24 September 2008

Germany's most successful city

Munich ranked Germany’s most-successful city

Published: 5 Sep 08 17:27 CETOnline: http://www.thelocal.de/14135/20080905/

For the fifth year in a row, Munich is Germany’s most economically successful city, according to a new study published in weekly business magazine Wirtschafts Woche on Friday.

The study, conducted in tandem with the Initiative for New Social Market Economy (INSM) reviewed conditions in the country’s 50 largest cities for the last five years, ranking them in terms of economic success, dynamism, and overall economic success. Munich’s wealth, job market and economic structure earned a first place ranking for overall success, followed by Münster, Frankfurt, Karlsuhe, and Düsseldorf.

Meanwhile Saxony’s capital city of Dresden was the country’s most dynamic. Other formerly communist East German cities are “on the fast track,” including Chemnitz, which jumped 23 rankings to 10th place last year, and Rostock, up to 23rd place from almost last place. These cities on the study’s dynamism rankings can thank attractive worker costs and high investment quotas for their new success, the study said.

Capital city Berlin tanked for the second year in a row, earning last place overall. The job market in the city is worse than any other large city.

Cities in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia also ranked at the bottom of all aspects of the study, with Wuppertal in last place for dynamism. Meanwhile Herne’s status deteriorated the most of any city in the study, falling 22 ranking to 34th. The gap between the struggling cities and the leaders is shrinking, though, INSM head Max Höfer said on Friday.

The study, conducted anually since 2004, included criteria such as average incomes, gross domestic product and pro-business atmosphere.

[It must be something in that Alpine air that makes the difference – I am at a loss to find any other explanation].

Pay your taxes

It is peculiar that in a social democratic nation, the state is obliged by the constitution to collect taxes from its citizens’ salaries and hand the money over to the church; all this in a nation where state and church are admirably separate and not joined at the hip and where there is no established church. As much as 70% of church revenue comes from the Church Tax (€8.5 billion in 2002 – Wikipedia). Of course, you are not in any way forced to pay this tax – you can opt out. But bear in mind that if you are a member of a church community (e.g. by being baptised into that church) and later decide you want to opt out and not pay church tax, that church can refuse to marry you or bury you when you are dead!

The moral of this tale – when you go to obtain your income tax number, make sure you do not declare membership of any official church, otherwise you will find your monthly pay packet somewhat lighter by a further 9%. You are free, of course, to contribute as much (or as little) as your conscience dictates to the religious community of your choice, thus cutting out the government middleman. The government itself has no qualms about taking its cut from the churches – it charges them an administration fee for the church tax it collects on their behalf. With falling (if not at absolute rock bottom) attendances, the theologians are in no position to complain about the commission they are charged.


Talking of religion, Wittenberg is cashing in on the Luther business – 2008 marks the 500th anniversary of his arrival at the University of Wittenberg as professor of theology. Festivities are due to continue for a long time (just in case you miss out this year), until 2017 (in 1517 Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church). There will be talks, exhibitions, shows, readings, lectures etc. etc. etc. The hoteliers will be rubbing their hands in glee.

“Wealth has in it neither material, formal, efficient, nor final cause, not
anything else that is good; therefore our Lord God commonly gives riches to
those from whom he withholds spiritual good.”
-- Martin Luther

Today’s Wall Street bankers might do well to reflect long and hard on Luther’s pronouncement on the matter of wealth. If there is a direct connection between the size of one’s personal bank accounts and the degree of spiritual depravity, then I’m glad I’m skint.

Mrs Merkel (perhaps in a noble attempt to avoid infection from the miasma emanating from the other side of the Atlantic) has stated that Germany will definitely not need any financial assistance to ride out the current financial fiasco. We are managing quite alright on our own, thank you very much.

