere and barely used. I have my number in my contract, and e.g. Vatenfall have it to connect the meter number to the flat number.
They don't always. For my flat in a small block, it's "Erdgeschoss rechts" or EGR, in the contract or for the electricity.
In Denmark, abbreviations like that are the address.
Means building 5, first floor, to the right (til højre).
Amagergade 5, 1. th.
This reminds me that recently I, here in the Netherlands, had to send a letter and made the mistake of writing it in the wrong format (to/from), but still the address in where it should be 'from' was really small, and 'to' was really big. To make things clear, I decided to just prefix "To: " and "From: " thinking it would be enough.
Surely enough, 2 days later I received the mail back at my mailbox. Wasted 2 euros ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I just needed a single stamp, but they stamped on both so I couldn't even try to reuse it. And I also posted on the mailbox for "other zip code" rather than "close by zip codes".
I don't know if OCR or a person messed up. Well, definitely a person (me)...
Even within Austria there are differences: i used to live in Innsbruck with an address written 4-51 (meaning street number 4, door 51) and then moved to Vienna, street number 2, door number 14. But in Vienna 2-14 means the big building with street numbers 2 through 14. My building was not big, you could physically see it is street number 2. Well, i never got that letter.
So how would street 2, door 14 be correctly written in Vienna?
2/14 is the correct way, but if number 2 has several staircases (typically the case of a 2-14) it would be 2/3/14 (or typically 2-14/3/14) with 3 being the staircase number
No, no, it's all wrong.
Here's how we digitize our administration in Germany the proper, Germanic way:
A fixed sum for digitization is allocated and the local government publicly advertises a project. A bureaucrat higher up the foodchain has a friend/cousin/former colleague who runs an IT service business side gig. Guess who will win the contract. The friend/cousin/former colleague starts building by outsourcing the project to some sweatshop. The project will exceed its initially planned costs and timeline by a factor of two or more. Once completed, the final product will consist of a clunky frontend allowing the user to fill a form. After the user has completed the form, it will be distributed via e-mail to the low-level clerks. They will print it out and process it by typing the very same information into another software running on their work computers. Print again. Then the user has to schedule an appointment at the local administrative office to get the form signed and stamped in person. Upon completion, the finalized form will be faxed to the next administrative authority in the chain.
The frontend runs on a Raspberry Pi located somewhere in the administrative building. That server will of course be turned off when all administrators have left the building (save energy!), meaning the frontend will only be available during weekdays from 8 am to 1 pm.
Having worked in some projects related to German bureaucracy: It's not exactly correct from my experience but it's close - is usally works like this:
A fixed sum for digitization is allocated and the local government publicly advertises a project. Nobody knows how to write a good tender or the tender is written in such a way that only some specific companies can fullfil the request (I doubt the cousin thing is so common but I might be wrong here) but I saw how people writing the tender and the companies involved (mostly consulting companies or some small specific companies that lack quality) write that thing together.
Now the biggest problem: Often the lowest bidder has to win the tender by law - if you choose the good company often the lowest bidder takes you to court.
The lowest bidder delivers something late and broken and is allowed to get more money for fixing it - often so much money that there is an incentive to be broken by design - i.e. high maintenance costs / overly complicated architectures.
Everone is unhappy and it's of course not the failure of the broken tender or the shitty company - so there needs to be a follow up project that fixes the issues that again is won by the shitty company.
To see how expensive and crazy this gets: einmalzahlung200.de - a form where you could apply for 200€ for heating costs / covid assistance costs multiple million Euros - some consulatancies were involved. It couldn't handle the load but was celebrated to be next level because nothing had to be printed out.
It's not that Germany lacks talent or even companies that could deliver good quality but the process is broken.
Another problem is data protection law - this is a good thing in Germany but it's often used as an excuse in the bureaucracy and a weapon to fight progress.
For me it feels like the public administration was made to be helpless and the public money is stolen by consultancies and shitty companies.
> Another problem is data protection law
I want to emphasise this for non-German readers. "Datenschutz!" has become a sort of one-word meme to explain why everything still runs on fax.
My favourite, taking a photo of a nice outdoor scene with random people in the background, someone will always run up to you shouting "Datenschutz!"
Doesn't matter because Panoramafreiheit.
Harmless, in my experience. The gloves come off when there's not a person in the picture but a car.
Same for Italy... just add more shit
not entirely true. Italian living in Germany, Germany approach to digitalisation is by far the worse. There are a lot of things that have been done better in Italy (e.g. the e-ID Card) and worst case scenario you can still send a PEC or an email to the PA because they must have it.
In Germany, you can sometimes write an email but they will ask you to sign a paper where you recognise that email is not a trustworthy medium compared to a random email delivered by the postperson in your mailbox (or not) without a receipt whatsoever. Oh, and fax machine is still a thing in Germany.
German here. I'll have to dissent on the buddy-business part. That's not how Germany works. It's the opposite, which turns out to be even worse:
As a bureaucrat that wants to solve a specific problem, you form a project and are required to make a public submission. Those submissions have to adhere to very formal predefined legal standards (in order to omit corruption) which make them incredibly time-consuming paperwork. For some projects you'll be even legally required to make a EU submission which is even worse. Some German smart-asses "solved" that by creating a skeleton agreement with a handful of BS consulting companies (McKinsey et al.) which therefore win projects in a round robin fashion whilst adhering to some random requirements, e.g. "cheapest wins".
So what we get after all is 20 years of all federal states and municipalities being bullish of their own solutions, hundreds of failed digitization attempts for minor features as well as major services, ~3.5B EUR poured into BS consulting shops and nothing that remotely works end-to-end.
This Youtube describes how that scenario plays out in defense contracting in Germany
"Perun" used to be a video game streamer but thanks to the Russia-Ukraine war he now one of the best warbloggers and even does appearances together with top generals and pros like Anders Puck Nielsen.
Both you and the GP are correct. I know of instances of both scenarios.
That is true and in the end the Chief-Executive-Intern-Junior-Fullstack-Developer from hungary/poland/croatia/romania will do it for the german consulting company bc in-house german developers are too expensive.
Can’t speak for others, but Polish engineers aren’t and haven’t been cheaper than German for a while now.
Perhaps you're comparing _good_ engineers. That's not who we're talking about here :)
There's tens of thousands of fresh IT graduates working 2.5k EUR/mo jobs (or less) - and you can replace any engineer with a finite amount of these guys.
> There's tens of thousands of fresh IT graduates working 2.5k EUR/mo jobs (or less)
That's a senior developer salary in Portugal (in Farfetch, no less).
This branch of thread is sad. For everyone.
I was definitely getting less than that in my first year in the UK. That was because of being scammed by a bootcamp tho haha. In my second year I make moderately more than that
> There's tens of thousands of fresh IT graduates working 2.5k EUR/mo jobs (or less)
Also in Germany.
Maybe in the North, but in Bavaria it's the "good buddy" scenario.
Especially because the main criteria is the price.
So the cheapest wins, and most of the time the price estimation was a lie and you need lots of additional payments or you need to start all over again.
To be fair, this is how most "advanced" economies operate. It's identical in Australia (although there the consulting companies run the sweatshops directly so they can skim more cream off the top). Same in the UK.
Australia also has the Digital Transformation Agency to do things in house like the UK does it. I’m not sure how many government IT projects use them though. Some departments also seem to have their own (competent) in house software teams, like the ABS, the DSD (Aussie NSA) and the ATO (aus tax office).
And thank god for that, because there’s also an ungodly number of consultants milking the Australian taxpayers for all we’re worth.
gov.uk is largely in-house.
What frightens me is comparing the snail-like rate of progress in the post-modern era with the rapid progress during the 20th century, regardless of economic and governmental system. It's like the a hand brake was simply engaged. I get it that people in power want to stall things so that they can skim money for their own purposes, but doesn't anybody else get just bored by the lack of progress?
> but doesn't anybody else get just bored by the lack of progress?
Be the change that you want to happen. Where possible implement it in software with your friends and publish it on the internet. Thus: I am not bored by the lack of progress, instead I am rather overworked by implementing parts of this in my free time after work.
Of course! My comment was not about software since I'm no programmer, but about progress in the general sense. Why don't the people who are involved and take decisions within large civic projects get bored with the slow rate of progress. Like after they've stolen maybe a few millions for themselves and their friends, why not get on with it and actually start working? Is it necessary to stall progress for years and decades just for the joy of stealing? At least when it comes to IT, the rulers have very few means available for them to stall progress in general, so it becomes very obvious when they're doing it within the places they can control.
