Saturday, August 22, 2009

We are leaving Germany!

We are planning to relocate to the UK after 11 years in Germany!

Although we love Germany, its culture, its cities and its people, we have finally made the difficult decision to move on to greener pastures. This decision was not an easy one as we are both very happy with the majority of things Germany has to offer and vice versa, what we 'would' like to offer Germany.

Since the "Hartz Reform" (The Committee for 'Modern Services' in the Labour Market) came into effect in 2002, the employment market in Germany has stagnated so badly that it's beginning to stink. Entrepreneurs are getting richer while proletarians are subjected to increasingly tougher employment conditions, finding themselves having to jump through ever tighter, often impossible, hoops.

In 2002, the committee devised thirteen "innovation modules", which suggested changes to the German labour market system.

These changes included the following key phases:

(Hartz I)
  • The foundation of "Personnel Service Agencies"
  • Support for vocational further education from the Job Agency (Arbeitsagentur)
  • Subsistence payments by the Job Agency

(Hartz II)

  • New types of employment, "Minijob" and "Midijob", with lower or gradually rising taxes and insurance payments
  • A grant for entrepreneurs, known as the "Ich-AG" (Me, Inc.)
  • A rise in the number of job centres

(Hartz III)

  • Came into effect on January 1, 2004. This measure was aimed at restructuring and reforming Job Centres, whose name was changed from the Federal Labour Institution, to Federal Labour Agency.

Today, many people in Germany are facing dire straights due to the detrimental effects caused by the reforms brought about by Peter Hartz, the former Personnel Director of Germany's Volkswagen PLC.

A very large proportion of Germany's working class are so badly discriminated against that the meaning of second class citizen has taken on a completely new dimension in Germany.

The first phase of the Hartz Reform saw countless numbers of private Personnel Service Agencies (Arbeitsvermittler / Headhunters) shooting up out of the ground. This was only to be expected as the reform introduced an enormous carrot into the equation - money and the notorious job placement voucher (Vermittlungsgutschein [aka. VGS])!

This voucher, worth 2000 Euros, is issued to a select number of entitled jobseekers, who in turn dangle the tantalising carrot in front of a private headhunter to motivate him/her to actively search for a job placement - if successful, the headhunter collects the 2000 Euro reward from the Federal Labour Agency.

Sadly today, the vast majority of all vacancy ads displayed on Germany's Federal Labour Agency Website are submitted by these carrot hungry, 'financially motivated' Headhunting Agencies. However, only a select few jobseekers are entitled to a job placement voucher (VGS) due to the Hartz reform - leaving many able bodied workers isolated, without hope and out of work.

Adieu, Lebe wohl Deutschland!

Additional Reading:
A report from 2004, shortly before the 4th stage of the Hartz Reform (Hartz IV) came into effect

German “labour reform”: all-out attack on the unemployed
By Dietmar Henning
20 July 2004

On July 9, the Upper House of Parliament voted through the so-called labour market reforms. With the agreement of the Upper House, a law that represents the greatest and most comprehensive change in German welfare legislation since the introduction of labour and social insurance by Bismarck in the nineteenth century passed its last parliamentary hurdle.

A week previously, the vast majority of factions in the Bundestag (Lower House) had already agreed to the bill. Not a single serious voice was raised against it. The vote resembled above all a conspiracy against the population. Although the two deputies from the Party of Democratic Socialism voted against it, their representatives in several state legislatures are already participating in preparations to implement the law.

When the law comes into force on January 1 next year, most of the more than 2 million long-term unemployed—those jobless for longer than a year—will receive far less money. Their entitlement will be reduced to an average of 345 euros a month, or 331 euros in East Germany. According to official calculations, half a million people will no longer qualify for any support on the basis of the new rules. The new law will drive millions of jobless and their families into bitter poverty.

Federal Economics and Employment Minister Wolfgang Clement (Social Democratic Party), whose post in the government was dependent on the passage of the law, even spoke of a “timely turn in the labour market.”

Even the name given to the new law—“unemployment benefit II”—is a fraud. In reality it is not a revised form of unemployment benefit but rather its abolition and transformation into social security, which is nothing other than a degrading pittance. In the future, those who have worked for many decades and lose their job through no fault of their own will be subject to the same humiliating conditions that apply to those drawing social security benefits.

The Labour Office will in the future demand the most detailed personal information from the unemployed. An example of the 16-page claim form that will have to be completed by those claiming benefits after July 19 can be found on the web site of the Federal Labour Agency. A claimant must not only provide detailed information about his own income, but also regarding the financial and personal situation of anyone living in the same household.

