By Martha Huber
The weather has been wunderbar in Germany! On the third day of our study abroad program, we toured the vast Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) located in the center of historical Berlin.
The two buildings housing the museum are attached by a quiet, yet massive courtyard. One building of the museum, the Zeughaus (armory house) houses the permanent exhibits and is considered the most important preserved baroque building in Berlin. The permanent exhibit is organized in chronological order dating back some 2000 years in German history. Photography is not allowed, so the image above is from the museum’s website.
Walking through the courtyard, one then enters the other exhibition hall designed by the Chinese American architect, I.M. Pei, well known for designing the glass pyramid at the Louvre. With its glass walls and modern architecture, the hall is in stark contrast to the Zeughaus hall. Inside the exhibition hall, our tour guide walked us through the current exhibit, Sparen Geschichte Einer Deutschen Tugend (Saving – History of a German Virtue).
One can see, touch, and hear how Germany’s historical virtue of saving came to be and how deeply rooted it is not only in its citizens, but also in its government through the beginning of the idea, rooted in the Enlightenment, and beyond during the darkest times of Germany’s history.
Much of this concept of saving, thus frugality, is deep-seeded in German culture, which plays a role in how other countries in the European Union and the world have viewed this behavior, especially during the euro crisis. The exhibit, which runs from March through May, includes historical items such as controversial advertising, posters, as well as savings boxes and booklets.
German households compared to U.S. households have a much higher net savings of disposable income as this chart shows.
As a country known for higher average household savings compared to the U.S., I asked our tour guide, Christin, about individual household giving by Germans. I was surprised to find that she just didn’t understand the concept of private citizens giving money directly to charities, but instead explained (in her opinion) that the German government takes care of this through the citizens paying 40 percent in income taxes.
According to data collected by the German Donation Council, 3.1 billion euros were donated by 17.8 million Germans in the first nine month of 2016. While 2015 was the only year this amount was higher due to the refugee crisis and the Nepal earthquake, the percentage of German households that donate cash is about 17 percent according to European Research Network on Philanthropy (ERNOP).
The museum’s temporary exhibit on Sparen Geschichte Einer Deutschen Tugend (Saving – History of a German Virtue) gave us an insight into German society’s history and social behaviors about saving.
Saving goes without saying in Germany.
Martha Huber is the assistant to the dean at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She is part of a group of students currently studying abroad in Berlin. The study abroad program provides a firsthand learning experience in philanthropy and public policy in Germany.