Unemployment – My story

After my graduation at the Advertising Academy U5 in Munich I did the next logical thing. I went looking for an Internship as a copywriter and got a very good offer from Saatchi & Saatchi Germany. A company I hold in high esteem to this day. So I moved to Frankfurt and worked there for six fun months on internship pay and lots of support by my parents. My then Girlfriend (now wife) found some decent work as a temp. We could pay the bills, afford a night out every month or so and had a cozy place to live. Life was good.

Sadly things then weren’t going so smoothly for the Publicis Group and therefore for Saatchi & Saatchi. So after My Internship ended things changed drastically. I lost my job and learned firsthand what it means to be unemployed in Germany.

People who have worked up to one year first receive 6o % of their previous paycheck for up to a year. Since my internship was my first payed job and only lasted for 6 months I was out of luck and fell into the category that receives “unemployment pay two”, now what exactly is that? For a household of two people you get rent, water, heating and electricity for an apartment of 60 square meters and a little more than 600 Euros for food, drink, clothing, insurances, fuel and doctors bills. It isn’t a life of luxury, but it is a decent life if you don’t have debts to pay. Now how do you get this unemployment pay 2?

First you have to find out which “Jobcenter” (Sounds like Orwellian newspeak, doesn’t it?) is the one you have to go to. Then you call that Jobcenter and ask for an interview appointment. Usually you get an appointment within the same month. At the interview you have to answer all sorts of questions aiming at finding out which jobs you are (also) qualified for. Then you get a questionnaire to fill out, and a list of things you need to hand in with that questionnaire. It is assumed, that everything is in the green and you get the unemployment pay retroactively beginning from the Time you where last employed. Now the what is that questionnaire about?

Here you have to tell the German authorities exactly how much money you have. If you have any insurances, you have to cash them in. if you have property, you have to live on it, or sell it. if you have something saved up for your old age, you have to spend that first, and you need to bring in documentation for it all. Also you have to prove what you have earned and spent in the last half year, so they want copies of all your account statements of the last 6 months. Which I did.

The whole experience was harrowing and humiliating but at least we did not go hungry.

Thank you Germany!

 

Keep tolling the bell.

Learning and Education – Part 4: The Interview

Time to pick up where we left off. Here is my first Interview. enjoy!

The Midnight Bell: Welcome B., now you are a student of?

M.B. : Elementary school teaching, I will be an elementary school teacher in Germany – in Bavaria and my main subject is English, my other subjects are also German, Maths and PE. Included in my studies are also other subjects such as how to teach reading and writing, and also something called elementary school pedagogics. We also have to do classes on psychology and other pedagogics.

The Midnight Bell: how do you feel about the state of university education in germany right now?

M.B. : It really depends on what you are studying right now, Because they introduced the bachelor system. I am not part of the Bachelor system yet – I never will be. But those who have started two years after me, who are studying the same thing, are doing the bachelors degree. I also have friends who study for a bachelors degree and some of them are not very happy about it. So you have got to talk to them. As is, I am very happy with how my studies are going, how the whole program is set up. So you need to tell me what you want to hear more about: my studies or bachelors programs?

The Midnight Bell: Well, I would like to hear about the Bachelors program too. I would like to know if you think that it improved things, and if yes, on what parts it improves the system or if makes things worse.

M.B. : The thing is, when the bachelors system was introduced to Germany, they really didn’t reform it in a way that it is very useful at German universities. They just took the current studies, for example you were able to do a diplom in psychology and you have to take certain classes for that diplom. Now you have to take the very same classes, maybe there are two or three classes that you don’t have to take. But you have to take the very same classes in a shorter ammount of time and they just combined them into three years in college for a bachelors. They did not really change anything about the study. In Germany, when you are a bachelor of psychology, you will not be taken on the free market. There is no company who will hire a bachelor of psychology, you have to get your masters degree. If the system was introduced correctly back then, we would have a different situation right now. Because if you go to America or England, Where the bachelor has always been, its really easy to find a job with a bachelors degree and you don’t really have to get a masters degree. Here in Germany it is basically mandatory to have a masters degree to be able to function on the job market. So these people who do the bachelors, all want to do the masters degree now. So basically nothing has really changed in the German system because only the people who have a diplom or a masters are able to find a job.

