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Eurozone crisis

Southern Europeans flock to German classes

German is often considered a difficult language with very confusing rules of grammar. But the European debt crisis seems to help German to some sort of a renaissance. Language courses are in high demand.

It's three p.m. at the adult evening education center VHS in Hamburg. A long line of people has formed and one after the other, they take a number from the machine and join the crowd already sitting in the waiting room ready to register for the German language classes. Over the next three hours, Anna Neves from VHS and her four colleagues will work non-stop.

"The demand for language classes started rising about a year ago," Neves said. "Every day, we are now dealing with an average of 100 people who we consult and whose language skills we assess."

In comparison to 2010, the number of applications for German classes has increased by 30 percent at the center in Hamburg. Neves said people from southern European euro crisis countries, in particular, are now coming to learn German.

"Many come to us from the Spanish-speaking world, from Spain itself or from South America, who reside in Spain," Neves said, adding that Portuguese and Greeks didn't come at all in the past while now their number is also on the rise.

Large crowds at registration

The Office of Statistics for Hamburg confirms Neves' observations. In 2011, Hamburg saw a considerable rise in the number of residency registrations. Some 2,200 people moved to Hamburg, 600 more than in 2010, and most of them from Spain.

The air is stuffy in the waiting room at the education center. Susana Millan Prol holds a slip of paper with the number 78. There are 30 people still ahead of her. The 31-year-old came to Hamburg two months ago. "In Spain, I study tourism," she said, "but I only ever have a job in the summer. I came here to learn a bit of German. I believe that'll be good for me."

Future students at the VHS Hamburg
Photo: Kathrin Erdmann

Susana Millán Prol from Spain gets advice from Anna Neves from Hamburg education center

Lack of prospects

Prol is a student in Galicia, located in Spain's northwest near the Portuguese border. She decided to travel to Germany because of the debt crisis. Many of her friends have lost hope, she said.

"Young people in Spain have a very big problem," she said. "The companies don't have any jobs for them. I know engineers who work as cleaners in restaurants."

Prol said she also worked as a cleaner in Hamburg for a while, but she quit the job. She didn't like it because she was always alone. She asked in a restaurant if she could work as a waitress there. She said she wants to get to know people and learn German. For a 31-year-old, she lives a moderate life and can't afford many things. "I am staying with a family, but they're not from Germany, they're from Greece," she said, laughing.

Even simple jobs are in demand

While Prol has managed to get hold of a seat in the waiting room, Cecila Heras has to stand because there are not enough seats for everybody. Cecilia is from Ecuador and used to work as a nurse for the elderly in Spain. One year ago, she lost her job and moved in with her brother in Hamburg. "At the beginning, it was difficult, I didn't know anybody and only gradually managed to get the right contacts." Now she has a job as a housekeeper in a private household.

Juan Gomez, 27, is a trained chef and left his home two months ago. "Of course I'm here because of the crisis, but I also want to learn about the culture in other countries."

Juan Gomez and his girlfriend, Ledicia 
Photo: Kathrin Erdmann

Juan Gomez, a chef from Spain, brought his girlfriend Ledicia along

Searching for jobs from his home in Spain, he found one in a Galician restaurant in Hamburg. He now lives right above the restaurant. You can tell that Gomez is curious about life in Germany. But Juan is not worried about being lonely and he's not afraid of the dismal weather in Hamburg. "In Galicia, where I'm from, it's the same: rain, sunshine, rain, rain, cold".

At the Hamburg education center, the high demand for the six-week intensive German classes has meant that aspirants now have to wait two months instead of one. This means the new Hamburgers have to have some patience and determination. But in two months' time, they can get started: 16 hours of German every week, for six weeks. But if they want to reach a B1 level of fluency - able to have a simple conversation - they'll have to put in an entire year.

DW.DE