German citizenship For Members

'How I finally got German citizenship in Berlin after six years of waiting'

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
'How I finally got German citizenship in Berlin after six years of waiting'
Matt Bristow outside Rathaus Schöneberg just before applying his German passport and ID card at the Bürgeramt. Photo courtesy of Matt Bristow

New German citizen Matt Bristow had been waiting years for Berlin authorities to process his citizenship application. But threatening legal action moved his case forward. He told The Local how he did it and shared advice on naturalising.


Becoming German was a six-year ordeal for Matt Bristow. 

The 39-year-old submitted his application nearly six years ago - and on July 1st, he finally naturalised as German while keeping his British citizenship. 

So why did it take so long?

Bristow, who is a psychologist and long-time volunteer for the citizens' rights group British in Germany, admits that he submitted "a bit of a cheeky application" to his local Berlin office back in August 2018  because he didn't meet all the criteria at the time - although he did receive praise from officials on his organised file.

"At first they were saying that they think they might reject my application," he said, although it "took them a long time to say that".

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Bristow said the application then wasn't rejected, and ended up "gathering dust in the cupboard for a long time".

In 2022, he moved to a different part of Berlin and asked for the file to be transferred to the new office.

This was, of course, before Berlin changed to a centralised and online-led system for citizenship applications at the start of this year.

Moving homes meant Bristow's application presumably went to the bottom of the pile even though he points out that he did meet the criteria for naturalisation at this stage. 


Various back-and-forth letters along with delays continued, and Bristow believes his application got caught up in the messy transition to a digital system. 

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"In the end, I think the only reason I am getting my citizenship is because I decided to sue the city and say: 'it's been taking too long,'" he said a few days before his naturalisation ceremony.

Amazingly, Bristow completed the legal challenge himself without a lawyer. 

It involved a lot of preparation and research. "But I got an answer very quickly saying that I met the criteria, and I could have the citizenship," he said. 


'Not something for the faint hearted'

Bristow filed what is known as an Untätigkeitsklage, the German word for a legal action that involves challenging a German administrative authority's "failure to act".

READ ALSO: German word of the day - Untätigkeitsklage

But he warned that doing it without a lawyer is no easy feat. "I would say it's not something for the faint hearted, because you have to kind of look carefully into it," said Bristow. "But basically, the law says that if you have waited more than three months since your application and your application meets the criteria, then you can file a lawsuit saying that they have to make a decision.

"And I decided to prepare it all myself. You can go to the courts and and they will help you phrase it properly, but they won't give you legal advice. But I decided - with my background working in the public sector in Germany - I'd give it a go myself, and was successful."

Matt Bristow celebrates with Germany-themed cake after getting citizenship

Matt Bristow celebrates with colleagues, Germany-themed cake and alcohol-free prosseco after getting citizenship. Photo courtesy of Matt Bristow

Bristow paid around €800 for court costs, but he will receive the money back because he won the claim. He also shared his experience of filing an Untätigkeitsklage in a Facebook group for people looking to naturalise as German in Berlin.

READ ALSO: When to consider legal action for your German citizenship application

When asked about Bristow's delayed application, a spokesperson from Berlin's interior ministry told The Local they could not comment on individual cases. 


The ministry spokesperson did point out, however, that officials are working their way through a backlog of around 40,000 applications, as well as dealing with around 20,000 online applications submitted since January 1st this year. 

"The LEA (Landesamt für Einwanderung) staff are now processing all procedures as efficiently as possible and aim to increase the number of naturalisations from 9,000 to 20,000 this year," the spokesperson said. "By the end of May 2024, 3,327 procedures had already been brought to a positive conclusion."

People enter the immigration office

For foreigners who move to Germany and settle in Berlin, a visit to the Berliner Landesamt für Einwanderung (LEA) is ultimately unavoidable. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

But they were not able to say how long citizenship applications in Berlin would take.

"Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict how long currently pending procedures will (still) take or how long it will take to process new applications," the spokesperson said.

"However, with the new digital application procedure, improved and streamlined management of business processes and increased staffing, the LEA is very well positioned to deal with the large number of naturalisation procedures much more quickly in future."

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Getting your application in order

Now that the rules have changed to allow dual citizenship and residency requirements have been reduced, many more foreign residents may be considering applying to get their hands on a German passport. As a newly-naturalised citizen, what advice would Bristow give?

He said applying is a good opportunity for people who have struggled with the German language to take a course. 

"I'd encourage people to use this as as an excuse really - to say: 'now's the time to brush up on my German skills, get them up to the B1 level,'" he said. 

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And, importantly, get all of your documents in order.

"Work out what it is that you need to have to apply, get yourself a folder," he said. 

Bristow also advised considering not changing jobs while you're in the process because it's better to be in a secure role. 

"Don't give them a reason to question your application," he said.

Bristow also said people should seek advice if they have any questions, whether through support groups online or citizens' rights groups.

'Weight has lifted'

For Bristow, naturalising as German after years of waiting felt like a relief. 

"I am surprised at just how much of a weight has lifted from my shoulders in these first few days of being a German citizen - I didn’t realise how much I had been carrying around with me all these years," he said.

"I have called Berlin home on-and-off for 20 years. But ever since the Brexit referendum campaign in 2016, it’s felt like my place here in Germany was somehow conditional, even with a very secure residence status.

"It’s now not just a privilege to call this place my home, it’s a right that can never be taken away from me - and I am truly grateful for that."


Comments (1)

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Jorge 2024/07/04 21:12
Are there stories regarding how Permanent Residence applicants have been affected by the centralization? I have been waiting for nearly 6 months and no word on an appointment?
  • Rachel Loxton 2024/07/08 08:31
    Thanks for your comment - we can look into this.

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