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LIVING IN GERMANY

Living in Germany: Care insurance, baby bureaucracy and road rules

In our weekend roundup for Germany we look at a court ruling on care insurance contributions, started German bureaucracy young and the road rules foreigners might not know, but Germans definitely do.

A father holds the hand of a baby boy. Babies get into bureaucracy quickly in Germany.
A father holds the hand of a baby boy. Babies get into bureaucracy quickly in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

Landmark ruling on Germany’s long-term care insurance 

If you work in Germany, you only have to glance at your payslip to see just how much of it disappears (hopefully for good reasons) before it hits your bank account. And a court ruling we reported on this week brought up the topic of contributions to society once more. The constitutional court said on Wednesday that parents with more than one child should pay a reduced rate of care insurance – Pflegeversicherung – than those with fewer children, or childless people. 

The case was brought to court by hundreds of families who argued that the amount of contributions they pay – like health, pension and long-term care insurance – should be linked to the number of children they have. The argument is that by having children, families are providing people to pay back into the pot later in life. Plus children are more likely to have a role in care for their parents, whereas the state might have to step in earlier for those without children. But critics argue that there’s no guarantee that these things will happen. For instance, children may grow up and move away from Germany, and so then wouldn’t pay into the system. 

Wherever you stand on this argument, it’s a hot topic in our ageing society – since the start of this year, childless people in Germany have had to pay 3.4 percent of their income towards social care, while parents pay 3.05 percent of their income. What do you think about it? Let us know by emailing [email protected]. Thank you so much for your emails last week on what you think about the culture of FKK in Germany! 

Tweet of the week

Those of you familiar with German bureaucracy won’t be surprised by this tweet! They start them young. 

READ ALSO: From Elternzeit to midwives – an American’s view on having a baby in Germany 

Where is this? 

Photo: DPA/Thomas Banneyer

We applaud these sporty folk who led a special event on Ascension Day on Thursday. Members of the German Underwater Club Cologne (DUC Köln) e.V. are pictured here getting ready for their annual Rhine swim from the Poller Rheinwiesen and under four bridges to the Rheinpark at the Zoobrücke in Cologne. Bravo! 

Did you know?

Some people who come to Germany may not be aware of some of the rules of the road. One of our readers, Phil, got in touch to say one of the most common examples is the rules at zebra crossings. “In Germany, it is the law to stop, but in other countries, it is not always a legal requirement,” Phil told us. “What I find amusing but scary is the older generation takes it as their right and will step out onto the crossing even if you are approaching at some speed. They know the law and you must stop. Not everyone knows the law, and telling St Peter at the gates you were right and they were wrong is a bit late.”

Phil also shared an amusing anecdote highlighting the German love of rules. “When we built our house, we used a drone to capture the progress,” he told us. “One day whilst flying, a neighbour appeared at the door who was fully compliant with drone rules and explained to my wife the specific regulations before politely asking us to stop before he called the police.”

Thanks for reading,

Rachel and Imogen @ The Local Germany 

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For members

CULTURE

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

Germans have an international reputation for enjoying functional clothing. A top German fashion expert told The Local whether the stereotypes of German fashion are really true - and what Angela Merkel has to do with modern style.

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

‘Comfortable and practical’

“It’s pretty easy to define German style,” says Bernhard Roetzel, the author of books on men’s fashion such as ‘Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion’. “Nowadays the basic dress of a grown-up man is mainly blue jeans, some kind of sweatshirt and an anorak. The shoes are usually comfortable sneakers. This is the basic German fashion that everyone from workers to doctors wears, and it is suitable for 90 percent of occasions.”

The basic theme, he says, is comfort and practicality. “That is very important.”

According to Roetzel, this love for the practical stretches all the way back into the 19th century when most other Europeans still had strict public dress codes.

“It began with a movement called Lebensreform, which valued things like vegetarianism and woollen clothes, which were supposed to be healthy,” he says.

“Even if Germans at the time didn’t like political freedom, they loved the freedom to wear sandals. Freedom for Germans is to wear sandals in places where it is not appropriate!”

A woman lies on the shore of the Schwarzachtalsee in Baden-Württemberg still wearing her sandals. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Thomas Warnack

Dressing down became even more acceptable after the First World War, when Germany became a republic and the aristocracy, with its formal sense of dress, lost its importance. “The Nazis also propagated being active outdoors,” Roetzel notes. “Fashion was seen as something awful created by the French and the Jews to bring about the downfall of German culture.”

