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What I hope for Germany after a year of reporting on its news

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What I hope for Germany after a year of reporting on its news
A varied mix of people dancing in Kreuzberg, Berlin on May 1st this year. Photo: DPA
16:53 CEST+02:00
It’s been about a year since The Local’s Shelley Pascual joined the team’s Berlin bureau. As she sets sail for challenges new, she reflects on her hopes for Deutschland’s future.

From covering the national election to writing up bizarre, offbeat stories, it’s been an adventurous ride reporting on Germany’s news.

Having kept in touch with German issues and the goings-on each day, in addition to calling the country home for over five years, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the things I personally hope will develop or change for Deutschland.

People of colour can be considered German too

In the run up to the general election last year, an interview with the founder of hip hop political party Die Urbane got me thinking of what it means to be German. The Berlin native told me he rejects nationalism and due to his multicultural background, identifies more with his city and less with Germany.

In one of Die Urbane’s videos on its Facebook page, a man laments the fact that whether or not you’re considered a German is dependant on things like the colour of your skin or your religion.

Afro-German TV presenter Jana Pareigis has been asked where she's from since she was a child. Photo: DPA

This resonated with me when, a few months later, I read reports of black women who claim no one believes them when they say they’re German.

SEE ALSO: Why it’s time we stop asking ‘where are you from?’ in Germany

Deutschland may not be like the US or Canada in that a large portion of its population is either foreign-born or identify as visible minorities, but that doesn’t mean it should have preconceived notions of what a German should look like.

Especially since, with over a million foreigners arriving in the country since 2015, newcomers might be hoping to one day call themselves German too - like these internationals who got German citizenship last year.

I shudder at the idea of one day possibly raising kids here only for them to be dismissed as not belonging to the country based on their appearance; I hope all people of colour who identify as Germans can come to be regarded as such.

Skilled worker shortages will taper off

I have lost track of the number of reports we published over the past year highlighting a huge number of job vacancies in Deutschland from the IT sector to the education industry that will need to be filled in the near future. Even the German army put out a call for vacant positions.

A doctor in Freiburg. Photo: DPA

At the end of 2017, for instance, over 1.2 million vacant employment positions nationwide were recorded. A study last year also found that three million skilled workers, such as those in health care, could be lacking by 2030.

But one way Germany can tackle the shortage is to be more open to career changers or people who’ve taken non-traditional career paths, as this report about a lack of qualified engineers for a bike network in Berlin mentions.

Germany could do with more programmes like this one which trains refugee teachers to enter the German school system and helps fill the current shortage of some 2,000 primary school teaching jobs. Programmes like these across all industries would ensure that more and more newcomers are given the opportunity to fill the vacancies which need filling.

Formalities and strict adherence to rules will ease up

Some Germans might say that strictly following the rules can never be a bad thing. But was it really necessary for a bus driver in Essen to kick a woman off a bus for eating a bread roll?

Sometimes, Germany, you can take a chill pill on the rule following thing. Oh, and while you’re at it, feel free to get with the times when it comes to processes and paperwork.

A public authority office in North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Unlike many other countries, doing simple things here such as cancelling a gym contract and reporting serious complaints to property management need to be carried out via letter rather than online or by telephone.

Speaking of formalities, it wouldn’t hurt if one in particular were modified so that it no longer brings about a catch-22 situation (not to mention a lot of gray hair) for foreigners keen on renting a flat.

In order to rent an apartment, you need to show a Schufa (a document which shows your credit rating). But to get your hands on a Schufa, you have to have a German bank account - which in turn is only possible if you have an address in Germany. Thus a vicious cycle is created.

Germany will move out of the digital slow lane

Lagging far behind other countries, Germany’s digital infrastructure is mediocre at best.

In a recent Akamai report, an internationally recognized analysis of digital capabilities, the Bundesrepublik fared worse than countries like Bulgaria when it comes to average internet speeds, placing 25th in a global comparison.

By contrast, Denmark, Switzerland and Finland came out in the top ten for improving their internet speeds by more than 15 percent.

Sure, we have the world's fastest highways and we’re an economic powerhouse. But only about two percent of German broadband connections were through fiber-optic cables in late 2016. In Sweden and Latvia, it’s more than 50 percent.

Unlike this train in Frankfurt, WiFi isn't usually available on regional German trains. Photo: DPA

I’ve gotten used to the fact that on my usual train ride from Berlin to Münster to visit relatives every few months, I’ll have slow internet access at least half of the time when passing through rural areas.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that there’s no WiFi network to connect to on the train unless it’s of the high-speed variety. (Where I grew up, in Toronto, free WiFi can be found almost everywhere nowadays.)

Germany needs to get out of the digital dark age if it's serious about becoming a global leader on digital innovation.

Gender equality and diversity is prioritized

In January, a new law was passed with the goal of closing Germany’s wide gender pay gap; steps toward gender equality are being taken.

Still though, women here earned around 21 percent less than men in 2016 - worse than the EU average of around 16 percent. And even for women with the same qualifications and doing the same work as men, the pay gap stands at about six percent, which is nothing short of inexcusable.

Just like I hope the gender pay gap levels off, I also hope the current figure of 30 percent of women in the German parliament rises and the number of women in executive boards increases from its abysmal six percent.

The German cabinet. Photo: DPA

And just as much as I hope that gender equality continues to be put at the forefront in my adopted country, I hope that diversity is made a priority too.

The first thing that struck me when I saw photos of Merkel's cabinet when it was formed in March was that there were no people of colour in it - a stark contrast to the national football team’s lineup at the 2018 World Cup.

Across a range of industries, from journalism to entertainment, a wide array of people from different backgrounds with varying religions is encouraged since it ensures diversity of perspectives. So why can't this be the case in politics?

As such, one of my wishes for Germany is that its cabinet comes to reflect the country it represents - one that is home to an ever-growing population of foreigners from Syria, Poland, Canada, China, Brazil and beyond.

SEE ALSO: How a visit home to Canada made me realize I couldn't move back for good

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