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Lesson Transcript

Rebecca: Hi, and welcome back to GermanPod101.com! I’m Rebecca.
Widar: And I’m Widar.
Rebecca: Today we’re going to tell you more about life in Germany.
Widar: There are so many aspects to German society that it’s hard to know where to begin!
Rebecca: Why don’t we start with city life? We do live in the city, after all!
Widar: Let’s talk about that city that we live in!
Rebecca: The one and only, Berlin!
Widar: Berlin is Germany’s capital and is the largest city in Germany. In Germany, there are sixteen "federal states," called "Bundesländer," and Berlin is one of them, so Berlin is a city and a federal state.
Rebecca: There are an estimated three and one half million people living in the city of Berlin. That’s a huge number! Consider another half a million commuters and tourists, and it explains why downtown is so crowded almost everywhere you go.
Widar: Berlin has lots of different districts that each have their own kind of personality. One of them is Alexanderplatz, which might be the most well known.
Rebecca: The famous television tower and the world time clock are just two landmarks of this popular shopping district.
Widar: Also in Berlin, you have Potsdamer Platz (Berlin’s biggest entertainment district), Hackesche Märkte (a really high-end area), Prenzlauer Berg, with its alternative lifestyle folks and artists, and then the administration quarter, Berlin Mitte, with Europe’s most innovative railroad station parks, and Reichstag (the place where the German legislature holds their meetings). There’s something for everyone in Berlin!
Rebecca: I think it’s impossible to get bored in Berlin. Especially young people are attracted by its liberal lifestyle and modern zeitgeist. There’s so much going on!
Widar: Then, in contrast to Berlin, we have München, which is famous for its traditional atmosphere. You can discover historical churches from the Middle Ages, old colorful houses, or enjoy the English garden – a beautiful park with ever-changing vistas, winding streams, and an artificial lake. The city’s motto is "Munich loves you," and this city and its people are really open-minded and friendly.
Rebecca: Especially in the fall, I think, when the famous Oktoberfest is celebrated.
Widar: Right. The Oktoberfest is one of Germany’s most famous annual events and the world’s largest fair with about six million people attending every year.
Rebecca: I really recommend visiting München, especially if you’d like to experience a more traditional side of Germany.
Rebecca: Besides Hamburg and Cologne, another major city is Frankfurt am Main. The city, with its six hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, is located in central Germany at the Rhine-Main Metropolitan region. It’s considered to be an outstanding industrial, finance, and commerce center in Germany and Europe.
Widar: The people in Frankfurt have a reputation for being progressive and successful. This image is due to Frankfurt being the largest financial center in continental Europe. It is the seat of the European Central Bank, the German Federal Bank, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and the Frankfurt Trade Fair.
Rebecca: Well, I remember that Frankfurt has this amazing Manhattan-like skyline and a fantastic view over one of Germany’s major rivers, the Rhine. Frankfurt is also home to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany’s most famous author.
Widar: Okay. Now, let’s talk a bit about family life in German society.
Rebecca: There are a few interesting things to note. In many urban areas, both moms and dads work, mainly because this is the only way they can afford the lifestyle that they want. The size of the German family on average has just one or two children.
Widar: Yeah. In rural areas of southern Germany, you may still find families with multiple generations living together, but this is not common in urban areas or farther north. There are different reasons for that, such as houses being too small to include grandparents and other relatives outside the immediate family.
Rebecca: And for many young families it just doesn’t feel right to live together with the older generations under the same roof.
Widar: True, and even in smaller cities and rural areas, you can see this trend to nuclear families with only the parents and children. I, myself, remember growing up in a family with… [ talks about personal family experience ].
Rebecca: Also, something that is kind of interesting is that young people are free to meet and marry whom they choose, but marriage is not the only option. Forty percent of couples between the ages of eighteen to thirty-five live together without marriage. People are waiting until they are older to get married. It’s a fast growing trend. And in urban areas single parents are accepted.
Widar: Yes. Children born outside marriage have the same rights as children born to parents who are married, and the single parent has no disadvantages to fear.
Rebecca: It used to be like, you should be married by the time you were twenty-five, or else it was "too late".
Widar: Yeah, that’s not the case anymore.
Rebecca: Why is that?
Widar: Well, there are a lot of different factors that contribute to it. People are less willing to "settle" and are choosier about their partner. A lot of young women these days value their career, and in some cases, getting married will hinder advancements in their career. So there are a lot of things.
Rebecca: A more serious problem is the falling birthrate.
Widar: Yes, this is a big problem actually. Less and less children are being born each year.
Rebecca: It’s gotten so bad that if this trend continues, Germany’s population will start to shrink in a few years.
Widar: And the government can’t do much about it. They try to reverse this trend for the sake of Germany’s future with family development plans and welfare programs for mothers-to-be and young mothers.
Rebecca: Okay, let’s talk about Germany’s economy and work culture. Widar, did you know that Germany’s economy is ranked fourth in the world?
Widar: Yes. We’ve mentioned it before in our All About quiz lesson. It ranks fourth after the United States, Japan, and China.