The Midnight Bell: So in the end it is more stressful to study, but you get less out of it…

M.B. : Basically yes and the idea behind having a bachelors is that not everyone wants to have an academic career path. Which is fine, not everybody needs an academic career path. The Masters is actually just for research. And I know people who really don’t want to do any research, but who just have to do the masters. Otherwise you don’t have the chance to get a job.
So yes, basically nothing really has changed. Students have a more stressful life and have more pressure because of course there is only… I think for psychology this year there are only sixty masters spaces and there are double the amount of bachelor graduates.

The Midnight Bell: Yes…

M.B. : So half of the people won’t get a masters space, which is horrible, because they don’t know what to do.

The Midnight Bell: University used to be free in Germany. how do you feel about the introduced college and University fees?

M.B. : I think generally speaking we are very lucky in Germany, that our fees are so low. There are other countries like America where college fees are ridiculously high. But they also get more classes; they get one-to-ones with their teachers. In Germany there have been changes, libraries are open longer, there are some student advice desks that are open longer and that might be fair. But still we are sitting in lectures with 500 or 800 students. You will not be recognized as a individual university student. There is no one-to-ones with your professor. If you are really lucky and get good professors and good teachers they will give you their time, but that is not a given. And in other countries they have to pay much more, that is a given. Students pay for their education, so they get something out of it. Here we pay for our education, but I don’t see that much change since it has been introduced. So I don’t think there is that much use to it. Then, of course I am also employed by university and I think I can only have that state of employment because of the university fees, so I am very happy that they are there, otherwise my program wouldn’t work. So there is an up side and a down side to it, like there is to everything. In general I think there is a lot of money lying around, not being used and they either could get rid of the fees or do something very valuable with the money that is lying around.

The Midnight Bell: Okay. What would your Idea be? Should German universities just ask for more fees or should fees be cut or is the money good as it is and it should just be used more wisely?

M.B. : I think if you are going to allow fees then there should also be a bill. Like: Our University needs exactly that kind of money and for that we will use the fees we are taking from the students. So the students actually can see where their fees are going. Right now we are just paying money and we have no idea how it is being used. So I would not have a problem paying fees, if I knew they where putting them to good use. Like it is right now I would just say: get rid of the fees because we have no idea what is happening with them. I have been to university for three years – I haven’t seen too much improvement. So, maybe just get rid of them like all the other states in Germany except for Bavaria and Baden Württemberg.

The Midnight Bell : So if we keep the fees we need more transparency.

M.B. : I think so, yeah.

The Midnight Bell: Okay, good. Transparency is always a good thing. [Aborted Question I then realized was ridiculous to ask, some spluttering on my part ensued.] Do you think you are getting a good education, or the best education you could be getting?

M.B. : In my field of studies I am convinced we are getting an excellent education, because we are getting educated in so many different things. Whenever I tell people in other countries what my studies include, they always look at me with an open mouth and go: “Wow, that is a lot! You are learning a lot!” Actually I think I am learning much more than I have to. But I think it’s good, it is alright to widen your horizons of knowledge. So I think I am getting a very good education.

The Midnight Bell: Okay! Thank you for the Interview!

I want to thank M.B. for the inside view on German university education. The interview has been slightly redacted for readability but has been reapproved by the interviewee.

Next up: Conclusions and improvement suggestions for University education.

Learning and Education – Part 2: Proposals for Basic Education

So I wrote about some of the issues I have with basic education in germany last week. Here are some proposals I have to ameliorate the situation.

