2013-05-26, 23:10 CET: The link is not hidden, it is clearly visible and with correct description. Currently this works also on a sunday.
2013-05-27, 19:30 CET: Login / registration works on Chrome / OS X .No forced logout.
2013-05-28: link activation worked fine without problem
and so on. I don't want to say that the OP is wrong, it might be the OP has experienced exactly what he has. But generalizing this is total bs. I have done many bureaucratic steps here in Germany and most of them were really fine (submitting tax forms, applying for tax ID, business registration (Gewerbeanmeldung, Handelsregister), banking account, healthcare insurance, ...).
There are many different places where to submit forms, but usually the local trade organizations (Handelskammern) help you by organizing / bundling things together. Been there, done that.
However due to the federal structure of germany your experience can vary wildly depending on in which state and city you live.
I live in Munich and was recently pleasantly surprised how easy it was to request my postal voting documents for the upcoming elections. Took me only 30 seconds or so :)
I think the city council of munich does quite a good job at innovating their IT infrastructure. Most notably the limux project  but in other areas like open data and open government as well . Though there is of course still a lot of space for further improvements.
 http://www.it-muenchen-blog.de (german)
Yup, it's a quite emotional rant based on some experiences that were unique to my timing and circumstances and yes, from the non-government big insurances and banks you are mentioning, I've already seen much better.
Maybe I should not have been generalizing here, but regularly using and accessing services as the european Tax ID verification or the ECB exchange rate APIs, I could find many many more horrifying examples of user and developer experience and honestly I haven't seen a good counterexample that would give me hope.
To this date, usability and convenience in Government are a one-way street: As a business owner, I'm forced to file my taxes electronically, however electronic bank statements and bills in electronic document formats are still not regularly accepted by the tax authorities...
Compared to my experiences with running a company in the UK it's almost like the Germans don't want you to run a company at all.
At first my answer was meant to be a joke, but the longer I think about it... :)
The good news are: Since you seem to be able to manage those barriers, you're fine and can care about doing X.
In Germany, your meant to have the correct education, certificates, and experience before your own company. There's tons of red tape.
I've had 4 limited companies over the years.
Or do you mean society enforces it?
Maybe not really applicable for us tech nerds but the "Meisterzwang" is a real obstacle for many people. But aside from that arcane institution there's not really anything forbidding you to start a company.
The problem I have with Germany is the time and bureaucratic burden it takes to get a Gmbh up and running. You're looking at a procedure that takes multiple months and visits at a notary office for the paperwork.
Compare that to the UK where all you have to do is log into a website and fill out a form to have your Ltd up and running.
2) It is your money to spend. You never give it to anybody else. So "you don't get that money back" is completely incorrect.
That and the name suffix: "<my company> UG (haftunsgbeschraenkt)". Internationally no one knows what a UG is. Doesn't really matter for a local bakery but if you're running an international software business it becomes at least a little important.
> 2) It is your money to spend.
Actually it's your company's money to spend. So "you don't get it back" is partially correct ;)
A Ltd. doesn't really have any advantage in that scenario besides fast incorporation times.
I've also been thinking many times how cool it would be if somebody started creating an open source framework for EU e-government, considering that many problems are common to all governments.
I agree this would be brilliant. I know in the UK the gov.uk site is all open source: https://github.com/alphagov
They recently published a blog post about how the New Zealand Government Online team used some of the gov.uk code.
I'd love to see a pan-European initiative to pool resources and knowledge.
What I was thinking about was more of a grass-roots thing, started by hackers who want the e-government to come to the 21st century. Who knows, if my current startup turns out well and I'll have time to think about something different, I could work on that :)
These administrations basically have all the same needs, but many of them are served by small suppliers that always have to reinvent the wheel with some half-cooked proprietary solution.
If there was a well-designed, free open source GPL solution that already coverered 80% of the requirements, that could give a competitive advantage to those who based their offer on that solution. They would then compete only on service and customization.