There’s no real desire within the German civil service to make anything more efficient, partially because it would inevitably result in redundancies, partially because of a general malaise and sense of apathy.
Yes, but where does that malaise and apathy come from? I've certainly seen my share of it, dealing with government and large corporations, but not exclusively there.
You're looking at already developed countries. If you look at digitisation of government services in Russia or virtual currencies and online banking in Nigeria, they will be much better than their first world counterparts.
Well, the UK does both. It has both incredible barriers to entry that exclude anyone other than consulting firms whose central skills is dealing with them from participation, and it also has VIP lanes for routing work to your mates.
So why are online gov services still so much better in the uk then in Germany?
We have this stuff https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5911218
The only cynical solution I can think of is someone is getting obscenely rich by keeping Government Digital running effectively
In terms of motivation, online services do save the government money on administration costs like manual data entry, costs of returning forms that have been filled out wrong, etc. And every government likes efficiency savings much more than increasing taxes or reducing government services.
In terms of implementation, the government employs a small number of competent people directly - the "Government Digital Service" - who accomplish some projects.
Other IT projects are done by organisations like Accenture, CSC, Atos Origin, Fujitsu and BT. They are generally paid more if the project is late or buggy, with predictable results. But they'll often produce something eventually, if enough money is thrown at them.
The "VIP lanes for routing work to your mates" are more for things like buying overpriced PPE during the pandemic.
1) Most of uk.gov is actually designed and built in-house. 2) Germany, as a nation, got to about 1991 and collectively decided "This is nice, let's keep it like this". Even the most technologically progressive regions of Germany still think it's 1997. Elsewhere, it's like the wall never came down.
Honestly, this just reflects the age of the population. Change is more painful when you're old, so stasis becomes more attractive. Usually Germans like the general idea of improvement, but they hate change.
The joke about the Merkel government was that if the French state is founded on the concept of 'Liberté, égalité, fraternité', the German state is founded on 'Stabilität, Stabilität, Stabilität' even in the face of badly needed change.
Ah, so that's why Germany and Japan have such an easy trading relationship.
Yes, finally someone else with whom to fax.
Anyone here who has written a fax gateway (receive TIFF of fax, do OCR, save somewhere and convert to PDF)?
(fax is alive and well in Switzerland)
This boggles the mind on the cultural-legal implications in fax-centric countries of doing:
Fax to TIFF to OCR to PDF to internet transfer to TIFF to fax
But anyone still requiring fax would probably just be happy "it came out of a fax machine / software."
Fax is a secure channel, apparently, which of course is complete horseshit. It uses the phone network, which is only marginally better than the internet. Many know that email headers can be faked, but not so many know that phone numbers can, too.
Legally I guess this becomes the problem of the party that introduces the intermediate stages. The other party doesn't need to care.
Very cynical but it feels very accurate
> Even the most technologically progressive regions of Germany still think it's 1997. Elsewhere, it's like the wall never came down.
It is in my opinion a little bit more complicated. The central issue is: many ideas for digitization that other countries or private companies do or have done are very privacy-invading.
Germany had two surveillance states on its soil in the 20th century (of which one ended only a little bit more than 30 years ago). Additionally, lots of German citizens remember the aftermath of the dragnet investigation to fight the RAF in the 80s. So privacy and the possibilities of surveillance are very sensitive topics in the German population.
Additionally, basically every German citizen knows that when data accumulates, politicians will find a reason to use this data to spy on the citizens (prosecution of criminals ... blah blah). Thus there is an insane distrust in the German population in the politicians. Just to give a more recent examples: when the TollCollect system for truck toll was introduced, there were from beginning on concerns that the billing data will become abused. The politicians appeased the citizens that this will never happen. Of course it did happen:
"Rasterfahndung, heimliche Online-Durchsuchung, Datenauswertung der Lkw-Maut - Bundesinnenminister Wolfgang Schäuble und die Unionsfraktion drängen auf zahlreiche Verschärfungen der Sicherheitsgesetze. Die SPD will mitziehen - aber nicht beim Datensammeln zur Verbrechensvorbeugung.
Entsprechende Pläne präsentierten Unionspolitiker nach Informationen des SPIEGEL in einer Koalitionsrunde am vergangenen Donnerstag. Unter anderem sollen dem Bundeskriminalamt die Rasterfahndung und die heimliche Online-Durchsuchung von Privatcomputern erlaubt werden. Außerdem sollen die Daten der Lkw-Maut dabei helfen, Verbrechen aufzuklären."
DeepL translation: "Grid searches, secret online searches, data analysis of truck tolls - Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and the CDU/CSU parliamentary group are pushing for numerous tightening of security laws. The SPD wants to go along - but not with data collection for crime prevention.
According to SPIEGEL, Union politicians presented plans to this effect at a coalition meeting last Thursday. Among other things, the Federal Criminal Police Office is to be allowed to conduct dragnet searches and secret online searches of private computers. In addition, the data from the truck toll is to help solve crimes."
"Das Computer-Ausspähen wird also kommen. Wieder einmal wird der Gesetzgeber das Grundgesetz einschränken. Es mag nachvollziehbare Gründe dafür geben, wenn es darum geht, Terroristen davon abzuhalten, Hunderte von Menschen zu töten. Aber es braucht wenig prophetische Fähigkeiten, um vorauszusagen, dass es so kommen wird, wie es in der Vergangenheit immer gekommen ist: Erst versprechen die Innenpolitiker und die Sicherheitsbehörden hoch und heilig, das neue scharfe Schwert nur bei den ganz gefährlichen Straftaten und Verbrechern zu benutzen. Doch dann kommen die Drogenhändler, die Kinderschänder, die Betrüger und schließlich die Steuerhinterzieher. Und plötzlich sind auch Onlinedurchsuchungen ein ganz normales Instrument polizeilicher Ermittlungen.
Das war so bei der Kronzeugenregelung, bei der Datenspeicherung zur LKW-Maut und bei der Telefonüberwachung. Die gehört längst zum polizeilichen Alltag und wird von Richtern routinemäßig genehmigt. Auch beim Großen Lauschangriff drängt die Union seit Langem auf eine Ausweitung. Ihr passt es überhaupt nicht, dass die Polizei die Mikrofone ausschalten muss, wenn die belauschten Gespräche privat werden."
"So computer spying is coming. Once again, the legislature will restrict the Basic Law. There may be understandable reasons for this if the goal is to prevent terrorists from killing hundreds of people. But it takes little prophetic ability to predict that things will turn out the way they always have in the past: first, domestic politicians and the security authorities promise on high and holy to use the new sharp sword only on the very dangerous crimes and criminals. But then come the drug dealers, the child molesters, the fraudsters and finally the tax evaders. And suddenly online searches are also a normal instrument of police investigations.
This was the case with the leniency program, data storage for truck tolls and telephone surveillance. This has long been part of everyday police life and is routinely approved by judges. The CDU/CSU has also long been pushing for an expansion of the large-scale eavesdropping program. It does not like the fact that the police have to switch off the microphones when the conversations they listen in on become private."
Thus: never trust a politicians: politicians are nearly all fraudsters who belong into a high-security jail instead of a parliament.
This form doesn't save data.
It's not about protecting privacy. Germany saves more data than ever and it's openly spying on it's citizens.
I think it's a mixture of inability and indifference in the government
As someone who has lived in the UK and other European countries, you don't know how refreshing is to hear honest and critical takes on burocracy and/or corruption in European countries.
Too often, given the heavier US demographics of sites like HN, we get black or white pictures where it's either the best or the worst and always as some sort of political point related to the US.
My buddy at Volkswagen and deutsche bank would like to have a word
Germany has quite a lush hacker culture (e.g. CCC), I'm wondering why some people with know-how don't just get together and make a bunch of solutions like the one in this submission.
Because the bureaucrats (mostly suits and legal professionals) being afraid of making compliance mistakes in their projects, they will only hire certified people who went through all the German (mostly) BS university education. So the overall system is optimized for hiring rather subservient people and sorts out potentially talented "troublemakers".
In addition, e.g. CCC is one of those groups with well-educated tech talent but they have kind of a history getting criminalized by the German governments (starting from the 80s). As a result, they (to me) seem to be rather anti-government and focus on very valuable tech workshops and tech education for interested civilians.
