Ralf Heinrich first realized his tour company was in trouble in
the summer of 2002. Americans, who represented close to half his
turnover, were staying home after Sept. 11, 2001, and his company's
English-language historical tours of central Munich were sparsely
So the German entrepreneur started thinking what services he
could offer that would be more in demand. Since last month, instead
of whisking camera-toting travelers to the Alps, he has provided
home-care workers for Munich's increasing ranks of seniors.
"Before I started this," says Mr. Heinrich, "I had no idea about
caring for the elderly, but I am good at managing a small business.
I jumped in because it is very attractive from the perspective of
growth potential.... There are seniors everywhere in ever-
increasing numbers. One doesn't have to travel too far to find
In catering to the elderly, Heinrich has joined a wave of new
companies in a sector that is among the few growing in Germany's
struggling economy. The numbers of retirement homes, home-care
services, and hospitals serving the elderly in Germany have risen 20
percent since 1996, according to the country's national statistics
office. During that same period, capacity in the country's senior-
care facilities, including private as well as government, church,
and charity operations, has grown by more than 46 percent.
Germany's combination of rising life expectancy and low birth
rate means that by 2050, more than 1 in 10 Germans will be
octogenarians or older, compared with 4 percent today, according to
the central office. While the birth rate - currently at 1.38
children per woman - is higher than that of Italy and Spain, two
other countries on a continent with aging populations, the
demographic trend of a growing group of elderly has been developing
in Germany since World War II.
"The trend in aging is to be seen elsewhere in Europe," says
Holger Jenrich, editor in chief of Altenpflege, a trade journal
devoted to senior care, but in Germany it's "especially dramatic."
He adds, "The effects are already becoming apparent. We are in a
situation where we need to build even more retirement homes and we
need even more companies caring for the elderly."
But staffing could be an issue. Otherwise thin want-ad sections
here are full of offers for retirement-home nurses, in-house care
assistants, and even students to help elders with shopping.
Efforts to train workers for the industry are being stepped up.
But more than 80 percent of those trained soon quit because of the
strenuous work and the poor pay, says Mr. …