As I see it, the problem would be mostly to kickstart the development of that GPL platform - no for-profit company could do that, it would be against their interest. But if a big and committed enough community started it, then it could create a positive feedback loop that could be very difficult to stop. IMHO this could be a field where the GPL could give its best (I'm not pasdaran of the GPL, and released my own little open source contributions as MIT).
However, even with the software being perfect, you still have very high barriers of entry to overcome:
1) the local authority is likely to be locked into a 5- or 10-year contract with its current supplier
2) the choice of supplier is rarely (if ever) based on technical excellence/licensing strategy. Usually the people commissioning the IT don't tend to have a very deep understanding of technology, licensing, etc
As for the contracts, at least in Italy I've never seen one longer than 3 years, and practically by law the deciding factor is, most of the time, price (which is a big problem on its own).
Germany government IT basically is a joke. Just Google for 'toll collect' for additional hilarity.
After some tinkering (a lost Saturday) it finally worked but I don't want something like that in my business. That's why we have one PC here :)
Not that the latter would be an experience any more pleasant...
First, the users need to be authenticated, as in you are the person you claim to be authenticated. Almost no other web service actually needs to know that. Banks are an other exception and for example here in Finland they provide authentication for other private and government web services. Finland also has those secure chip ID cards the author briefly mentioned. The problem with those is that, at least here in Finland, nobody has them. And most of those who have one, don't own a reader needed to use the chip.
The second problem is about logging and archiving. Governments are subject to very strict laws and regulations about how certain cases need to be handled. The are processes to follow. Who did which step when has to be recorded. When the case is finally closed, every piece of paper about the case needs to be archived. Was something denied because a letter from the applicant did not have the necessary information? That letter needs to be archived. All this is manageable when the case is handled in paper.
If the case is handled using a web service, things get more complicated. The system has to log all actions done in the case. It has to archive documents in proper ways. That's not impossible. But it is harder than stamping and signing papers for those whose jobs have been about stamping and signing papers for years. It's also harder for those implementing the web service, as most of the strict regulations don't apply in other projects. All this means that big money needs to used for creating something that adds complexity and is not strictly necessary, and oh boy the government likes to skimp on those kind of projects.
I think the system is pretty good. The only problem it has, that I know of, is the price. The user of the service has to pay for every single authentication. Couple of years ago the price was 14 cents per authentication. That was enough for a one government project to second guess their choice of authentication.
Don't get me wrong, it's not in a good state. But also not always as horrifying as this example. (And it's much better here in the Netherlands.)
Having recently moved from NL -> DE, I can't agree more. Dutch citizens have one account (DigID) that can be used with nearly all government services. Moving within the Netherlands, reporting taxes, etc. is a breeze. There is even a portal where you get an overview of nearly everything (pension status, study loan, etc.).
Here every thing is paper and you have to sign and complete dozens of forms, many partly overlapping. That said, they were all processed quickly and well, and my employer was very helpful in getting everything sorted out.
Of course, one upside of the German system is that it gives (the impression of) more privacy :).
Not to complain about Germany in general, it's a wonderful country.
It is in a way similar to the current google story, google trying to unify all its offerings in one account, thereby making the experience much smoother and helpful, and people refusing this because they don't want google to know that much about them.
Since then I go to the office every time, chat with the people, ask questions, fill out my forms, and they process it immediately.
It took over one year to finally gain access to all the components of the online system. I still can't read their PDFs because they require an Adobe plugin for PDF "security".
At any rate, see if you have the ability to go in person. Helps with the language barrier and probably more effective.
Well, they didn't close it. They just didn't take orders for wire transfers. Not reading the message that popped up - I assumed it's something along the line of "your order will be filled on monday" - made me miss my first rent payment :3
No idea why they couldn't just queue orders over the weekend.
That said: I've seen a lot of IT shit all over the world. No country is immune to stupid people sitting at the steering wheel of IT departments.
Is it not succeeding, or are there other issues?
(I don't get out much anymore. I live on a rock in the middle of the Earth's largest ocean, on one of the most isolated land masses on Earth.)