Germany

The situation of young people in my country differs very much from region to region. Whereas Hamburg is a financially rather prosperous city, Berlin is overwhelmingly multicultural in every aspect. Rostock and the region where it is based, Mecklenburg Vorpommern, are struggling with both. The region has traditionally been agricultural. Rostock, with its harbour and shipyard, is the only place offering a lot of employment. As new technology has made great numbers of employers unnecessary, the region suffers from the highest rate of unemployment in the whole of Germany. As part of the former German Democratic Republic in general we did not have the high numbers of Turkish guest workers and immigrants that Western Germany was hosting, and we have therefore been a particularly single-cultured area. After the break down of the GDR, Mecklenburg Vorpommern has suffered from increasing numbers of Neo Nazis and has faced one of the most tragic post-war incidents in 1992 when young Neo Nazis burned down a home for asylum seekers. Though vandalism and fascistic violence have decreased since the early nineties, the numbers are still higher than in other parts of the country and organisations such as YFU still do not feel comfortable sending Black, Asian or Arab students over, as the host families cannot fully secure their safety. For most young people Mecklenburg Vorpommern does not offer many opportunities. Most face unemployment after they finish school or university and therefore most leave to find work and establish themselves somewhere else. Though the community is radically changing, especially in bigger cities such as Rostock or Schwerin which welcome more and more immigrants particularly from Eastern Europe as well as from Africa and Asia, the people of the community as it used to be have great problems to adjust to these new developments and vandalism and violence have risen once again.

More manifold, more complex, more conservative: The German youth scene as we witness it today is more complex and presents itself with a broader variety of subcultures than ever before. A lot of new cultures came up in recent years (Hip Hopers, Gamers, Anti-Germans, Kanaks, Hamburger Schule, etc.) while other old ones (Punks, Skinheads, etc.) were revitalised. Changing between these groups is easier than ever before. No group means a stable identity for a life-time. While normally these changes occurred only in the later phase of adulthood, it is possible today that a youth changes his identity groups more early and more often. Being a conservative and in the same time being engaged with a local group of Greenpeace is no longer a contradiction. On the other hand, youth become more and more affected by the results of a post-modern and globalised society. The phase of post-adolescence has grown longer and longer in the last years, meaning an increased pool of possibilities to choose from but also a longer period where young people, while studying, doing an apprenticeship or being jobless, have to depend on their parents to make their living. But this larger pool of possibilities to choose from also means a lack of fixed points of orientation in their lives. This has a certain influence on the values and opinions of youth who need to orientate in their complex world. Therefore more conservative values (family, career, etc.) have become more important in the last years. This draws youth on the one hand to more radical movements (either political, like the leftist Linksruck or extreme right wing movements; or religious, like Protestant free churches or Muslim extremists) but on the other hand also to more conservative values which their parents fought against during the 70′s, therewith widening the gap between the generations while at the same time narrowing it. The Equality Gap: Another point of the globalisation process which has also reached Germany and which stimulates the trends described above is the widening gap between rich and poor among youth. Especially in the Eastern part of Germany, unemployment is high and a lot of young people leave for the West in search of better chances. Cuts in the social budget, which have led for example to the introduction of study fees, make it even more difficult for youth to overcome social barriers. Recent studies show that every 10th child in Germany lives in relative poverty and the trend is even growing especially with youth from Eastern Germany and children from migrant families. Democracy: Yes! Politics: No! While still not having fully ratified the UN convention for the rights of the child, Germany pursues hard to increase youth participation in all areas. Recent European studies shed light on the relative success, ranking the interest of German youth in political affairs as one of the highest in the EU, but being still relatively low compared with the total number of young Germans. Nevertheless, all trends show that young people are still interested in politics and support with a high majority the democratic idea. On the other hand the trust in politicians and the existing political system is as low as never before. The traditional parties are losing their young members while those interested in politics tend to get active in civil society organisations. Youth feel that their affairs, like education, youth policies, etc., are not a major topic in political discussion, and if mentioned it is only to do lip service to them by politicians who leave only small room for political participation by youths themselves. These trends are more than likely to continue in the next years.

An uninformed opinion based on no research and feeling: I think the situation in Germany is very good. We have rights, respect and in most areas we have freedom. However, as good as it may seem, in some respects we have lost our way. Issues that concern young people have been left behind. Such examples can be seen in the decline of young peoples’ participation in politics, environment, student fees, antifascism, and volunteerism to name a few. Our universities are becoming like those in the US, where the rich people are educated and the poor are left behind. There are some people that feel that the weight of expectations from their peers is too great. Young people are under pressure to find a stable job and accept it. The fun, freedom and choice are slowly leaving the workforce to be replaced by stability and a pension. In spite of all this there are still many people that are actively involved in issues of the world. I hope that the youth movement in Germany will halt its decline, will rise again and become what it was. I guess this is just one shared uninformed opinion.