I was away these past two days, because I took my oath as a court-approved certified translator. The background is that translations of official documents such as birth certificates, diplomas, etc… have to be certified. And certified translators need to be court approved. Due to the German federal system, the approval of certified translators is handled by the individual states which have varying requirements. However, due to recent legal changes, a translator certified in one state can do certified translations everywhere in Germany.
I’d been planning to get certified for a while now, ever since I interpreted at a wedding last October and really enjoyed the experience. Plus, I get requests to translate official documents and I’m not all that happy to send that business elsewhere.
Now the logical places for me to get certified would be Bremen and/or Lower Saxony. However, Bremen currently has no state law about the certification of translators. Lower Saxony has a law, but extremely expensive requirements such as forcing you to take a special class on legal translation (which is very expensive) before they will even consider approving you. But then a colleague told me at the monthly translators’ meet-up, “You know, it’s really uncomplicated to get certified in Saarland, if you have a translation diploma [which I do].” So I applied for certification in the state of Saarland and was approved (after a bit of trouble with a document that had gone missing in the post). And on Tuesday, I had an appointment to take my oath at the state court in Saarbrücken.
Now the Saarland is a bit of a historical oddity, the smallest of the German federal states except for the city states and the last to join (in 1957) before the reunification. It is located in the far South West corner of Germany, bordering on France and Luxembourg (the capital Saarbrücken is maybe twenty kilometers from the French border), was an independent territory twice in the 20th century and voted twice to become part of Germany and against becoming part of France (which wanted to gobble up the Saarland and much of the Rhine-Ruhr area after WWI and WWII because of the coal and steel industry there) or staying independent. Interestingly, I did see a couple of bilingual German-French roadsigns in Saarland as well as lots of cars with French license plates who had come over from neighbouring Alsace-Lorraine (which is partly German speaking).
More importantly, the Saarland and its capital Saarbrücken is also quite far away from Bremen. In fact, it’s 564 kilometers to get from my home to Saarbrücken. Include the way back and you have a thousand kilometer round-trip, to be accomplished in two days, with one car and two drivers. So basically, I spent a lot of time (six hours per trip) in a car to get to a city I had never visited before for an appointment that took barely one hour. Well, at least it was an adventure.
In some ways, this was the road trip I always wanted to take. Because when I was a teenager, my then best friend and I would sometimes ride our bikes to a bridge across the highway A1 and watch the cars and trucks go by. And I said to my friend, “You know, someday when I have a drivers’ license and a car, I’m going to get into the car and just drive down highway A1 for as far as it will go, all the way to Italy and the Mediterranean sea.
Now highway A1 does not go to Italy at all, which we didn’t know at the time, because my friend and I were both a bit fuzzy where the highway went beyond Münster (“Cologne, I think. There was a sign.”). But where highway A1 really goes is Saarbrücken. So I could get onto highway A1 in Bremen and drive all the way down to Saarbrücken on the same highway, except for the so-called Eiffel gap of approx. 25 missing kilometers where the highway was never completed.
However, it was no leisurely road trip, because if you have to cover 564 kilometers in a single day (twice), that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to admire to scenery and the roadside attractions. And so time and again we’d drive either past places I knew were interesting (“In Münster there are still cages hanging from the tower of the church, in which they gibbeted executed heretics.” “Wuppertal has a steampunky suspension railway and I’ve never seen it.” “Would you believe that I’ve never been to Cologne?” “Hermeskeil – I was there on holiday when I was about twelve and they had this really cool aviation museum.” “The Roman ruins in Trier – I haven’t seen those since I was a kid.” “The Moselle is so beautiful.”) or tantalizing castles, abbeys and museums advertised via the brown tourist signs on the highway. Because no matter how fascinating the Westfalian Versailles or a 9th century Benedictine Abbey may sound, there’s still hundreds of kilometers to cover. And considering that the temperatures were about 26°C in Bremen and hovering around 30°C in Southern Germany, wandering around roadside attractions probably wouldn’t have been a great idea either way.
Though we still got to see at least some neat sights from the car. We passed the ADAC rescue services monument at the Kamener Kreuz interchange, which looks uncannily as is a bunch of angels have captured a rescue helicopter and are now carrying it off to be sacrificed to the great volcano god (It’s simply a weird monument, though I fully agree with the sentiment behind it). We passed the ruins of Volmarstein castle as well as a very massive war monument on a mountain high above the highway. We drove right past the BayArena football stadium (“Oh look, that must be the Cologne stadium.” – “Nope, it says BayArena.” – “Wait a minute, since when is Leverkusen a suburb of Cologne? Did you know that?”). We drove past Nürburg Castle and the Nürburgring formula 1 racetrack. We drove past Satzvey castle. We crossed the river Moselle and I caught a glimpse of the vineyards. And while circumventing a traffic jam on the highway, we drove through a lovely village called Monreal with two ruined castles looming overhead.
In Saarbrücken, it was much the same. We arrived around seven in the evening, had dinner and took a stroll along the banks of the river Saar afterwards. The next morning I walked down to the courthouse to take my oath and on the way back to the hotel I got to see some of the baroque architecture Saarbrücken is apparently famous for (photos are forthcoming). Then we got into the car and set off on the long drive back.
I wish we’d had more time and could have driven along the river Moselle, which is one of my favourite parts of Germany and the setting of a historical romance I’m working on. Or maybe driven across the border into France, to Alsace-Lorraine from where my great-grandfather hails and where I still have family. Or passed through Luxembourg into South Belgium, where I often was on holiday with my parents as a teen.
Still, I got my court approval and am now a certified translator. I’ll still have to get my official stamp done. You know, I always wondered why there still are stampmaker shops in the 21st century, even though we have e-mail now and stamps like that address stamp I had as a teen are kind of outdated. Now I know.