How the pandemic is bringing German bureaucracy out of the 1980s

How the pandemic is bringing German bureaucracy out of the 1980s
The light of a fax machine, like those which were still used in the German Bundestag. Photo: DPA
Signs are emerging that the coronavirus pandemic is finally dragging Germany's notoriously sluggish administrative processes into the 21st century -- albeit one very small step at a time.

With coronavirus shutdowns exposing a catalogue of digital failings in schools, teachers in Berlin will get their own email addresses this year instead of having to use personal ones, local media reported on Tuesday.

If a pilot project started in December is successful, more than 33,000 teachers could be given a “business” email by the end of the year, according to the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

The addresses will somewhat ironically be provided by a company called mailbox.org founded in Berlin in 1989.

“Berlin is slowly approaching the technical level of 1996,” one Twitter user joked.

In another throwback to the 1980s, Berlin's Bundestag house of parliament announced last week that it would be doing away with fax machines.

The devices, which number around 1,600 and date back to the parliament's move to Berlin in the 1990s, will be phased out by the end of the next legislative period, according to the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

READ ALSO: Stuck in the 80s: 70 percent of German firms still use fax machines

Though known for being at the forefront of many technologically advanced industries, Europe's biggest economy has long been criticised for lagging behind when it comes to digitalisation.

According to a 2018 OECD report, “the uptake of the most recent digital technologies is slower than in other (member) countries, particularly among small and medium-size enterprises”.

The report criticised woeful broadband speeds and slow uptake of cloud and big data technologies, among other things.

The pandemic has highlighted slow digital progress at schools in particular, exposing a lack of Wi-Fi in classrooms and limited use of digital tools and media.

However, amid the pandemic, more bureaucratic processes in Germany continue to migrate online for the first time, including registering an address in some states, applying for Elterngeld, or parental benefits, and requesting sick leave.


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