Germans Outraged over “Florida Rolf” Case | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.08.2003
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Germans Outraged over “Florida Rolf” Case

A controversial case of a Florida-based German pensioner drawing huge welfare benefits from Germany has sparked an angry debate among politicians and led the government to review the country’s welfare laws.


An overburdened Chancellor Schröder plans to tighten welfare rules for Germans living abroad.

64-year-old German Rolf J lives in a comfortable Miami Beach apartment on Florida’s east coast and spends much of his time strolling the beach near his home. So far so good.

But a recent report in a German paper that Rolf J was living it up in Florida at the cost of Germany's overburdened welfare system was too much for some Germans to digest. The mass-selling Bild newspaper said that a Lower Saxony court had ruled German welfare officials had to continue paying the full cost of Rolf J’s beach apartment for another six months.

Life at the beach paid for by welfare

Media reports revealed that when welfare officials tried to reduce his housing allowance to €600 ($655.7) monthly, down from the current €875, Rolf J hired a lawyer -- paid for by welfare authorities -- who convinced the court their client could not find suitable accommodation for €600 and could suffer depression if forced to move away from his neighborhood. A psychiatrist also testified that Rolf J -- dubbed "Florida Rolf" by the colorful Bild daily --might commit suicide if forced to return to Germany.

The court then ordered welfare authorities to continue paying his current full rent for another six months, in addition to the €730 per month in living costs and €146 for a cleaner on account of Rolf J being classified as handicapped. Rolf J’s total welfare benefits, it emerged, amounted to almost €1,900 per month.

Politicians call for end to "sweet life under palms"

The case has triggered anger in Germany, which faces painful social reforms on account of its cash-strapped welfare and health systems and spiraling unemployment. Politicians are now calling for a revamp of the country’s generous welfare laws.

Bavarian Premier and head of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), Edmund Stoiber said in an interview with Bild, that Chancellor Schröder and his government should completely strike out paragraphs in legal social law, that regulated welfare benefits for Germans living abroad. "That will finally spell the end of a sweet life under palms for Florida Rolf and others like him at the cost of the taxpayer," Stoiber said. "I’m also in favor that banks, life insurance companies and property offices should give unrestricted information about the personal wealth of welfare recipients," he said.

German Social and Health Minister Ulla Schmidt said people had a right to be upset at the Rolf J case. "Such court decisions unhinge the sense of justice in Germany," the Social Democrat told the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper. This week the minister announced the regulations would be changed as soon as possible. "Social welfare can’t be there to finance a good life for Germans in Florida," she said.

German media reports said the minister was planning that in future only hospital patients, who cannot return to Germany on health grounds and Germans in foreign imprisonment, can draw welfare from Germany. In addition, Schmidt is reportedly making provisions so that those over 70 aren’t affected by the planned new regulations.

This week Chancellor Schröder announced he wanted to use the headline-grabbing case of Florida Rolf as an occasion to change the existing law. The Florida Rolf case is a "really horrible" example of abusing the social system, Schröder said in a television interview.

According to the Bild, currently 1055 Germans in 83 countries receive welfare, which is estimated to cost a total of €5.5 million.

"I've done enough for Germany"

However the present row in Germany over the misuse of the welfare system didn’t seem to affect the main figure in the eye of the storm.

Interviewed by Bild, Rolf J, who said he was once a millionaire banker, but suffered a breakdown after losing his fortune and wife, remained unruffled. "I always paid my taxes, and I lost my father in the war. I’ve done enough for Germany," he said.