RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Germany's economy is looking a bit brighter. Unemployment has fallen, but Germans are leaving. Emigration has reached a rate not seen in 50 years. It's so widespread there are now TV shows dedicated to the phenomenon.
Susan Stone reports.
SUSAN STONE: When he lived in Berlin, 31-year-old photographer Juergen Horn(ph) took lots of gray-toned images of the graffiti-covered crumbling eastern part of the city. But hundreds of other artists were doing the same thing, so Horn moved to the greener shores of rural Ireland. His photos became brighter. Lush landscapes added valuable variety to his portfolio. Horn's economic prospects improved as well. He started two Internet companies.
Mr. JUERGEN HORN (Photographer): Setting up a business in Ireland is much easier because Germany is bureaucratic, and tax-wise, it's much less than what you have to pay in Germany for example.
STONE: Horn is one of 155,000 Germans who left the country in 2006, according to the latest numbers from the German government. Germany is the largest country in the E.U., but the population is shrinking. Even the traditional influx of immigrants coming to Germany from Turkey has fallen.
Sociologist Juergen Schupp of the German Institute for Economic Research, surveyed more than 2,000 Germans to see how many more were considering making a move.
Mr. JUERGEN SCHUPP (German Institute for Economic Research): You see that about two percent of our population are thinking of leaving the country really in the next 12 months. So that is a pretty high potential.
STONE: That doesn't mean that all those Germans will really take the plunge. Some may stay home but leave vicariously by watching reality shows that add to the emigration buzz.
"My New Life" shows the ups and downs of people relocating. Another show, "My New Job," flies contestants overseas to compete for an opening, like these three bakers sent to Australia.
(Soundbite of TV show, "My New Job")
Unidentified Man: (German language spoken)
STONE: One reason so many people are leaving Germany is that the European Union encourages workers to move between member states. Other European countries like Great Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands are also seeing record-breaking emigration figures. Many people from those countries are coming to Germany.
Linda Eilers left Holland for Berlin in 2006 to open a sewing cafe called Linkle. Holland has a solid economy and a good job market, but Eilers says if she'd opened her sewing cafe in the Dutch city of Utrecht she'd have to commit to a five year lease and pay 100,000 euros in start-up money.
Ms. LINDA EILERS (Owner, Linkle Sewing Cafe): And here, with 5,000 euros, I can start my own company. And I think that's a reason that a lot of young Dutch people are moving, not only to Germany but their emigration is quite high on the young Dutch people. Because of this reason, there are no possibilities for your own creativity.
STONE: Researcher Juergen Schupp says newcomers like Eilers will make up for lost tax revenue, and a potential brain drain of skilled workers will be held at bay, at least for a while.
Mr. SCHUPP: There will be a problem in about 20 years. In some areas it's already starting. And even Germany is looking with a so-called green card debate for high-qualified people in some specialized areas where there's already a shortage of labor.
STONE: But he's optimistic that Germans' experiences working abroad will make them more open. Schupp says they will bring new skills with them when they return home. But for photographer Juergen Horn that won't be anytime soon. In fact, he's left Ireland and moved on to sunnier shores.
Mr. HORN: I'm in Spain now, yes, and I just can't see myself going back to Germany right now.
STONE: Horn says that while the bureaucracy is worse in Spain, the food and the weather are better.
For NPR News, I'm Susan Stone in Berlin.
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