The buddy thing (and most of the other aspects) is the same for Switzerland. Additionally, you need to integrate 26 systems built with different technologies, one for each Canton. And some of them won't even have an API but will upload the data using CSV in a FTP folder
I believe this is just reality for a lot of Governments with procurement biddings. Just replace here the IT solution with other projects like construction (very profitable or so I hear), mining, office supplies like laptops, and etc.
It's such a cliché that I'm already tired at this point. I'm completely baffled as to why people keep voting these people for over two decades and obeying the vote-buying (when they can easily just keep the money and vote for the better/lesser evil candidates).
At least in Germany, it's a lot less blatant.
Coming from Estonia it is hard to believe how Germany still requires you to show up at government entities. I thought Germany was a very advanced country. I've done everything online for the past 10 or so years, having to only show up to the police to retrieve my new national id card or passport once it's ready, but every other service is entirely online: https://e-estonia.com/solutions/
A lot of the bureaucracy is a badly disguised jobs program. There would be so many people out of work if there was actual work to reform some of these ossified government services.
None of these people would be out of work, we have more than enough jobs.
I had to laugh out loud. I want to say that's unrealistic, but alas, it unfortunately is not.
Except it won't be a raspberry pi, because one of the people will have convinced upper management that the load MAY be excessively high so it needs to be a mainframe grade high available cluster that will need to be requisitioned first.
Given the project will probably take 10 to 15 years to be completed, honestly, they are probably not wrong.
By the time it's ready for production, the latest Raspberry Pi will probably be about as powerful as the fancy cluster.
When the wind stops, the form goes offline because the Pi uses 100% renewables. Last month the form went offline during a windy period because the neighbours complained about the wind noise the micro-sized windmill was producing: nimby.
Actually the whole government digitalization in Germany isn't as backwards as it seems. In some cases it might be even cutting edge solutions. One positive example is for instance Elster, the tax declarations are paperless since years, saving lots of money for tax consultants.
But "consumer facing" solutions anyway have some unmovable roadblocks which is privacy for the better and the worse. Ultimately there's still quite some suspicion among most people towards full digitalization. And it's not completely without reason. Every time some new piece of consumer-government Infrastructure is added, CCC is finding at least one very serious bug that isn't fixed for a considerable amount of time - or never. (De-Mail, digital Passport - both probably should be core parts of such solutions anyway) Again, there are also positive example like the Corona app where the design was changed after criticism.
That said, I don't think a municipal government has many degrees of freedom for any convenience solution. (So even if anyone is best buddies with an IT shop, it just won't happen)
Detailed insider information! One detail missing: you forgot fax support.
Here's how we would do it in Norway
1. Problem is widely known. Everyone knows it sucks, and people in charge are starting to think "Maybe we should get that fixed"
2. The gov. hires McKinsey to get some strategic advice on the mater. They'll spend hundreds of thousands of NOK (1 NOK ≈ $0.093 / €0.087) , maybe even a couple of million, on the strategic consultants. They'll present the gov. with N different options, with the most obvious being number one - "Yeah fix that problem, here's our report to back that up"
3. Relevant gov. minister will order the correct department or directorate to start the project, whom in turn will take a glance at internal resources, before swiftly reaching out to Accenture, Capgemini, Sopra Steria, and similar IT-consulting firms.
4. The consultants start to work with the department/directorate, where months will be spent on gather specs, planning, project work, and all that. Regular team meetings, flying the consultants out to wherever the department/directorate is located.
5. Implementation starts, after 1-2 years. Depending on the consulting firm, a MVP is presented withing a couple of months.
6. After 2-3 year, the (still minimal) product is ready to be released to the public. Millions of NOK has been spent. The product is officially owned by some product owner in the IT department of the directorate.
7. The consulting firm will work on the project for 5 years, until the contract is either renewed, or some other consulting firm wins the new bid.
8. After 10 years or so, the product is probably completely absorbed by some larger IT-project or portal, designed to consolidate products.
In the end, tens and tens of consultants have worked on the single-page form.
Yet for some reason Europeans feel so strongly against privitization of public services
Which is a good thing, since it's ultimately a failed concept.
Most of these shitty online services are already run by private consulting companies that burn your tax money.
And yet you as an individual has no freedom to choose which company's interface you want to use for the government. You get the government-appointed shitty one.
You’re right, but this is not what I mean by privatizing.
In this scenario you described, the government has a monopoly and you as a citizen don’t get to opt-out or switch to the competition. You will pay for whatever garbage service they provide you with, unless you want to go to jail.
There are no consequences to wasting your tax money. These private consulting companies are just the means to waste it.
Government tends to do what only government can do (e.g. issue passports, driving licenses, file taxes, etc.), and things where natural monopolies exist (water supply, trains, roads).
What exactly would you privatise? (read: hand over obscene profits to a rent-seeking private entity).
In the various libertarian ideologies there is the idea that only thing that government needs to do is to “notarize” contracts. This is on the first approximation true, but said government needs to somehow derive the authority to do so. That authority comes from government's ability to somehow disperse violence, which in itself requires quite extensive support infrastructure needed for the government to function. And when such infrastructure has to exist anyway, somehow providing access to it for the citizens is a good idea both politically and economically.
Another function of government is, like it or not, in somehow providing legal tender and in the process regulating it. Efficient free markets need fiat medium of exchange, however counterintuitive that might seen. Because otherwise the trading parties would not have any common value reference, and sooner or later the market itself will create something akin to a government and state. Which is well, probably how the idea of governments and states started some thousands of years ago.
I actually had to work with two German government agencies, digitalizing parts of their work flow and it was surprisingly pleasant. The gov employees were super happy I saved them a lot of work and made their daily lives easier. My clients (small software shops) got to set up and maintain the server for them. There was some bureaucracy hurdles my clients had to tackle, but no show stoppers.
I think the biggest problem for government agencies is to find a nice software shop that actually cares and delivers value. They usually have no way of telling who will be good and who will rip them off. Gov agencies are so easy to get ripped off and nobody will take responsibility when things go south.
Maybe the best way is to avoid these consultancies altogether and create a government digital agency (whether at local or national level). Motivated and well-trained civil servants familiar with the bureaucracy and terminology who can maintain and improve services in the long term. The UK .gov project seems to point the way.
They have one already, but it's probably not as big: https://digitalservice.bund.de/
I have worked with some of those people, and I can say that the agency is in really good hands.
This is largely impossible in Germany due to government pay rates being a fraction of what a competent person would earn in industry. There is very little flexibility in this due to equality principles. Sports is an exception, so they could fix it if they wanted to.
I don't think that's true - the pay is still good for eastern germany and outside of bigger cities and if there would be an honest effort I'm sure they'll find qualified personell. Additionally it's possible to have a non-profit company or a corporative.
And maybe that keeps the enterprise java and cloud architects away so projects could actually succeed without complexity or cost explosion :)
I guess it's because the state is forbidden to compete with the private sector by law/regulation (thank you neoliberals / capitalists...) so it just can't start something like this and the other big problem is due to the federated nature of german governance everony like to be the king in their area of control and collaborative projects tend to fail due to that. That was a huge problem during covid when every health department did their own thing regarding managing the data...
Additionally lot's of the personell that would be in charge for that is unfortunatly either delusional or incompetent from my limited experience so this could also backfire and turn into a subsidy for the buddys of the person.
But it's even basic things that are broken. Why has every city / municipality reinvent the wheel and organize their it stuff on their own... a non-profit or coop on the state level could just support them, do procurement and initial setup - this would result in more security and stability and less costs. There now some talks in that direction - it's 2023
> There is very little flexibility in this due to equality principles.
I can imagine a lot of ways to interpret this but none really make sense in the context of your post.
What "equality principle" leads to a conclusion that a government employee doing X must be paid a fraction of what a private employee doing X is paid? I'm confused.
Equality among tiers of government employee. A similar though less pronounced issue exists with the US and the General Schedule. Entry level SWE who get lucky and enter at like grade 9 make maybe 50% of what they could at FAANG as a new grad. For seniors it's even worse.
There are salary tiers that are the same across all government employees. A new grad software engineer with a master's degree will earn the same as a new grad biologist, even though the outside government salaries for the two might differ by a factor of 2. There is no practical way of paying somebody more than this narrow wage band even if it's impossible to fill the position with somebody competent. You end up not having good engineers working for the government, unless they are willing to take an extremely steep pay cut.
