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LIVING IN GERMANY

Everything that changes in Germany in December 2021

As we enter the last month of 2021, here are the changes you should know about in Germany.

View of the clock on the tower of the Martin Luther Church in Schönhagen, Lower Saxony.
View of the clock on the tower of the Martin Luther Church in Schönhagen, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Swen Pförtner

Christmas celebrations – but no public holidays

Christmas Day (known as the First Day of Christmas in Germany) and Boxing Day (known as the Second Day of Christmas) fall on a Saturday and Sunday this year – so that means residents in Germany will not receive public holidays. Unlike some other countries like the UK and the USA, Germany does not transfer holidays to weekdays when they fall on the weekend.

Also note that December 24th is not an official public holiday in Germany. But many companies do give their staff December 24th off as a gesture. 

It’s the same for New Year’s Eve (Silvester) on December 31st which is also not an official public holiday. Many employers do, however, offer this as a day off too.

Check with your boss to find out what they’ll offer staff this year.

New Chancellor and government incoming 

Germany is entering a new post-Angela Merkel era with the Social Democrats’ Olaf Scholz at the helm.

The SPD, Greens and FDP coalition will be voting on their flagship policies in the coalition agreement in the coming days.

If everything goes smoothly in the parties’ internal votes, Scholz will be elected Chancellor in the week starting December 6th.

READ ALSO: Germany’s next government unveils coalition pact

Big changes to contracts 

The amendment to the Telecommunications Act (TKG) is bringing several improvements to customer rights.

Under the changes, phone and internet contracts won’t be automatically extended for long periods of time after the contract term ends (usually 12 or 24 months).

From December 1st, consumers will be able to get off their contract by giving a month’s notice after the expiry of the initial contract term.

The regulation applies to both new and existing contracts, reports the Consumer Centre.

Up to this point, these kinds of contracts were usually extended for another year or two years with higher conditions, leading to people having to pay more, if they were not terminated on time.

A man holds a mobile phone.
Mobile phone contracts should become easier to navigate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Internet speed

If the internet is not as fast as promised by the provider, the customer will have the right to pay less in future. For example, if it can be proven that only 50 Mbit/s have been provided to you instead of the promised 100 Mbit/s, you will have the right to reduce the price by 50 percent.

Alternatively, customers can terminate the contract without notice. In the event of a complete internet failure, the consumer is also entitled to compensation if the fault is not repaired within two working days.

Privacy on the net

On December 1st, a law will come into force that aims to simplify the handling of data requests on the internet and to safeguard your digital footprint. The key point is the idea that users will in future be able to decide on access to their information at a central point on their device.

It also clearly mandates that websites must always first obtain the user’s consent to use cookies.

Train timetable change

The winter timetable from rail operator Deutsche Bahn will come into effect on December 12th. The most important changes include more ICE Sprinter trains that connect major cities faster – for example three services a day between Cologne and Berlin without a stopover. There are also new connections for travelling abroad, including night trains.

But there’s some bad news: in long-distance traffic, fares will increase by an average of 1.9 percent. Tickets at the so-called Super-Sparpreis (super saver price) and Sparpreis (saver price) will still be available from €17.90 and €21.50 respectively. The Flexpreis (flexible price) and the prices for route season tickets will increase by an average of 2.9 percent. Bahncards will also become 2.9 percent more expensive.

In local transport, prices will rise by an average of 1.7 percent, monthly and other season tickets as well as single tickets will increase by 1.9 per cent, according to the Association of Regional Railways (TBNE).

READ ALSO: German rail operator Deutsche Bahn set to raise ticket prices

High per-minute charges for 0180 numbers axed

Up until now, the price differences for a service number with the prefix 0180 have often been enormous: according to the Federal Network Agency, a call from the fixed network currently costs 9 cents per minute, whereas from mobile networks it usually costs 42 cents per minute.

The Federal Network Agency ruled in the summer for this to change. On December 1st the prices will therefore be standardised. It means the costs will become significantly cheaper when calling these numbers from mobiles. 

Transitional period for compulsory measles vaccination ends

The compulsory vaccination for measles was introduced by law in Germany in March 2020.

It means that children attending Kindergarten, school or other community facilities have to be vaccinated against the disease. Teachers, carers and other staff in certain institutions including medical field also have to be vaccinated. 

For people who already worked in one of these settings before March 2020, a transitional period was initially granted until July 31st 2021 giving them time to provide proof of vaccination. This was extended by five months to December 31st 2021 due to the pandemic.

