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Saturday, 7 December, 2002, 16:24 GMT
Germany's uncertain times
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
The jobless figures are very embarrassing for Schroeder

These are unfamiliar times in Germany.

I can't blame people for wanting to go. Why not look for a better, brighter future elsewhere?

Kerstin Tintermann, employment adviser
In the cafes and bars, people shake their heads and complain that they hardly recognise their own country any more.

Unemployment is rising, the standard of living sinking and Germany's politicians publicly insult and contradict one another in a manner normally associated with their Mediterranean peers.

Many Germans have had enough. Fed up with looking in vain for work at home, they are seeking employment abroad.

Depressing reading

Kerstin Tintermann is an employment adviser at the Berlin-based Federal Labour Office.

Street scene in Frankfurt
Many Germans feel rather European than exclusively German

She and her colleagues are struggling to deal with the significant increase in enquiries about working abroad.

"I can't blame people for wanting to go," says Mrs Tintermann.

"Unemployment is high in Germany, particularly here in the east. Why not look for a better, brighter future elsewhere?"

The jobless figures out in Germany this week certainly make depressing reading.

They are the highest since Gerhard Schroeder's Government came to power five years ago - almost 20% in parts of eastern Germany.

This is extremely embarrassing for the chancellor. His Social Democrat party largely centred its election campaign on a promise to reduce national unemployment.

So far it has simply increased.

'Go Dutch'

There are no national statistics as to how many Germans are looking for work abroad, but employment agencies across the country say it is a growing trend.

But Germany certainly remains a country that countless individuals across this imperfect world would be desperate and grateful to live in

The Netherlands, which borders Germany, by far the most popular destination.

Many choose to work there during the week and commute back to Germany at weekends.

The choice of country also depends very much on the type of job someone is looking for.

Norway and Sweden are popular amongst the medical profession, because the wages are higher and the working hours shorter than in Germany.

Information technology whiz kids head for Britain, whereas Germans bound for Ireland mainly work in call centres.

Spain and the other countries of southern Europe are the clear favourites with people in the tourism industry, according to Mrs Tintermann.

"Not too mention those desperate to catch a bit of good weather," she adds with a conspiratorial wink.

Feeling European

The reasons why greater numbers of Germans now live and work abroad are mixed.

Berlin skyline
After the fall of the wall, construction boomed

It is a little too simplistic to blame it on the economy alone.

Encouraged by European Union-funded initiatives, many young Germans choose to study abroad.

Chatting to them in the halls of any one of Berlin's many universities, you realise that a large number of them feel European rather than exclusively German.

Many speak at least one other foreign language. For them, the idea of working in another country is no different than moving to a new city within Germany.

Then, of course, there is the euro, the European single currency.

Its introduction on to the high streets of 12 European countries almost a year ago has done much to encourage greater mobility amongst workers.

Why not live in another country, learn a new language, add colour and interest to your curriculum vitae, if it is so easy to do so?

Tables turned

Thirty to 40 years ago, many of those in search of work opportunities and a better standard of living came knocking on Germany's door.

The Germans referred to these mostly Turkish, Italian, British and Irish labourers as "gastarbeiter" - guest workers.

The implication being that they were expected to leave after a period time, not to settle in Germany.

But the expectation of those Germans now choosing to work abroad is not dissimilar. Mrs Tintermann and her colleagues at the Federal Labour Office believe that most of them will come home when the economic situation has improved.

And why wouldn't they?

Germany may be a slightly less pampered, affluent and smooth-running nation than it has been in the past.

But it certainly remains a country that countless individuals across this imperfect world would be desperate and grateful to live in.

See also:

07 Nov 02 | Business
16 Nov 02 | Business
23 Sep 02 | Business
06 Aug 02 | Europe
09 Jul 02 | Business
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