From an outside perspective, Germany is the land of milk and sugar: With its large industry, fast cars and good chocolate, wealth is widespread and life’s good. I personally was very surprised, discovering poverty in Germany, people sleeping on the streets and begging for money. Is this their personal choice? Or a fault in the system? How come that they do not receive social benefits? It was a topic, which made me curious: Coming from a central-eastern European country with a struggling system, I was surprised to find a similar situation in Germany. So I did a bit of research and talked to my friends, which, to my even bigger surprise, had a lot to say about poverty in Germany.
To begin: The poverty in Germany is a relative one, not absolute, so the situation cannot be compared with countries suffering from severe poverty, political instability or nutrition deficit. This makes poverty here easier to bear, no one has to starve at least, but still the relativeness is the also the itching thorn: As my friend describes it, it is the experience of deprivation; it is the experience of limits and restrictions, when everybody else consumes and lives carelessly. Even now, while she is studying with a scholarship, she stills questions herself a lot and struggles with self-doubt. Her story might tell us a lot about the current situation in Germany, and how deprivation is affecting people substantially.
According to a study of the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung, the foundation of the united workers unions, assets are very unevenly distributed in Germany: That means that only 10% of all Germans own 60% of all assets, whereas the least 50% of the population own only 2,4%. Most households survive from month to month and are not able to save-up or buy properties, in order to secure their families stable life. Other issues are the still existing East- West division in Germany ( very ironic is the fact, that lots of West-Germans buy properties in the East, so for example in Leipzig, most real estate belongs to people living outside of Leipzig). My friend, who was born in Leipzig, states that „… even though I never wanted to possess my own house, like the ‚conservative dream‘, it makes me angry that for all of my life I probably will pay my rent to people who don't even life in the city or care about my city, because they bought our houses and lands.“
But how could this situation evolve, in a country that provides free education to all? „Well, education is free, but access to good education and general opportunities in life is very limited. There is this trend toward the privatization of education: Parents pay private schools, so their children will have smaller classes, more non-formal learning and a better social surrounding. And this excludes many children and separates them from an early age on“. I was also very surprised by her own experience: „Since I was very good in primary school, I applied for a semi-private high school, which I liked a lot. They rejected me, because they feared my family couldn't pay the monthly fee of 10 Euro, and actually told my mom that a governmental school would be more fitting for my kind. My mom argued for hours and finally they accepted me. Sometimes I think it was somehow my salvation: Teachers were very supportive and caring at my school, and encouraged me to study. I haven't thought of studying before, nobody I knew had studied. Now I am very happy and successful at university, and you won't believe me, people of my primary school wrote me, how lucky I am that I got out“. It is a vicious circle of poverty: Whole regions suffer from deprivation, from the lack of well paid jobs and mobility. The village, where my friend was born, had nothing but supermarkets, a bakery and some cheap cloth stores. Enough to survive, but hard to live in. The next city is only 20min away but bus, but the fare of 2,80 Euro each way is too much to just go for a coffee or to visit the library.
Another thing is that there are plenty of wonderful educational programs, and scholarships in Germany. The only thing is: Nobody knows. Only at good high schools the programs are advertised, nobody is going to the „Hauptschule“ for example, the„lower“ high schools or professional schools, to inform youths about all their possibilities. Of course, one could simply google these offers, but where should the inspiration come from? Who encourages them? Who would support them financially? This is the difficulty, and finally, all these amazing, mostly founding programs, only serve the already rich and educated. And here, the circle closes.
There is a widespread acceptance of this situation, not many realize the explosive potential this social segregation has and what might be effects on our European democracies. The poor have to speak up, and claim their rights of good education, but also a social and financial security: Germany, one of the best establish social-democratic countries, has to defend these values and stop the process of commercialization and social segregation.
References and recommendations:
German documentary, highly recommendable : https://www1.wdr.de/fernsehen/die-story/sendungen/