Means testing

Under the previous regulations, unemployment benefits were calculated according to the last net wage. The long-term unemployed, those out of work for more than one year, received 53 percent of their last wage. The income and property of a partner or others living in the same household was not taken into consideration. By paying contributions into the unemployment insurance scheme during his working life, an unemployed person had a legal claim to unemployment benefit. This legal claim is now void. Like social security, “unemployment benefit II” is means-tested, and entitlement is checked down to the last detail. The income and property of any partner living in the joint household will now be taken into account.

For this reason, the claim form asks for the “income and property of those living in the unemployed person’s household.” Current bank account statements—both of the claimant and any partner—are required, as are statements showing the level of any savings.

“Property” includes money held in all bank and deposit accounts, but also includes cash, a car (the claimant is asked for information about the make, model, age and estimated value), life insurances, building society accounts as well as “other property (e.g., precious metals, antiques, paintings)”.

Since the law does not contain any definitions of the term “property,” it will be at the discretion of the individual advisers at the local labour exchange whether the inherited coin collection, granny’s old sofa or the painting in the living room represents “property.” Also, what represents an “appropriate” vehicle, furniture, household goods or dwelling is left to the labour exchange. What size dwelling, what furniture, what car is appropriate for an unemployed person?

Depending upon the decision of the local labour exchange, the claimant must part with his “property.” Under the new regulations, a claimant can only receive benefits after using up any property valued over the basic allowance. In this way, it is estimated that some half a million people will be pushed off benefits.

An unemployed person and his or her partner can only receive benefits if their savings are below 2,000 euros for each year of their life (up to a maximum of 13,000 euros per partner). Additionally, a claimant may retain up to 750 euros for necessary acquisitions for each member of their household.

If an unemployed person has previously taken out capital-based life insurance for their old age they would have to cash this in prematurely and use up any proceeds—receiving far less than originally deposited. This fate will await quite a few, in view of the fact that some 70 percent of German citizens have taken out life insurance (one in two euros saved in Germany goes to the life insurers, who administer more than 600 billion euros).

The deputy chief at the Federal Labour Office, Heinrich Alt, announced that local agency workers will compare applicants’ data with pension insurers, health insurance companies and tax offices. If irregularities should emerge, “we may make house calls,” according to Alt.

In such circumstances, they may also take the physical and mental condition of any partner into account. The following questions about a partner must be answered by every claimant: “In your opinion, is he/she capable of gainful employment on the general jobs market for at least three hours daily?” If this is answered with “no,” then this must be justified. A partner who is likewise unemployed for over one year, and who has no other income and also possesses no “property,” can receive social security, which can also be paid for any children living in the same household.

While the monthly rate of “unemployment benefit II” for a single person is 345 euros in the west and 331 euro in the east, social security payments for children aged 14 is 207/198.60 euros and from age 15 276/264.80 euros. If two unemployed people live together and claim the new “unemployment benefit II,” both receive 90 percent of the monthly rate (310.50/297.90 euros).

Additional payments can be claimed by single parents, the disabled and pregnant women, as well as allowances for actual housing and heating costs—“insofar as they are appropriate”.

As with social security, the need to answer hundreds of detailed questions will deter many thousands from making a claim, especially considering the shame of involving others who may live in the household. For example, is it likely that an unemployed father would ask a son living at home to reveal his income to the labour exchange?

“Reasonable” offers of employment and sanctions

While many of those working in local labour exchanges are employed to control and observe the unemployed, the promise that the unemployed are not only in demand, but receive support, proves to be propaganda aimed at implementing the cuts. Each employment adviser will only have to look after 75 unemployed, rather than a hundred or more, promised economics minister Clement. This meant providing real assistance to the unemployed, not just administering unemployment, he claimed. In the meantime, the jobs agency is satisfied if it reaches a ratio of 1 advisor to 150 unemployed.

Furthermore, into which jobs are the unemployed to be placed? Given the lack of jobs, the new rule governing what constitutes a “reasonable” offer of employment represents the biggest change. Starting from January 1, 2005, any offer of work is considered “reasonable.” The unemployed can thus be forced to accept jobs that pay up to 30 percent below the union rate or the “usual local rate.” The unemployed person’s previous qualifications, the distance to a new workplace or less favourable working conditions are of no significance. For example, under the new rules a jobless computer science engineer from Hanover would have to accept a warehouse job in Stuttgart after being unemployed for one year.

If he were to reject this “reasonable offer of gainful employment,” the “unemployment benefit II” would be cut by 30 percent initially (approximately 100 euros) for three months.

Any further refusal of a job offer can bring a further reduction in benefits. At this stage, additional payments for single parents, the disabled, pregnant woman—as well as for accommodation and heating—can also be cut. If benefits are cut by more than 30 percent, the local labour exchange “can provide supplemental contributions,” for example, food coupons.

