Golden Age, Colorful Crowd: Retirees in Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 05.02.2009
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Golden Age, Colorful Crowd: Retirees in Germany

From traveling retirees who spend their twilight years in southern climes to seniors who feel the word "poverty" in their bones, the faces of Germany's elderly have never been as diverse as they are today.

Three elderly ladies on a park bench

Germany is fast becoming a society of seniors

The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Udo Lindenberg -- all of these restless rockers are well into retirement age. Together they’ve sold many millions of albums, and have yet to show any signs of slowing down or giving up.

Rolling Stones in Berlin, 2008

The Rolling Stones defy stereotypes of the 60-plus set

There are retirees who spend their golden years on Majorca or Tenerife, sipping red wine in the evenings and watching the sun set over the Mediterranean. Then there are others who live on a fixed income, have to give up their apartments, don’t have any connection to family, and become wards of the state.

Republic of retirees

Some 20 million Germans today are in retirement. By 2050, that number will be 30 million -- meaning that more than half of German voters will be retirees.

“Germany is becoming a republic of retirees,” one of Germany’s biggest tabloids recently said. In the spring of 2008, the German cabinet agreed to an inordinate pension increase of 1.1 percent.

The younger generation showed itself to be quite skeptical of that pension increase. They complained loudly that people today only retire at 67. They say they themselves pay large social security contributions, but only expect to take home small retirement paychecks. Compared to that, they say, today’s retirees have it easy.

Facing the question of how to live

But the youth of today can learn a lot from the older generation -- and not only through professional know-how passed down to the next generation.

Three older adults, one baby, in a park

Overall, Germany's population is aging

For instance, they could learn a thing or two about old-fashioned values like consideration and slowing down the pace of life, says sociologist and researcher Klaus R. Schroeter. He argues that the elderly are a potentially powerful resource for a country with a falling birth rate.

Older people need to continue to challenge themselves. But how, exactly, should they live? Old-age homes offer a secure living situation with health care options for those who need it. But that tends to sequester old folks among themselves. In response, many active elderly people are choosing to live in multi-generational homes.

One example is in the city of Weimar. In a model community, families and the elderly have been living together for several years. The development also has infrastructure, such as hairdressers, a cafe, a pool and doctors offices. In Weimar, they call it “a little bit of city within the city." It keeps the elderly integrated into daily life instead of shutting them out.

Intelligent housing

Those who don’t wish to be cared for among strangers can continue living in their own apartment, with support from modern technology.

A senior citizen and a student sharing an apartment

Multi-generational living is catching on

The Frauenhofer Society in Dortmund has developed a house that allows an elderly person to live there and manage his or her affairs with the help of a computer. Seniors can stay there as long as possible, in modern surroundings.

Altogether, retirees pump some 310 million euros ($410 million) a year into the economy. That equals one-third of all consumer spending. Entire industry divisions have sprung up aiming to profit from the “silver generation." Cell phone manufacturers are churning out phones with large number displays, for example. And there are large-print books and playing cards in addition to the medical aids typically aimed at elderly consumers.

Target for marketers

Indeed, even today’s healthiest seniors are becoming an increasingly interesting target group for marketers, especially the over-50s, a group that will include nearly half the German population within 10 years.

Many of these active seniors are interested in outdoor activities and sports. They have a relatively high income, and like to spend money. The Nuremberg-based marketing agency Age is a pioneer in what is known as generational marketing. “Hedonism instead of savings --that’s the trend of this generation,” they say.

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