OK, I'm not sure I would describe that phenomena as an "equality principle" though. That is just a misleading label for a misguided bureaucratic rule.
Sorry for the confusion. Not a native english speaker here (although I've been living in the US for a few years).
Don't feel bad. Native-born Americans are having a hard time agreeing on what words like "equality" mean these days...
Very happy to hear that! Heard similiar stories but usally it's on a lower level where things can go right more often than not. The bigger the projects the bigger the problems.
I am not sure why you keep calling France "Germany :)
The two organizations in France who specialize in this are the ministry of health and education.
For health we have incompatible backend systems for a start.
Then there was a large project to digitalize the patient files. Millions of euros flew in, an atrocity was born, nobody used it.
After a few years, a brand new project was recreated, millions flew in and another abomination was born. I asked today at the pharmacy if I can use the digitalized version of my prescription (read: a picture I zm invited to take from within the app) and after a moment of reflection to understand what I was asking for they said absolutely not and that the app is crap, completely useless for health. My MD said the same.
I am waiting for the next project and will try to get it, I have a raspberry pi I do not use.
Education. We have platforms for regions that brings exactly nothing (nobody know what it is for) and in this you have an unrelated application with the actual information from school. It comes from a private company which is comfortably installed in the ministry so they provide the same shitty application every year. The "platform" I mentioned earlier was announced as collaborative and whatnot, yet it crashed on the first day of COVID lockout despite not providing any functionality, but blocking everything else.
Ah, our taxes system traditionally crashes the day before the deadline.
Ah, our gov't decided to digitalize our identity papers. 10 years after other countries in Europe (I saw the Polish system which is great). But wait! You expected that you could actually use this to identify yourself? Hahahahahah... Sorry. It is explitely stated that the app will not be used for identification purposes. So what the fuck is it expected to be used for?
I am angry because despite my utter love for my country, anything related to digitalization is run by complete idiots who have no idea about what a computer is.
I would love to be proven wrong by an application that works so that my patriotism can revive.
For anyone thinking this is satire: It's suprisingly close to the truth. We have Elster for electronically submitting taxes. Apparently the Elster Project started in 1996. And all it is, is a digital version of the manual tax forms. It's entirely stupid. When I file my taxes I still have to leave out 12 random pages (instead of Elster figuring out that I don't need to file them and simply not show them to me). And last time I called the tax office the woman on the phone told me she can't answer a specific question I had because she would need to get my printed out file for that from the cabinet down the hall so I will have to call again later. 27 years. This is where we're at.
Elster is still among the best digital products Germany has to offer. Pretty much everything else is worse.
Can anyone tell me why it is named after a bird known for stealing? Is this a deliberate joke? How did that get approved?
It is an acronym, ELektronische STeuerERklärung
I do not disagree that sometimes German bureaucracy is not the most efficient.
But. I have used Elster and, while it is true it looks old and overly complicated, it actually works great.
You get _a lot_ of very useful warnings about fields that cannot be 0 or must at least be x, based on some other distant field. You can save previous forms and start from them (for recurrent things like VAT quarterly declaration). You can save progress and log in using certificates, change to be notified electronically instead of per physical mail.
IMO Elster would be even better if they would _never_ change the number of the fields. If you buy a book about German taxes (I know, fun) they can say fill in field 47, and it it prob now 49 because the fields changed.
Very valid points. But I would argue that guiding the user through a set of basal questions to exclude a bunch of fields and pages would do wonders for the whole thing. I get by alright but most of my friends and family find it utterly complicated and have to consult a tax advisor because they don't even know which fields are even relevant to them and the explanations in them often leave them with more questions than they had when they started.
> guiding the user through a set of basal questions to exclude a bunch of fields and pages
The UK tax return (AKA Self-Assessment) follows this pattern and it definitely makes it better. It still lacks clear explanations of every field though.
Have you ever done taxes in another country? US taxes are not known to be super easy but the sheer ease of filing them compared to filing German taxes completely blew my mind.
Or Finnish taxes. You don't need to file anything, it's automatically done for you. If you need some money back e.g. driving for work, you fill a quick form digitally and that's it.
Maybe my expectations were low ;)
I did them in Spain. Honestly German taxes were a bit more intimidating (so many fields, tk is different) but in the end you only need a few. As a salaried employee you can use taxfix and get it done in 20 min.
In Spain they were easier, but also I could not expense many things as a contractor. In Spain they would send you a draft, and you can request a meeting to help you do them (few people do this). This was smooth. You show at your timeslot and a friendly person is there for any questions. Before you leave, the definitive version is done.
The part about typing it again by hand and printing it is very real!
It's scary - if you apply for government student assistance you can apply online and it get's printed out - they had to employ people for printing! https://www.tagesschau.de/investigativ/funk/studenten-bafoeg...
You forgot to mention that McKinsey gets involved.
Are you related to Luc Boulianne from Montreal? (Worked at McGill.)
Nope. I'm from a different region, although I lived in Montreal too.
We did this as well several years ago, even with an iOS app, a guide to the process and a German cheat sheet: https://amty.io
Every new Berliner feels this pain, but the worse part is getting an appointment. Not just for your Anmeldung, but for anything you need to do here.
Lovely project! Same annoying form in Austria as well. Thanks for it! Does the tool also suggest how to properly fill the form when you have your main residency in another country?
The first year I moved to Austria I still had my main residency in Italy, and filling the paper unproperly could have impacted my taxation. Please have a look at DTA if you don´t know what I mean.
I've used All About Berlin several times during my years in Germany, it's an invaluable resource to anyone who wants to live there.
The other day when I needed this exact form, I realized how much time it was saving me and donated some to show appreciation.
Thanks for your great work @nicbou!
It's funny, I used to work in the US for a germany company that had a similar process for many things, IT forms were pdfs that needed to be printed and hand signed, if you used an older version the form was rejected and you needed to fill out a new one. It appears to be a cultural thing.
Nit: I’d probably avoid saying “you’re done” when nothing was done, the user still needs to deliver it themselves. Saying “done” makes it look like it took care of it all, to a distracted person.
I’d say the opposite: “Warning, you’re not done!”
I was trying to think of how to word what has been accomplished (and finished, as far as the website is concerned) and was having a hard time of it, but your idea to just flip the whole thing on its head and say “warning: you’re not done” is just so elegant in its simplicity. Well done (pun intended)!
Is there an actual purpose for Germany requiring this other than allowing the Gestapo to track you down?
This is in poor taste.
It's used for a number of reasons, like planning things relative to the number of people living in an area. It also becomes your official address where the government sends all your important mail. It's also how you get registered for church tax.
How is it poor taste? There’s a lot of history of German police arresting everyone who registered themselves as a certain demographic.
Reminds me of last year when I made a small site to help find appointments slots for the municipality in Brussels.
Website was taking so much effort to see the appointments and people said throughout they day they randomly opened so many of my classmates were checking all the time. So I made this to see appointments on one page instead of clicking many boxes.
I did that too: https://allaboutberlin.com/guides/berlin-burgeramt-appointme...
It took me a few months to get it sanctioned by Berlin's IT department, and I could not replicate that success with other services. However it's a start.
This is cool. The real trick is getting a Bürgeramt appointment to submit this form. The official portal for that is a punishing exercise in bad UX. Basically, there are very few appointments available, so you have to keep refreshing the calendar page and hope that one of the dates is linked. It took me 2 weeks of opening that page multiple times a day and refreshing over and over. It gets hammered by bots as well and if you don't click the link fast enough it will disappear. There are multiple bots available on Github and I think there is also a Chrome extension now. But, they all do the same thing (refresh the page) and will get your IP banned if you run them without long timers. I tried all of it and the only thing that worked was having a Favorite in mobile Safari that I opened whenever I had idle time. I finally got one in a coffee shop and nearly knocked the table over because I was so happy.
Bürgerämter are most of the time a fucking joke. My registration in Berlin took months after I already moved there, the waiting times are just that long, and this seems to apply to many cities. I live in another city now, and my ID card has been expired for months now (which, legally, is a misdemeanor). There isn't a single free appointment anywhere, citywide. You can attempt to go personally there in the early morning, yet here is what I encountered: arriving half an hour early to the Bürgeramt: THIRTY people waiting there, squatting in the hallways, all the way out to the door. On another day, arriving an HOUR before it opened: 12 people already waiting. It's all a joke. And this isn't a recent phenomenon - it's mismanagement for decades, the people responsible should all be fired (but of course that isn't possible).
