Germans taste trauma of the dole

Imre Karacs looks at the results of a collapsing economic miracle

Duisburg - Dieter Held did not pay much attention to the man with the clipboard who kept coming around to the workshop, watching, never asking a question, yet taking copious notes. Two weeks ago the visitor's purpose was revealed. He was a member of a team of management consultants hired to root out inefficiency, and the fruit of their labour was a report 2,200 names long, headed "surplus to requirements". Dieter, a fitter aged 30, found his name on the list.

"It felt like a roof collapsing over your head," he said. Dieter had been unemployed before, but had learnt his new trade during a previous recession and was confident he could ride out the next one.

Now he is not so sure. He has fired off some 40 job applications, but all he has had back are straight rejections. He is now widening the search beyond Duisburg, a city of half a million where one in five is out of work, but employers in the neighbouring towns do not even bother to reply. Duisburg has the highest jobless rate for a big city in western Germany, but the situation in the rest of the Ruhr is only marginally better, and what vacancies exist tend to be in fast food restaurants. The steel industry, where Dieter used to earn his daily bread, is down-sizing everywhere.

While he is idle, the state will pay him about DM2,500 (pounds 915) a month - 63 per cent of his last take-home pay. After a year, the dole falls to 53 per cent, and after two years he will only be entitled to supplementary benefit. "Money will be tight," he says, but that's not what worries him most.

No society holds the unemployed in high esteem, but German society is especially harsh in its judgement. "When you lose your job, friends tend to take a step back," Dieter said. "No one wants to hang out with a loser." Dieter will only confess to his friends if has not found work by the end of March.

He will then disappear, following millions of others who have already shut themselves away to hide their shame. "They become anonymous," said Gisela Averkamp, who runs a charity which helps people on the dole. "Most stay at home and watch television all day. It is unbelievably difficult to persuade them to come to the unemployment centre."

The unemployed vanish from their favourite pubs, sever trade union links and disenfranchise themselves from public life. The gradual decline in voter turnout matches the rising rate of joblessness. Behind those closed shutters there is seething resentment, but it is yet to be articulated. Demonstrations, such as the 60-mile-long human chain formed in the Ruhr yesterday in protest against unemployment, are staged and manned mostly by union members desperate to avoid the fate of their ostracised former workmates.

The state, paranoid about provoking the unemployed, goes out of its way to keep them sweet. The jobless are summoned by courteous civil servants every three months for an interview, but are otherwise left alone. There are no queues at the labour bureaux, and the cheques arrive regularly without fuss. Because working Germans contribute to a state-run insurance scheme, the dole is a pay-related entitlement irrespective of personal savings and the earnings of family members. The jobless are even allowed to earn DM580 (pounds 214) a month in part-time work.

Thus does the Federal Republic preserve social peace at a time of Weimarian unemployment levels. There are no stone-throwing youths lurking in Duisburg's neatly kept parks, no graffiti defacing public buildings on its litter- free streets. Factories that fall empty are rapidly converted into concert halls and theme parks. School-leavers, potentially the most explosive segment of the emerging under-class, are kept off the streets by a wide range of interminable retraining schemes. There are an estimated 2.5 million Germans on various projects who are not counted as unemployed.

What trade they should be taught is not clear, however. Ms Averkamp, whose centre provides courses for the young, says she tries to steer the new generation of Duisburgers away from metal-bashing towards the gardening domain. There are still jobs to be had in health care and in retail, and management consultancy is booming.

Where a school-leaver's certificate might have sufficed a few years ago, employers now demand more impressive bits of paper - which often count for more in Germany than experience - even for the most menial jobs. Those who cannot keep up face the prospect of permanent unemployment.

Suggested Topics
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?