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Shoe shop, Bundeswehr

Marcel Fürstenau / bkNovember 20, 2014

In the middle of Berlin, the German defense minister is opening a new showroom. The aim is to bring more young people into the Bundeswehr's barracks - but there were a few uninvited guests at the grand opening.

Bundeswehr Soldaten der Clausewitz-Kaserne in Burg Archiv 2011
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Wolf

Jörg Jankowsky of the Bundeswehr's career center explained the purpose of a new showroom the German military opened in an unassuming office in the middle of Berlin. It is on the ground floor, near the capital's Unter den Linden boulevard with its fast-food restaurants, fashion shops, and bakeries. In between a shoe shop and a pharmacy, the new military showroom offers free information about career opportunities in the German armed service.

'Advertising death'

Inside the new information center, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is talking to a group of 10th grade students from a Berlin school, and her handlers don't want the press disturbing them as they have their pictures taken with the politician.

When the minister leaves the Bundeswehr's new showroom, her statement is drowned out by around 20 demonstrators - including the Left party representative Inge Höger - chanting "No ads for dying."

Ursula von der Leyen Eröffnung Showroom der Bundeswehr 19.11.2014
A few protesters showed up at the opening of the new showroomImage: DW/M. Fürstenau

"We have consciously come to the middle of society," said von der Leyen, before defending the advertising initiative against the moral objections of the protestors. She said it is important to the Bundeswehr to "seek dialogue," adding that the diversity of jobs in the military is "highly attractive" for young people, and that the number of applicants is climbing, particularly among women.

Seeking: new recruits

But even as von der Leyen said the military "is on the right path" - the Bundeswehr is currently facing considerable recruitment problems. The navy needs new sailors, the IT department needs new technicians, and more applications for the military's civilian administrative jobs would be helpful. Even Berlin's elite guard battalion, which stands watch during state visits by foreign dignitaries, "urgently" needs new blood, Jankowsky said.

With the multimedia showroom help, the Bundeswehr wants to reach out to its target groups. Brochures promise careers "where a job meets a calling" in various sections of the military. The palette of possible qualifications ranges from technical service to a bachelor's degree in military administration.

Ursula von der Leyen Eröffnung Showroom der Bundeswehr 19.11.2014
Image: DW/M. Fürstenau

Films of military missions

"We offer the whole product," Jankowsky said. Though the slogan remains the same: "We. Serve. Germany." This old motto is there, above the entrance, and hanging discreetly lit on the back wall. Those interested can look over a helmeted mannequin in full combat gear. Short films about Germany's foreign military missions are screened on monitors.

Questions are answered by men and women in uniform, all aged between 20 and 30. The shop's opening hours match those of the surrounding shops - open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

'Fighting for the brightest'

When Germany still had compulsory national service, young men had to decide whether to serve in the military or social institutions. Today, career advisors have to convince potential recruits to join the military - and possibly be sent on dangerous missions outside Germany's borders. Like a corporate headhunter, Jankowsky put it clearly enough: "We have to go on the offensive in the fight for the brightest."

Ursula von der Leyen Eröffnung Showroom der Bundeswehr 19.11.2014
'We. Serve. Germany.' - The Bundeswehr's age-old mottoImage: DW/M. Fürstenau