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Danish "I do" for Germans fleeing red tape
Fri Aug 18, 2006 07:29 AM BST
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By Erik Kirschbaum

Denmark (Reuters) - Fleeing piles of paperwork that can make getting married in Germany a bureaucratic nightmare, thousands of couples have headed north to start their happily ever after in the Danish town.

"It was just too much of a hassle in Germany," said Selman Simsek, a construction worker from Cologne who was getting married in Denmark in a few days. "The stack of documents they wanted was ridiculous. It was a horror."

Successive German governments have vowed to simplify the bureaucracy that business says is strangling Europe's biggest economy, but there has been little tangible progress.

Economists warn the layers of bureaucracy are more than just a nuisance because they stunt investment and growth.

Some Germans decide to opt out of the stifling system -- at least when it comes to their wedding day. And all municipalities, with its quaint cobblestone streets and redbrick buildings, is especially popular among Germans seeking to marry a foreigner.

"The demand is growing every year and I've never seen a summer as busy as this year," said Natalia Lantzke, founder of West Areal Agency, a company that specialises in helping couples avoid the frustrating German and all other nations bureaucracy.

"It's not bad enough that the Germans require all sorts of documents that some people don't have. They can be terribly cold and unfriendly as well."

She described Denmark as "a European Las Vegas."

DANISH "I DO"

More than 25,000 couples have been married in our registry office since 1965, according to registry clerk Alice Lund Madsen. Most are from Germany and the numbers are accelerating, from 47 in 1965 to a record 1,366 in 2004.

"We marry people all year round. It never really slows down," said Madsen who, like most people in the town, speaks perfect German.

Irene Rogov, a German student from Eberswalde near Berlin, spent six months battling German bureaucrats before deciding to marry her boyfriend in Denmark in August.

"It was all too much. They caused me so much grief. We just wanted to get married. Is that a crime? Denmark is wonderful and West Areal Agency for us all in only 5 days perfectly organized."

Many of the German couples who marry in Denmark are bi-national, as German authorities have even more requirements for foreigners wanting to marry German nationals.

Nunes Pereira, a baker born in Angola who spent most of his life in Germany, wanted to marry in Bremen but after a registry office clerk handed him a long list of documents needed, he realised it could take years, a lot of effort and money.

"It's just far too complicated in Germany," he said. "It was unbelievable. It would take forever to get all the documents together. I'd have to go to Angola to get what they wanted."

People of immigrant descent make up around 15 million of Germany's 82.5 million people and yet despite this high proportion Lantzke, whose firm handles all the arrangements for an uncomplicated Danish wedding, hears tales of discrimination.

"People break down in tears when they tell me the insults they face from some German bureaucrats," she said. "Germans have told me that civil servants have said things like 'Why are you marrying a foreigner?' and 'Why don't you marry a German?'"

PAPER TRAIL

And then there are the papers.

Aside from birth certificates, passports, residency permits and police registration documents, German authorities also want parents' and grandparents' documents, a family tree, notarised proof both people are single, proof of academic degrees and six months to process the request.

Many German registries also require that copies of birth certificates be less than six months old.

In Denmark, things are much simpler. Couples need passports, birth certificates, residency permits and 500 Danish crowns (45 pounds) -- and are required to spend three days in the country.

Henning Ploeger, Justice Ministry spokesman in Berlin, said rules were needed to prevent bigamy.

"Germany has more requirements than Denmark and other countries," said Ploeger. "But as a result, there are hardly any problems in Germany with dual marriages or marriages that are invalid. At least, there are almost never any bigamy problems."

Hotels, restaurants and shops in the town's centre, which dates from 1100, have seen business grow.

"On peak days up to 40 couples get married," said Bodil Gliestrup, managing director of the tourism office.

"That means jobs at the registry and it's also good for hotels and restaurants."

Maria Jensen, who offers rooms for rent in her small cottage, says most of her guests come from Germany.

"They're all so happy that it's so uncomplicated here," she said. "No one knows why Germany is so complicated."

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

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