The First 10.


I woke up at 2am with a jolt.

I didn’t have my last 3 months paychecks printed out.

I only had them as pdfs.

Don’t panic.

Think of solutions.

I Googled 24 hour printers in Frankfurt.


Internet Cafes – first one opens at 8. Too late.


Friends. Neighbors. No one would be up. Who has a printer?

The immigration authority (ausländerbehörde) opens at 8. I had planned to be there at 6. The only info I had was from friends of friends, Google, and second hand info from a relocation company.

Get there early.

Really early.

I received an email from HR at the end of February reminding me that both my work and residence permits expire at the end of April, and that it’s my responsibility to renew them. OK – I thought. End of April is far away and it’s only a renewal—not like I’m applying for something completely new. The immigration authority website is in German—and very cryptic.

I didn’t realize what I was up against.

I gathered all required documents: Passport, current residence permit, current work visa, proof of insurance, proof of rental payment, 3 months paychecks, letter of employment. I sat with HR to email them over along with a request for an appointment.

How little I knew then.

That was March 17th.

A month and a half before expiration.

I called the ausländerbehörde daily—and never got through.

After a week, I emailed again.

After 2 weeks, again.


HR kept telling me “There’s nothing we can do. We must wait. These things take time.”

With a “yellow light” level of concern, I approached my boss, asking for him to step in. I felt really helpless—no one could give me any info and I had no idea how to move the process forward.

My boss came back to me after 2 days of investigating. He had copious notes he shared with me. We discussed the options and decided the best option was for me to go to the authority office and wait.


“The process can take up to 8-9 weeks once they get your documents and most likely they don’t accept emails.”

It was as if I was starting at square one.

My boss talked to a relocation agency – the same one that “helped” me when I moved here – and got the info that Thursday was the best day to go. They open at 8, they give you an appointment and then you can go back that afternoon.


It sounded so. simple.

“But sometimes people go really early, so it’s really best to be there earlier than 8.”

I’m used to waking up at 5:30. So I thought I’d follow my normal routine and get there at 6.

Oh – and since they’re closed next Thursday for Easter, and the next Thursday would be even closer to the April 30th deadline, this Thursday was crucial.




How do I print?

It’s 2:30 in the morning.

I weighed all options.

My last resort was going to the office to print my 3 pages.

My office is 30 miles away and I don’t have a car. And even though I have a card for entry access, I had no idea if the card would actually work in the middle of the night.

It was a gamble. But I had no other option.

I checked the trains.

The first train leaves Frankfurt at 5am. I’d be at work by 6, print, get on the return train at 6:20 and be at immigration by 7:45. Too late.

So I took a cab.

4:15 – 30 min ride – 10 min to print – 30 min back. I’d be there at 5:30. Perfect.

When I got in the cab as one final try, I asked the driver if he spoke English. He said yes and I gave it one more try: “Do you know any internet cafes open now?”

“You want to drink a coffee?”

“No. Drucken. Print. Ich muss drucken.”

No luck.

When I got to my office, I assumed at least some manufacturing people would be there, but no one was there.

I paid him €90 with a large tip and asked him to wait.

I prayed as hard as I’d ever prayed that I could get in.

I swiped my card.



Think in solutions.

I got back in the cab and put my head in my hands.

“I just need a little time to think. I don’t know what to do.”

I almost stayed at my office until someone got there.

I decided to talk to him.

“Do you know the immigration authority?”

He said yes – “Ausländerbehörde? People go at 3am for waiting.”

I pointed to myself.

I explained that I had to print a paper.

All of a sudden, he sprung into action. He made a call in Arab, wheeled the car around and went lightning speed down the autobahn.

He could relate.

“The ride back is free. I know a place that opens at 5.”

When we got back to Frankfurt, he took me to a 7-11 type store and talked to the clerk. They had some computers with printers inside.

I got out my USB and quickly printed 3 pages.

“Now you go Ausländerbehörde and I go sleep.”

He dropped me off. I gave him cash and profusely thanked him.

It was 5:30am.

There were already 4 others waiting.

“Hey guys, is this ths line?!”

The empty ropes told a story I didn’t want to hear.


I unrolled my yoga mat that I’d brought to sit on.

