protecting families

Hey everybody,

So, I’m living in Germany for the moment, so why don’t write a little bit about Germany. Who says, in the end, that it have to be those kick ass exotic locations expats have to write about?

Germany, like other European countries, has included the protection of the family in its basic law. Reality, however, looks different. Reality here is tough. There would be the definition of a „family“ in the first place. Right now there’s quite a hullabaloo going on about Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s (male) life partner accompanying him whenever possible – even paying for the stay himself. Of course, homosexuality still is a difficult topic in Germany, where equality is achieved slowly and with many drawbacks. Public opinion is, at best, still controversial. It for sure is remarkable that in a climate like that Mr Westerwelle hasn’t only come out on the issue, but as well chosen to remain living his relationship as what it is, the most natural thing in the world, when he became Minister of Foreign Affairs in Autumn 2009.

However the problem of „defintion“ of a family of course isn’t limited on homosexual relationships. For one whilst in other countries, such as Australia or South Africa the „defacto marriage“ has become acknowledged for, for instance, visa issues German authorities have chosen a different approach: They label something „family“ depending on whether it benefits them. So if two people obtaining social welfare money („Hartz IV“) are sharing an apartment they are considered partners meaning that they get less money per person then would they live alone. This leads to situations as curios as room mates not being accepted for social welfare because the other room-mate (!) has an income. And as this also applies for alimony, room mates have, as well, found themself transferring money to their ex-room mates as ordered by court because court found them partners for no more then the fact that they chose to share an apartment.

On the other hand if the acknowledgement of a partnership would mean the state having to give or let go of money nothing short of a valid (and best of German) marriage certificate will get people the status of being „a family“. This is true for migration issues (going as far as European Union internal migration), tax issues and all kind of assistance a family might be suspect to. There just is no such thing as a „defacto marriage“ in German legal terminology. Thus if I ever happened to be unemployed in Germany I would likely find myself in the situation of having to marry my boyfriend so he could insure me and in order to avoid possible deportation (!) from Germany because accompanying of a life partner is not a valid reasons for intra-EU migration.

Companies, however, aren’t that focused on marriage certificates. My boyfriend and me can get a shared insurance and stuff. And for the rest of it it’s mostly a matter of good luck and HR person’s mood anyhow. One declared the whole furniture of our apartment belonging to me and tried to pressurize us into being happy we got as much as a car to transport the stuff – which she didn’t get away with. For that person as „only“ a life partner I wasn’t existant whatsoever. During the next relocation with another HR person of the same company in charge little difference was made between me and a legally married spouse. But, other than during relocation no. 1 she was very helpful from the beginning whilst HR person no. 1 was a pain in the ass to begin with.

And then companies and the state alike have long given up any idea of „protection of the family“. For instance the „Agentur für Arbeit“ (Bureau of Occupation) has been known for making unemployed moms accept jobs on the other side of Germany regardless of extended families, therefor important assistance for that single mom, being ripped apart. Having one spouse accept a job hundreds of kilometers away, so all he sees of his family is when he drives home for the weekend, is considered pretty normal by both government agencies and companies applying deeply family unfriendly relocation policies. Nobody can tell me this is considered „protection of the family“.

Families are ripped apart without reconsideration and without much possibilities to object however state and companies have little to offer to fill the voids caused thereby. I’ve seen plenty of young moms trapped with their children because stranded in a strange town without the slightest assistance they have nobody to look for their children even for some hours. And this is not talking about kindergarten opening hours, which have nothing to do with adult’s working hours. In fact in today’s Germany you can feel lucky as much as obtaining a place at the kindergarten and this with personnel being paid so badly that they have been on strike twice since we moved here.

Probably I should state here that this is far from being an exclusively German problem. Marrying in Israel, for instance, where only marriages by religious officials, haredim, if Jewish, are legal, can be a problem to secular or non-Jewish Israelis and definition problems of „family“ are pretty the same in Austria – in other European countries unmarried couples have even less rights than in Germany / Austria. However it seems to me that whilst in Austria cases where that kind of approach really did destroy families are seldom to be found, in Germany they are considered normal. If I complain about my boyfriend’s company’s transferring policy giving me a hard time and probably forcing me into a decision between my life partner (thus family) and my career (or me working at all) I am constantly looked at like I was a green-skinned alien. And if my eyes nearly come falling out when somebody – once more – tells me about families being ripped apart all I get from Germans nearby is a blank look.

This is the one thing I don’t get about Germans: Why have they given up themselves? Why have they allowed themselves to become so afraid of their own shadow they don’t dare to see anymore that most of the shit happening in this place was caused by no less than themselves?

yours,

Migdalit

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