After this date, people who do not comply with the vaccination obligation are banned from caring for or working with others, and could face fines of up to €2,500 if they flout the rule. People who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons and all those born before 1970 are exempt from the measles vaccination obligation.

A vaccination booklet with a cross at the Measles box.
A vaccination booklet with a cross at the Measles box. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tom Weller

Stricter rules for animal experiments

From the beginning of December, there will be stricter rules on animal experiments, according to the amendment of the Ordinance on the Protection of Experimental Animals.

It means that animal experiments no longer only have to be reported, but also approved by the authorities. The new law applies primarily to the authorisation of medicinal products, as well as to animal experiments for education, training or further education. 

What else to look out for in December: 

With Germany experiencing a fierce fourth Covid wave, and the Omicron variant of Covid causing major disruption, there’s still a lot of uncertainty over possible restrictions in December. Here are a few points to consider when it comes to Covid.

More travel restrictions?

Germany has so far put in place a travel ban on people coming from South Africa due to fears over the Omicron variant. Other countries are also putting in place travel restrictions, including the UK. Some places, like Israel, have taken an even tougher stance and banned all foreign travellers from entry.

It remains to be seen if the travel rules will get even tighter. This is bad news for people hoping to travel for the festive period. We’ll keep you posted. 

Contact restrictions?

There have also been repeated calls from health experts in Germany to impose contact restrictions due to the spiralling number of Covid infections, and the burden on hospitals.

However, it could be difficult to justify – not least because German politicians have vowed for months not to put lockdown restrictions on vaccinated people, and the Infection Protection Act was recently reformed to let the Covid ‘state of emergency powers’ expire.

It’s not impossible, though. It may be the case that unvaccinated people are ordered to reduce their social contacts. Or it could apply to everyone if the government believes there’s no other choice. 

New Year – will there be parties and fireworks?

We’ll be ringing in 2022 on Silvester – but at this stage who knows what that will look like. 

The corks are supposed to pop at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin – Germany’s biggest New Year’s Eve party. A two-day stage programme is planned under the motto “Celebrate at the Gate”. But will the pandemic allow it? Last New Year’s Eve, ZDF had to broadcast a show without an audience.

And will street fireworks be possible again? In 2020, the purchase of fireworks was banned throughout Germany because of the pandemic, and some cities also set up prohibited zones.

Some groups, including the police union (GdP) and some doctors, want to see this ban again in light of the worsening situation and pressure on medics.

Police in Berlin in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2021 in an area where fireworks were forbidden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken

Will the Covid jab for children over five be introduced in December?

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) in November recommended that the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccination be made available for children over the age of five.

And Germany’s Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) plans to issue its recommendation on the vaccination for children aged five to 11 before the end of the year. “Our goal is to have this recommendation ready by the end of December, if possible by the start of the delivery of the children’s vaccine to the states,” STIKO chairman Thomas Mertens told the Funke Media Group.

According to outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn, 2.4 million doses of the vaccine for this age group will be made available to the federal states in a first delivery starting on December 20th.

There are around 4.5 million children in this age group. 

READ ALSO: German vaccines panel to recommend jabs to children aged five and over

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WHAT CHANGES IN GERMANY

Everything that changes in Germany in August 2022

From the €9 ticket and fuel tax cut, to travel chaos, tax deadlines and digital steps forward, here's what's changing in Germany this August.

Everything that changes in Germany in August 2022

€9 ticket and fuel tax cut runs out

Germany’s €9 monthly public transport ticket offer continues until the end of August so people will be able to buy and use it for the month before it it’s gone when September starts (sadly).

The fuel tax cut is also in force until the end of August. For petrol, the government-subsidised “tank rebate” is about 30 cents per litre, for diesel about 14 cents per litre. The reduction is limited until August 31st.

No plans have been announced yet to extend these measures. 

Travel chaos continues in Europe

The summer months have been chaotic for travellers, and we have seen examples of airports congested throughout Europe. This will continue during August, as airlines have cancelled more than 25,000 flights from their August schedule. 

In Germany, around 6,000 flights operated by Lufthansa alone have been scrapped from the summer schedule.

More strikes?

German airline giant Lufthansa ground staff staged a one-day strike on Wednesday July 27th. Negotiations between Verdi union and Lufthansa will happen on August 3rd and 4th.

It may be that more strikes are announced if an agreement on pay for the 20,000 ground staff isn’t reached. Keep an eye on The Local’s homepage. 

READ ALSO: Flights disrupted across Germany as Lufthansa strike begins

Travellers queue at terminal 2 of Frankfurt airport on July 23rd.

