Younger generation in Germany would rather ‘live in the past’

Young people generally have a reputation for rebelling against society, but rather than dreaming of a better future, a majority of 18-35s in Germany would rather live in the past, an April poll found.

Young people in Germany demonstrate for climate and social justice.
Young people demonstrate for climate and social justice. Better environmental conditions was one of the reasons given for why many said they would rather live in the past. John MACDOUGALL / AFP

Fifty-six percent of the 18-34-year-olds asked said they would prefer to live in the past, according to an online survey of 2,000 people conducted by the Hamburg-based Foundation for Future Studies (financed by the British American Tobacco company), news agency DPA reported.

Only forty-four percent said they would prefer the future.

But a decade ago, a similar survey had very different results: In 2013, only 30 percent said they would prefer to live in the past, with 70 percent choosing the future as the better option for them.

“This is completely new and very unusual,” Ulrich Reinhardt, the foundation’s scientific director, told DPA, explaining that as young people, they still had their lives before them so were typically very future-oriented.

Respondents would usually associate the term ‘past’ with their childhood and youth.

In the 35-54 age group, the number of those nostalgic for the olden days rose to 66 percent from 54 percent previously.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of over-55s who longed for the past had not changed very much over ten years: 68 percent now versus 70 percent in 2013.

“More security”
When asked why they would prefer to live in the past, 42 percent of respondents across all age groups said there was greater solidarity in the past. Thirty-five percent said “because it used to be better”. 

There was “more security and stability,” explained 34 percent of respondents.

Other reasons given included “People were happier” (29 percent), “fewer wars and crises” (23 percent), “environmental conditions were better” (22 percent) and “fear of the future” (20 percent).

Young people in particular missed solidarity and community, Reinhardt said, pointing to the fact that in today’s predominantly digital world, people met less frequently to take part in activities outside of their homes.

Reinhardt said it was obvious to many that having friends on Facebook or Instagram was not enough. “It doesn’t replace the friends you can rely on when issues arise, when there’s a lot of uncertainty and when you just want to have fun,” he said.

However, the war in Ukraine did not play a major part in the survey results. 

Reinhardt has repeatedly found in surveys that the younger generation strives for security, including in the world of work. 

This represents a change from previous decades when the desire to change the world for the better was the prevailing attitude. Under-35s now are looking to the past.

“It’s also a generation that was completely pampered by their parents,” he added.

Member comments

  1. The last generation that came anywhere near to rejecting the status quo were the punks. Since then it would appear that the young strive more and more for stability and security, not realising they have more stability and security now, especially in Germany, than anyone has had anywhere at anytime for the past 5000 years. Bloody snowflakes!

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Living in Germany: FKK, raging Roland and ham on Father’s Day

In our weekend roundup for Germany we consider the possible culture shock of FKK, cool train trips and Männertag.

Living in Germany: FKK, raging Roland and ham on Father's Day

What are your thoughts on Germany’s attitude to nudity?

One of our most popular stories this week was a feature on why Germans love getting naked. Of course this doesn’t apply to every single person in Germany, but there’s undoubtedly a strong culture of FKK – Freikörperkultur – or free body culture. It can be a bit of a shock to foreigners when they first arrive in Germany or visit on holiday. FKK beaches, where people let it all hang out, are jarring when you’ve come from a culture where naked bodies are really only viewed in a sexual context. (Brits and Americans fall into this category!)

That’s the thing about FKK – it’s actually meant to be quite wholesome. Even if Germans are not into FKK, they do – in general – seem more at ease with their bodies than many other nationalities, and aren’t so worried about getting changed in gyms or at the swimming pool. What do you think about Germany’s attitude to nudity? Could we all learn something from it, or is it a bit too open? Drop us an email with your thoughts: [email protected]

Tweet of the week

We had to chuckle at this map of Germany shared by a German journalist on Twitter. Perhaps there’s a little truth to it…

Where is this? 

Photo: DPA/Stefan Sauer

Fancy a ride on a steam-powered train? You can if you head up to the very-cool looking Rügen narrow-gauge railway (Rügensche Bäderbahn), nicknamed the Rasender Roland (raging Roland). It has travelled across Germany’s island of Rügen from Putbus to Göhren since 1895. And, according to local German media, you can also use your €9 ticket in June, July and August on this railway since it’s part of the local public transport. 

Did you know?

We have a nationwide public holiday coming up – Thursday, May 26th is Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt). In Germany it’s also Vatertag or Männertag (Father’s Day/Men’s Day). On this day, you can often see a lot of groups of men drinking beer together. 

This particular tradition apparently comes from the 18th century and it was based on the idea of Jesus’ return to his father in heaven. Back in the olden days, men would be taken into their village centre, and the man who had fathered the most children was presented with a prize by the mayor, which was usually a chunk of ham. That led to the modern tradition we see today of men carting around alcohol, eating food and walking around the countryside. Nowadays, people also use it as a day to party (all genders included) or relax. Whether there’s ham and alcohol involved in your day – or not – we hope you have a great one. 

Thanks for reading,

Rachel and Imogen @ The Local Germany 

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