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Train graffiti: How Germany is tackling its €38 million problem

For residents and visitors to Germany, graffiti on trains and at stations is nothing surprising. But new figures obtained by The Local illustrate the scale of the problem.

Train graffiti: How Germany is tackling its €38 million problem
A cleaning crew removes graffiti from a train. Image: DPA

Police say that graffiti is most commonly a problem in larger cities, although there are incidents all over Germany. 

The most problematic cities for authorities are Berlin, Hamburg, Halle and Leipzig, along with metropolitan areas in Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia. 

There are disagreements as to the trend of the problem. While police indicate that the figures are gradually decreasing, reports from Deutsche Bahn show that the problem is on the rise. 

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READ: How Berlin activists are turning Nazi hate graffiti into art

As reported by DPA, the impact of graffiti isn’t purely aesthetic damage. Costs and train delays are a major issue as a result of graffiti. 

Coordinated campaigns and graffiti tourism

Graffiti on the train lines and at stations has a variety of messages, from political messaging to support for football teams. 

Those behind the graffiti are also a diverse group, from bored teenagers to organized gangs.

Police told the Berliner Morgenpost that ‘graffiti tourism’ was increasingly a problem in the city, with budding graffiti sprayers coming from other parts of Germany – and indeed other countries – to make their mark in the Hauptstadt.

Police cited the recent detention of a 16-year-old Australian tourist in relation to property damage offences as an example of the growing problem. 

While Berlin's street art culture is a big tourist magnet, the police said they consider any form of graffiti on trains or stations to be property damage — no matter its artistic merit. 

IN PICTURES: Berlin's best street art 

Other than tourists, organized local gangs are also frequently responsible. 

In Berlin, an organized team of graffiti sprayers chose the day of a recent train strike to launch a coordinated assault on the city’s public transport. 

In total, 140 wagons were sprayed – with the paint covering an estimated 2,000 square metres. 

Graffiti on a station building in Leipzig. Image: DPA

“Not an increasing problem”

A spokesperson for the Federal Police told The Local that while graffiti was still a significant issue, “graffiti on trains is at the moment not an increasing problem”. 

Figures obtained by The Local from the Federal Police show a slight overall decrease in relation to previous years. 

While 7,819 cases occurred in 2018 — the majority of which were on S-Bahn trains — there were 8,300 cases in 2017. The 2016 figures were against slightly higher at 8,360. 

The spokesperson told The Local “it would be impossible to determine the (graffiti) situation on lines run by regional operators as trains often run through several states”.

An increase on Inter City Express trains – and at stations

However figures provided by Deutsche Bahn indicated a trend in the opposite direction. In 2018 graffiti increased by eight percent, with 20,100 cases recorded. 

Unlike the figures from the Federal Police, the Deutsche Bahn figures take into account all incidents of graffiti both at train stations and on long-distance trains. 

'Team for graffiti-free train stations' – A Deutsche Bahn campaign against graffiti. Image: DPA

Deutsche Bahn estimated the damage to be in the vicinity of €38 million. While the company spent €13 million repairing the damage caused by graffiti across 2018, much of it is not removed. 

Berlin’s BVG, responsible for the city’s public transport, estimate a yearly spend of €10 million on graffiti removal in Berlin alone. 

Delays and higher costs for passengers

Officials have pointed out that the effects of the graffiti are not purely aesthetic. 

The board production DB Regio, Oliver Terhaag, told DPA: “Unfortunately, the effects of graffiti are also felt by our passengers. The affected cars are taken from the fleet, so then shorter trains are on the way, which are sometimes extra full,” he said. 

“At stops it could cause delays in getting in and out, which has a negative impact on punctuality.”

The steps taken to prevent and clean up graffiti also result in more expensive costs imposed on passengers. 

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For members


Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?

Unlike in EU countries such as Portugal or Spain, Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners. Yet applying to live in the Bundesrepublik post-retirement is not difficult if you follow these steps.

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?
Two pensioners enjoying a quiet moment in Dresden in August 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Due to its quality of life, financial security and health care, Germany snagged the number 10 spot in the 2020 Global Retirement Index. So just how easy is it to plant roots in Deutschland after your retirement?

Applying for a residency permit

As with any non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) national looking to stay in Germany for longer than a 90-day period, retirees will need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

READ ALSO: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany – but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain third countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems while in Germany.

Retirement visas still aren’t as common as employment visas, for example, so there could be a longer processing time. 

What do you need to retire in Germany?

To apply for a retirement visa, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance. 

If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance. Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans. 

Take note, though, that not all are automatically accepted by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office), so this is something you’ll need to inquire about before purchasing a plan. 

READ ALSO: The perks of private health insurance for expats in Germany

The decision is still at the discretion of German authorities, and your case could be made stronger for various reasons, such as if you’re joining a family member or are married to a German. Initially retirement visas are usually given out for a year, with the possibility of renewal. 

Once you’ve lived in Germany for at least five full years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, or a Niederlassungserlaubnis. To receive this, you will have to show at least a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Taxation as a pensioner

In the Bundesrepublik, pensions are still listed as taxable income, meaning that you could be paying a hefty amount on the pension from your home country. But this is likely to less in the coming years.

Tax is owed when a pensioner’s total income exceeds the basic tax-free allowance of €9,186 per year, or €764 per month. From 2020 the annual taxable income for pensioners will increase by one percent until 2040 when a full 100 percent of pensions will be taxable.

American retirees in Germany will also still have to file US income taxes, even if they don’t owe any taxes back in the States. 

In the last few years there has been a push around Germany to raise the pension age to 69, up from 65-67, in light of rising lifespans.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany still be working until the age of 68?