There should be a "Minister for Time", who has the authority to crack down on such bullshit, not only in the German state bureaucracy, but also in the medical system (good luck getting any quick care here!). Both have taken to a level that is undignified, and wastes person-years of sitting in depressing places. Waiting should be an exception, not the norm, and there need to be metrics against that which have consequences.
I am always in a similar situation in Valencia (Spain) when trying to book appointments. Fortunately, there is an integrated appointment system here and it's fairly trivial to automate checking for open appointments using their API. I can usually get one in a few hours by checking once per minute for free slots.
I also wrote something similar for getting a NIE appointment (foreigner's ID card) by using puppeteer (headless Chrome for node) to actually fill out the website for me, about once per 3 minutes (max without getting rate-limited).
I'm fortunate to have the skills to do so but I feel bad for the rest of the people who have to check websites for weeks at a time to get appointments.
Try registering or deregistering a vehicle in a major German city. That once took me three months, because I simply couldn't get an appointment via the web interface set up especially for that purpose. Since Covid, the process is kind of broken, at least in my city.
You might have chosen the worst example for your point, it is super duper easy to register a car online. I registered both of my cars online, the papers arrived in a week but I was able to drive and insure the vehicle without any interruptions. They give you a printout to carry around while the original registration papers arrive, but the police already knows whether the car is registered or not and will not bother you.
This is a fairly recent development. The wait times for registering a vehicle were downright absurd.
By the way, the Kfz-Zulassungsstelle is allegedly one of the best-organised offices on Berlin. It's all downhill from there.
> it is super duper easy to register a car online.
If you are in possession of the title of the car, yes.
However if you lease a car, the leasing company will just post the lease to the Zulassungsstelle so that you will not be in possession of the title at any time. So it will require you to go there in person.
German here and a Berlin "native". In Germany, it is common knowledge that Berlin bureaucracy sucks even more so than on average. Part of it has to do with (Western) Berlin's history of being an island receiving a lot of subsidies. Nowadays, after re-unification, it still receives a lot of federal subsidies but for being the new country's capitol. As a consequence, Berlin's public sector is relatively large but not in the relevant branches and also lacking really competent personnel. So while Berlin spends Billions on paying public servants it cannot even maintain its basic public services, sadly.
I bet you would have had a much better experience everywhere else (even in Potsdam, Berlin's neighboring city).
I ran into something similar as a Dutch person trying to buy a car from Germany. The initial plan was to drive the car back from Germany, but to do this I had to get an export license plate. This can only be done in the municipality where the car was sold, and they told me I was lucky because I could get an appointment quite quick, which was a month and a half from now. I would also have to bring the car to the Straßenverkehrsamt. How I would have gotten the car there was also a mystery to me, as I did not have a license plate and to get a license plate I would have to bring the car there. If I did somehow manage to do that though, I would have to get a physical license plate made and then get temporary insurance. Not a single German insurance company said they could insure the temporary license plate, as I was not already an existing customers of theirs. I ended up just renting a car transporter and bringing it home that way.
The process of getting a license plate once home was actually a breeze. I used the website of the Dutch Vehicle Authority to make an appointment (for the following day at 2pm) and they gave me a temporary license plate. I simply had to write this on a piece of cardboard and put it where the license plate would go. Called the cheapest insurance company to get temporary insurance, which was no problem, and simply drove the car to get it inspected.
There are red license plates for this exact case. Car dealerships generally have them to allow for test drives and bureaucracy drives.
If you buy a car (which is currently unregistered) from a private person that doesn't have those, you just did something that the bureaucracy didn't foresee and at that point, the best course of action is to avoid as much of it as possible.
At this point I have no hope that any of this will getter unless the german state collapses completely.
Dealer plates cannot be used for export.
To be honest though as a foreigner living in The Netherlands who doesn't speak a word of Dutch past "lekker", your bureaucracy and general services are probably one of the best in the world. Even your weird medical system is amazing when you actually need help - which I did and got top tier care, extremely fast. The Netherlands should just export their whole system to all of Europe, including the way information is documented in English in every official website.
On top you got a culture of being on time, which is prevalent everywhere, and you wait for stuff very seldomly, and only for a few minutes. Waiting for anything was one of my biggest irks in my home country, the fact that I can make an appointment, be there 5mins early, and get the service, blows my mind.
I doubt many foreign governments would agree that all legal matters should be documented not only in the language of that country but English as well.
While some countries provide a non-binding translation for many things, someone could set the precedent in court that the English translation if relied on by enough people is somewhat binding or similar - Result would be two slightly different (mis-)understandings about the law, due process and bureaucracy from official sources. That could be have unforseen consequences.
Just because many people happen to speak English doesn't mean everyone has to.
I can get an appointment for a new ID next week. Major city in Germany. Ymmv.
Hah, yeah, renewing ID card or passports needs to be planned well ahead. I think my government advices few months ahead of expiring.
In Berlin you can usually book a same day appointment for some city services including registration in the morning at 8:00-8:05, when they release few more slots. Sometimes you may need to go somewhere like Alt Tegel quickly, but that worked for me several times.
The trick is to look for appointments early in the morning. People who think they won't be able to make it to the appointment that day cancel theirs and there's a bunch of openings every morning.
This, it requires getting up around 6 AM or so, however there are always several slots made available for the same day, think last tickets sale for a concert.
This is not true. I tested it before: https://nicolasbouliane.com/blog/berlin-buergeramt-experimen...
I mean, from what I hear Berlin does take the cake on this one, but yes: its a country-wide phenomenon.
For what its worth, I was pleasantly surprised by the things you can do digitally in Kiel.
Schleswig-Holstein, Niedersachsen, Hamburg and Bremen have "Dataport", a publicly owned company which does a lot of the tech for public institutions in the area. While they are not operating at the efficiency of a normal company, they seem to be fairly useful. I'm not sure if something similar exists for other regions in Germany.
For Berlin specifically it is important to note the city-state was super broke until around 10 years ago. Many causes for this including mismanagement by the government, but the main cause is the GDR, how Berlin was divided, and how very little industry settled in or around Berlin.
Now this has changed a lot in the last decade or two, but it has been accompanied by avg. yearly net migration of 80k people which is putting a major strain on all public services.
That's exactly why you want to roll out a digitalisation plan and not throw billion of euros of tax payers money away
A big issue of Berlin's failure is within Berlin's constitution:
Berlin isn't centralized, but the districts (Bezirke) have quite some freedom to structure their work (similar to "kommunale Selbstverwaltung" in other states) and how they run the administration offices (Bürgerämter etc.) which then leads to city administration passing a law for something and each district implementing it differently and city administration having no authority to override district decisions, while taking the blame.
Fixing this requires a change to the constitution, but that requires a 2/3 majority in the city assembly (Abgeordnetenhaus) or a referendum. Getting the majority is hard as there are varying differences (from parties being happy about number of posts to full, like district mayors etc.) and "dislike" between districts (East/West, center/outer, ..)
The trick is not to go to the main registration side but to the small local offices in the outer areas. Like in Nuremberg not going into the city center but to Katzwang or Großgründlach.
Sometimes you can got there without appointment and you can go in, because they have nothing to do and they are waiting happily for you and they are very friendly.
That brings to mind the romance of waiting in the immigration queue in Dublin at 4 AM with my wife so we could get registered by the end of the day. https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/clips/20853936/ . Simpler times.
Of course, the Irish government did eventually put in place an appointment booking system that was so comically bad bots would take all of the appointments immediately for resale on Facebook marketplace. It never crossed their mind to use a CAPTCHA. I only got my own appointment by writing a scraper for it.
I did that in Berlin about a decade ago and I think that only stopped happening here around 2018. I have fond memories of thermoses, multiple layers, a long grumpy queue trying to keep itself warm in pitch darkness. And then when the doors open, everyone rushes in to grab one of the few paper appointment tickets. Didn’t manage? Then try again the next day.
And that was actually a much-missed office hours system. If you had to see someone without waiting months, you waited from the middle of the night. Now you’re just screwed.
Really glad I took my business to the Netherlands and not Germany.
That appointment system is the worst online registration system ever. In fact I suggest people having trouble to move outside of the Dublin area to avoid it. Then you would only need to call the garda and an immigration officer handles everything. You just visit the station on the appointed date with your documents.
I hate phone calls more than anyone, but this experience is far ahead of the appointment system one.