Becoming German

Der Spiegel’s issue of 15 September carried an article about what it takes to become a German citizen and what it’s like for a teacher to teach immigrants on an integration course at a Volkshochschule. The students were from all continents east and west. They discuss explosive issues such as legislative-executive-judiciary, constituencies, suffrage: all noble subjects and perhaps worth knowing about (if you aspire to a political career) but is this knowledge really what it takes to be a “good citizen” (of any country)? And what is the definition of a “good citizen”? Students have one hour to answer correctly 17 questions out of 33. A retentive memory helps here. The article wonders just how prepared for integration the candidate might be if he can state when Warsaw fell. It is doubted if many ‘real’ Germans would be able to pass the test if they had to write it.

Perhaps the point here is not that an immigrant has learned the language and is able to rattle off a list of dates and spout political theory; more to the point I think is that she is prepared to apply herself [the gender is specific – all the students in the class happened to be women] to a task and work to produce results.

What does it take to be German (or for that matter, English or Spanish or Italian)? The point is that there is no definitive answer. We can revert to stereotypes and say a true Englishman is someone who drinks tea and wears a bowler hat or a true German drinks beer and eats lots of sausage, but these are mere constructions imposed on a people which are reinforced by mass culture (advertising, press, TV, music, popular culture and so on). A purist who is introverted (and perhaps a little narrow minded) will cling to these constructions and claim that his country is under threat from an invasion. He will fail to realise that the true-born ___ (you can add your own nationality, it doesn’t matter which) does not exist.

The question of nationhood and national identity is a minefield and there are more questions than there are answers. Further, when there have been decades of immigration and assimilation, the boundaries between “them” and “us” become blurred even further and the issue of identity is no longer straightforward.

The writer wonders where the connection is between understanding the electoral system and being German. There is no connection, only the candidates’ drive and determination.

German citizenship test goes into effect

Published: 1 Sep 08 16:51 CETOnline: http://www.thelocal.de/14041/

Germany put a hotly-debated citizenship test into effect on Monday in a push towards better integrating immigrants into German society.

“Those who want citizenship should know some things about Germany,” the German government said in a statement. “With this test they can show the important knowledge about Germany’s laws, social organization and way of life.”The exam will cost applicants €25 ($38) a go, and foreigners will be given all the questions to study beforehand. Candidates must correctly answer at least 17 of 33 questions on German culture and history to pass. Those exempted include people who have gone through the German school system, those younger than 16 and older people with learning disabilities, according to the Interior Ministry. Successful applicants also have to have adequate German, no criminal record and have been living in Germany for at least eight years. Candidates can retake the test as many times as they like.Critics of the exam have said the test is too difficult, with irrelevant questions that even Germans may not be able to answer, much less the country’s 7 million permanent residents without citizenship.The test is “somewhat sloppily made,” and “flawed,” head of the parliamentary Committee on Interior Affairs, Sebastian Edathy said on Monday on broadcaster Deutschlandradio Kultur.Leaders from the country’s Turkish community have been particularly critical of the test. At 2.3 million, Turks make up the largest group of immigrants in Germany, and have long pushed for the right to keep both Turkish and German passports. Around 340,000 people over 18 will soon face the tough decision of choosing between German or Turkish citizenship.In 2000, Germany reformed its citizenship laws which had previously only recognized the principle of nationality by blood. The reform now allows foreigners who have lived in Germany for eight years to apply for naturalization. But the original plan to allow their children born in Germany to automatically become German failed in the face of fierce opposition by conservative parties. As a compromise, it was decided that naturalized children would have to decide at the age of 18 whether they wanted to keep their German passport or their foreign one.Some point out that being forced to choose between nationalities could mean a conflict of identity and loyalties.

[p.s. We also don’t want anyone claiming unemployment benefit – you must be able to support yourself and your family to acquire nationality.]

And, finally ….

At last – someone who possesses an ounce of common sense. Politicians in Saarland have objected that the amount of VAT on pet food means that it is cheaper to feed a dog than it is to feed a baby. They want VAT on baby products to be reduced in their state. Either we are serious about helping families with children or we aren’t.

Today’s post, I see, has a lot to say. I had thought about keeping some items back to save them for another day but then they would be stale news. And who knows what fresh stories will materialise in the meantime. Never mind – enjoy the bumper harvest today for the future may have lean times in store.

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Squeaky Door by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.