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Prostitution, dogs and loneliness: A look at Germany's weirdest taxes

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Prostitution, dogs and loneliness: A look at Germany's weirdest taxes
Photo: DPA
15:15 CET+01:00
Germany's excellent public transport and strong social safety net are funded by an extensive taxation system. Welcome to the weird and (sometimes not so) wonderful world of German taxation.

The level of taxation in Germany is a common lament among locals and foreigners alike. This is not just for the amount of tax - which is among the highest in Europe - but also for the odd tax categories which are not common elsewhere. 

At the end of February, The Local told readers about a German family who had their pedigree pug confiscated after they failed to pay the mandated dog tax. It got us thinking about some of the weird and unusual taxes unique to the Bundesrepublik. 

From taxing man's best friend to a former deduction on bribes paid to government officials, here are some of Germany's strangest Steuern

SEE ALSO: These are the 8 German tax breaks you need to know about

Dog tax 

Dogs in Germany are subject to the Hundesteuer or ‘dog tax’, an annual fee which differs from state to state and is usually collected from dog owners. 

Although most jurisdictions have gotten rid of their dog taxes decades ago, Germany has stubbornly refused to do so. 

There are a number of justifications for the dog tax, from keeping dog numbers low to paying for cleaning up their waste. The dog tax brings in plenty of cash for the government - it brought in €11 million in Berlin alone last year. 

The only way to get around the dog tax is to adopt a rescue dog, where you won’t be liable for the tax for the first year.

There are also suggestions that smaller dogs can be classified as rodents and therefore be tax exempt, although we’d advise against telling the taxman you were taking your tax-exempt rat for a walk until you have further confirmation. 

 

In Germany, dogs have to pay their own way when it comes to taxes. Image: DPA. 

Church tax

One of the biggest surprises for expats living in Germany isn’t just that there is a church tax but that they’re already paying it. 

Paying church tax is the default option, with all potential taxpayers having to ‘opt out’ of paying it when completing their Anmeldung (address registration) or their tax declaration. 

If you fail to notice the ‘KS’ (Kirchensteuer) on your tax advice, you may be liable for hundreds of euros per year. 

If you’re already paying it, you’ll need to go along to your local Standesamt or Amtsgericht and opt out in person. But be warned, doing so in religious areas - particularly in Bavaria - is likely to get you a few dirty looks. 

SEE ALSO: Crossed wires: why church tax is causing extra stress for expat tax payers

Bribery exception

While it’s no longer on the books, bribes were tax deductible under certain circumstances in Germany up until 1999.

Although the exemption was rarely used, a person who paid a bribe and sought to have it deducted would be able to do so if they explained the purpose of the bribe and give the names of all the people involved.

Deductions were not allowed if the “briber or the recipient had been subject to criminal penalties”. 

The exemption was ended in 1999, while some forms of bribery remained legal until 2002. 

Renewable energy tax

Germany leads the world in renewable energy production, so much so that it frequently sells its clean energy to its neighbours. 

Although this needed a considerable amount of investment, the roll-out of the renewable energy infrastructure came about through a combination of surcharges and taxes which placed part of the cost on the consumer. 

With Germans generally willing to pay a little more on their electricity bill if the money is being invested into green energy, the plan has been a success.

The surcharge alone raised €26.6 billion last year, with new corporate and income taxes proposed in the future to further increase investment in clean energy. 

Commuter tax deduction

Almost all work-related expenses can be deducted in Germany, and while the usual suspects like uniforms and training materials can be deducted, there are also a few other weird categories of deduction. 

One is the commuter allowance, which lets you claim €0.30 per each kilometre between you and work. No matter whether you drive, car-share or take public transport, you can claim up to €4,500 a year - but be sure to keep your receipts. 

Single tax

One further set of deductions available to German taxpayers relates to children, specifically for having kids. The tax is justified as necessary to encourage an increase in the German birth rate and to offset some of the costs of having children. 

In 2018 however the German Health Minister Jens Spahn tried to take things a step further, arguing that single people should be “willing to contribute more financially to the sustainability of the system” in order to make it “fair for all generations”. 

The 'loneliness tax' suggestion was rebuffed by Spahn’s political opponents, although with tax declaration season starting just after Valentines Day, it’s safe to say that the plan may have put a few lonely noses out of joint should it have gained broader support. 

Decades ago single men in Germany were required to pay the so-called Bachelor Tax, although this was later abolished. 

Prostitution tax

Prostitution is legal in Germany, with all sex workers required to have the requisite tax ID numbers and to pay tax on their earnings much like any other employee. While collecting these in the context of a brothel may be easier, there are difficulties in adequately monitoring the earnings activities of streetwalkers. 

Officials in Bonn have sought to solve the problem by placing a meter in the red light district, requiring that prostitutes pay €6 every evening for the right to ply their trade on the street. 

An image of the meter in Bonn which collects the nightly prostitution tax. Image: DPA

Most prostitutes operate as freelancers or small business owners and will need to pay tax on their income, the city says the meter is an extra level of security to ensure that the prostitutes are contributing. Similar taxes have also been introduced in Dortmund, which the city expects will raise €750,000 per year. 

Germany’s progressive sex work policy has also been extended to include a stipend for disabled people to help them pay for sex, with extra training provided to prostitutes on how to work in the area. 

 

 
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