Last week, on my trip to Berlin, I managed to drop my passport. I don’t know where — it might have been in the bathroom of Brussels airport trying to change clothes in a tiny room after a long red-eye, or it might have been when Brussels Air made me gate check a bag requiring a big rearrangement of items, or somewhere else. But two days later, arriving at a Pension in Berlin I discovered it was missing, and a lot of calling around revealed nobody had turned it in. In today’s document hungry world this can be a major calamity.
I actually have a pretty pleasant story to report, though there were indeed lots of hassles. But it turned out I had prepared for this moment in a number of ways, and you may want to do the same. The upshot was that I applied for a passport on Wednesday, got it on Thursday, flew on Friday and again on Monday and got my permanent passport that same Monday — remarkable efficiency for a ministry with a reputation for long bureaucracy. [pic] After concluding it was lost, I called the Canadian Embassy in Berlin.
Once you declare the passport lost, it is immediately canceled, even if you find it again, so you want to be sure that it’s gone. The Embassy was just a couple of U-bahn stops away, so I ventured there. I keep all my documents in my computer, and the security guy was shocked I had brought it. He put all that gear in a locker, and even confiscated my phone — more on that later. Inside the consular area, I explained the situation and got the forms. They could help me quickly if I had an urgent need.
I did — my mother was having heart surgery the next day and I had planned my return to be through Toronto so I could visit her in the hospital. If I did not have an urgent need it would have been a longer wait, and the expensive cost of rescheduling flights at the last minute. The next thing that worked for me is that I still carry my birth certificate with me — just not with my passport. It used to be possible to travel between Canada and the USA using the birth cert, and Ontario issues a tiny wallet-sized one.
I also had my old canceled passport from 2 years ago, and while they insist it is of no value, it does make it easier to show them that you are indeed Canadian, and give them a number to look up in your records so they know it will go smoothly. One thing I didn’t have was a guarantor suitable for a Berlin-issued passport. That would be a German doctor, lawyer etc. who had known me for two years. Fine for Canadians living in Berlin. For others, for a fee, you can use the names of 4 friends who have known you for a long time. Most of those live ack in North America, which is 6 hours behind on the clock, making them harder to phone during business hours. The consular section is only open officially from 9-12 but they offered me a special appointment to return with the filled out form and some new passport photos. I immediately ran into conundrum one when they gave me the form. I have many friends, but I needed their addresses, phone numbers and emails, all of which I keep in my phone — which was locked away. They have an open PC so I was able to use it to get the information, bizarrely by installing an SSH client onto the PC.
Of course, this supposedly secure area should hardly be letting me download and install software. The reason they had forbidden my phone was in part that it might be used as a recording device. The consular staff sit in an insulated room with an airlock style drawer for exchanging documents. This was the only bit of security that made sense, for I soon learned that the room had a couple of regular inhabitants — some Canadians who had mental issues who had become homeless and spent their days yelling strange delusions at the consular staff and using the “free calls to Canada” phone.
Apparently some policy requires that these people be allowed to come into the Embassy while it’s open, to the great frustration of the staff and more genuine applicants. I was told by embassy staff that they have tried to get these men back to Canada, buying them plane tickets and escorting them to the airport, just to have the airlines refuse to take unruly passengers. I suspect they secretly wish the Germans would deport them, which would compel the airline to take them.
Fortunately my friends confirmed my existence (though one decided not to take the call due to the strange caller-ID) and the next day I picked up a very cool looking temporary passport. It’s white with gold leaf, with much fancier visa pages, and it would have been fun to keep it. While it’s good for a year, this is not what is intended. I would be required to trade it at a Canadian consulate when the new one arrived, in a few weeks, I was told.