Young people aged 15 to 24 who reject a “reasonable offer of gainful employment” can lose all benefits for up to three months. They would merely receive their accommodation and heating costs, whereby the money is paid directly to the landlord. They can also request food coupons.

Asylum-seekers have long faced such degrading treatment. Now it is being expanded to cover millions of unemployed.

The passage of the law not only means a “timely turn in the labour market,” but also marks a new stage in the class struggle. Since the 1930s, the class character of society has rarely become so visible. In view of the refusal of the trade unions to seriously oppose such attacks, the ruling elite feels freed from all inhibitions. The employers’ associations are already demanding further cuts and a restriction on holiday entitlements.

In order to oppose this offensive, the working class needs a new party, which, on the basis of a socialist programme, places the interests of the population above the profits of the employers’ organisations.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tourism: Bucking the Trend

CouchSurfing the Financial Crisis Away

The tourism sector has been hit so badly by the financial crisis that airline companies are not the only ones flying low, or even worse - caught with their pants down.

Even 6-Star hotels have been reduced to dwelling places of demons where the bling of gold and marble arches wallow in the dusty decline.

Budget hotels, hostels and campsites on the contrary are holding on by the skin of their teeth but for how much longer can they hang in there? Not much longer one would assume!

The Federal Statistical Office in Wiesbaden, Germany announced last week (10 August 2009) that the number of foreign tourists travelling to Germany has fallen by 8% compared with figures for 2008. They also confirmed that the number of German nationals vacationing at home has increased by 5% in comparison with last year's figures.

Where will the buck stop?

Ironically, Michael Glos (Germany's former Economy Minister) made an anti-recessionary, protectionist rant in 2005 requesting all German holiday makers to remain in Germany and enjoy the German Baltic Sea or the Franconian wine region as opposed to escaping Germany for the warmer regions of the world such as the Caribbeans.

Who's bucking the trend?

While the tourism monster undergoes a global melt-down, CouchSurfers are bucking the trend and going from strength to strength - the network is growing quickly, adding about 2361 new members daily!

The international non-profit organisation,, connects travellers with locals in over 231 countries and territories around the world. Since 2004, members have been using their network to come together for cultural exchange, friendship, and learning experiences. Today, over a million people who might otherwise never meet are able to share hospitality and cultural understanding.

A graphic showing where CouchSurfers are registered

These exchanges are a uniquely rich form of cultural interaction. Hosts have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world without leaving home. 'Surfers,' or travellers, are able to participate in the local life of the places they visit. More and more people have the opportunity to travel, because 'surfing' dramatically lowers the financial cost of exploration.

CouchSurfers come from 62,002 different cities around the world and speak 1,272 unique languages.

CouchSurfing Statistics [See current statistics]
(Generated 16 August 2009)
  • Total CouchSurfers: 1,330,318
  • Successful Surf or Host Experiences: 1,357,650
  • Friendships Created: 1,532,420
  • Positive Experiences: 2,455,418
  • Countries Represented: 231
  • Cities Represented: 64,002
CouchSurfing is not just about finding free accommodation around the world; it's about making connections worldwide. CouchSurfers make the world a better place by opening their homes, their hearts and their lives. They open their minds and welcome the knowledge that cultural exchange makes available. They create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans, continents and cultures. CouchSurfing is not only changing the way we travel but also how we relate to the world!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Our First CouchSurfers

Our very first CouchSurfers arrived safely yesterday :)

Jason & Corina are a couple from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada, who are on day 32 of a one year journey around the world. They hope to relax from their years of school and work while enjoying an experience of a lifetime. They are traveling throughout Europe, Asia and South America during their 365 day travel odyssey.

Before their arrival in Germany, Jason & Corina visited Vancouver - Canada, NYC - US, London, York, Edinburgh & Belfast - UK.

Their overall itinerary, to name but a few, includes the following locations: Canada, US, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Hungary, Greece, Egypt, Croatia, Turkey, UAE, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Brazil, Chile & Peru.

Corina & Jason
- What a great couple

Upon their arrival at their CouchSurfing host, Jason made a lovely meal - A 'pasta with tomato & spinach' creation - mmm very tasty! It's a shame that Jason & Corina are not around for a little longer - we could get used to their culinary delights.

Mark welcomed Jason & Corina with a surprise greeting from BOB FM 99.9, which is one of the local radio stations in their hometown of Winnipeg, Canada - 4295 miles away!

