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Revealed: Germany’s worst public spending sins of 2020

Every October the Association of German Taxpayers publishes its “black book” of the worst public spending sins in each federal state. The winners this year include a €20 bottle of water and some very pampered hamsters.

Revealed: Germany's worst public spending sins of 2020
The 'just there' bridge in Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

Baden Württemberg 

The worst public spending sin in BaWü is a literal bridge to nowhere.

Here's the story: the district of Ladenburg in  Baden-Württemberg is planning a new state road. So far they have built a €1.2 million bridge over a rail track. The private owner of the track already had plans to dismantle the track, though. And the state road also still hasn’t been built, meaning the bridge is currently just standing in the middle of nowhere, neither connected to a road nor actually bridging anything.

Bavaria

The taxpayers’ association are annoyed by a tunnel that is being built to connect the old and new town halls in the town of Erding. The town justified the construction of the €1.1 million tunnel by saying that there was a “need for coordination” between the city hall employees. The Taxpayers' Association asked why employees can’t simply cross the road.

Berlin

This is a tax sin to blow all the other out of the water – counting in the billions rather than millions. Early in the corona pandemic Berlin started sending money to companies who had applied for emergency funding just eight days after setting out the rules. The Taxpayers' Association criticizes the process as having been too fast to check that the applications were kosher. It says the capital wasted at least €1.6 billion.

READ ALSO: Is Germany doing enough to support small businesses in the coronavirus crisis?

Bremen

Photo: DPA

The historical sailing ship, the “Seute Deern” sank in Bremen’s harbour in August last year. Built in 1919, the ship caught fire earlier in the year and the damage sustained then appears to have led to the sinking. The German Bundestag promised to reconstruct the ship at a cost of up to €46 million, an expense the Taxpayers' Association considers a waste.

Hamburg

Germany is well known for its tardiness on digitalization. One example can be found in the stations of Hamburg police forces, which still have 8,082 computers running the Windows 7 operating system. Unfortunately Microsoft stopped providing support for the old operating system this year, meaning the Hanseatic city has had to sign an extended support contract to the tune of €476,000.

Hesse

The central German state seems to be quite responsible in spending its taxpayers' money. The biggest scandal the black book found here was €80,000 for a rusty bench overseeing an industrial estate in the town of Hanau – although that is quite a sum for a park bench.

Lower Saxony

Taxpayers’ cash has been used to build an advertising tower next to a state road. But the tower, built for €700,000 is three meters shorter than planned and is barely visible from the street. The Taxpayers’ Association claims that few businesses are interested in paying for advertisements on it.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania

The town of Parchim in northeast Germany got involved in what must have sounded like a cracking business venture at the time: selling “luxury water” from a 181 metre well for €20 a litre to top notch restaurants. Unfortunately not enough restaurants were convinced the “soft and neutral” water was worth the cost and the company went bust, meaning Parchim lost out on close to €700,000.

Photo: DPA

North Rhine-Westphalia

In Germany’s most populous state the Black Book has found that an app that was designed as part of a university project, and funded by the state to the tune of €1.45 million was a waste of money. The app connects people with restaurants in their neighbourhood and has created food cartoons with emotions. If you pass by a burger joint, a hamburger in the app gets grumpy.

Rhineland-Palatinate

A decade ago the city of Bad Bergzabern and the state of Rhineland-Palatinate bought a villa from its private owner, refurbished it for large amounts of money and then sold it back to him. He has since turned it into a 4-star hotel. Local’s have named the building after former state leader Kurt Beck, calling it Kurt’s Castle. The state lost more than €4 million in the wrong-headed business deal.

'Kurt's Castle'. Photo: DPA

Saarland

The town of Völklingendecided to sack the managing director of the Völklinger Hütte, an industrial monument. But it put the wrong address on the letter of dismissal, meaning he was never officially axed. The manager won in the first instance of a legal debate. In the second, the parties agreed on a settlement payment. The total cost: €150,000.

Saxony-Anhalt

Saxony-Anhalt loves its rare field hamster, which can only be a good thing. But the taxpayers association thinks that €20,000 per hamster is too much for a breeding station set to be built in the eastern state.

Saxony

This year, Saxony’s state leader Michael Kretschmer sent an Easter letter to every single one of the state’s residents. The letter explained what was happening with the coronavirus and asked for solidarity. Critics say it was a “trivial collection of slogans without the slightest factual content”. An alternative to the €420,000 spend would have been a free speech on the radio, the taxpayers association says.

Schleswig-Holstein

A multi-storey car park in the picturesque city of Lübeck is seen as the biggest sin in S-H. City administrators decided to renovate it three years ago, but it still wasn’t deemed safe for cars. SO it was ripped down after all. The final cost came in at around €900,000.

Thuringia

The town of Mühlhausen has surely built one of the most expensive playgrounds outside of Disney World. It planned €850,000 for the play landscape but the costs went up to €1.1 million because the builders ahd to add in lighting, which has been forgotten in the original planning.  For that kind of money, you’d think the playpark would have flying carpets and umpa lumpas, but it is literally just a couple of slides, a seesaw and a climbing area.

 

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LIVING IN GERMANY

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!

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