Saturday, 29 August 2009

Money, money, money

One of the things about which I was (understandably) most curious when considering a Fest contract in Germany was, just how much of the promised salary do I actually end up with, clutched in my sticky little paws? For some reason this information proved extremely elusive to pin down, but it's an important aspect of living here.

German taxes are notoriously pretty high. Fair enough, don't mind paying them. Then there's the Krankenversicherung (great word to wrestle with when you're unsure of your German and new to the country; it means health insurance, and it's compulsory. You are forced to enrol in the state health insurance scheme if you earn under a certain amount (I would say this covers most opera singers!), and the comparison sites are a bit of a nightmare, frankly. It took me an exchange of information with a friendly English-speaking insurance agent before I realised that actually, as of fairly recently, they're all much of a muchness...). I'm not religious, so when I was doing all the state paperwork, I chose the option "none" under religion - otherwise, a certain percentage of your salary goes straight to the church/synagogue/mosque (I'm curious to know whether they include covens, Jedi gatherings etc, as with the British census. However given the state of my German and the sense of humour of your average official, I (for once) kept my trap shut instead of asking!). That's the state stuff taken care of. There's then the percentage that is paid to your agent. Some gets paid by you, some by the theatre, but don't worry, the nice personnel people sort everything out, it's great!

The answer to my original question, upon perusing the bit of paper handed to me at the end of the month, appears to be, you get to keep roughly half of your dosh. Of course, this will vary depending upon circumstances, but as a ready reckoner, I think it's fairly sound. I hope the information is of use to someone!

I've even worked out a bank account to put my half of my wages in! I thought it was going to be simple, as in England - choose a bank because there's a branch near where you work, or you like the colour of their signs or whatever, then sign up and bob's your uncle. Mmmm. Doesn't pan out quite like that over here. I could of course have all this utterly the wrong way up, but it would appear that (a) not every current account is free of charge, and (b) not every bank is a nationwide concern! As far as (b) is concerned, I'd nearly signed up with the Sparkasse down the road, when the lady said, oh yes, you can use the card at over one hundred cashpoints! Wow! I thought, over one hundr.... hang on, what if I need to use it in Berlin or something, if I'm there for an audition? In reply I got one of those why-on-earth-would-you-want-to-go-anywhere-else looks (well I think it was that; perfectly possible I said something unutterably rude by accident...). In the end I signed up with Commerzbank; they're a nationwide endeavour and their current accounts are free provided you put in a certain amount each month. I have a card, and have even used it to successfully extract some cash from a cashpoint (hooray! I was holding my breath...). I have even paid my rent etc online - this involves a procedure known as PIN/TAN, which is different to what I'm used to. Basically you use the PIN as normal to log in, and then to validate the transaction, you're asked to find a certain number on a letter they've sent you with a list of TANs; then if it's OK, they give you another number and provided that's OK you're sorted. Clear as mud, huh? Vaguely annoying to someone like me, who generally just memorises all the numbers needed for various transactions, meaning I can do my banking when I'm away from home, but I'm sure I'll get used to it.

Hmm, sorry, this was probably a little boring! However I would have given my eye teeth for some of this before I came here, and hopefully I'm just passing the karma along.

For anyone interested in my squabs, they're growing daily, starting to shift around a bit (I thought the smaller one had been shoved over the edge of the balcony the other day and was hugely relieved later to discover it had simply been hiding behind the edge of the tablecloth). Full plumage is starting to appear, apart from fluffy little yellow bits all around the heads, and they are learning (obviously, thanks to listening to me practise...) to make one heck of a racket when a parent appears to feed them!

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