A helping hand for Germans in the North

Jo Chexal showing her Cross of Merit.
Jo Chexal showing her Cross of Merit.

Morpeth Rotary Club

Jo Chexal stepped down last year as Honorary German Consul after 18 years’ service. She told Rotary about her work.

There has been a consular corps in the north since 1909. In the past they had links with trade, shipping agents and maritime lawyers. Jo’s areas of work were Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, Cumbria, Durham, Teesside and North Yorkshire.

There are around 10,000 German citizens on Tyneside and 20,000 in the whole area. The office at Newcastle Civic Centre acts as an outstation for the German Embassy in London. It is not a job you apply for, candidates are approached.

Jo was asked to consider the role in 1998 when working for the Regional Development Agency. She is a fluent German speaker and was working in investment from Germany and Scandinavia. Sometimes consuls are paid a small honorarium against a regular report of activities, and there is a tariff for certain services.

Documents can be authorised, including birth certificates. House sales have to be certified to make them acceptable in German law; name declarations for children to obtain passports; and changes on passports for newly-weds.

Germany started using fully biometric passports in 2007 with fingerprints. The office has a linked kit of laptop, fingerprint machine, copier and scanner. It saves people a trek to London. Data sticks are sent in the diplomatic bag to Berlin as this is the only place that can issue passports.

An important right for Germans is to be able to sign a certificate to decline an inheritance as people can pass on debt. Lawyers try to find a relative who might accept an inheritance. The time limit to sort it out is six months.

Those entitled to a pension from the German state must be seen annually, and consuls deal with police clearance certificates for people who want to work in Germany. There are unusual queries, such as from British families who find an old Iron Cross and want to return it to the owner’s family, and there are emergencies like lost passports. There have also been arrests of Germans and prison visits. Consuls are not allowed to give out money.

There have been cases of accidental death, with relatives coming from Germany to identify the dead. If a cremation takes place, the consul has to see the ashes poured into a container and fix a special stamp for customs clearance.

The ‘Brexit’ vote caused a great upsurge in people applying for German passports, including many from the Jewish community whose families came from Germany.

After ten years’ service, Jo was presented with the German Cross of Merit (Knight’s Cross).

She has enjoyed varied and interesting work, met fascinating people and has had the chance to work through priceless historic documents.

The vote of thanks was by Dr Paul Crook.