Germany - a digital third world country

Sep 8, 2018 13:56 · 1242 words · 6 minute read

I have lived in Germany all my life. It is a great country, offering superior healthcare, social services, wealth, high living standards, you name it. However, there is one domain where Germany is behind, which is digitalization.

Germany is known for it’s high tech industry and while we are vastly exporting high tech goods, we decline to establish the same in our own society. I don’t know the reasons for this, but I want to share my observations and thoughts about this topic.

Digital Services

For legal matters, in Germany emails, texts, etc. are not yet approved by courts. The only legally regarded form of information transfer is a letter, issued as “Einschreiben”, meaning the sender will get the signature of the person receiving it via a return letter. This practice has the flaw that while delivery can be proven, the contents of the envolope can not. The receiver can state the envelope was empty.

While emails provide a digital trace, and a mail provider could easily provide proof of the reciept of an email, this is not accepted by courts in Germany.

A similar thing is happening with signatures, altough this is a worldwide flaw I guess. For legally binding statements, one has to provide a sigature, which in most cases is just a scribble on a piece of paper. But why do we rely on that, when there are methods where it is mathematically proven that the owner of a private information (the private key) has consented to something? For me it makes perfect sense to accept PGP or S/MIME instead of signatures since they technically are much more advanced.

Electromobility

Germany has a strong car industry. Unfortunately, the same mostly relies on combustion engines. We’re good at engineering and building complex engines and gearboxes that are necessary for fossil fuel driven cars. However, electric power trains are much more easy to build and less maintenance-intensive. A horrific idea for car manufacturers that their beloved combustion engines could be replaced by something cheaper with less follow-up costs. I believe this is the reason that car lobby is strongly affecting Greman politics to slow down change to electromobility.

I live in a pretty new house which was built about five years ago. There is a garage attached to the building and tenants can rent a parking spot there. However, there is not a single electric socket in the walls. Not even a 230 V socket to power my toaster. If I wanted a socket to be able to charge my electric vehicle, I would need the approval of all owners to be able to get a charging port installed at my own cost. Since I don’t plan to live here long term, this is not an option.

This example shows that it is just too complicated in Germany to enable the possibility to charge your electric vehicle at home. Public charging stations exist, but are in questionably maintained. It is not unusual that a public charging pole is not usable for two months. Electric vehicle drivers have to rely on crowd sourced databases to find working charging poles and avoid planning routes with defect ones. The only exception might be Tesla, who really makes an effort to maintain a functioning set of super chargers.

If one is interested in buying an electric vehicle, governmental support is very limited. 4000 EUR is the total discount for an electric vehicle currently. For most people, this does not enable electric vehicles to be an option in comparison to well subsidized cumbstion vehicles. I expect Germany to be one of the countries with the smallest electric vehicle share in the future.

Going Cashless

Germans love cash. No country in the EU is more reliant on cash payments than Germany. I don’t understand this affinity and I personally don’t use cash when it’s not abselutely necessary.

Cash flow has disadvantages both for businesses and customers. First of, a customer has to make the detour to his bank ATM to physically retrieve the cash he is going to spend. Often, only a limited number of ATMs provide free withdrawals, depending on the bank where one has an account. At the store, counting cash takes up a long time and with the ridiculous small denomination of down to 1 ct pieces, I’ve seen people taking minutes to pick the correct coins out of their wallets. The same goes for the cashier, who has to count the received bills and coins and count the change again. This takes up an incredible long time and in terms of economy, directly increases costs. Now the merchant has to perform a regular reckoning, where the cash is counted again before being transferred to a bank. Transfer is mostly done by third party agencies with money transporters. Both reckoning and transport increase cost dramatically for a business. Now, the cash is deposited at the bank again, where the customer withdrawed it at the very beginning of this story.

Now it should be clear that this huge detour is of no use for anyone. The only argument I see is anonymity in cash payments. At the same time, cash can easily be stolen since the sole posession of a bill is a sufficient authorization.

By paying by card, this huge detour can be avoided. Money is directly transferred from the customer’s to the business’ account while a transfer fee is applied. End of story. Also, I really enjoy all my transactions being logged since I get a much better feel on what I spent in which domain. My transactions are automatically categorized and I have an always up to date statistic on my spending behaviour. For me it’s worth swallowing the pill of my bank knowing my spending behaviour as well. Additionally, card transactions (sometimes over a certain amount) need to be authorized by a pin code, which already is significantly more secure than cash payments.

Now in Germany cards are only accepted in bigger restaurants or super market chains. Smaller businesses often refuse card payments at all or require a minimal amount of 10 EUR, sometimes 20 EUR before accepting cards. This really bothers me, since in neighbouring countries it is completely normal to buy your 1 EUR coffee with card. If you ask for the same in a German bakery, expect to be thrown out.

Internet Access

Many rural areas in Germany are not sufficiently connected to the internet. I doubt that it is sensible to instruct a private company (Telecom) with the operation of a crucial infrastructure like internet access. In Germany this lead to the fact that many rural areas are not having bandwidths above 1 MBit/s. This is not sufficient for most businesses. Even in big cities, speeds of 50 MBit/s count as high speed. Many other countries, including third world countries, are way ahead in terms of internet access.

The same goes for mobile service. There are areas with no reception at all in Germany. In rural areas, EDGE is the fastet mobile data service which is available. LTE is often only available in cities. I can tell from experience when I’m riding a train between Ulm and Basel, I don’t have mobile service for over one hour. I can directly compare this to Bali, Indonesia where I spent my holiday last year. There, LTE is covering almost the whole island. I wonder why Germany as a developed country struggles so much to provide a sufficient LTE coverage.