  1.  One School for everyone
    A school is the beginnings of a society. Let us not practice segregation and let us give up the stigmas some branches of education may bare. We can still keep the qualifications you end up with, but let’s make them dependent on what year you voluntarily leave school at, rather than what branch you get sorted into.
  2. More teachers, more subjects
    The state needs to hire more teachers. A class size of 25 should be the maximum and 20 should be the optimum. “sports” needs to dissapear from the curriculum to be replaced by more specific descriptions like “athletics” “soccer” “tennis” and “karate” or “ballet”. Cooking and housekeeping need to be taught. These subjects adress the problem of growing obesity and the fact that less and less people actually know how to cook or eat healthy.
  3. Some grades need to go
    Sports, arts and crafts or theatre should not be graded. They carry an intrinsic reward students might never learn once they recieve a bad grade.
  4.  No more repeating of schoolyears
    Comparative studies have shown, that the fewest children actually benefit from repeating a year. In fact, more get worse than improve.
  5. Well, some repeating of schoolyears
    Students may go back one year or advance one year if they themselves expressly wish to do so.
  6. Encourage leadership
    Every students excels at certain subjects. Let each student lead an (assisted) afternoon class once a month on a subject of his choosing.
  7. Give credit for social work
    Let students learn the basic values of living in a working society. Extra care should be taken that these experiences are fun. Activities could be, taking care of children or the elderly, working at a veterinarians practice or joining a forester on his rounds through the public woods.
  8. School needs to get longer, not shorter
    Screw businesses that want to hire 16 year old kids that speak six languages and have four years of experience and a college degree. Qualification takes time, and there is a threshold of how much you can learn in a given time.
  9. Point them in the right way
    Start grading good behaviour, not with grades, but by awarding points. It should work like a frequent flyer system. Good behaviour like leading a class, improving a grade or being there on time for x weeks in a row earns you points, bad behaviour like tardiness, forgetting your homework or fighting in school looses you a certain amount of points. At certain point levels you gain privileges, like entry to the student lounge, use of the school gym or pool after hours etc. if you fall below those levels, you loose the privileges again. Surely an experience to remember.
  10. A nurse
    Something i found invaluable at my american highschool was the school nurse. I have been the witness of so many little accidents, it is good to have a trained medical practitioner on site to take pressure of the teachers should a student get hurt.
How can all this be payed for? For one, one school instead of three makes a very large centralized school. Due to economics of scale heating and running costs will be alot less than in three separate schools. Also, according to the Bertelsmann study, students repeating classes is costing the State close to one billion euros, or more precisely more than 931 million euros per year. yes that is 931.ooo.000 Euros that is eleven million euros per citizen per year. Abolish repeating classes and we have all the money we need to implement all other changes.
Keep tolling the bell.

Am I a Patriot?

As a german citizen i have an ambivalent attitude toward patriotism. I love my country, I love the countyside, its many quaint cities, the urban untamedness of Berlin and foremost I love the people. But am I proud to be a German? No. I have done nothing to be a german. I was born german. How can a person be proud of something he or she did not accomplish? I never served in the army, I am not a politician or a journalist, I am not an innovator. How can I be proud? Do I have the right to be proud? Thing is: I want to be proud, but I do feel that it is a right one has to earn. That is one reason why I started to blog. I want to help shape this nation, become part of the political discourse. And I feel, that if through writing I can get only one more person to vote their concienence or better one persons view of Germany, I can be a little more proud.

I am not proud to be german any more that I am proud to be a human being, but I am damn glad.

So who can be proud of being a German citizen? I’ll tell you my opinion: All the Turks, Greeks, Italians, Albanians, Morrocans and indeed all imigrants that came here to seek prosperity. They left their own countries, their families and friends, because they believed germany was better for them. A country that has not welcomed them with open arms. A country whose Wirtschaftswunder (economic wonder) was built on cheap imported labor of the “Gastarbeiter” (guest worker). They can and should be proud!

I respect immigrants a great deal for making this country what it is today, and for chosing my home over theirs.

That said, I believe I am a patriot, but not of the conservative lot, who believes everything should stay as it is, or longs for the “good old days”.
I wish and hope the best for this nation and the people who help to build it and further its cause. I want to be part of it and stand by it. I vote and I excercise my right to free speech. I keep an open mind and I share my opinion with others. Yes I am a patriot, but not in the way most people think of patriotism.

