Germany’s Brain Drain Shifts Into High Gear | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 03.08.2008
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Germany’s Brain Drain Shifts Into High Gear

They are young, well-educated and ready for adventure. And they are sick of Germany. More and more are leaving the country to try their luck abroad, and they often find that coming back is not always easy.

Museum exhibit shows a family standing in front of a ship

Last year 160,000 Germans emigrated

Christian Vogt wants out of Germany as soon as possible.

"I've had it up to here," he said with his hand next to his chin. The 37-year-old architect has been working full time for six years. He has a good job at an architectural firm, but that hasn’t stopped him from wanting to leave.

Vogt speaks of feeling exploited, of enduring bad working conditions for too little money with a lot of overtime.

Life's better Down Under?

Sydney Opera House

Sydney is a popular destination

At the end of the year, Vogt plans to move to Australia, a country he has never visited. But he knows that architects there are highly sought after. The Australian government put his occupation on a list of those most urgently needed to fill the labor shortage Down Under.

Many educated Germans are doing the same thing as Voigt. The country's statistics office estimates that more than 160,000 people emigrated last year, a level that hasn't been topped since 1954.

The majority of these people are young and well-educated. This exodus is taking place at the same time that German employers have been complaining about the shortage of skilled employees.

Moving seen as giving a career boost

Germany's Ministry of Economics and Technology recently asked Germans about their reasons for leaving the country. Most emigrants pointed to better career options and higher pay abroad. Some also mentioned high taxes and Germany's bureaucracy as playing a role. A desire for adventure was another likely factor.

"For some jobs, the possibilities abroad are actually very good," said Manuel Wagner from the Catholic organization Raphaels-Werk, who advises people interested in emigrating.

"Doctors, for example, are in demand almost everywhere," he added.

Raphaels-Werk is a relief agency, affiliated with the Catholic aid charity Caritas and the German Bishop's Conference, which assist emigrants. More than 20 outreach offices in Germany deal with both those who want to leave the country and those returning home.

"Don't burn your bridges"

Passport control symbol

There are a lot of reasons why people come back

Vogt recently went to Cologne to meet with Manuel Wagner of Raphaels-Werk. The meeting cost 25 euros ($39).

"Above all, I wanted practical tips on entry regulations and the validity of my degrees," Vogt said.

Wagner asked Vogt what he hoped to gain from emigrating.

"I often see people who have problems and believe that in a foreign country everything would automatically become better," Wagner said. "In these cases I advise against emigrating."

No matter how good the prospects look for work abroad, Wagner always suggests keeping open the possibility of returning to Germany.

"One should not close all of the doors in one's home country," Wagner said. "In a foreign country, a lot can go wrong."

Obstacles to returning

Even when nothing goes wrong, coming back isn't always easy. Martina Merklinger worked for nearly four years as an art historian at a research institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She's now sitting in her new apartment in Stuttgart unpacking boxes.

"I could have seen myself staying in Brazil a lot longer," the dark-haired woman said.

She initially went to Brazil as part of a research grant and from that got a job offer. Merklinger said she felt that she succeeded in Brazil and had a responsible position with good pay. She also loved the Brazilian way of life and the warm climate.

New start in Germany

Family stands in front of house with Canadian Flag

TV shows like "Goodbye Deutschland" show Germans seeking a new life abroad

"I came back to Germany out of love for my boyfriend and future husband," the 39-year-old said.

Although she is happy to be back in Germany and closer to her boyfriend, Merklinger said that re-starting her career has not been easy.

"I do not have the impression that my education and language knowledge and my foreign experience are very welcome in Germany," she said.

She has sent out more than 30 job applications but hasn't found work. Now she's upset with the Federal Employment Office, feeling that they are uninterested in helping her.

"I feel like there should be a central place for repatriates where it's possible to get information and maybe financial help to start," she said.

Homesick for Germany?

Currently, Merklinger is living off her savings and her boyfriend is supporting her as well. She isn't entitled to employee benefits since she didn't make social security contributions.

Even so, she does not regret her time abroad.

"I can only suggest that everyone have this experience," she said. "When people come back, then they've learned something that they can introduce here in Germany."

Vogt also doesn't know if he wants to stay in Australia forever.

"First, I want to test the Australian job market," he said.

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