Travellers queue at terminal 2 of Frankfurt airport on July 23rd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

August regional holiday

There is only one official holiday in Germany in August – Assumption Day – or Mariä Himmelfahrt – on August 15th. It is a regional holiday for the states of Bavaria and Saarland.

It falls on a Monday, so don’t forget to prepare yourself for it, as most shops and supermarkets will be closed on the holiday and Sunday as well (as they always are in Germany).

Tax deadline

Those who have their tax return for 2020 prepared by a tax advisor or an income tax assistance association still have until August 31st to hand it in.

The deadline was extended again in May to relieve tax advisors who have extra work in their plate with auditing Covid financial assistance during the pandemic period.

READ ALSO: Why people in Germany have longer for their tax returns this year

More transparency in employment contracts

Whether it’s the scope of work, length of probationary period, possible overtime or notice period, employment contracts issued from August 1st onwards must clearly state in writing the working conditions for new jobs.

It must also be documented what wages will be paid, how they will be made up, what further training has been promised, what the shift system and rest breaks will be like, and what applies to the remuneration of overtime, allowances and bonuses.

Information on contracting parties, remuneration and working hours must be provided in writing to new employees no later than the start of employment – all other supporting documents can be given within seven calendar days.

More assistance for students

From August 1st, there will be more BAföG financial assistance for students. The maximum support rate for students will be raised from €861 to €934 per month. The tax-free amount on the parents’ income, which is the basis for calculating the education grant, will also go up. This also increases the group of those eligible for support.

The previous tax-free allowance of €8,200 for the assets of trainees will also be increased – to €15,000 for people up to the age of 29, and to €45,000 from the age of 30. Furthermore, the age limit for BAföG funding will be extended from 30 to 45.

READ ALSO: German students to get higher grants from winter 2022

View of the Martin Luther University (MLU) campus in Halle.

View of the Martin Luther University (MLU) campus in Halle. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hendrik Schmidt

Minimum wage goes up

For stonemasons and people in the stone-sculpting trade, new industry minimum wages will apply from August 1st 2022; instead of €12.85 per hour, employees will get 50 cents more, raising it to €13.35. Independently of this, there is also the German statutory minimum wage, which will increase to €12 in October.

Digital step for founding companies

From August 1st, anyone who wants to establish a GmbH (a company with limited liability) or KG (limited partnership) can do so without having to attend the notarial certification in person – they can also do it via online video communication.

This is regulated by the Act on the Implementation of the Digitalisation Directive (DiRUG). “The parties involved are identified by means of an electronically transmitted photograph in conjunction with an electronic proof of identity, e.g. the German identity card with eID function,” explains the Hanover Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

Pupils return to the classroom – or go on holiday

Schools in several states will return after the summer break in August. But the southern states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria are the last to go off on their school holidays – at the end of July and on August 1st respectively.

Cheaper medicines in the pharmacy

Patients who are prescribed biopharmaceuticals (or biologics) by their doctor, which are often used for Crohn’s disease, arthritis or cancer, can be given cheaper medicines of the same type at the pharmacy from August 16th. This is regulated by the “Law for More Safety in the Supply of Medicines”.

The biosimilars, i.e. similar biological medicines, are to come into circulation more quickly, and drug costs are to be reduced. The law is intended to relieve the burden on health insurance companies. The imitation products are produced and tested by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) under strict criteria as soon as the patent for a drug expires, and are considered to be just as effective as the respective original.

General measles vaccination mandate in care facilities applies

Since March 2020, measles vaccinations have been compulsory in communal facilities such as Kindergartens, asylum seekers’ and refugees’ accommodation and in medical facilities – for caregivers and other employees in the facilities.

Those who already worked in one of the above-mentioned facilities before March 2020 were granted a transitional period until July 31st 2022 to present proof of vaccination.

People who do not comply with the vaccination obligation will be banned from care or work from August 1st, and could also face fines of up to €2,500 if they flout the rules. People who cannot get the vaccination for medical reasons and those born before 1971 are exempt from the measles jab mandate.

A vaccination pass with the measles box ticked.

A vaccination pass with the measles box ticked. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tom Weller

Titanium dioxide banned in food

Titanium dioxide is used as a whitening agent in wall paints, varnishes, cosmetics and medicines. But foodstuffs such as chewing gum, sweets, baked goods, soups and salad dressings also often rely on it, especially in the USA. It’s found on the packaging as the additive E171.

As of August, however, titanium dioxide can no longer be used in food production in Europe. The European Commission imposed the ban because it could not be ruled out that the chemical substances could alter “genetic cell material” and that the food additive could therefore no longer be considered safe. In France, titanium dioxide hasn’t been used in food since 2020.

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