Of course, when I tried to register in Tullamore years later the immigration officer fobbed me off until she tried. Thankfully the one in Athlone eventually took pity on me and let me register there.
Oh sorry to hear that. Unfortunately this is also typical Irish experience. No standards across different regions :(
Incompetence and unprofessionalism were rampant. Also: typo - I meant until she retired, leaving Offaly with no immigration officer. I had to call a TD to get sorted. Peak Ireland.
Here's what I do when I need to go to a Bürgeramt: For every type of appointment you can make, there should be an official website containing links to each Bürgeramt's calendar page. Bookmark that website, not the individual pages. Find one or a few locations you'd prefer, then open each calendar in a separate browser! Opening multiple in one browser doesn't work, as it remembers your last selection per browser session. Next, keep refreshing and checking the calendars every 30 minutes. Slots free up pretty often, but they're also full again soon after. If you're lucky, you can figure out when canceled appointments are entered into the system for your location (for mine it was 10AM every day). Around that time, there's a good chance you might even get a few slots that are only a week or two into the future. Once you figured out when slots open up, check around that time daily. Book the first slot you can get, then keep doing this for a few days and book any slot that is better than your previous one (but be nice and cancel the old slot).
It's a lot of work, and it shouldn't be necessary, but I'd never go into a Bürgeramt without an appointment and this method has worked for me every time so far.
I wrote a tool for that: https://allaboutberlin.com/guides/berlin-burgeramt-appointme...
It's officially sanctioned by the city, but it's capped to one request every 3 minutes to avoid replacing the official website. Every few months, I ask them for permission to add other services, and I get ghosted.
However, the tool is open source, so you can just `pip install` it and run it on any appointment type you want.
Maybe this was you as well https://www.reddit.com/r/berlin/comments/q7ekx8/1010_is_the_... :-)
Your form helped immensely in the anmeldung process last year for me. Keep fighting the good fight sir.
Yep, that's also me! Glad it helped
You can automate that with a browser extension that checks the page and plays a sound when it changed
You make great use of modern technology and ingenuity. Congratulations, everyone should do the same. Sarcasm end. As a German living abroad I look in horror at the stories I read. Where I live changing the official registered address is a log into the gov services site, change it and two weeks late I get a letter with ned address stickers for my driver's licence. The driver licence on my phone does not need a sticker obviously.
This, with a little more automation, is exactly how I was able to book a covid quarantine hotel to return to NZ.
It felt pretty unfair that the average user was at an impossible disadvantage because the system had no protection against automation.
It was quite obvious others were already running automation, but I only booked for myself and then turned it off.
I was impressed NZ got a highly functional system up and running extremely quickly, but it became a game of high frequency trading.
I appreciate your work much. I think it would really be a pleasant experience completing not only the Anmeldung but other things you provide on allaboutberlin.com.
From a pragmatic perspective this is the right thing to do. But I think people of Berlin should strive to abandon such bureaucracy completely. In other countries, there's no such thing as an Anmeldung and it doesn't look like such countries are falling apart (because of this). Why not simply get rid of this and let the people do meaningful work?
I used to work in a small company that digitized paper/pdf forms. We used json schema forms in React which allowed us to recreate complicated schemas along with the conditionals to show/hide sections and do complicated calculations. The forms would be rendered on the fly based on the underlying schema.
The main customers were from the local government who wanted to digitize and increase the efficiency of dealing with some forms. I mean we are talking about forms that are 5-50 pages long with just a few people who know how everything is supposed to work. In some cases a processing of a form would be extremely expensive. The product saved a lot of public money.
But it is extremely hard to sell to such orgs, requires tight collaboration to understand all of the edge cases. Not only that but it is necessary to interact with gov before they even start a procurement process, not just because you want to increase the chances of winning but because they just do not know what is possible to begin with and how to ask for it. Also, there is some competition to outbid the others which sounds like a good thing but it also reduces the chances that a solution will be transformative as it is quite hard to spell it out what you want so that it is of good quality.
The next time you complain about poor digital services remember that it is hard to compete in that field and the cheapest almost always wins. This does not mean the best though. Also, I encourage you to try and bid on some local projects to improve our shitty old systems.
As a foreigner who moved to Berlin 6 years ago, congratulations.
This is brilliantly done.
It is so crazy that the biggest economy in Europe is so non-digitalized.
> Or why not skip paper entirely?
If we're talking about actual reform, the obvious suggestion is to skip the entire notion of registration, no?
Registration is very useful, e.g. it means that you can easily vote in all elections without any additional steps. You automatically get a notification in your mail and don't have to do anything else to vote.
Yes, as a non-European expat moving to Denmark in 2017, my experience was eye-opening.
I needed one physical visit to the International affairs section of the citizens service(Borger service), where they took my biometrics, and issued me a CPR number(a national Id equivalent I that of social security number in the US, or Aadhaar ID in India), and another set of codes called Nem-Id which serves as a second factor authentication for all things online. That’s it.
I could go online, login with my CPR number, and use the Nem-ID as the second factor auth, and register my address, bank account, immigration details, driving license etc.
Need a bank account? Open one by using the CPR number and second factor auth using Nem-ID.
Same goes for phone connection, internet at home, whatever else.
Need holidays? Paid for by the government, and I login using my CPR number ti check my state of holidays. Independent of my employer.
Childcare benefit? Apply using the CPR number online.
Need to find a daycare(Vuggestue) for your kid? No need, login with the kid’s cpr number and apply, and you get assigned to one of the neighborhood ones.
I move to a different address within Denmark? Change the address in that borgerservice portal, and that’s it. Even my internet provider sends a bill to the new address automatically.
End of the year, I get a tax report from SKAT(tax authorities) because they already know all my details as they are linked with my CPR number. All I need to do is report any corrections. If not my tax reporting is done by default.
When my kid was born in Denmark, the nurse came with a bag with a stork doll, and an envelope with….. CPR number :-)
It was a pleasure how things were digitized in Denmark.
As a German living in Denmark I often wonder why we Germans don't do it a bit like the danes .. it's just a hop over the border and ask them ;_;
Also if you change to a different bank or want a different "main" bank account both your monthly payments and wages get applied to your new bank account without you having to inform anyone.
denial. Look at all the other Germans saying "But all other countries are the same, it's not just Germany".
As a non-eu person living in Germany. It was easier to go to Denmark to marry because of the unreasonable paperwork in Germany. Like "Get a certificate you haven't been married in any country you have lived". Many countries don't issue those certificates.
Every scandinavian person knows how a good digitalized country looks like, Germans just can't even accept they are inefficient.
It sounds really nice when you say it like this, I've always felt bad about all the hoops you have to go through as a foreigner in the Nordics. I wish I had time to rate countries on different bureaucracy flows like the ones you list; child care, immigrant, bank account, id theft, police report, filing and paying taxes as a employee, handling sales tax. You get so blind to these small inefficiencies.
While I laud your effort, having had to do such a chore myself you are missing the point of bureaucracy. The whole point is to make work for bureaucrats, and the easier and more pointless it is, the better. There are also other issues remaining, like the fact that you need to involve your landlord.
Do you think anyone at the Bürgeramt has any reason to change their easy "just type stuff and press buttons" job to anything resembling real work? Bureaucrats wield political power, at the very least because they vote like anyone else, but they also have more direct influence than average people. Politicians have no incentive to go against them and, as long as they promise that everything will remain the same, they will have the support of the paper-stamper class. The bureaucrats form a distinct social class with their own interests.
If there was any will to solve the problem, it would have been done already, even without technology. Most people think that taxes are levied to pay for services, but it is actually the other way around, bureaucracy is there to justify the taxes.
 I had to go to Lichtemberg because it is was the only office with an appointment in a reasonable time frame.
 There are people selling registrations now.
This is not true. Civil servants hate drudgery as much as anyone else, and there plenty of work to go around. The chief complaint of Ausländerbehörde employees is that the work keeps piling up.
You must involve your landlord because you need some proof that you live where you are registering.
Sometimes the simplest explanation is the most likely: that the system is a disorganised mess, and that those most affected by it (including bureaucrats) are incapable of fixing it.
Yes, there are also people selling immigration office appointments. If there is desperation, there is a business.
There's a book by Jen Pahlka called Recoding America. https://www.worldcat.org/title/Recoding-America-:-why-govern...
Germany seems to have similar sorts of federal / state / municipal government issues and other bureaucratic constraints as the US. And, this article makes it clear it has the same sorts of opportunities for improvement.
