Transplanted Germans Lose Their Perks

Originally published in the International Herald Tribune, Saturday, January 22, 1994

By Ann Brocklehurst

DOING one’s patriotic duty is more commonly associated with financial sacrifice than with earning piles of money. But for West Germans who moved East to help with their country’s reconstruction, the personal economic rewards were often large. Organizations in both the public and private sectors offered the Western “pioneers” fat salaries, extra hardship pay, generous housing allowances and free flights home.
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Now, however, the benefits are running out and, much to many Easterners’ delight, “Wessies” are having to learn to live more like the locals or go home.
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Commerzbank cut the bonus paid to its Western employees in Eastern Germany to 15 percent of their normal salary from 20 percent effective Jan. 1. It will drop further to 10 percent next year and be entirely phased out in 1996. Commuter managers who used to fly home at company expense every weekend are now limited to two flights a month if married and one if single. In winter, however, when the roads are considered dangerous for driving, they are still allowed to fly weekly with return tickets usually costing 600 Deutsche marks to 800 DM ($345 to $650).
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Only 100 of the bank’s 700 West Germans in Eastern Germany are considered permanently transferred employees working on a standard contract. But a bank spokesman, Dennis Phillips, said that over the next few years there would be more of this type of appointment as Commerzbank tries to eliminate the divisions between Eastern and Western employees.
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For Westerners who have moved East for good, one of the hardest perks to lose is the housing allowance. With a severe housing shortage in the entire region, including the new capital Berlin, it was extremely difficult to quickly find a family apartment for less than 3,000 DM a month. In many cases, rents have been subsidized by as much as 75 to 100 percent, but that benefit is now running out and its recipients must learn to compete on the housing market like everyone else.
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At the same time, the bureaucrats’ “bush pay” has also been slashed by more than 50 percent. The tax-free allowances, offered by the government to tempt traditionally immobile Germans to move East, were as high as 2,500 DM a month.
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While staying on means living on a much tighter budget, going home poses its own problems. The first civil servants to move back West found not only their old jobs but sometimes their old desks occupied. They also griped that colleagues failed to appreciate the work they had done in the East and did not offer them suitably challenging new positions. Wiltrud Kerstein, head of the German Civil Servants Association’s eastern division, says, however, that the number of complaints has recently fallen off sharply.
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At the Treuhand, the temporary agency set up to take charge of privatizing the East German economy, many of the middle management jobs will simply disappear as the agency winds down for the end of 1994.
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The Treuhand faced much criticism for the generous contracts it offered, especially since many of the yuppie beneficiaries were seen as responsible for the large-scale layoffs and unemployment in the East. But Horst Föhr, the personnel director, said that, overall, the terms of employment were justified. Management consultants, fresh out of university, earn 80,000 to 110,000 DM per year at private firms and legal specialists earn 90,000 DM, he said. He pointed out that the Treuhand had to compete with these firms for qualified personnel while offering only temporary contracts since the agency’s lifespan had always been limited.
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Tobias Hundertmark, a West German who ended up in charge of selling forest product firms, had two years of experience at Price Waterhouse Management Consultants in Hamburg before he joined the Treuhand. He estimates that including the value of his housing allowance, his salary rose 70 percent in his first one and a half years.
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One Treuhand employee whose future remains unclear, however, is the agency’s president, Birgit Breuel. Asked at the new year’s press conference what she had planned, Miss Breuel, a former state economics minister, replied that she needed some time off to reflect on her Treuhand experiences before deciding.