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Ask Hans-Torsten: A prosperous new year

Hans-Torsten Richter gives you advice on surviving and thriving in Berlin. This month: what to look forward to in 2017, bureaucratically speaking.

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Following 2016, that most unsettling of years, the German state will throw us a small financial bone in 2017 to distract us from all the horror and inequality in the world. It’s an election year after all, so we the Volk will be getting a few – admittedly minor – perks from the powers that be. Here are the highlights.

Minimum wage: Low-wage workers, rejoice! Mutti Merkel has a gift for all you baristas and cleaners out there: on January 1, Germany’s minimum wage jumped from €8.50 per hour to €8.84. It still won’t apply for freelancers, kids under 18 and, weirdly, newspaper deliverers, who’ll continue to get €8.50 until 2018.

Tax relief: In 2017 the personal tax-free allowance (steuerliche Grundfreibetrag) goes up from €8652 to €8820 per year, while the tax-free child allowance goes up by €108 to €4716 per year, meaning a single parent will be able to earn up to at least €13,536 per year tax-free. Unfortunately, the bulk of your paycheck deductions – including pension contributions, health insurance and unemployment – do not count as “taxes”. And so low earners will continue to pay a much larger proportion of their income for social security then high earners, for whom pension contributions are capped at a certain monthly income level (€5700 in eastern Germany, including Berlin).

Euros for breeders: Despite the gruesome state of the world, you should consider having children this year if you don’t have any yet: Parents get to treat themselves with a bottle of Augustiner at the Späti with the extra €2 per kid they’ll be getting since monthly Kindergeld went up to €194 at the beginning of January. Your third child will be worth even more, €198 per month, while kid number four scores you €223!

Biking with the brats: This next piece of news is a blessing or a curse, depending on whether or not you’re a parent. Children under eight years of age are not permitted to ride their bikes (or those annoying kamikaze trainer bikes for toddlers plaguing Prenzlauer Berg) in the street, only on the footpath. But up till now, parents had to ride on the street or else get fined by the Ordnungsamt for riding on the sidewalk. As of 2017, mum and dad can ride alongside the brats on the pavement.

Halloween off : This year October 31, a Tuesday, has been declared a bank holiday in Berlin. Nothing to do with ghouls and goblins. No, it’s Reformation Day. Normally not a holiday here (despite being one in surrounding Brandenburg), this year’s celebration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s historic nailing of his 95 Theses onto a church door in Wittenberg has been deemed significant enough even for ultra-secular Berliners to get a day off .