Thinking about settling in Germany – what would Grandad say? Well, if he looked into it, he’d probably agree that the country offers great opportunities for British veterans!
WORDS: TOM JAMISON
The Federal Republic of Germany is at the centre of Europe, both physically (it’s bordered by France, Belgium, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and both the North and Baltic Seas) and economically – it has the largest economy in the EU, which may explain why the European Central Bank operates from Frankfurt!
Germany’s 137,847 square miles is home to 80 million people, including the third largest immigrant population in the world – a mix that brings its own challenges, not least unemployment which fluctuates at around 8% nationally.
Split in two after the Second World War, Germany became a home from home for generations of British military personnel waiting to hold back the Russian hordes crossing the border from the communist German Democratic Republic. After the 1990 reunification, which saw East Germany incorporated into the Federal Republic, the UK’s permanent military presence has been significantly reduced (to essentially just North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony), but chances are you may have served there and grown to love the place – so why not settle down permanently?
Nigh on two decades after reunification, the split between west and east is still palpable – west Germans are half as likely to be unemployed as their east German counterparts, not least because the west is home to major world brands including Mercedes Benz, BMW, Adidas, Audi, Porsche and Nivea. In fact, more than a third (37%) of the world’s largest stock-market listed companies (judged by revenue) are headquartered in Germany – including Daimler, Volkswagen, Allianz, Siemens, Deutsche Bank, Eon, Deutsche Post, Deutsche Telecom, Metro and BASF. All of this contributes to Germany’s status as the world’s top exporter and manifests in a GDP smaller than just three other countries worldwide.
Although famed for its engineering prowess, automobiles and chemical goods, around 70% of its jobs are based in the service sector, which may well explain the nation’s advocacy of closer political and economic harmony within Europe. That said, even Germany wasn’t bullet proof against the recent worldwide recession, with Chancellor Angela Merkel forced to approve a €50 billion (£43.8 billion) economic stimulus package.
Nevertheless, there are numerous opportunities; for example, there’s a pressing shortage of skilled IT technicians; according to the German IT Association, a quarter of vacancies left unfilled. The Wall has come down, the Cold War has melted away, and Germany is not a country that’s ashamed or embarrassed to welcome the skills and experience of incomers.
STANDARD OF LIVING
How would you like to work for a company mandated to provide 14 days holiday and unlimited sick days? How would you like a Government-subsidised health insurance scheme based on traditional values but not afraid to experiment with the latest therapies? How would you like to start a family in a country where the insurance system will provide a ‘Mothers Helper’ for eight hours a week for newborns, and where maternity leave can last for three years at 60% salary for the first year? Or, how about both parents taking 14 weeks (each) at 100% of their salaries? It’s a social system that aims to provide the best of everything.
It’s paid for, of course, by higher taxes than you might be used to in the UK , but when everyone is living a much higher standard of living and is happier and feels more secure as a result – it’s not the Germany of leather shorts you might have expected.
Even if you want to be all British about it and still want to cut some costs, you can feasibly live in Germany without a car — punctual, reliable trains can get you to any major city on the continent faster than by road and, with cycle lanes hugging most routes, local journeys can be swifter and greener too.
House prices fluctuate wildly between different federal states, with those in the east the least expensive. In the north you’ll pay around €185,000 (£158,000) for a detached family home, €235,000 (£206,000) for the same in the West and in the South €310,000 (£272,000). You can expect to pay more than €300,000 (£263,000) in larger cities, with Munich topping the table at a whopping €557,000.
Education policy is controlled at a regional level, but in general there’s an optional kindergarten for three to six year olds and a compulsory primary education for a further 4 years. Secondary education is streamed into different types of schools; the oddly titled ‘Gymnasium’ schools take on the task of preparing gifted children for university over an eight to nine year period, ‘Realschule’ schools handle a broader range of intermediate students for six years, and ‘Hauptschules’ prepare students for vocational courses.
Education in Germany is seen as crucially important to the nation’s success, and Germans are proud of their reputation as ‘Das land der dichter und denker’ (‘the land of poets and thinkers’). In recent years, Germany has reported 91 million museum visits, 20 million theatre visits and 3.6 million trips to listen to a symphonic orchestra. Not that it’s just
Beethoven and Brecht; with 6.3 million official members, the German Football Association is the largest sports organisation of its kind, with the Bundesliga (Germany’s top football league) attracting the second highest average attendance of any professional sports league in the world.
In recent years Germany has made a greater attempt to attract highly skilled workers by making it easier for them to gain permanent residency – professionals most in demand include natural scientists (biologists, chemists, physicists), engineers and scientific personnel in high tech sectors. Thanks to the European Union Free Movement of Workers directive, as a British citizen you don’t need to apply for a work permit, although you will require a residence registration if you plan to stay for more than three months.
Self-employed immigrants are also welcomed, provided they invest one million euro and can create 10 new German jobs. Family members who enter Germany with highly skilled workers who have obtained a visa, or family members who join them later, can also obtain the right to work in Germany. Foreign graduates from German universities now have a year to look for a job if they wish to stay in the country.
With such a large immigrant population, though, you may find officials a tad overhelmed on occasions, so it’s helpful if you have a valid passport for your entire stay, proof of financial resources, confirmation of health insurance and a liking for queues. Certificates of birth and qualifications can also be handy. A driving licence awarded in the UK remains valid.
Berlin (Berlin): The capital of reunified Germany has become noted for its liberal tolerances, famed zeitgeist and superb cultural institutions, particularly art galleries. It was awarded the title of UNESCO’s ‘City of Design’ in 2005.
Bonn (North Rhine-Westphalia): the former capital of West Germany may have lost the national Parliament post-reunification in 1990, but it remains home to many national Government departments , as well as a centre for telecoms and logistics.
Cologne (North Rhine- Westphalia): though a city with a long and distinguished history, with its Cathedral and University ranked among the oldest in the world, the city looks to the future – many of Germany’s media organisations are based here.
Frankfurt am Main (Hesse): the country’s financial and transport centre is the only German city listed among the ’10 Alpha World Cities’ – a truly multicultural melting pot, playing host to people from more than 180 different countries.
Hamburg (Hamburg): the second largest city in Germany is an industrial centre, with Airbus, Blohm & Voss and Aurubus factories in the region. It is also a cultural hub with more than 8,500 companies involved in the creative and arts sectors.
Munich (Bavaria): often listed among the world’s top 10 most prestigious cities, it’s also among the most expensive. Also known for being beer friendly; the Oktoberfest is celebrated annually in – er… – September!
Stuttgart (Badem-Wurttemberg): a hub of hi tech industry, regarded as the ‘cradle of the automobile’. It’s traditionally a very safe city, with low unemployment (around 3.8%). Given its industrial pedigree, though it’s also just an hour’s drive away from the beautiful Black Forest.
The German Embassy London
020 7824 1300, www.london.diplo.de
“America stopped making vinyl and phased out the single but Germany held out and refused.” Peter Hook
“I like Germany; I’m not into Berlin, it’s too huge and empty and imposing, but Munich was good.” Graham Coxon
“I love Germany so dearly that I hope there will always be two of them.” Francois Maurice
“I think this could be our best victory over Germany since the war.” John Motson
“In Germany I am not so famous.” Hans Berger
“It’s silly to say it about a tennis player, but I’m an unbelievable hero in Germany. And Germany needs heroes more than any place.” Boris Becker
“The tears I have cried over Germany have dried. I have washed my face.” Marlene Dietrich