When the craze for casual wear crossed the pond from the US in the 1960s, Germans were slow to adopt it. But now jeans are even standard clothing for septuagenarians, he says. “Twenty years after jeans arrived people started to realise that they are great for all occasions – and now everyone wears them. This was the last blow to formal German clothing.”

Dress down for work

The German love for all-purpose clothes means that it is perfectly appropriate to wear jeans to work, according to Roetzel. 

“If you don’t work in a bank or law firm you can probably wear jeans in most offices. A non-iron, short sleeve shirt is also very important. German men love these shirts, despite the fact that you get hot in them.”

You can even wear sneakers in the office. Or, if you have to look a bit smarter “some very cheap, comfortable leather shoes” will make you fit right in.

“In business, it is very important that you don’t stand out,” Roetzel advises. “If you are smartly dressed people will ask if you have an important meeting or will think you are looking for a pay rise. For everyday business, you dress as casually as possible.”

A woman cycles to work in jeans and a simple jacket in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Christin Klose

Nothing too sexy

Meanwhile, women’s workplace style, perhaps even more than men’s, is based on the principle of ‘the more forgettable the better.’

“Women in German business must not look too sexy,” says the fashion writer. “If you wear a skirt, for example, it should not be too short and heels should not be too high.” A “boxy, mouse grey suit” including a jacket that doesn’t complement one’s figure completes the look.

“Whereas in Italy, businesswomen carry Chanel bags, in Germany they usually carry a laptop bag or something very practical. Makeup is also rather reduced, not too much lipstick, nothing that is too obvious,” he says.

No door policy

Ties are basically a redundant piece of apparel in modern Germany, meaning wearing one really is a matter of choice in most settings.

“There are very few places where you are not allowed in if you don’t wear a tie,” says Roetzel. “I don’t know a single restaurant that wouldn’t admit you if you don’t wear a tie. You might not be allowed into Cologne Cathedral if your shorts are too short, but basically, you can wear everything everywhere and Germans love this!”

Funerals and weddings

Even the most formal occasions, such as weddings, funerals and important birthdays are much more informal events than they once were.

“At funerals, people will wear black but they rarely wear a black suit, most people will wear a black sweatshirt and jeans,” says Roetzel.

Copy Merkel

Angela Merkel’s unpretentious style appealed to Germans. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fabian Sommer

Anyone looking for inspiration need look no further than recently retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who famously wore variations on the same trouser suit for most of her career.

“She had different colours and fabrics but that was her uniform and she also found her hairstyle and that was it. I don’t think she had a stylist,” Roetzel says. “That’s what Germans love. It’s recognizable and it doesn’t look expensive.”

READ ALSO:

“In Germany, one thing you should never admit to is wearing expensive, tailor-made clothes,” he explains. “As a politician, you can admit that you like drinking but you should never admit to having an expensive wardrobe.”

In fact, the cheaper the better. “Olaf Scholz has always earned a lot of money but his clothes are awful, his suits are awful – this is just perfect for Germany,” says Roetzel.

Splash the cash subtly (or on outdoor clothes)

This is not to say that all Germans wear cheap clothes, but they don’t make a big fuss about the brands that they do wear.

“People want to express status by wearing certain brands,” Roetzel points out. “But in Germany, this is done in a very subtle way. You will see small details in the clothes and glasses of a professor or doctor that will tell you a lot. Class exists but people hide their status because it is negative to show it off. This can be hard for foreigners to detect.”

There is one major exemption thought to the rule of not flaunting your wealth – outdoor apparel.

“Outdoor clothes are really a big thing here,” Roetzel says. “It gives people a sense of freedom and healthiness. Spending €800 on an outdoor jacket is perfectly okay. But it is a sin to spend the same amount on a tailor-made suit – you will destroy your image if you admit to doing this.”

Moreover, anyone who wants to impress Germans through their possessions would be better advised to buy a good car or modern kitchen, the fashion expert says. “It is perfectly normal to have a very expensive kitchen, but your clothes should still be cheap.”

Focus on inner beauty

The German (dis)interest in fashion can actually tell us a lot about deeper German values.

“There is an old Prussian saying of mehr sein als schein (content is better than appearance). Germans feel that if something is too beautiful there must be something fishy about it. Anyone who is too smartly dressed could be a conman,” says Roetzel.

“Germans are very honest, they like to be very direct. They say “what’s the point in not wearing sandals if it’s hot?’”

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