Maybe it's time to establish Programmieren für Deutschland as a parallel org to Code for America.
> When you move in Berlin, you must register your address.
What happens if you don't? I'm from EU, I should be able to move and live within it wherever I please.
Apparently you can't open bank account or enter any legal agreement without anmeldung.
These digitization/paper-work/wait problems, 1000x for immigrants.
Added bonus of uncertainty and significant stress, you never know how these delays in processing are going to impact your status.
Yes, and this is why I spend so much time on those problems. Germans can afford to wait, but immigrants need everything at once and can't afford the delays.
In 2020 I did my Anmeldung by just sending them an email and not going in-person. Too bad they didn't keep the Covid workaround even after setting it up.
Bureaucracy in Germany felt to be equal in magnitude to what I was used to from the United States (which is to say: bad), but the character of the bureaucracy's toil in Germany felt incredibly archaic.
I hate to give the author of this tool any despair: if you think managing your Wohnsitzanmeldung is hard, wait until you decide to move away from Germany (to another country) and attempt to sever/cancel your contracts. The cancellation process is nightmare mode.
I'm surprised to hear that. As far as I know, the US doesn't have anything quite as ridiculous as this particular thing, at least not for something routine as moving to a new house.
The last time I had to visit a government office for something routine... well, I actually don't recall when that last was. Most things are done online, with only a small a few requiring me to mail something out as well.
I guess this is also location dependent; a small US town probably has less digitization than a large US city.
Don't forget to ask for a pension payments refund! https://allaboutberlin.com/guides/pension-payments-refund
Do Germans have to repeat the process to update their driver's license or other paperwork upon changing address?
Here in the US, we would normally... register the new address with the postal service (online), update the address on our driver's license and car registration (online if same state, in-person if new state), send an email to employer with new address details.
So as long as it's a move with a state, it's not too bad. Name changes (marriage, etc), gender changes, out of state moves, and other "edge" cases can be quite a bit more painful.
And of course, updating addresses with utilities/ISP and other non-governmental entities varies quite a bit.
FWIW, I have never bothered updating the car registration address and never had a problem. The DMV/MVD knows who owns the car (tied to your state id or driver’s license) and the latter has been updated. I don’t see a real need to update the former.
They put a sticker with your new address on the licence. The address change is not that bad honestly.
Static PDF or text is a good protection against Murphys law! Having done forms like this I have learned that the hard way. If you want to save state on the server like you mention e.g. QR code, you need to save the form as a PDF or a readable text file and not only as data that is rendered by some frontend framework.
This means you can have multiple people digitally sign or even fill it out, then they can sign the text representation which is easier than a digitally signed PDF or json. You need this because when you update the backend and frontend between logins and there is always somekind of mismatch that will happen. This is especially hard when you have non linear form entries or optional parts like the C/O part in this form, there is always something that slips through the crack in regression testing.
Last time it happend to us someone had upgraded the front end calendar month chooser. It was well tested, but that ment another optional date picker was updated and testing did not happen there. Then organizational and technical Murphys law struck meaning complete data loss for people affected by that.
> you need to save the form as a PDF or a readable text file
In this case, the data will live for a few weeks at most. The goal would be a QR code that contains the data as a hash: https://forms.berlin/#[form data]. This is to avoid storing or seeing any user data.
I was also considering a P2P solution with WebRTC. This would let you transmit your form without the server seeing the data. You'd just need to both visit a URL at the same time.
The idea is that I can't store private information, and the Bürgeramt can't install any new software.
None of this ever happens if you use an RDBMS and put everything in strongly typed columns, regardless of how or where you are generating the forms or UI (backend or front end). They can be stored encrypted with a js/user-only #fragment if you don’t want the server to see the data.
You should charge $500 a pop for this. People will pay
I'm sure they would, but this website is free by design.
Now they'll think: "it's time to change the form"...
yup, I can imagine some adversarial changes being made to the effect that the document generated by this online form can be refused by the administration in question.
OR if there are people interested in efficiency in this administration, despite what the current state of things would suggest, they could embrace this development, buy the rights to this and implement it on their website for everyone to enjoy. One can dream.
Such people exist. I have a few acquaintances in city government. They're interested in helping, although some are either busy, tangled in red tape, or unimaginative. They are definitely not hostile through.
Lol. My berlin friends will live this.
What libraries did you use in Vue for the UI components? Interface is so clean.
It's all made from scratch.
Nicolas, you are the hero we didn't now we needed.
Love this! Someone should start building a hub for such tools that help you deal with our german bureaucracy.
This is great! We should have a hub of such tools that help you deal with our german bureaucracy!
Nicolas, you are the hero we didn't know we needed.
Even just turning a PDF form into a properly-configured, digitally fillable and signable form is a massive usability increase, and of the forms I fill, I rarely encounter one with all fields properly editable from the outset. We're in a strange halfway place where everything is digital, printing is obsolete, everyone has asymmetric cryptography and biometrics in their pockets, but we're emailed forms that we must print, wet-sign, scan and email back (unless we're tech-savvy enough to edit PDF forms and the recipient is tech-savvy enough to accept digital signatures).
I ended up reworking the entirety of my many-paged lease agreement at my last apartment so that I and my roommates could more easily fill it out and revise mistakes. I recently had to fill out a new patient questionnaire, and while someone had clearly tried to digitize the form, it was rife with issues that made the inputs unusable that I had to fix (such as radio buttons being mis-grouped).
Making a functional PDF form is not only nice for those filling them out, but also allows for easier automation when ingesting the forms. I wish that those whose entire jobs revolve around the processing of forms would put in a modicum of effort when creating them. Maybe I'm underestimating the difficulty of these things for the layman who hasn't touched digital UI stuff.
Doesn't sound much different from Switzerland
This is cool! Note that this problem is fairly specific to Berlin (and probably some other places in Germany). I just moved to Heidelberg, and this city offers registration appointments both via video chat as well as in-person, with slots available next day.
You genius! This caused me so many headaches each year!
This is good design. I love when developers are primarily designers.
LOL. Big Government in action is exhilarating to watch.
I wonder what would be more difficult, getting your owners to adopt your digitization or to abolish the requirement altogether.
Its probably racist anyway.
You want people to not register and let the city know that they are residing there?
Sure, why not? As long as the country knows that they are in-country...
If I move to a different place in the US, I don't have to register with the city or state.
(Of course, if I have a driver license, I do have to update that address within some period of time, and, if moving to a different state, I'd have to get a new one.)
Nice job. I will upvote anything that reduces the unnecessary bureaucratic load on citizens.
For some U.S. tales, e.g., the challenges of digitizing California's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) sign-up process, see the excellent Recoding America by Jennifer Pahlka, former deputy CTO of the United States and now the founder of the non-profit organization Code For America. 
(Memorable passage: A civil servant described a complex government policy as having been "vomited" onto an impenetrable sign-up form — for my contract-drafting course, I stole that as the label "barf clause" to describe long, wall-of-words provisions such as the 357-word "Fragment 1" in an example I had students rewrite in class last week. )
Why don't people want to shrink the government and allow more personal freedoms and choices rather than deal with the nightmare bureaucracies detailed in so many comments here?
"The Bürgeramt also wants to know that you live on the second floor on the right."
Meanwhile in Sweden, the government instituted a nationwide "Dwelling Units Register", where each apartment etc is uniquely numbered.
There is a precise way to number apartments based on the floor number, order of front doors on each floor etc.
Do you live on a steep hill, and have to go down two floors to reach your apartment which has windows facing out the other side of the building? No problem, the numbering system handles that.
> People leave that out, so they get asked (in German) during their appointment.
Can't say that ever happened to me.
I've never known these kinds of systems exist. Love it. Like a common interface or index. Something like this should be implemented everywhere.
I spent a year living in Germany and I am pretty certain that if I had overstayed my visa one day somebody would have shown up at my door to check in on me.
Contrast that to the US where I had a neighbor who was always bringing people in from Poland who were overstaying their visas and there didn't seem to be any effort to stop this. (e.g. despite all these strange schemes to make sure people get photographed, scanned, probed, etc. when they leave.)
(There was that time one of his "guests" was out in the road with an associate and revving the engine of a pickup truck while it was up against a thick wood beam that was braced against a tree. I asked him what he was doing and he said "I'm trying to make straight the bumper", and in that case broken English was the least of his problems.)
