Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My wife and I were both born in Berlin and worked in Berlin for 9-10 years. When we were both 27, we left Germany to immigrate to the US. We have German and American citizenship and have paid in enough to qualify for pensions from both countries ($3500 in America, €500 in Germany). We are looking to retire in Germany at age 65, three years from now. Before we left, we had been paying into the Berliner AOK (Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse). We would like to know how much it would cost us per month for basic GKV and the supplemental disability and nursing home insurance.
Dear Ralph: Health insurance bureaucracy in Germany doesn’t get any simpler after retirement. Especially for returning prodigal sons and daughters who left back in the 1970s. The AOK is the biggest Gesetzliche Krankenkasse (GKV) or statutory health insurance provider, but the same rules apply to all GKVs. Pensioners insured this way fall into two categories: pflichtversichert (mandatorily insured) and freiwillig versichert (voluntarily insured). The problem is that pensioners can only be pflichtversichert if they were insured with a GKV for “at least nine-tenths of the second half of one’s working life”. The benefit of this is that if you have a German state pension, the pension fund will pay for half of the health insurance contribution (15.5 percent of your monthly income).
Since you are not eligible for this, you would have no option but to sign up for the “voluntary” insurance status. Of course, health insurance is not voluntary – you have to have it. Here, too, the person on the Krankenkasse’s hotline will probably be a total dick and very likely lie to you (either out of ignorance or as a deliberate strategy of misinformation to exclude undesirable pensioners) and say that you’re not eligible since you haven’t worked in Germany in the last five years. With voluntary status, you have to pay the entire 15.5 percent of your income (on pensions, investments, etc.). And even if you have a lower income, there is a minimum payment of about €350 per month including the mandatory Pflegeversicherung (nursing home insurance). The exact contribution you would pay is impossible for me to calculate here, but it would be at least €700 per month for the two of you. The other option would be private insurance. Till not long ago, private insurance was impossibly expensive for older people, but thanks to a recent change in the law, private providers must offer a “basic” plan with comparable conditions to the Krankenkassen. One thing is for sure: don’t let anyone tell you aren’t going to get into the gesetzliche Krankenkasse. As German citizens, they can’t refuse you – just cite the 2007 Krankenversicherungsgesetz, which will make them realise they’re not dealing with a clueless amateur.
The application process is bureaucratic sadism: you’ll have to outline how you were insured in your entire time abroad and might have to dig up proof that you were in the AOK when you were living here in the 1970s. This can take weeks or months, but once you’re in, you’re in. Even if you go bankrupt for whatever reason, you can go on welfare and the Sozialamt will pay your insurance premium. Not an appealing thought, but better than destitution. Good luck to you, Ralph. P.S., AOK has an English hotline: 0049 9131 9242 10 128.
I would like to found an English-speaking club in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (perhaps called Friedrichsholt/Crosspile?). You have any idea how to do that? I would like to attract native English speakers, not Germans looking for free English lessons.
Dear Christoph: Don’t be a loser, man. Interesting people don’t go to clubs like that. Desperate, socially stunted people do. If you set up a weekly Stammtisch for English speakers, only Germans will show up. And the name of your club is not gonna cut it. We Germans are turned on by gimmicky bilingual puns, but “Crosspile” sounds more like an orgy for Catholics than a language tandem meet-up. Instead of going through the hassles of this club thing, check the Exberliner online calendar or Facebook for English-language events: everything from Alcoholics Anonymous to death metal whisky tastings, stand-up comedy to creative writing groups, all already exist in English here. Find your own scene and start talking.
Originally published in issue #133, December 2014.