My big checklist: 1. registration 2. Bank account 3. Visa
For anyone (even Germans) changing address in Germany, or for people moving to Germany, you have to register yourself in your new town within 2 weeks of arrival. It's the kind of bureaucratic mess Germany is infamous for, and involves a lot of waiting around...but someone tipped me off that you can make an appointment online. So I arrived at the Kreuzberg Bürgeramt (city hall, citizen center), where the waiting room was full, and didn't have to get a number. The number board said 39 people were currently waiting in line. I just waited for my pre-reserved number to come up and the whole thing was over in 10 mins. Got my stamped piece of paper. Easy.
Now after being registered I was able to get a bank account. You can't get an account until you have a registered address in Germany. And this is a big priority, since I will soon get monthly deposits of Euros. So I went to the bank, which turned out to be the bigger challenge of the morning. It took one and a half hours!! The woman was very thorough, explaining to me all my banking options, although I kept telling her I'm a student on a tight budget and not in the market for stocks/bonds/mortgages/loans/credit cards, etc...it was a long process, but I did get an account.
Compared to German banks, US banks seem like they are still stuck in the middle ages.
First, bank transfers are super easy in Germany and no one uses checks. They are honestly like artifacts of a far-distant past. You pay private individuals via bank transfer, as well as things like rent and utilities. Second, online banking is apparently waaay more secure. I was very confused when the banker was trying to explain how this is done here. You can't just get a login and password, but every time you want to complete a transaction, you need a unique pin number. You get this number sent via SMS (text message) to your cell phone. Let that sink in. I asked again, just to make sure, that I can't just log in online with a username/password...she was like, "what? that would be so easy for any hacker to break." Hmmm...
But I did get some presents for dealing with 1.5 hrs of bank mumbo-jumbo: a canvas bag, a binder to organize my "financial" stuff, and 3 plastic cuba libre glasses with the bank logo printed on them. ha!
Now I just need the visa...which requires my registration at the university, and some other steps...That might not happen for a while.