Forget those unsightly images of sun-burnt, beer-swilling hooligans living it up on Spain's Costa Blanca. Affordable property and good weather are still luring Germans to southern Spain -- but most of them are over 60.
German pensioners: twilight years in the blazing sun
At market day in Moraira, a picturesque resort in southern Spain, it's 20 degrees in the shade and a pale December sun is shining down on the crowds. Hordes of elderly people are strolling through the fruit and vegetable stalls, or soaking up rays over coffee in the back-to-back pavement cafés lining the seafront.
Living the good life
It's not a commercial for a life insurance plan, it's just day-to-day reality on the Costa Blanca. Most of the pensioners milling around the town come from Germany, Britain, Scandinavia, Austria and Switzerland. They've all headed south in search of the good life, and most of them agree that the pleasant climate alone was worth pulling up roots for.
Others only winter in Spain, trading Bochum for the Balearics and enjoying both the weather and the relaxed southern joie de vivre they say they miss up north, where both the temperatures and the people tend to be on the frosty side.
"You can go swimming outside here, play tennis, have dinner with friends -- all activities you don't do so often back in Germany," explained Horst Sellmer from northern Germany. "At home, you're glad to get inside during the winter months. Here, life takes place outside, morning, noon and night. It makes a big difference."
Relocating: the healthy choice
As Germany struggles with its flagging economy, the country's elderly have come in for plenty of criticism in recent years for appearing to take the money and run. Politicians are determined that pensioners will also have to feel the pinch of reforms to the social welfare system, and pension cuts have featured regularly in Berlin's social agenda.
Nonetheless, studies show that Germany's elderly today enjoy a better standard of living than ever before -- and they often leave their native shores to make the most of it.
Many of the over-sixties populating the Mediterranean coast first migrated south on their doctor's advice. Heart complaints, asthma, arthritis and rheumatism are just some of the ailments soothed by clement climate conditions.
Hans Stallmach suffers from Bechterew Disease, rheumatoid arthritis of the spine. Back in Germany, he relied on painkillers to cope and spent most of his time in bed. Six years ago, he relocated to Spain and says he's never felt better.
"The climate was very beneficial for my condition and my health really improved," he maintained. "I can lead the sort of life I wasn't able to live in Germany."
Giving something back
In return, the pensioners bring spending power and a welcome boost to the local economy by building and buying homes. Their growing presence has also made the area a magnet for the service sector. Southern Spain now boasts an excellent infrastructure for senior citizens from northern Europe. The broad array of English-speaking doctors, old people's homes, banks and workmen means if they want, they don't even have to learn Spanish.
The prevalence of a foreign community can, however, be counterproductive , with the pensioners never actually motivated to learn the language and actually integrate locally.
According to a recent survey, 96 percent of pensioners in the region cite linguistic problems as their main worry. It's enough to send some of them packing.
Father Fritz Delp knows the German community along the Costa Blanca very well. "Some people have been here for as long as twelve years," he explained. "They often say they were the best years of their life, but sooner or later they want to go back to Germany. They worry about their health and they don't want anything to happen in a strange country where they don't speak the language and don't really feel integrated."
Others wouldn't go back if they were paid. 85-year-old Edith Teuber used to come here on vacation in the 1960s, and now lives in a German-language nursing home.
"Anyone who can, should move here," she advised. "It's a lovely place to be when you're elderly and need sunlight. Germany is unbearable in winter, it's so dark, foggy and cold. Down here, you experience your old age in a completely different light."