Rebecca: I mean, it has a lot of strong industries, such as motor vehicles, electronics, and chemicals, so it’s all of that and more. And Germany is the world’s top exporter. So, how about work culture?
Widar: Many foreigners need some time to adapt to the German attitude to work. People don’t tend to work long hours. In many offices, especially in the public sector, the day ends at around four pm.
Rebecca: But it’s not that Germans are lazy. There is a strong emphasis on efficiency and people use their working time to be very productive.
Widar: So, there is little or no time spent socializing or chatting. Exceptions are during break periods, like forty-five to sixty minutes for lunch.
Rebecca: What about the management culture?
Widar: Good that you mention that. It’s hierarchical to a certain degree, but just for logical, decision-making reasons. Outside the office, subordinates don’t need to be extremely servile towards their superiors. Germans love to work on well thought out plans and make factually based decisions. Meetings are well scheduled and thus punctuality is expected while lateness is not tolerated.
Widar: Even though Germany has one of the world's best social security systems, we suffer from a high unemployment rate. In times like these, temporary work is very common. This way, companies don’t have to pay if those temporary employees are sick or go on vacation. They can hire and fire people at pleasure and have momentary expected profits.
Rebecca: Well, even if it’s just on a contract basis, these people have full-time jobs. There is an increasing number of people that just get part-time positions.
Widar: Yes. Some even work multiple part-time jobs.
Rebecca: Twenty years ago, if you got a full-time job, you might have gotten that job for life.
Widar: Hmm, well that used to be common, the lifelong employment system, meaning that you stay with the same company until you retire. But this has changed drastically, as more and more people are changing jobs mid-career. So I think that system is slowly disappearing.
Rebecca: Yeah, I guess with the current economy, there’s really no guarantee.
Widar: Right. Let’s go into politics for a moment. Germany is a federal parliamentary republic, called Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
Rebecca: Germany’s democratic and social foundation is a constitution that was approved by the Allies after the end of World War II in 1949.
Widar: Rebecca, we do have a president in Germany. But the political power lies in the hands of…?
Rebecca: The Chancellor!
Widar: Correct.
Rebecca: But Germany has a president, right?
Widar: Yes, and that’s a good point. While the president still has political power as the head of state, proposing an individual as Chancellor, appointing him or her to the office, and appointing and dismissing the remaining members of the Federal Government, in practice, his role is a more ceremonial, non-political one.
Rebecca: Oh, okay. So he’s there mostly as a symbol.
Widar: Right.
Rebecca: And the political party system is different from that of the US. Instead of a bipolar political party system, Germans established five major parties.
Widar: Christian democrats and Social democrats are the biggest ones, the so called big tent parties, followed by the Liberals, Environmentalists, and the Party of the Left. Because no political party attains more than fifty percent of the seats in the German parliament, they form coalitions in order to be able to govern.
Rebecca: This past term, both big tent parties governed together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, the first woman to hold this position, being a member of the Christian democrats.
Rebecca: How old do people have to be in Germany to vote, by the way?
Widar: Eighteen is the age that people can vote.
Rebecca: Okay, this matches with many countries where you have to be around eighteen to twenty to vote.
Widar: There are some generational trends that I want to talk about too. German society is changing in a lot of ways.
Rebecca: So a lot of people probably aren’t doing things the way their grandparents or even parents did before them.
Widar: Yes. And it’s quite rational. Times are changing and keeping up with the newest trends seems to be the ultimate goal of the younger generations. It surely is a lack of loyalty if the younger ones change their companies, friendships, and relationships every so often, but on the other hand, the older generations never had to deal with a globalized world economy and its opportunities, but also negative effects on the domestic labor market.
Rebecca: Yeah. People used to have more support from their families and co-workers. It seems like they’re losing bonds today.
Widar: Maybe. But it’s a totally different mindset nowadays, because I think attitudes are changing.
Rebecca: Definitely. These days it doesn’t seem like changing jobs, friends, or the city that you live in is really a big deal anymore. If there’s something that they’re not satisfied with, they’ll find a new company to work for, new friends to talk to, or new cities to live in.
Widar: Yeah, you might be able to say that they have more of their own interests in mind. Going back to the marriage trends that we talked about earlier, they’re waiting longer and longer to get married and have children, partly because they have their own interests in mind.
Rebecca: Members of the older generation might see this as being selfish, though. But it will be interesting to see how the generations continue to change.
Widar: Well, that was our glimpse into the Germany of today.
Rebecca: We hope you’ve learned a lot! We certainly covered a lot of information.
Widar: Yes, and you get to know more on the next All About German lesson at GermanPod101.com. So, stop by GermanPod101.com and pick up the lesson notes.
Rebecca: It has the conversation transcript.
Widar: Vocab, sample sentences and a grammar explanation
Rebecca: And a cultural insights section.
Widar: Seeing the German…
Rebecca: really helps remember faster.
Widar: But don’t take our word for it. Please have a look for yourself.
Rebecca: And let us know what you think.
Widar: Thank you for listening
Rebecca: See you next time!
Widar: Auf Wiedersehen!
Rebecca: Goodbye!