The Federal Social Court (BSG) ruled on Wednesday that a valuable coin or stamp collection was not the kind of hobby that social benefits should support, and so should be sold before the state offers him any money.
The 52-year-old coin enthusiast, a qualified construction engineer, now has a job in a warehouse, but claimed unemployment benefit while out of work from August 2005 to February 2006.
He declared his collection of 240 coins, the oldest dating to 1520, as part of his fortune, and an expert estimated its value at €21,432.
The man's local job centre in the Hannover region decided that this meant that he was not in need of state help, and gave him money as a loan, rather than a benefit. According to a report by broadcaster n-tv, he was forced to sell around 50 coins for around 40 percent less than what he had paid for them.
But the coin-lover refused to sell his entire collection, arguing that he had paid around €27,000 for it, and so a sale would represent a significant economic loss. Not only that, he said the coin collection was his passion and not primarily a financial investment.
German law allows people on benefits to keep assets if selling them would represent a "clear loss." For instance, they are not required to liquidate life insurance plans if they would receive significantly less than the payments they had made.
Similarly, people living on state help are also allowed to keep property they own, if they live in it.
But the BSG said that this clause was only meant to protect people against "economic sell-out," not to help them keep their valuable hobbies.
Since antique coins are subject to fluctuating market forces, the court ruled it was much less clear that there would be a clear economic loss, so the collector could be expected to sell to pay back the state support he had received.