by: Donna Swarthout on October 17th, 2013 | 5 Comments »
Lately it’s become a little easier to answer questions about why my family decided to move from the United States to Germany. While Obama battles the Tea Party and struggles to keep the government functioning, Angela Merkel enjoys soaring popularity after Germany’s recent national elections. The mood in Berlin feels calm and optimistic while the rhetoric of brinksmanship continues in Washington.
I like the blend of capitalism and democracy found in Germany and other parts of Europe, not to mention the cafes and bakeries and amazing public transit systems.
Two years ago the members of my family became German citizens under a law that allows families who were persecuted by the Nazis to have their citizenship restored. Hundreds of German Jews from the diaspora apply to the German government each year to regain their citizenship. Once they become citizens, they can live in Germany without having to give up their original citizenship. As my husband and I thought about our future, we asked ourselves which country offers better prospects for a good standard of living now and in the future.
Two of our three children will enter college in the next five years. Having frequently heard that higher education is free in Germany, I wanted to verify if this claim was too good to be true. I checked the web site for Freie Universität Berlin and found this statement: “Except for some graduate or postgraduate programs, the Freie Universität Berlin does not charge tuition fees; students are merely responsible for paying certain fees and charges each semester.” For the current semester, those fees amount to € 285.83 ($386.76). Humboldt University in Berlin charges about the same amount for semester fees. Back in our home town of Bozeman, Montana, the current semester cost for resident students at Montana State University is $3,375.
If you could take a thermometer reading of the average family’s financial anxiety, it would be interesting to compare results for German and American families. I had over $10,000 in dental bills last year and my dental insurance covered only $800. This year my youngest son will get braces and I anticipate full coverage by our German health insurance. We pay a high premium for health insurance in Germany as we did in the States, but the difference is that for most services we do not have a deductible or co-payment. The bottom line is that the safety net in Germany does help to reduce financial stress and out-of-pocket costs.
It’s hard to get our two teenagers to join us for family outings in Berlin, but the cultural offerings are as inexpensive as they are plentiful. An adult ticket to the German Historical Museum costs € 8 ($10.82) and it’s free for those aged 18 and under. Berlin has more than 170 museums and it costs less than € 10 to visit most of them. Back in Bozeman it costs $9.50 for a five year old to visit the Museum of the Rockies and $14 for an adult admission. Yes, there are family memberships and group discounts in the States, but I believe there is broader access to the arts and cultural events in Europe.
A family’s well being depends on more than its financial circumstances. Our children will ultimately make their own choices about which culture suits them better, where they feel most comfortable. I don’t expect them to all choose to live in Germany, but as citizens of the European Union they have a plethora of possibilities that most Americans don’t have. And if they stay in Europe, they have a guarantee of health insurance and a college education.
As the government now reopens in Washington, Angela Merkel is having her own talks with the Social Democrats and the Greens to form a new coalition government. Tensions are high on both sides of the Atlantic, but at least in Germany the citizens have not been robbed of their right to representative government.
Donna Swarthout is a freelance writer in Berlin, Germany. You can read more about her experiences on her blog Full Circle.