I’ve actually heard a lot of success stories regarding chassis/frame/body straightening on trucks with trees (lots of YouTube videos but here’s a rare blog post ). The hilarity ensues when one attempts to straighten the chassis of a unibody vehicle in the same manner (true story, and no, it wasn’t me).
Kudos on the nice UX for dropdown with countries. I wish more websites do it. Usually, it's "United States" at the very top, and 194 other countries in a loooooong list.
Oddly enough it doesn't list countries where most people are likely to come from right at the top. That makes it ill designed still.
The OP wrote this is based on "navigator.languages" feature in the visitor's browser. So if your preferred language is set to e.g. French, then you shall see France at the top of dropdown.
> So if your preferred language is set to e.g. French, then you shall see France at the top of dropdown.
If it’s French from France, yes. This is the second part of the language code: fr_FR is French from France, fr_BE from Belgium, fr_BF from Burkina Faso and so on.
Good point! But what... if it's French Belgian person from France... is this still "French from France", or "French from Belgium" ? The Belgian person lives in France ;-)
Also, you missed other language codes for French: fr_BI, fr_BJ, fr_BL, fr_CA, fr_CD, fr_CF, fr_CG, fr_CH, fr_CI, fr_CM, fr_DJ, fr_DZ, fr_GA, fr_GF, fr_GN, fr_GP, fr_GQ, fr_HT, fr_KM, fr_LU, fr_MA, fr_MC, fr_MF, fr_MG, fr_ML, fr_MQ, fr_MR, fr_MU, fr_NC, fr_NE, fr_PF, fr_PM, fr_RE, fr_RW, fr_SC, fr_SN, fr_SY, fr_TD, fr_TG, fr_TN, fr_VU, fr_WF, fr_YT.
> But what... if it's French Belgian person from France... is this still "French from France", or "French from Belgium" ? The Belgian person lives in France ;-)
This is accessory; the goal is to suggest relevant options for someone based on the language they configured their browser with.
> Also, you missed other language codes for French: […]
These are combinations of a language code (fr) and a region code; the list is not standardized and could theorically be extended to all the regions with an ISO code. What’s interesting here is the region code, not the language.
As an official policy, I do not recognise the existence of Belgium.
However I am Canadian and I speak French. It will recognise fr-CA as "Canada".
I think this has been taken care of:
> I use navigator.languages to get a list of supported languages. For example, en-CA, fr-CA, de-DE. This gives me a list of countries the user might have lived in. I suggest those countries at the top of the country list.
Not for people like me who always set their browser language to en-us (or just “en”) because they mostly peruse the internet in English.
Then you'll have to press one or two extra keys on your keyboard.
Yep, as a techie I don't see the problem either, but the person who started this subthread apparently minds that
> Usually [you get] 194 other countries in a loooooong list
(cue this website having precisely that list)
I use navigator.languages to guess the user's possible countries. It's not perfect, but the cost of guessing wrong is low. I've used the same technique to show currency conversion tooltips in the content.
Even better are the ones where you pick your country and the 'state' dropdown is still US states and 'Other', and you're prompted for a 'zip code'. What does American mail have to do with a zip anyway?
Not sure if your question is flippant/rhetorical, but in case you're genuinely curious: ZIP stands for Zone Improvement Plan, the initiative that set up the "postal codes" that we call ZIP codes.
I don't quite recall, but I think ZIP may actually be a backronym; in US English, "zip" is a word that also means "to move quickly", and they wanted to evoke a feeling that postal mail gets delivered faster when you include the ZIP code, which makes sorting mail more efficient.
Hey thanks, I was being a bit flippant, but I was not aware of that. That's very interesting!
Ooo yes there's nothing I hate more than an address form for a business that clearly works internationally being only really compatible with US addresses. My "state"? At least Germany or something has states the UK does not. My "city"? In the UK cities and towns are distinct and I am from a town. I have very occasionally actually then not been able to proceed because someone has not actually configured the "zip code" field to accept postal codes that include letters.
You know you can type the first few letters of the entry you're looking for while the drop-down is open right?
That's... exactly what this is as well? Are you getting a different UI that I'm not?
If you have different browser language settings, then yes, you are getting a different UI.
I'm from UK, and I got "United Kingdom, United States, Germany" as three first countries.
It still shows the "194 other countries" in a long list, which is what the person complained about. (I don't mind that btw, but the logic of the person who said that this UX is different escapes me)
My German passport expired a few years ago and in Berlin the wait time to get a new one was months. Flew to Boston for work (on my American passport), and had the German embassy there do it... in 48 hours. Berlin is peak-level incompetent.
Wow that's quick! I am impressed you were able to get an appointment at the embassy. Embassy is worse than the local city council back home.
My country they say new ID card or passport within four weeks but never happened.
I hope this starts a trend of digitizing many aspects of the German bureaucracy, official or otherwise.
I've sitting on my hands for the last three months to fill out some paperwork. Additionally, I have to apply for this specific appointment via email a few months in advance and it takes weeks for them to reply and if there's any back and forth, that's a few more weeks.
I love Germany, love the bureaucracy too, I just hate the lack of digitization.
The budget for the digitization ministry was just slashed down to 1%, so I wouldn't get my hopes up.
It would make sense for EU member states to collaborate more closely on the systems, since they all need to solve the same problems why not share? The Netherlands does a pretty good job at digitisation (it has gone the other way: it's hard to get someone in meat space to look at you issue if the system didn't provision for your situation). Why reinvent the wheel?
That's right. They slashed the budget from 300 million to 3 million.
In France we have a fair amount of bureaucracy too. But a least the government is trying to digitalize a bit now. Taxes are quite easy, healthcare is ok, some documents like car registration too. But we have a long way to go for all the local weird processes (from Region, Departementn and cities)
It shows the absolute inaptitude of our Government if for all the hundreds of millions that they spend on the "digital transformation of the Government" every year, they cannot hire one guy who does exactly what Nicolas did here.
to be fair, many countries' governments have this same issue, and even when they do something the UX feels like something from 2002. The thing is, its complex, often the job pays way below market rate and government jobs often have rigid salary tiers, hiring might not be done like a normal tech co. as you might also have specific public servants to do it, and then you have culture, which might rule out certain people or cultivate attitudes towards work. Beyond that, in developed democracies like Germany, what gets funded long enough to be pushed to production can depend on election cycles and public opinion. Additionally, the big 4 have a big presence in developed countries and they often get these 100 million <currency> contracts to do stuff like that and... enough said.
This is a major problem. It's hard to attract talent when you have low incomes and an inflexible work culture. The incentives just aren't there.
Let's say Berlin wanted to hire me tomorrow to do the same exact work for them. That would mean return to office, fixed schedule, a return to rigid corporate culture, and a significant drop in income.
A friend of mine works in government IT, and the stories are both hilarious and sad. Some people in the Greens are afraid of Wi-Fi waves...
Well yes, a certain number of the public service or political parties will believe things that are simply false (whether legitimately or as a means to serve their goals), in fact, many political parties in Germany and other developed countries are based entirely on false premises to the extent of being named after them. But this is actually the point of democracy, so as much as the observation is humorous it also highlights a certain level of naivety.
Digging even a little into German history reveals why the whole digitalisation and bureaucracy situation is the way it is. In fact, it also shows a side that if one doesn't believe that our tech-centric disruption culture is a corruption of society and people, then one might actually be the one who is delusional. Remember, there's a whole class of people out there who depend heavily on things working the way they do - no so much for gain, but for the benefit that any 'digital' alternative may cripple them (e.g. many elderly, disabled, and poor members of society). To some, providing a secondary tool isn't simply an alternative, it's the first step towards a complete replacement of the thing they find more useful (a good example of this is 'cashless societies').
Not to mention being in favor of homeopathy. The only people who annoy me more than the greens is all the other major parties. Should have moved to the Netherlands...
yes, this isn't against Germany specifically.
In Munich, the legal requirement is to register within two weeks, but the waiting time to schedule an appointment is more than two weeks. Luckily, no-one cares. Some of my Erasmus classmates did not register at all.
It took me over 3 months to register (which is shocking in itself) - perhaps things are not so dire in Munich
I think this is uniform across Germany, and I think the legal requirement might be either be registered or have an appointment to be registered, similar to other legally required appointments, which (from my understanding) causes issues regarding endless-reschedule loopholes.
Amazing! I've always admired your work, allaboutberlin is a fantastic resource.