Learning and Education – Part 1: Basic Education

I was mostly educated in Germany. Now some of you probably do not know about the German school system, so I will give you a brief summary. Everyone who knows about it allready can skip the next paragraph.

It starts out the same for everyone with Kindergarten which would translate as “daycare” or, who would have thought, kindergarden. Around the age of seven years kids enter the Grundschule (roughly translates to “basic school”). Here you learn the basics: reading, writing, your numbers, basic mathematical thinking (numerical progressions, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division also fractions and decimal numbers). Then there is also HSK wich is “Heimat und Sachkunde”s (Homeland and knowledge of things – we covered things like plants in our area and squirrels etc.) asof recently,  I believe, they are also already taught one foreign language.
Then the Kids are divvied up according to their grades into Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium. Kids that are sent to the hauptschule will be plagued with the stigma of perceived sub standard education. they will not be able to go to university and will have a hard time getting an apprenticeship. Realschule isn’t bad. it has a more technical and less specialized approach to things. Kids that finish the Realschule can go to universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschule) and/or get good apprenticeships. Gymnasium is pretty much preparation for university. You gain broader knowledge and are introduced to the practice of academical work. When kids leave Gymnasium they can go to any german university should their funds permit it.

What is my beef with this system?

Most importantly, it limits youths possibilities for life at the age of about 12 to 13 years, regardless of the fact that they change a great deal during puberty. Also it doesn’t account for the different outsets of children. Immigrant children might fall behind on literacy, but bear in mind that some are fluent in two or more languages, they can not just “write words like they sound” because they would sound different in all the languages they know. It doesn’t matter if they excel in maths or HSK, when it comes to assigning them to a following school, they are often worse off.

The school system is exclusive, as it excludes Hauptschul Kids from any and all universities, Realschul kids get a lot of practical knowledge, but are excluded from a lot of career choices and Gymnasium arguably get too much academical knowledge and too few life skills. Shouldn’t all be possible? for everyone.

Also children with disabilities are often sorted into “special schools” and do not participate in the greater school system. what does that teach children?

Do I have any opinions on how the system should change? Yes I do, but that is a post for another day.

Germany’s foreign blunders

Germany, and I mean post cold war Germany, lacks something very important: humility. We, or some of us believe that Germany can “play up there” with the United States of America, China, Russia or maybe The United Kingdom. I tell you what: we can’t, and here is why.

Our credentials suck!

But let me elaborate. The last “big” thing Germany is remembered for on an international scale is Hitlers reign. Don’t believe me? Ask any person anywhere in the world for a famous german politician. Go ahead, call a friend in Africa, Asia or the Americas and ask. If one of them says Willi Brandt or Richard von Weizäcker or Helmut Kohl, kudos to them.

But ever since Hitlers reign of terror ended, or rather more WAS ended, what have german politicians accomplished? The fall of the Berlin wall? Nice one, but we probably could have sat that one out, after Gorbachev cut Soviet support to the GDR, and maybe we did. The European Union? That was a group effort and it is still a work in progress. Our Involvement in KFOR? Again, a group effort. Our involvement in Afghanistan? The same again.

Meanwhile Great Brittain proved its determination on the Falklands, the USA have been constantly involved and invested in actions, military or otherwise and China has built the worlds largest Economy from scratch. Of course, not everything went well, like the US involvement in vietnam, not all were for good or right reasons, but what is important was: they went! Germany appears to be scared to take the first step. And indeed with the implications of our history we should be careful with that concerning military involvement. But what about economics?

Now would be the time to get involved, to lead, to find a way out of the financial European game of Dominoes. Nothing.

We live in a great country, we have a decent social system, but internationally we lack will. So please dear Mrs Chancellor, dear Minister for foreign affairs and dear Mr President. Show some humility and bring Ideas to the table. Don’t demand a permanent seat on the security council (G. Schröder), don’t think about joining the effort for lybia after the fight is over and don’t look down on your european neighbors like Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic. We are partners, we are in this together and their voice should be heard as loud as ours and France’s.