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DRIVING

Germany set to hike up fines for speeders and reckless drivers

The German Bundesrat has voted through plans to hike fines for driving and parking misdemeanours.

Police photograph speeding drivers
Police photograph speeding drivers in Farchant, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The new bill on traffic violations will include severe penalties for speeding, driving in the wrong lanes and unauthorised parking in places like bus lanes and cycle paths. 

When the new penalties come in later this month, the illegal use of pavements, cycle paths and hard shoulders will be punished with a fine of up to €100 instead of the previous €25, while people who exceed the speed limit will pay at least €70 instead of €35, with higher fines for higher speeds. 

In some cases, speeders can expect fines of €400 for driving over the limit in urban areas.

The aim of the new fines – which in some cases are more than double what they used to be – is to make Germany’s roads safer and offer better protection for cyclists and pedestrians. 

Following Friday’s vote in the German upper parliament, Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) will have to sign off on the new bill. The new fines will then come into force in three weeks’ time, around the end of October. 

Back in September, a study by Verizon Connect revealed that Germany had some of the mildest fines for breaking traffic laws in the whole of Europe. 

The Bundesrepublik came in fourth place in a survey of all the European countries, with only Poland, Latvia and Austria handing out more lenient penalties. 

According to the authors of the report, drivers who disregard a stop sign only have to pay a warning fine of €30 in Germany – while drivers in Norway or Greece have to reckon with a fine of over €700 for running a stop sign. Meanwhile, people who park their car in an illegal parking space only have to pay €15 in Germany – though this will soon go up to €55.

The low fines on drivers are matched by Germany’s liberal approach to speed limits. On some stretches of the autobahn, the government famously allows drivers to go as fast as they like – though left-leaning political parties such as the Greens and SPD are keen to change this. 

READ ALSO: 

‘Traffic education measures’

The decision to increase the penaties was preceded by months of drawn-out debates and negotiations between the federal and state governments. Due to an error in the original draft law, the new road traffic regulations were suspended last year.

Welcoming the change, the chairwoman of the conference of transport ministers, Bremen’s senator Maike Schaefer, said the higher fines sent a strong signal to drivers that unsafe driving would no longer be tolerated.

“We know that excessive speed is the most frequent cause of accidents,” she said. “The catalogue of fines and road traffic regulations are ultimately traffic education measures for mutual consideration.”

Fines will also be increased for misdemeanours such as illegally using emergency lanes, blocking routes for fire engines and other emergency vehicles and parking in spaces that are intended for car-sharing schemes or disabled drivers.

For a full list of the new fines for drivers, see our recent explainer:

EXPLAINED: Germany’s plans for tougher driving fines

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EDUCATION

What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

Germany has a number of specialised nursery schools that focus primarily on helping children with their German language skills. Here's what foreigners need to know about them.

What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

What even is a Sprach-Kita? 

A “Sprach-Kita”, or Language Kindergarten, is a special type of nursery school that’s been around in Germany since 2016 under the government’s Sprach-Kita Programme. The main aim is to help young children build up their German language skills to a level that will allow them to succeed at school. 

How is this different to a normal Kita or daycare centre?

Unlike most Kindergartens in Germany, Sprach-Kitas employ staff who are specifically trained in language teaching and acquisition. These specialists are paid for through Sprach-Kita Programme funding and help to shape the environment of the nursery school, making it easier for children to develop their German skills in an everyday setting.

The schools also have access to external support and advice on catering to children with language setbacks, and may work closely with parents to encourage further language development at home. 

Since the scheme was set up in 2016, around 7,000 nursery schools have successfully applied for “Sprach-Kita” status and received at least €25,000 funding through the programme. These were mostly Kitas that had already taken in a higher-than-average number of children from foreign backgrounds, such as those in popular migrant or expat areas.

Sprach-Kitas will generally be much more diverse and focus most heavily on children’s language skills, in addition to teaching young kids about cultural inclusivity.  

READ ALSO: ‘Multilingualism is an enrichment, not a deficit’: Raising bilingual kids in Germany

Who are Sprach-Kitas for?

Any young child in Germany is allowed to go to a Sprach-Kita, but the main target audience for these specialised nurseries are the children of foreign parents.

In households where German isn’t the main language spoken, children may struggle to keep up with their classmates at school due to their lower level of German fluency. That could be because the child has two international parents – such as a French mum and an English dad – or because the child has more contact with a parent who doesn’t speak German. 

According to recent statistics, around one in five nursery-age children in Germany doesn’t speak German with their parents at home. That equates to 675,000 children in total. In addition, around 40 percent of nursery school children come from a migrant background. 

Through the Sprach-Kita Programme, government is hoping to help these children integrate at an early age to set them up fully for life in Germany. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rise in multilingual children in Germany

Do I have to pay for a Sprach-Kita? 

Parents usually have to pay a monthly fee for their child to attend a German nursery school – and the same applies to Sprach-Kitas. The fee structure is generally set by the local government, meaning it can vary widely across different regions of the country.

However, you won’t pay any more (or less) for a Sprach-Kita than you would for an ordinary nursery school. 

Where can I find a Sprach-Kita?

Around one in eight Kindergartens in Germany is currently a Sprach-Kita, meaning they aren’t particularly hard to find.

To look for one near you, the best thing to do is to hop onto the government website and look on this interactive map detailing all of the Sprach-Kitas in Germany. 

Children ride tricycles at a German kindergarten.

Children ride tricycles at a German kindergarten. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/mauritius images / Westend61 / M | Westend61 / Mareen Fischinger

However, partly due to staffing shortages, Kita places in Germany are highly competitive right now – so securing a place may involve getting in touch with a number of them at an early date. 

READ ALSO: How can Germany improve its Kitas amid teacher shortage?

Is there anything else I need to know?

Currently, the funding for the Sprach-Kita Programme is due to end at the end of 2022 – and it’s unclear what the fate of the existing language-focused nursery schools will be after this happens.

Though the three parties of the traffic-light coalition had pledged to extend the scheme in their coalition contract, it appears that the programme was one of the first victims of savage negotiations over next year’s budget.

That means the federal government are now hoping to transfer the responsibility for funding the language support over to the 16 states.  

“Responsibility in the area of daycare for children lies with the states and cannot be permanently financed by federal funding programmes,” a spokeswoman for the Family Ministry told Welt. 

The Ministry for Families has also pledged to make language acquisition a cornerstone of its forthcoming Good Childcare Act, which will see at least €2 billion in federal funding made available for nurseries in 2023 and 2024. 

That could make it possible for existing Sprach-Kitas to remain in place as specialised centres for language support. 

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