City Dispatch: Berlin

City Dispatch: Berlin

Germany counts about 600,000 interns. German interns are skilled, highly educated and often have a proven track record of work experience. To the majority of us, these people might sound like the perfect candidates for full-time positions. However, in Germany they’re most likely to be hired as low-cost interns.

Interns are cheap, digitally savvy and, given their grade of education, they’re probably not utterly stupid. Put simply, they’ll for sure know how to get work done.




Monika Kanokova

As you can read in various start-up orientated media, no-one’s got the money to hire people to make coffee. To me, this kind of argument sounds as if interns could indeed contribute with their knowledge and have the skills to do much more; not just the oft-mentioned cup of coffee.

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that, years ago, when the German government announced their decision to establish a minimal salary of 8,50 per hour, many companies – especially start-ups – began to protest. From 2015 on, full time interns were supposed to earn about 1.400,- Euro gross, which especially in Berlin, is not that much less (or in some cases, even more) than what many fully employed people earn.

For many years, Berlin’s sold itself for being cheap but sexy and a city where everything goes – including low salaries. Although prices might be lower than in other European capitals, most people who live and work here would probably agree that the price level has been on a steep rise. Often, without the parental help, living in the German capital wouldn’t be doable.

In Berlin, being part of a start-up is considered hip and cool. Many young people want to be part of the scene so badly, that they’d accept payment that’s close to nothing. It’s a salary that hardly pays for an individual, even less encourages you to become part of a community and imagine yourself to stay here after you’re done with partying.

"In Berlin, being part of a start-up is considered hip and cool. Many young people want to be part of the scene so badly, that they’d accept payment that’s close to nothing."

So far, the main counter argument presented in the media has been raised by start-ups and small companies that say how much time they’d spend on teaching an intern all the essentials. In an industry that has hardly surpassed its teenage years, it’s hard to say that an intern couldn’t learn most of the things in a shorter amount of time than what an established corporation takes to on-board their new hires. This argument seems to be even more applicable given that in many start-ups every morning feels a little bit like an utterly new beginning. Kick-off meetings would often be used to discuss what people on the team read before they decide what they’d like to try out. No one’s got a real guarantee what will work or not. It’s all about a hands-on approach and a forward thinking attitude. In a start-up there’s no space for defined job-titles or tasks. Everyone does everything and hustles as much as they can.

Somehow, my common sense tells me that this might unearth a deeper rooted issue. If interns earn more money, how can businesses defend how little they pay to all their other employees?

The question really is, how much longer will Berliners want to earn a salary that doesn’t allow them to grow up, have kids and become stable? It might have been ok in times when Berlin partied hard and behaved like a teenager, but the time seems to be over. The city’s growing up and the government’s just encouraging people and businesses to do so too.

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