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Germany

City Tries to Lure Back Youth with Homesickness in a Box

A care package filled with chocolates, theater tickets and coupons for local bars is meant to stir feelings of homesickness in young people from eastern Germany who've migrated westwards, in the hope of luring them back.

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The care packages are meant to give those far away a taste of home

The city of Magdeburg, in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, has a proud history dating back centuries when it was one of the most important cities in medieval Europe. But recent history hasn't been so kind.

In the years following World War II, Magdeburg became part of East Germany, and after reunification, it suffered from the general exodus of young people heading west in search of work. Magdeburg lost almost 60,000 residents. Overall, Saxony-Anhalt's population shrank by 10 percent.

Fearful of what this development will mean for its future if left unchecked, the city is now trying to staunch the westward flow of its best and brightest. Together with sociologist Christiane Dienel, Magdeburg has launched a series of model projects aimed at bringing its young people back home.

One of the projects, launched this week, involves care packages filled with local mementos and give-aways that will be sent to a thousand former Magdeburg residents between the ages of 18 and 30, with the intention of bringing on a bout of homesickness. The packages are being funded by the federal Transport Ministry, which also oversees the reconstruction of eastern Germany.

Heimatschachtel für abgewanderte Ostdeutsche

Sociologist Christiane Dienel developed the care packages

"Every package contains different coupons for sports events and bars in Magdeburg, an online subscription to the local newspaper, fridge magnets, and samples of regional products among other items," said Dienel.

There is also information on returning home and tips on how to start a business in the east.

Jobs are what count

While the packages may inspire fond memories or even a visit home to take advantage of all the freebies, they're unlikely to convince young people to pack in a lucrative job in the west to return to Magdeburg. But that was never the intention, said Anne-Katrin Hübel, spokeswoman for the project at the University of Leipzig's media studies department.

"We can't create jobs back in Magdeburg and in the end, that's the main thing that will bring people back home," she said. "What we can do is create a positive impulse and say to young people that it's okay to experience other places and get work experience, but that they should remember their emotional ties to their home and if possible, come back and bring their experience and know-how with them."

Luftbild Magdeburg

There's no place like home: Magdeburg, eastern Germany

The care packages are just one element of a range of efforts to encourage eastern German emigrants to return home. An agency has been created to offer practical support to prospective returnees looking for a job or a place to live. And a Web site, www.kontakt-ostdeutschland.de, has also been established to help far-flung easterners maintain contact to home via a virtual community. People can participate in online forums, or volunteer to become authors of a blog describing their experience, Hübel said.

"What many young people say when they leave home to work somewhere else is that they have a longing for their roots, for contact to their friends and family -- the people that they can call up at 3 a.m. when they have a problem," she said.

According to sociologist Dienel, the majority of easterners who've relocated to western Germany would like to return home. She conducted a telephone survey in which "50 to 60 percent of those called said they wanted to come back." "There's no recipe for putting a stop to westward migration," she said. "The East benefits most when people go away and then come back. Because what they bring with them in terms of experience, know-how and capital only enriches our region."

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