Getting by in Germany during the global meltdown

Getting by in Germany during the global meltdown
Photo: DPA

Worried about the global economic meltdown? Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent for British daily The Times, has come up with a simple A to Z survival guide for the hard times in Germany.


A while ago I wrote a column about the New Frugality and the frugalistas –the recession-savvy savers who are bunkering down in Germany for the long dark night of the economic turndown.

I thought I had to do this for pedagogic reasons. Young Europeans have no historical experience of self-denial. Credit has always been part of their lives, so going without seems to them little more than Scrooge-like miserliness.

The article was clearly taken to heart. One fan even urged me to save some cash while recycling by using my own columns instead of toilet paper.

Well, thanks for that.

But this isn't an academic debate anymore. With the global economy in meltdown we are back to Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs in an emergency: food, clothing, shelter and transportation – in that order.

Especially with Germany’s economy so reliant on exports, things could get quite brutal rather fast. Forget those €800 cashmere sweaters and pick up the knitting needles; this is going to be the Age of Self-Reliance.

So, here, before you flush it away is the basic A to Z survival guide for the next Great Depression:

A is for Acorns. Pigs eat them. So can you. Borrow your grandmother's war recipes for acorn cutlets. And while you're visiting her in the old peoples home, make sure to swipe the biscuits that the Care staff always leave around.

B as in Body-peeling. Save your money. There is no such thing as superfluous hair in a recession. Hang on to it, as your hair might end up keeping you warm when you can't afford to heat your flat.

C for C-Class Mercedes. The gas-guzzler of choice for bankers, who really are the age’s new lepers. Try not to take out your anger on flashy rides made in Stuttgart...okay, maybe you can kick the tyres a bit. Feel better?

D as in Darkness. Thanks to local council cutbacks, dark is the new light in many German towns thoughtfully turning off streetlamps. Clever move – who wants to see the half-starved features of your hungry neighbours? Not me.

E as in Extra-Wurst. It’s that special slice of sausage that the butcher always give kids at the deli. Butchers might work with dead animal carcasses all day, but they still need love too. Borrow or snatch a child to get your Extra-Wurst. Then go back when the shift changes.

F for Fire. Those of you in Berlin go gather dead wood from Grunewald forest, make a bonfire either in the garden or under a stupidly parked Porsche – it’s a May Day ritual in the German capital. Roast a hedgehog for some protein.

G as in Group sex. Underrated and indisputably cheap home entertainment. Charge entry like a good German would.

H for Harald Schmidt. The top German entertainer on state-funded TV is overpaid at taxpayer expense. The obvious move: privatise him. Perhaps his jokes will improve.

I for Interior decoration. Go back to the student bachelor-pad look, I'm afraid. Chipped, smudged glass tables? They're in again. So is flat sharing and saving on detergents. Clean windows are so yesterday.

J as in Junge Union. The "youth" wing of the Christian Democratic party, ie the conservative under-40s. Desperate for members they always dish out sandwiches and fizzy drinks at their meetings. Go, eat, leave.

K for kebab stands. The classic information exchange points in an economic crisis. Ask the owner if he knows of a job going. He usually does. Review your moral position on selling meat products past their sell-by dates.

L is for Lidl. The supermarket chain that should now cater for your romantic dinner parties. Chateau Lidl wine if you grab a bottle goes for under €3, a pack of 20 candles for a mere €1.99! That should do it. Plus you get your picture taken (secretly, but hey!) at the check-out counter.

M as in Mutti. Heading to your mother’s is the traditional place to hole up during a recession. Washing done for free, hot dinners. If complaining gets too persistent switch up the iPod. Tell her you're looking for a job. Could take years in this economic climate.

N for Newspapers. A complete waste of money. Who wants more bad news?

O as in Oxfam. Relatively new in Germany due to a widespread charity shortage, but now in fashion. It’s a good place for oversized tweed jackets if you don't mind the smell of dead people. Buy books there and resell them on eBay.

P as in Plastic bottled water. Obviously pointless. Munich tap water is the new Evian!

Q is for Quark. Mix with milk and oil, put together with a baked potato. Invite a friend. Worked for millions of Germans in the War. Brand it as the new Teutonic sushi.

R as in Restaurants. Go to the backdoor of posh restaurants after 11 pm. The kitchen will give you a bag of the good but perishable stuff. This is not begging! We don't do begging. Remember good housekeeping is a solid middle class value.

S for Sparkassen savings banks. These are large empty buildings where foolish people once used to keep their money until it was melted down and made into brass nails to be hammered later into the coffin of capitalism. The staff that has survived has nothing to do. You will be offered coffee, biscuits, be offered a seat in a comfortably heated office. All you have to do is nod and humour them as they try to sell you a Sparvertrag. Leave after the third coffee.

T as in Tomatoes. Overpriced. Grow them and other fruit and veg on an allotment, or as the Germans call them a Schrebergarten.They’re the only real estate in the country that is bound to gain in value.

U for U-Bahn. A good place to dig coins out of the crevices of seats. They’re also warm. If you buy a ticket, take it to the Lost Property office and say you have misplaced a big black umbrella. When they offer you one, accept it. Later, re-sell it on eBay. I mean how many umbrellas can you have?

V for Verfallsdatum. The German word sell-by date is a key phrase in supermarkets that are now ready to drop prices on any food that looks close to its expiry point. Take a pen with you and alter the dates if you can't be bothered to trawl round the aisles. It’s best to bargain with German shop assistants in the evening when bosses have gone home.

W for Women’s Toilets. They’re better value than the male version. The best in Berlin: the posh Hotel Adlon. Head straight through the lobby, past Brad Pitt, down the stairs, into the Ladies, whatever your gender. Good quality free soap, free cloth towels (as many as your shopping bag can hold), plenty of loo paper – the works.

X as in X chromosomes. As many of these as you can get. Men panic in desperate situations and end up dying. But women are survivors. Er, like rats.

Y for Yacht. Around the Berlin lakes, there are now hundreds of sailing boats, neglected by their owners too lily-livered to sail when it's a bit chilly. Take one over for the evening, invite your friends around for a party, and tell them to bring a bottle of wine each. Much cheaper than St Tropez

Z as in Zoo. When all else fails, a useful source of nutrition. Think kangaroo steaks.

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.



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