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The Time Berlin Cultural Affairs made me pay back 8.17€ by Paul Vogeler

There are rules here! Life in Berlin Pt. 1.
The Time Berlin Cultural Affairs made me pay back 8.17€

By: Paul Vogeler, Artist

Galerie Camille1

Paperwork, forms, and filing is truly an art form in Germany. And the proof of that are the continuously overheard orgasms as ring binders throughout the land are properly closed and filed away.

As an artist I have organized over 5 exhibitions in Berlin in the 5 years I have been here. I have also founded two art collectives, one called The New Berlin Painters (you have probably never hear of it). Most of these exhibitions were paid out of pocket, from side work or whatever money we could scrape up. But last year, after writing for a grant from the Berlin Senate Cultural Affairs, my wife and I had some success: we received a grant of 3,000€ to organize an exhibition of international artists in Detroit. We would bring many Berlin artists to Detroit for the first time. Excellent!

We were granted 3,000€ and it was as simple as that. The money was transferred directly to my bank account. No strings attached, or so I thought. All I needed to provide was proof of the exhibition and a general questionnaire—maybe some photos. At no time as the money was being given was I told I would need to account for every penny, or the “proper” way to document a receipt.

“Proper way to document a receipt.”

I’m an artist, not a tax consultant, I’m not used to this sort of anal retentiveness. I know, so naïve.

The exhibition was a huge success. Months later we filled out the questionnaire, made a nice presentation and mailed it back to the Berlin Senate Cultural Affairs. The real fun was just beginning. The original lady who gave us the grant was gone, and her replacement, had no idea who we were. Then began the emailing, the letter writing, the phone calling, the receipt finding, and filing. The conversation more or less went like this:

“Who the hell are you two? What was the grant originally for? Prove to me that was what the grant was originally for. Show me truthful correspondence and the proper receipts. No, it needs to be in Euros, re-send it. No, credit card statements are not receipts. This form does not have the proper date. What do you mean YOU DO NOT HAVE PROPERLY DOCUMENTED RECEIPTS!?? “

Long story short, we were granted 3000€ but only had 2991.83€ EXACT in “appropriately documented receipts.”

Then I got what I call “The German Letter.”

The letter read: “Dear Mr. Vogeler: In accordance with German law Absatz 19 you are required to pay back to Berlin Senate Cultural Affairs the amount of 8.17€ for the exhibition New International Society II. Please do so within 4 weeks. If you do not we will take legal action.”

Pay back 8.17€ or we will sue you.

Pay back 8.17€ or you DIE!

Yep. 8.17€.

Can I even get a cheeseburger for that anymore?

Hell I can’t even get a beer for that in most cities in America.

To me and probably to most people that is an insulting number. I asked the lady, after all the work we did, after all the energy spent organizing, promoting, bringing Berlin art to Detroit, and on top of it all, the 2000€ we paid out of our own pockets (on top of the 3000€ grant), we really had to pay back 8.17€? The answer was yes, even though in an earlier conversation she had said no. Go figure.

Its not like we did not have another 400€ or so in acceptable expenses, which would have put us over the 3,000€ mark. It is the fact that these acceptable expenses were NOT PROPERLY DOCUMENTED. That means that my official credit card statement showing the time, date, and even location where something was purchased, does not count. Sorry, there are rules here.

So I screamed at the lady.

Yep. I did. In English.

Then I posted about it.

Then I made some new paintings.

What can you do?

I paid the 8.17€ through bank transfer, the European equivalent of writing a check and sent her a proper “receipt of the payment.” I pray it is all over now, and no more “letters” will show up in my box. But I did have to ask her: was all this time wasted in filing everything perfectly, accounting for every cent, the emailing back and forth that we have been doing over the past 2 months, gathering all the receipts etc; was all this really worth 8.17€? I did not get an answer.

I also wonder if we had not sent the questionnaire at all, would it have all just gotten lost in the bureaucracy?

It would have been nice to have just gotten a thank you. Thank you for all the time you spent organizing this exhibition, it looks beautiful; thank you for supporting our city and bringing Berlin artists into an International scene. I will make the lousy 8.17€ disappear, its fine, I will take care of it, its such a pitiful amount of money, and the Senate will not miss it out of their 44Million€ a year budget. But no. You can never be forgiven for the financial burden you as an artist personally put on the state.

So to all you more successful organized artists out there, if you ever receive money from Germany, keep every receipt. And if its on thermal paper, God help you—because you know in 2 years, the thermal paper ink vanishes. (Really who the hell even thinks of this?) And make many copies, one for your self, one for your lawyer, your priest, Jesus, your mom, and one for under your pillow at night. And one for the Cloud, whatever that is.

Pause.

Ah Berlin. Love you guy.

Its great living and being an artist here, but no matter how correct you are, no matter how perfect you think you are doing something, you are still doing it wrong. But do not worry, there will always be someone standing next to you to correct you.

Maybe that is why S&M is so big here. Rules. Dominance. Proper forms. Leather Ring binders.

I’m still learning how to be perfect.

I love Berlin though. I will always. And I am happy to have gotten this grant. It was a huge learning experience. I know how to be properly OCD now. My fingers arouse themselves at the anticipation of filing.

And I also have a “Mistress” here. My wife. She is Swiss, though.

Paul Vogeler is an American painter located in Berlin, for now. You can check out his work here.

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