When you sign up as a German taxpayer, you'll see a line on the form asking for your religious affiliation. This is not a totally innocuous question.
Germany, like many other European countries, does not have separation of church and state. In fact, the large established churches here receive support from the government, which in turn comes from taxes collected from all registered church members.
And the German clergy officially have the status of civil servant. So when you fill in a religion on this tax form, you're granting the state permission to register you as a church member and subsequently impose a church tax (Kirchensteuer).
This tax is currently levied as a 9% surcharge on your tax bill, meaning that you pay 9% of your income tax, not your income. The tax is automatically deducted from your salary and then given to the church of your choice. If you don't want to participate in this church-funding scheme, simply check off "none" (keine) when you register with the Tax Office.
However, you should be aware that not being an official, tax-paying church member has its consequences. While no one is going to check to see if you pay the tax before letting you enter a religious service, not being a tax-paying church member will deny you certain privileges. Most churches will deny you baptisms, church weddings or funerals if you're not a tax-paying member of that religion. This rule usually doesn't apply to weddings if one of the future spouses is a tax-paying church member.
If you are involved in one of the many international churches located in Germany, it would be best to check with the clergy to see whether they benefit from the church tax.
Germany does not require its foreign residents to register with their own national consulates, nor do most of the consulates. Nevertheless, just about everyone agrees that this is a good idea - especially in times like these. In addition to being able to keep track of their citizens and look after them, there are other advantages to being registered. Aside from helping out with any emergencies that might come up, the local consulates can serve as valuable resources for their citizens: for instance, they often maintain lists of English-speaking lawyers and health-care providers.
Should you have a new member of your family while living in Germany, you'll need to register your baby with two countries. First of all, the birth must be registered with German authorities. It's not as if you don't have enough things on your mind when you're heading off to the hospital for that all-important event, but German authorities do ask you to pack a few other things so that the hospital can register the birth. They advise that you bring the passports of both parents as well as your marriage certificate - if there is one.
The hospital will then take care of registering the birth. However, you'll have to ask where the birth was registered, then go there to pick up the birth certificate (Geburtsurkunde). One interesting quirk about registering your new baby is that there are certain restrictions on what a child's first name can be. German law requires that the first name be clearly distinguishable as either male or female. This means that unisex names are out, so that charmingly original name you've been planning on for so long may have to be slotted in as a middle name. If you really have your heart set on an unusual name, German authorities may require you to prove that the name is common in your home country.
After you've registered the birth with the German authorities, you'll almost certainly want to register your new child with your own consulate or embassy. You'll need the German birth certificate when doing so. It's essential to note that there are a number of forms contained in the birth certificate, and you should bring along the one designated "Abstammungsurkunde" with an "EC" in the upper right hand corner. You'll also need your passport (of both parents if you're both citizens of the country for which you're seeking citizenship for the child) and your marriage certificate.
These procedures are fairly standard for most countries, though details can differ. For instance, the US Consulate insists that you appear in person with the new baby, as the authorities are required to actually see the child and parents. For this reason, American parents should definitely call the consulate beforehand to make an appointment: otherwise, you're very likely to be turned away with the explanation that the Consul General is entirely booked up for the day. Finally, you'll have to drop in at the Registry office again and register your new bundle of joy as a new resident at your address.
Getting Married in Germany
If you become smitten with love during your stay in Germany, there is a chance you'll want to get married during your stay here. That's when you'll really discover that nothing, not even eternal love, is that simple in Germany. Getting married here starts with presenting yourself at the local Registry office (Standesamt), which is usually located at the Town Hall (Rathaus). Though it's not absolutely necessary, it's clearly better if both parties appear together. As this office is quite busy with would-be newlyweds, you should reckon on spending a bit of time waiting and getting through the preliminaries.
Getting married here involves a good deal of paperwork if you wish to have your marriage recognized both here and in your home country. And depending on you and your partner's nationality, there are different rules for different countries. It's therefore not possible to list here what exactly you'll need to present at the Registry office, as Germany requires different documentation from different countries.
The official who conducts the initial interview will advise you as to what papers you need to present, though a typical list includes your passports, birth certificates, parents' marriage certificates, records of all previous marriages with accompanying strongorce decrees or death certificates, and any court rulings on children by former marriages. In almost every case, you'll need to get all documents translated into German by an officially certified translator.
At this first interview, the official will also give you a good idea of the waiting period before the actual ceremony can take place. (Depending on where you live, there could be a long list of people waiting to tie the knot.) In all events, there must be an eight-day period of public posting of the marriage at city hall before the ceremony can officially take place.
Tying the Knot - The Big Day
You'll be returning to the Registry office for the civil wedding ceremony as well, as only weddings celebrated there are considered official in Germany. This does not mean that you must forego your long-planned church wedding. The German government has nothing against church weddings, they just don't recognize them as official ceremonies.
In fact, it is most common in Germany to have a simple civil ceremony at the Registry office on a Thursday where only the closest relatives and friends are invited, then hold the church ceremony on Saturday with a large reception afterwards. Remember, though, that at least one of the partners must be a tax-paying church member in order for the couple to book a church wedding.
An interesting point here is that you need not marry at the Registry office where you reside. Many folks find the wedding docket in their own town to be too crowded, so they go to another town in the area where they don't have to wait as long. It's not even necessary to get married at the same Registry office where you went through the initial stages of registration. Once you've received approval for your marriage, you can get married at a Registry office anywhere in Germany.