The 4 men were Indian, so I thought they’d appreciate my nod to yoga.

“We’ll have sunrise yoga.”

They laughed.

I had broken the ice.

So I started asking questions.

They had gotten there at 4am. One of them had come the day before, but was too far down the line, and after waiting all day, was turned away when the place closed.

“The authority decides what they want and how many people they’ll give tokens to. We assume the first 10 will get in. There are 6 of us now.”

I was confused. “Six? No, there are five of us.”

Then they pointed – “that guy sleeping over there got here at 11 last night. He’s number 1.”

They continued. “so if you don’t get in today, they give you a ticket for an appointment and right now the first appointments start in August.”

I had already learned more in 10 minutes at 6am than I had in 2 months of internet searches, relocation agencies and HR.

I said I was surprised the line wasn’t longer since the authority opened at 8.

They looked at me.

“It opens at 1.”


How could the relocation agency have been so wrong?

“On Thursdays, it opens at 1. If it opened at 8, the line would already be down the street.”

I started thinking about how I had only packed breakfast and a few snacks.

My most important question burned.

“What happens if you have to use the bathroom?”

They said they’d hold my place. I quickly learned the rules of the line. Make some friends and you’ll be fine.

These were normal guys.

They were renewing their permits, just like me.

Not sketchy or bums or drug addicts. Normal people.

The next girl who showed up was from Bosnia, her boyfriend was from Serbia.

After her were 2 Japanese girls – a flight attendant for Lufthansa and a business professional whose HR wasn’t helping her. They, too, had come the day before only to be turned away.

I was the only one who was there for the first time. As much as I hated that I had been so grossly misinformed, I was partly glad because otherwise I would’ve come a lot later.

By 6:30 the line had grown to 18.

And there was a strong possibility that some wouldn’t get in at 1.

We befriended each other. The first 10 were a good group.

One Indian woman further down the line offered the bathroom at her apartment, which was closeby.

By 8:30 I was shivering. It was the coldest day of the week, in the 40s, and I had worn colorful stretchy pants, sneakers and a light vest and fleece. The girls told me to go home and change; they would hold my spot.

I went back to my place, tried to thaw out, but couldn’t feel my feet. I put on my warmest wool socks, down coat, winter boots, and grabbed a blanket, sweatshirt, gloves and ear warmers. I also stopped into a cafe and picked up a dozen pastries.

I came back and doled out the goods: keep warm and keep your strength up!

Surprisingly, the morning passed quickly.

I sat on my mat with my laptop, doing some work. I read a book. But mainly we all chatted and gathered stories.

Someone came up and started talking to me.

“Where’d you come from?!”

“Oh, I was the guy sleeping over there.”

Number 1.

He was an architect from Kosovo who had been back multiple times.

Normal people.

As the time drew closer to 1, the chatter grew louder. The anticipation was palpable.


A few people tried to cut the line. One man put his children in front of us and said he had been the first one there. One woman yelled at two women who she thought hadn’t been there the whole time.

I knew who had been in front of me, but it was surreal. I’d been there since 5:30. Everyone started looking the same. I didn’t know who had been waiting behind me. I felt bad for the people who were in the middle. How did they know if someone cut in front of them?

The first 10 stuck together.

Then, they opened the doors and we went in. We got our tickets and went our separate ways.

Different offices for different jobs.

I had first floor 1246.

The process was relatively smooth. I was nervous until the end that I would be missing a paper and would be sent back. But once I spoke some German and complimented the woman in charge of my visa, we bonded and things went well (I offered her a pastry). I even got her to laugh! I guess I was on a bit of a high from the camaraderie I had just experienced.

When I left, I saw a few of my friends. We shook hands, congratulated each other, and went on our way.







The first 10.




4 thoughts on “The First 10.

  • Good Lord. I’ve been reading more interesting books this year, but your short story tops them all. The story is gravitating. I’m sweating. Glad there’s a beer nearby. I’ll raise a glass to you from my yoga mat.
    You should send this in to the NY Times. Seriously. I know they would appreciate the “German inside”, given all the attention they give to the twin grations, immi and emi.

    • HAHA Kristina – I was hoping someone else would bring their yoga mat! We could have had a big group session.

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