Why Germany?

16.01.2011

Continuing with comments on his love/hate relationship for Germany, our columnist Daniel Winter explains why he thinks his adopted country needs to be much more image conscious - or face serious consequences.

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The “Union Jack” - official british flag. Photo: Martin Bernetti / dapd.

The question I am often asked by people after I have first introduced myself to them, is why I decided to move to Germany. A reasonable enough question, and one I often shrug off with a simple

I just ended up here, really.

But, as I mentioned in my very first blog post for this site last year, it is perhaps more than just chance that I ended up deciding to move my life here. In the end, I came to get a job.

Why do I mention this all of a sudden? Well, Deutschland is not exactly high on the list of desirable places to move to, out of locations such as the USA, with its offers of comfortable living for those who work hard in a good job; Japan, with its bustling capital and fascinating traditions; France, with its nice food, reputation for romance and, in the south, some nice weather too. What is there to attract people to Germany? What are the positive stereotypes that can intrigue someone enough to not only want to visit the place, but end up living in here too?

Whilst these may seem like trivial questions, they are in fact far from it. Both German society and the economy are greatly affected by the lack of a strong positive international image. As Kyle James mentions in his article for TheLocal.de, Germany is lacking around 400,000 skilled workers. According to the Federal Institute for Population Research study mentioned in the article, the biggest turnoffs for those considering work in Germany are bureaucracy, the language, a lack of recognition for foreign qualifications and an anti-immigrant sentiment within the country. Unfortunately, these findings don’t exactly beggar belief and I’m pretty sure most immigrants to the country, including myself, have come across one of these hurdles in moving here.

Trying to brand Germany to sell abroad seems like a very difficult task – after all, the country can’t really claim a single identity, set of traditions or unified culture. After many divisions over several centuries, trying to define what Germany ‘is’ would be an impossible task. But that doesn’t make it unmarketable. Clearly, Germany is a wonderful place to live if you know where to go and what to do – from the warehouse parties of Berlin, to the historical buildings of Munich, the opera house in Stuttgart and the shopping in Hamburg – Germany is a vibrant country, with plenty to see and do.

Germany needs to play to these strengths by boosting its cultural capital through investing in the unique offerings to be found across the country. Germany needs to become less bureaucratic (even if that means the economy gets less money from fining citizens who have incorrectly filled in a confusing tax form, infested with ‘Beamtendeutsch’!).

Germany needs to concentrate the essence of its talents, and package them, present them with a smile and a bit of smooth talking to those looking to work abroad – not just tourists!

And, I’m sorry, but the institutions involved need to be more open to English, just as Scandinavia has so wonderfully led the way (many Germans now speak English, and willingly! It’s time the government did so too, even if only on the level of those departments with regular contact with foreigners). Encourage German learning and integration, but don’t lock people out who find it hard.

Perhaps in some ways, this is already happening. However, it is clear not enough is being done – further investment and attempts to find out what Germany is can really help, though perhaps without a slick veneer which can dehumanise a promotional video, rather with focus on the dynamic and unpredictable place that I know it can be.

Some would argue that kowtowing to foreigners in this way would actually lead to a watering down of German culture. I cannot see this as a reasonable defence against promoting the country abroad – it is necessary to let in some foreign influence. The study I quoted above goes on to mention that by 2030 there will be a massive deficit of 2.7 million skilled workers, should the situation continue at its current rate.

Despite some of the shortcomings that I may complain about week in and week out on this blog, Germany (its places, people and, yes, even the language) have all had a strange draw for me.

So yes, I moved here for a job. But why I stayed here, was down to everything else.