Interview on how it all started with the registration-service. Founder Joern Kamphuis talks to Michael Schmitz from smarterGerman the history of our service, customer experience and stories. Get some first-hand tips and tricks on how to get your registration (Anmeldung) in Berlin done as quickly and efficient as possible.
Michael Schmitz from smarterGerman interviews Joern Kamphuis from Buergarmt-Termine
Michael Schmitz: Today I am sitting here with Joern Kamphuis, who has an interesting Start-Up which has saved me a lot of time and I am happy to share what he does with you and I hope it will also save you a lot of time. Mainly when you are living in Berlin but it might inspire you also when you are living in other countries or other cities, who knows.
Joern, could you introduce yourself a little bit to our viewers and also tell us what it is that you do?
Joern Kamphuis: Hello Michael, thanks for having me, my name Joern Kamphuis. I am living here in Berlin, I moved here years ago to study and after my studies – I studies Sport Management – I kind of went into the startup scene and never quit. It was fascinating for me – building something from scratch and solving a problem with my solution and of course some things fail some things work but at the moment the company we set up is a start up where we help people to register their residency in Berlin. So when they move here, we help them out so that they don’t need to go to the registration office and so on.
MS: How did you get to this idea? It sounds a little bit like a relocation service, but that’s not what you offer, right? So how did you get there?
JK: That was very funny. Back in the days, 1,5 years ago, in summer 2015, me and my friends had a problem getting an appointment at the Bürgeramt in Berlin. It is very hard to get one because, I don’t know what they do with the appointments and stuff ,but it’s very hard so we were kind of pissed off that we could not get one and then we programmed a software which helped people to find an appointment. After half a year the administration banned us because they didn’t like us since we were pointing out something that the had not been able to fix throughout the past years. There were just not enough appointments for all the people out there.
MS: So they blocked you? They blocked your service?
JK: Yes. They blocked our service, they blocked our IPs, they changed their website so we couldn’t do anything. Even though we had so many customers being happy and going like “OMG you saved my holiday or whatever”.
MS: Why would they do this, did you do something illegal?
JK: No it wasn’t illegal, it was when it comes down to politics and to the next election, they don’t want bad reviews or whatever on what they do – but we were pointing out that the administration in Germany, especially Berlin is not customer-oriented. You know, it is not optimised for usability.
MS: But in the end what they did, I mean the whole idea of blocking your site, backfired right? Because you had a lot of attention from the media
JK: Yes exactly – And we were proud to have some people that did not like us because it created so much noise that the administration had to move. They had so much attention that the major of Berlin took over the topic, which led to even more movement which was very cool and I was happy to be part of it in a way.
MS: Very nice. So what do you exactly do – I used your service before but I would like you to tell the audience how do you do it? What do I have to do to use your services?
JK: So first of all you jump on our website and you download our forms that you need to fill out. We also have translated forms so that makes it easier for English speakers. Then you send us the documents which is the registration form and the landlord confirmation and we review it. Some people make mistakes and if you make a mistake on the form and you go to Bürgeramt they say “ok what is this – come back later” which means going through the whole process again. So this is the first step we do – we review. The second step is that we meet our customer to handover the documents because we need the original documents plus the passport plus a representative form so we can go for them. And with these forms we go to the Bürgeramt, that means we also search for an appointment and go there and after the whole registration process we meet the customer again and hand over the forms.
MS: And the passport?
JK: And the passport of course!
MS: May I ask? When we first met, I had the plan to use your service due to a recommendation but it had changed. I knew the old system. And now you did this personally which I personally love a lot but I was a bit worried, you know to hand over my passport to someone. You know I went with him. I saw you and I trusted you but what guarantee can you give me that I get my passport back? Or what happens if you lose the passport?
Has it ever happened, may I ask?
JK: Yes sure you can ask. No, it never happened.
JK: So to prevent us from losing the stuff we also put our own passport in the same envelope. In case if we lost it we would lose our own passport too. And of course you get a certificate of document possession, stating that we are having your documents and there is my personal data like my address and so on. So if something gets lost or we never appear again you can easily call the police and say this man has my passport, can you please find him now.
MS: Of course it would be a hassle to get a new passport but the chances that you lose your own passport are as high or actually higher, especially if you put your own in there, it is more likely that you pay more attention.
JK: Yes but I mean if it happened of course we would pay for the new one, thats for sure. But no one wants to go through that and we don’t want to go through it either.
MS: Yes, very nice. I love that service, I think it saves you four or five hours at least. You have to find an appointment which is the tricky thing already, then you have to wait for the appointment and then you don’t know what day it is because it could be any random day. You might have to take a day off work even, which depending on how much you make is already a cost factor and then you have to go there. And in Berlin, every trip lasts at least half an hour but at times you can spend an hour. Depending on where you get the appointment. So it is four or five hours at least plus the nerves and plus the language barrier which most likely is given since the administration, even they have improved over the last years, there is no guarantee they speak English. And I wouldn’t even take German lessons just for this event.
Do you have any advice, any tips for the users, how they can make their life easier or how they could at least theoretically get an appointment? Apart from if they were booking you of course.
JK: Yes. I mean what we also do is calling the 030-115 which is called “Bürgertelefon”.
They have more appointments than the website. But not guaranteed. So we call them and then I ask “Hey have you got an appointment?” and they say “No” – and I say “Ok”. Then I call ten minutes later and ask again “Do you have an appointment” – “No”. And so on. And this is what we do for our customers as well.
MS: Amazing (laughs) and they (people at Bürgeramt) don’t get annoyed?
JK: Well it’s mostly someone else each time. You could also go in the morning to the Bürgeramt and queue there and if you are lucky you get an appointment.
MS: And what time would I have to go there?
JK: I would recommend 6.30 am if they open at 7.
MS: I would even go at 6 am I think. At one point I went at 6 o’clock and there were already like 10 people in front of me. It is getting pretty crazy actually.
JK: Yes and I mean if people have time, I say please do it. When people have time that is not when we come in. If they like to deal with the authority and if they like to learn German for it – please go. If you just don’t want to deal with it – we are happy to help out.
MS: I am not sure if we talked about it but someone said it is actually, also part of the experience of being here (in Berlin). And I said “honestly, I think you can perfectly do without such an experience”.
JK: Yes, we were talking about this – I mean it is part of Germany on the one hand on the other hand just because…
MS: …it’s part of every country. I had that in Poland and in Turkey and I really could have done without it. It was horrible in a way. But of course, if you go through something horrible, and you can be proud and if that is your thing, please…
MS: Thank you for your time. I love your idea and the way you are tackling it. And I will certainly make use of it should I ever need a new passport.
JK: Actually passport we can’t help you with, for a passport it unfortunately doesn’t work since they need your fingerprints and stuff – so you need to go yourself. But if you need a parking permit or a certificate of good conduct registration that’s cool.
MS: Ok, so I will see what I need to show to my employer in the future. Dankeschön.
JK: Danke dir.