Sunday, November 11, 2012

Empty Suburbs--the Changing Demographics of Germany

Der Spiegel reports:
One-third of all of the residential structures in western Germany are single- or two-family homes built between 1950 and 1978. These were the dream houses meant to offer their owners peace, quiet and financial security. But now Germany is undergoing a generational change. There are fewer young people and more old ones, and grandma's little house has gone from being a wise investment to a money loser.

One can already see the signs of this tectonic shift in Altenwalde. It isn't everywhere, but it still can't be missed. There are houses with empty window panes, closed shutters, empty driveways and overgrown gardens. These are symptoms of being vacant or of only being inhabited by a single, usually elderly person who cannot afford to, doesn't have the energy to or simply doesn't care to keep things up. Indeed, demographic change has arrived in Germany's famously idyllic suburbs.

"Whoever built in the '70s and later continued to invest cannot assume that the investments will pay off," says Hildegard Schröteler-von Brandt, a professor of architecture and urban planning at the University of Siegen, in western Germany, in describing the situation in more and more communities. In many rural regions and small cities, she continues, there is no guarantee that selling one's house will provide enough money to pay for a room in a retirement home. This is a problem for the inhabitants of such homes because simply continuing to live as they have been offers no solution either.

"Many older people living alone are overwhelmed by their houses and property," Schröteler-von Brandt says. "Some are forced to ask savings banks for a loan in order to buy heating oil for the winter."

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