Where Have All The Germans Gone?

Where have all the Germans gone?
By Tony Paterson in Berlin, The Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:13am GMT 05/11/2006

Its powerhouse economy once pulled in workers from across Europe, but Germany has been shocked to discover that its own highly qualified citizens are now leaving the country in the biggest exodus for more than a century.

The country that coined the term “guest worker” to describe the influx of immigrant labourers who flocked to work there in the 1960s is hmorrhaging young architects, management consultants, doctors, dentists, scientists and lawyers.

Fed up with dwindling job prospects, high taxes, bureaucracy and a still sluggish economy at home, a record 144,000 Germans turned their backs on the Fatherland last year to find employment in neighbouring European countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Poland and Britain and as far afield as the United States and Canada.

It is the largest exodus since the mass emigration of the 1880s and is seen in Germany as a threat to the country's faltering economy.

Dieter Zetsche, the head of the giant German car manufacturer Daimler-Chrysler, said German industrialists had good reason to be concerned.

“It is, above all, the well-educated and motivated who are emigrating, the people who are of immense value to us,” he said. “This cannot be allowed to continue.”

advertisementClaus Boche, 32, from the west German city of Paderborn, is typical of the new wave of highly qualified job-seekers going abroad. Two years ago he gave up what he described as a humdrum job as a management consultant in Berlin to take up employment in Switzerland, where more than 14,000 Germans found jobs last year alone.

Mr Boche, who now works for the Swiss Unity AG consulting firm in Zurich, said that his annual salary of more than 70,000 (47,000) was equivalent to the amount he would be paid in Germany for a similar post, but he made savings of up to 14,000 (9,500) as a result of Switzerland's lower income tax rates.

“Nearly everything is so much easier and more go-ahead here than in Germany,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.

He has no plans to return home. “Switzerland offers an international dimension to my job, which I didn't have before and it is much more exciting,” he said. “I like living really in the centre of Europe, but apart from that, simple things like organising health insurance are much less complicated. I also pay about 20 per cent less tax.” Stefan Mueller, 34, is one of more than 9,000 Germans who found work in neighbouring Poland last year. Now employed by the Warsaw-based Bank Handlowy, a subsidiary of the American Citibank, he left Germany more than two years ago to complete a geology degree in Australia. There he met his future wife, who is Polish, returning with her to Warsaw last year.

Although he earns slightly less than he did in Germany, he has no regrets about the move. “I was employed as a geologist in Germany for about a year, but the work we were given involved clearing up disused industrial sites it was boring,” he said.

“I like living in Poland because it is part of new Europe and there is an exciting climate of change here. I am building a house which costs about half of what it would to build in Germany. I pay less tax in Poland and benefit from cheaper services and food.” Julia Arneth, 34, an architect, is one of the latest Germans to arrive in Britain, where an additional 9,000-plus found jobs last year. She moved from Hamburg to London in February this year and works in a practice in Farringdon.

“Architects face a tough situation in Germany at the moment,” she said. “There are simply too many trained people chasing too few jobs.

“A lot of my college friends have had to compromise by finding work in other fields, such as graphic design. But in Britain there are more jobs and they are quicker to find and easier to change.”

Statistics released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development this month showed Germany near the top of the league table of industrial nations currently experiencing a graduate brain drain.

Last year, the number of graduates leaving the country exceeded the number entering it for the first time since the 1950s. Stephanie Wahl, a spokesman for the Bonn-based Institute for Economics, said: “Those who are leaving Germany are mostly highly motivated and well-educated. Those coming in are mostly poor, untrained and hardly educated.”

With unemployment still above four million, thousands of well-trained German manual workers, hotel staff, cooks and catering workers have also left the country in recent years to find jobs in Austria, Switzerland and beyond.

Last year, German unemployment was 9.5 per cent, compared with 4.7 per cent in Britain. Meanwhile, the German economy grew by 0.6 per cent while the British economy expanded by 1.9 per cent.

Thomas Bauer, a German labour economist in Essen, blamed his country's employment conditions for the problems it now faced.

“Compared with other countries Germany is certainly not attractive,” he said. “The taxes are too high, the wages are too low and jealousy towards high-income earners is widespread. This is a special deterrent to the highly qualified and does massive damage to the country as an industrial base.”

The emigrants may be glad to have left such an inhospitable work climate behind them. But, as Miss Arneth explained, there are still some things they miss about their homeland. “I just can't get used to the fact that British trains and Tubes don't run on time,” she said.