Amid the rush of the Christmas shopping season, a sound that has
increasingly supplemented the cha-ching of cash registers has been
the clang of spare change hitting the bottoms of Salvation Army
collection pots. Americans are one of the world's most generous
people, donating millions of dollars each year to philanthropic
causes at home and abroad.
In Germany, however, while charities are consistently praised,
they find it hard to tap into such a public spirit. With taxes
claiming nearly half their paychecks, many Germans feel justified in
expecting their government to be the sole caretaker of the needy.
Gunther Haase, an auto mechanic in his early 50s, is typical.
"Foundations can help," he says. "But the state has a job, and it
has to fulfill that job."
The sentiment reflects a nation that has over the decades become
accustomed to a social safety net that often precluded private
philanthropy. But with that net unraveling under the pressures of a
runaway budget deficit - parliament last month approved slashing $16
billion in pension and jobless benefits from next year's budget -
there is growing demand for private initiative, whether it be
donating to a university or homeless shelter, or volunteering at a
library or soup kitchen.
German philanthropy boasts a tradition going back to the 10th
century and flourished in the wealthy Hanseatic states during their
commercial heyday. But economic crisis in the 1920's, followed by 12
years of Nazi rule, sapped people's inclination to give.
The postwar welfare state further atrophied the charitable
spirit. In the former West Germany, citizens were coddled by
generous welfare benefits while enjoying one of the world's highest
standards of living. In East Germany, the Communist regime took care
of everything, if not very well. In both cases, the welfare state
dulled people's sense of a civil society.
"People ... expected the state to do everything. There is a
strong dependence mentality here," says Barbara Ammlung, a Dresden
lawyer who doubles as a volunteer fund-raiser with the city's
community foundation, one of only three in the country.
Although nearly a third of Germany's 10,000 foundations were
established this decade, they still play a marginal role in society
compared with other developed European countries and the United
According to the German Donating Institute in Krefeld, for
example, Americans made more than $80 billion in donations in 1997,
compared with $5.7 billion given by Germans. Per capita, Americans
give about $685 dollars per year compared with $97 in Germany. …