Listen to Mark's greeting below

On their last evening with us, we ventured out with Jason, Corina and their flat nephew & nieces (Petroffs/Penners) to a quaint Vegan eatery (yoyo) in Berlin and had a great night out - the food was very tasty - Andrea enjoyed a cheese & spinach burger with chips and salad while Mark was mesmerized by a seitan cheese burger with chips and salad.

Corina with flat Penner nieces, Hannah, Ellie & Sasha
Jason with flat Petroff nephew & niece, Owen & Jane
- enjoying a ride on Berlin's S-Bahn (Fast train)

After two days of hosting Jason & Corina we are very sorry to see them leave and hope that we will see them again in Germany, the UK or Canada - they were both great to get along with.

We wish Jason & Corina lots of happiness, wonderful experiences and all the best for their remaining 11 months round the world journey.

Jason & Corina
-leaving Berlin on 15th August 2009

Their next stop is Holland - we will fervently follow their adventures via their blog and Facebook.

Thanks for staying with us Guys - you spiced up our week!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


There has been a recent report of an alleged incident in which a Moroccan-born man is suspected of raping a 29 year old Chinese woman in Leeds, UK - the man offered her free accommodation through

Read the full report here!

When CouchSurfing, your personal safety should always be paramount in every decision you make.

Read the safety features & advice provided by

Safety First!
Welcome to the world of hosting and surfing! Here are some safety features and tips that will help you make your hosting and surfing experience yet another safe and successful adventure. We encourage you to look over these features and guides before you surf or host as they will help you make safe, responsible choices about your connections.

Safety Features
Verified members are key to the community’s safety. When you see someone with a verified profile, it means a few different things. First, verified members have all made a donation to help CouchSurfing keep running, so you can feel confident that they care about the community. Second, they’ve confirmed both their name and physical location, so you can feel more comfortable that they are who they say they are. If you’d like to become a verified member, click the link above for more information!

References are an excellent indicator of the type of experience you can expect to have when interacting with a member. What do fellow members have to say about them? What kind of references do they leave for others?

The Vouching System is taken very seriously here at CouchSurfing. Users can only vouch for members that they have met face to face and feel are trustworthy people. Respecting the significance of vouching is essential to the integrity of the network.

Safety Guidelines
Safety for Surfers
When surfing, be aware of your surroundings. Your safety is your primary concern, and your responsibility.

Safety for Hosts
When hosting, evaluate your situation and your guest. Here are some things you might want to think about when meeting guests for the first time.

Use Your Common Sense
Safe surfing and hosting boils down to common sense. If you don't feel comfortable with something, don't do it! By using the features above you can help increase your awareness of potential guests and hosts, but the decision to host or surf is up to you. You never have to let someone into your house who you are not comfortable with, nor do you have to stay somewhere you feel uncomfortable. Make the best choice for you, and keep experiencing new cultures and people around the world!

UPDATE (15th August 2009):

Published Date: 15 August 2009
(Source: Yorkshire Evening Post)

Jury fails to reach verdict in Leeds 'couchsurf' rape trial

A Jury has been discharged after failing to reach a verdict in the trial of a man accused of raping a woman he met on a website.

Abdelali Nachet will remain in custody after the jury spent five-and-a-half hours deliberating but could not agree on a verdict.

Moroccan-born Nachet, 34, is accused of raping a woman from Hong Kong who spent a night at his flat in Moortown, Leeds. He denies the charge.

The pair had met on, which puts travellers in touch with people offering free accommodation.

In her evidence, the woman said she had been raped twice during a prolonged ordeal which lasted throughout her stay in March. She also said Nachet had threatened to kill her and then kill himself if she tried to escape from his flat on Cranmer Bank.

But in his defence, dad-of-one Nachet, a part-time chef, said the 27-year-old had "wanted lots of sex" and "loved it".

Judge Kerry Macgill discharged the jury yesterday and Nachet may now face a re-trial. The case will appear at Leeds Crown Court again on August 28.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Couchkartoffeln are busy in Berlin ...

We're getting a large amount of CouchSurf requests and seem to spend a lot of time trying to respond in a timely manner.

Berlin is a bustling place and obviously a popular place for Couch Surfers.. we've had requests from people arriving in Berlin within the next fews days but we've been forced to let these happy surfers down because our couch is booked for the next few days.

We've been approached by Couch Surers as far afield as Russia, Denmark, Greece, Canada & the US.

I wonder if we'll get this many requests once we've relocated to the UK?

Our First Guests - Only 3 days to go

Only 3 days to go - we're expecting our first couch surfing guests on the 13th of August 2009!

Corina & Jason from Canada will be staying with us for 3-4 days this week.

We hope they enjoy their stay with us and we're also hoping that we enjoy hosting them.

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