02-06-2007, 08:48 AM
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Germany's Brain Drain - auf Wiedersehn Deutschland
Germany Agonizes Over Brain Drain
Educated Professionals Leaving Germany
The Thoma family — from left, Constantin, Petra, Benedikt and Domink — is planning to move to Canada. photo: NYT
ESCHBORN, Germany, Feb. 3 — Benedikt Thoma recalls the moment he began to think seriously about leaving Germany. It was in 2004, at a New Year’s Day reception in nearby Frankfurt, and the guest speaker, a prominent politician, was lamenting the fact that every year thousands of educated Germans turn their backs on their homeland.“That struck me like a bolt of lightning,” said Mr. Thoma, 44, an engineer then running his family’s elevator company. “I asked myself, ‘Why should I stay here when the future is brighter someplace else?’ ”
In December, as his work with the company became an intolerable grind because of labor disputes, Mr. Thoma quit and made plans to move to Canada. In its wide-open spaces he hopes to find the future that he says is dwindling at home. As soon as he lands a job, Mr. Thoma, his wife, Petra, and their two teenage sons will join the ranks of Germany’s emigrants.
There has been a steady exodus over the years, but it has recently become Topic A in a land already saddled with one of the most rapidly aging and shrinking populations of any Western nation. With evidence that more professionals are leaving now than in past years, politicians and business executives warn about the loss of their country’s best and brightest.
Among the more popular programs on German television is “Goodbye Deutschland!: The Emigrants,” a 12-part series chronicling several families who have forsaken Germany for South Africa or southern Spain.
The trigger for this latest bout of angst was the release last fall of new government statistics showing that 144,800 Germans emigrated in 2005, up from 109,500 in 2001. At the same time, only 128,100 Germans returned, a decline of nearly 50,000 from the year before. That made it the first year in nearly four decades that more people left than came home.
Demographic experts also say the nature of the emigrants is changing. These are not just young unskilled workers like those who fled the economically blighted eastern part of Germany after the country was reunified in 1990 to work in restaurants in Austria or Switzerland.
They are doctors, engineers, architects and scientists — just the sort of highly educated professionals that Germany needs to compete with economic up-and-comers like China and India.
“It’s not a problem of numbers as much as brain drain,” said Reiner Klingholz, the director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. “What we desperately need in the near future are talented and qualified people to replace those who will retire in 15 to 20 years.”