Already in the summer of 2023, Peter Kloeppel examined one of the great problems of our country in the then new 90-minute report magazine “Transilluminated”: german railway. At that time, clear reporting made it easy to understand what wasn't working, why, and what was missing to improve things. In the second edition “Exposed – What is happening in Germany?” (Thursday, January 11, 8:15 p.m., RTL), the focus now widens.

It is about staff shortages, bureaucracy, lack of rules and terrible infrastructure, which also includes slow digitalization. How could it happen that the country of thinkers and inventors became a vacillating and self-blocking republic? The film offers answers, and Peter Kloeppel explains them in an interview with Teleschau:

In your report you highlight the shortage of qualified workers, bureaucracy and poor infrastructure. Are these really Germany's biggest problems?

Peter Kloeppel: These are the three areas we all encounter all the time. You may wonder why no one wants to do this or that job. Or why everything works so slow and slow in public offices. Or the problems with the train and the works. Now it seems to us that Germany is incredibly slow at solving problems.

Do the mentioned problems have anything to do with each other?

Kloeppel: To some extent yes. For example, our bureaucracy and lack of digitalization are hindering the labor market. Skills are acquired too slowly, or the right people don't get the right jobs because bureaucracy makes it difficult, especially for immigrant citizens. If I look at the example of the many road construction sites: obviously we have enough excavators and road rollers, but there are no people to operate them.

“The work has to be worth it, otherwise we will have a system problem”

In the documentary they accompany artisans who cannot find apprentices. For example, you can make a lot of money with heating and plumbing technology. The work schedule is also good. Why doesn't anyone want to do the work?

Kloeppel: To be honest, I wonder that too. Over the last ten to fifteen years, statistically we have been waiting longer and longer for craftsman appointments. Obviously there is a lot of work to be done, but there is also a false image in society of what craftsmanship has become. In these jobs you no longer wear yourself out and have to leave with back problems after 20 years. 50 or 60 years ago, craftsmanship was often backbreaking work, but that is long gone. Technology and job profiles have changed too much for that.

Another cliché that you analyze in the film is the widespread opinion that working is not worth it because you can do it anyway with public money and subsidies and then rest. That's right?

Kloeppel: In our example, a family with two children in which only one of the parents works at the minimum wage is still about 500 euros more than a family in which both parents receive citizen benefits. However, this difference can be reduced if certain margins are exhausted. The system is certainly not perfect. One thing is clear: the State must take care of those who cannot work. These people need support. But our state must also do something to ensure that people find work and receive an adequate wage. The work really has to be worth it, otherwise we will have a problem in the system.

Just a few years ago we thought that work would soon disappear completely because we would be replaced by robots and artificial intelligence. Now everyone is surprised that we are desperately looking for staff. What went wrong in terms of prognosis?

Kloeppel: The idea that we will be replaced by robots and artificial intelligence is much older. I remember when I was a child, in the 60s, they told me: “When you get older, around 1980 or 1990 at the latest, people will only work two days. A machine will do the rest.” That definitely didn't happen. Machines make our work easier and will do so even more in the future. But they also help us focus on other tasks that we can also call work.

Kloeppel's advice: “We have to be much braver as a society”

Let's move on to the bureaucracy. In the film, a scientist who researches this area says that bureaucracy arises from the fear of being vulnerable and doing something wrong. That is why more and more rules and laws are needed to protect our systems. Is there any way out of misery?

Kloeppel: Yes, but it will be difficult. The problem is that the deeper you go into the bureaucracy, the harder it is to get out. And in Germany, unfortunately, we are very mired in bureaucracy. It also has to do with the psychology of the Germans, who want to do everything very precisely. We Germans hate mistakes. But that also means an extreme extension of official channels and testing procedures.

In other societies, for example in the United States and in all countries where startup culture is important, mistakes are celebrated as something from which we learn the most. Will we never see that kind of thinking here?

Kloeppel: Let's put it this way: there is a massive resistance in this country to seeing things, or, for that matter, life, this way. But I already have one or two generations that will come after me and who are already having an impact on society. I definitely see progress in the sense that young people are trying things and are less afraid of making mistakes. It used to be that if you made a mistake they would sue you and fire you. Today there is a little more openness to errors. We, as a society, must be much bolder in this regard.

Kloeppel: “Not everything is bad in Germany. What we lack, however, is the ability to look at things from a different perspective.”

Would we then have to close all the institutions and create them again, ideally with new people?

Kloeppel (laughs): We won't be able to do that, and it's not all bad for Germany. However, what we lack is the ability to look at things from a different perspective. That's why in the film we have positive examples of countries where everything is simpler. In Estonia, each citizen has a card that summarizes all the data. It serves as identification, driver's license and proof of health insurance. By the way, electronic prescriptions have existed in Estonia for a long time. Germany occupies one of the lowest places in terms of digitalization Europe. Because? Because we fear for data protection. But we don't see any possibility to improve the systems. In Estonia people say: because of data transparency, we also control the state. Because as a citizen you see what the State has seen of you. If you look at it that way, the problem seems completely different.

Kloeppel warns: “Then we Germans will be left behind”

Should more come from those in power in Germany?

Kloeppel: Sure, of course. Politics and institutions must lead the way. After all, that is where laws and regulations are made. However, there are only people there who have to show their own initiative, break with rigid systems and really want to change something. The saying: “It always worked that way and it always worked” will no longer be valid in the near future. If we don't change, we Germans will be left behind. About cultures that are faster and more flexible than us.

Are there any examples where processes in Germany have changed quickly and flexibly?

Kloeppel: Of course there are. Look how quickly we found digital conferencing or working from home during the pandemic. Both have completely changed our work life and the way we relate to each other, in a radically short time and in a completely lasting way. Why shouldn't we be able to do something like this elsewhere? I think young people will put a lot of pressure on us when it comes to digitalization, and that's a good thing.

There is the term “German angst.” Will we lose them to the younger generation or will our wavering nature continue?

Kloeppel: Fear has something to do with experience, also with history. I think we Germans showed a certain degree of caution when it came to revolutionary changes after World War II, and rightly so. But little by little we must learn to put aside this fear and take on more responsibilities. We have a new world order coming, with great powers operating differently. There we also have to be braver. Germany and the Germans could achieve a lot. We are a rich town with a lot of potential, industry and knowledge. We have all the options, now let's do it!

“No one comes to Germany for the big articles and regulations”

At the end of the film we see the Göttingen university hospital, which won a workplace award because it has a great welcoming culture towards new workers from other countries. Do we need more of this?

Kloeppel: In any case, the work there is exemplary. In the Göttingen clinics, the initiative of a few made a large institution suddenly show a friendly face. And this in a society like Germany, which tends to be seen as unwelcoming.

In the film it is said that many immigrants leave Germany because their professional qualifications are not recognized, everything is very bureaucratic and also because they suffer discrimination. Is Germany a xenophobic country?

Kloeppel: No! Of course, there are people everywhere who are not particularly open to strangers. Basically, I think Germany is an open country. But we are not the only ones in the world who are open. That is why we have to make a great effort to reach people from other countries and cultures. Nobody comes to Germany for the big articles and regulations.

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