Dec 19, 2008

A riveting task

I hate certified translations. After my partner's official change of address from the Saarland nullified her authorization to certify translations for official purposes, I decided to obtain such authorization myself from a German federal state that doesn't care where I live. Bavaria is very progressive in this respect, while Brandenburg (where I actually live) has been unable to get its act together in the past two years and pass a law regarding the authorization of translators and interpreters for official purposes. As a consequence, here and in some other states, no new persons have been sworn since the German High Court in 2007 decision forbade doing so based solely on administrative rules (a law is now required in each state).

So anyway, after a little paperwork, a short trip to Munich and a nice chat with pleasant court officials with charming accents, I became a court-sworn translator for Bavaria. Some people think of this as a great career move to get more work at decent rates. (German courts have a defined payment schedule which is more reasonable than one encounters with many clients - really bad copy can be charged up to something like 4 euros per line, though the base rate is only 1.25 euros per line.) I didn't really care about that; I'm drowning in work, and I was rather hoping this wouldn't attract more. I just wanted to be able to help out certain favored clients who occasionally require certification from a sworn translator and do a bit of pro bono work for people from English-speaking countries who are crazy enough to get married or divorced in Germany. (The bureaucracy is amazing. We've had our rings for four years now, and we still haven't gotten things sorted out.)

Now comes the hate part. Given the relative scarcity of translators with particular specialties like mine who can do sworn translations, I have in fact attracted some of that extra business that I didn't want. That's OK, because I've gotten to know some very fine new clients that way, and I just say no to more of the boring, routine stuff that anyone could do. Doing a few pages of a certified translation, attaching it to the original or a copy, stamping, signing and sending it all off by registered mail is a nice break from time to time. What I dread are the big translations that need certification. They hurt my wrist. I have yet to find a reasonable way of fastening a thick stack of papers together in a way that ensures it cannot be tampered with. My current procedure (suggested by the retired metallurgy professor next door who took me into his workshop to deal with a particularly nasty case) involves riveting the whole mess. I use a hand punch on all the paper, then drive a rivet through the hole and hammer the thing down on a small anvil. Maybe I should have been a blacksmith instead of a translator. I know that lawyers and notaries have better ways of dealing with this, but given some of the legal restrictions here in Germany, I'm going to be very careful before adopting any of their methods. A good solution to the problem might be found with a quick cross-post to the BDÜ member forums where surely hundreds before me have faced the same challenge. But when the task is merely an occasional irritant, once a week or less often, rather than a daily nuisance, these things tend to be forgotten in the daily tumult and drag on....


  1. Well, I did find a few quiet minutes to research the topic on the BDÜ forums and found two threads discussing it. It doesn't sound like anyone has found a more convenient solution. For large certified documents, the following methods seem to be popular:
    (1) riveting - that's what I already to
    (2) punching holes and sewing with the special document cord used by notaries/lawyers, then holding the cord ends in place with special adhesive labels and stamping half over the label
    (3) sending the whole stack of paper to a bindery

    A simpler solution might be a really heavy-duty stapler. My partner used to have one of these, but it got lost in a move. Neither of us could remember the term for it - as it turns out, I actually named it correctly in German when trying to buy one at a stationery store a few months ago, but the over-pierced dropout working at the cash register had no idea that "Hefter" was a proper German word for "stapler". In one of the BDÜ threads, someone mentioned a "Blockhefter". When I researched that one, I realized the problem was solved - I've found one that will handle up to 230 pages! That should cover most cases (though not one coming up in February... oh well....)

  2. Dear Mr Lossner,

    concerning the laws I wouldn't care anything. The sworn translator MUST "connect all the sheets of a translation in a way that does not allow alterating the delivered translation without visible damage". Most colleagues bend one corner, staple it and place their "seal" over it. So do many authorities, even courts. Personally I don't like it because this "lock" it can be opened, falsified and "relocked" easyly.

    Personally I have a stapler for up to 25 - 30 sheets, I staple on the left margin (twice, triple) without beding a corner and lock it placing a label with my seal over it. For later copying there should be something written on the label "such as Kevin Lossner, sworn translator" to keep the "lock" and the label visible when being photocopied.

    For the bigger jobs, only the civil law notaries' equipment helps. Feel free to use the rivets and document cord, make a knot, and lock the ends of the cords again with a label and your seal.

    I think, you wouldn't struggle with German laws as this stuff is just an aid to do your job. Well, in your translation you wouldn't claim being a notary, you don't copy their seal. Moreover, in the header of each page you write "this is a translation". So I would not consider it unauthorized assumption of authority. I wouldn't.

    One internet shop sells notaries' equipment for reasonable prices, I suggest you to buy a Ös-Loch-Zange - tongs for punching and binding and some eyes. There is a "punch and bind puncher" but the special eyes for this special piece are very expensive. Standard eyes handle up to 30 sheets with 80 g/m² p.e. If you have bigger stuff make 2 or 3 layers and then connect them using cord (a plenty of).

    Recently one colleage wrote that she brings it to the cobbler. There should always be help available.

    Best regards, Burkhard Ziegler


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