As the new year approaches, many new laws and regulations are about to take force in Germany in 2017. Some of them are welcome changes (no more cell phone roaming charges in the EU), while others don’t make a huge difference (a modest minimum wage increase) or really aren’t all that welcome (higher electric rates).
Let’s start with a new law that most people in Germany will enjoy: a new nationwide holiday!
For the first time ever, Reformation Day (October 31) will be an official holiday all across Germany in 2017. Currently the Protestant Reformationstag is a holiday only in the German states (Länder) of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen (Saxony), Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony-Anhalt), and Thüringen (Thuringia). Reformation Day commemorates the date when Martin Luther supposedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg 500 years years ago. Because 2017 is also The Year of Luther (das Lutherjahr), German lawmakers decided to make Reformation Day an official holiday all across Germany for that year, even in Catholic Bavaria. But it’s a one-off just for 2017. After the special nationwide observance on Tuesday, October 31, 2017, the holiday will return to being observed only in the five states mentioned above.
Of course October 31 is also Halloween, a constant source of irritation for religiously observant German Protestants. So in effect, in 2017 only, Halloween will be a national holiday in Germany.
2017 will also usher in several changes that impact motorists in Germany. Further below we’ll outline some traffic law alterations, but there are also revisions concerning auto registration and getting a driver’s license. 2017 brings increased fees for several such items. It will also cost a little more to take the test for a German Führerschein (driver’s license). The written (theoretical) test fee will increase by 90 euro cents to €11.90. The now more common computer-administered test now costs €10.60. In 2017 the practical driving test (Pkw-Prüfung) fee will set you back €91.50.
NOTE: All Canadian citizens and many US citizens (depending on your US state) may be able to get a German driver’s license without taking the written or practical test. For details, see our article about German Driver’s License Reciprocity.
While there are no major revisions for 2017, there are some law changes that both drivers and bike riders need to be aware of. The most interesting revision is for the law concerning the so-called “Rettungsgasse.” Whether you knew it or not, there is a German law calling for motorists in a traffic jam on a multilane roadway to create a free lane for emergency vehicles to use. Up until now the law called for that open lane to be in the middle of the road, but now the law clarifies how drivers are supposed to create the Rettungsgasse. If there are two lanes in one direction, cars on the right keep to the far right, while drivers on the left keep to the far left, creating an open lane in the middle. That doesn’t change. However, if there are three lanes or more, cars in the far left lane stay to the left, while drivers in the right lanes keep right. The Rettungsgasse is thus formed between the autos on the far left and all the other autos on the right, thus leaving the lane next to the cars on the left (rather than the middle lane) free for emergency vehicles. See the video below for an amazing example.
VIDEO – Verkehrsunfall und Einsatzfahrt durch Rettungsgasse auf der B17
30 KM/H ZONES
As if there weren’t enough 30er-Zonen in Germany already, lawmakers have made it a little easier for cities to add more of them, starting in 2017. The standard speed limit in all German towns and cities is 50 km/h (31 mph) unless posted otherwise. But communities can create special 30 km/h (18 mph) zones for safety and noise reduction reasons. Until now the laws have made it difficult to create such slow-speed zones on major streets with heavy traffic. Now communities will find it easier to create 30-zones next to schools or senior homes, even if they’re on a major thoroughfare.
Until now, bicyclists were required to follow the traffic signals for pedestrians. Beginning in 2017, bike riders in Germany must observe the auto traffic lights. The only exception now is for riders on a designated bike path (Radweg) with special signals for bikes. Otherwise bike riders must now obey the normal traffic signals for cars.
Current law requires adults riding a bike to use either the street or a bike path, even while their children are supposed to use the sidewalk or pedestrian lane. Since that is somewhat impractical, the new law allows parents to also ride on the sidewalk along with their children on a bike.
“Pedelecs,” electric-powered bikes, will be allowed to use bike paths in 2017, but only under certain conditions. First, only bikes with speeds under 25 km/h are permitted. Second, there must be a sign saying “E-Bikes erlaubt” (“e-bikes OK”). Faster so-called S-Pedelecs that can reach speeds of up to 45 km/h are not supposed to use bike paths, but the definition of an e-bike is not clear enough in the opinion of some observers.
This link from Welt.de has the traffic law details (in German): Was sich 2017 im Strassenverkehr ändert
EU MOBILE PHONE ROAMING CHARGES
The slogan “Roam like home” sums up the new EU mobile phone roaming charges regulations that take effect on June 15, 2017 in Germany and other European Union nations. The law was originally drawn up several years ago to gradually drop roaming charges for calls, text, and Internet browsing within the EU in stages until they reached zero. There was a last-minute proposal to restrict the free roaming allowance by time length or in certain other ways, but after strong objections from consumer groups, the limit proposal was dropped entirely. As of mid-June 2017, there will be no cell phone roaming charges in the EU.
MINIMUM WAGE (MINDESTLOHN)
Germans earning a minimum wage got some good news for 2017. Starting January 1, 2017, the Mindestlohn goes up by 34 euro cents to €8.84 per hour. The federal Mindestlohnkommission approved the new figure for 2017, an increase of 3.2 percent. The minimum wage rate in Germany is adjusted every two years, based on various economic factors. For comparison, the minimum wage in some neighboring countries: France (€9.67), Luxembourg (€11.12), Poland (€2.55), and the Czech Republic (€2.15). Austria and Switzerland have no minimum wage laws. More (in German): Gesetzlicher Mindestlohn ab 2017
ELECTRIC POWER (STROM) – THE EEG FEE
Germany supports renewable energy power generation (wind, solar, hydro, etc.) via a so-called EEG-Umlage (Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz, EEG, “renewable energy act”), a feed-in tariff scheme intended to encourage the generation of renewable energy (electricity). The EEG rate is calculated as the difference between the actual price that energy companies receive for their electricity per kilowatt-hour and the guaranteed purchase price for power generated by renewable energy. Consumers pay this charge as part of their electric power bill. For 2017, the EEG rate goes up from 6.35 euro cents to 6.88 euro cents per kilowatt-hour – added to your electric bill.
More about the EEG law from Wikipedia in English: German Renewable Energy Sources Act
OTHER 2017 LAW CHANGES
The following items apply only to certain people in certain situations: shop owners, pensioners, people depending on social programs, motorcyclists, etc. If you want to learn more about a given item, just click on the link for that.
- Cash registers (Registrierkassen) must be electronic. As of January 1, 2017, older, analogue, mechanical cash registers are no longer permitted in Germany. They must be digital and capable of exchanging data for bookkeeping conforming to the German GoBD standard. More (in German): www.aachen.ihk.de
- New motorcycles and motorbikes (Motorräder und Kleinkrafträder) are now subject to higher emissions standards. The requirements change from the old, lower Euro 3 norm to the stricter Euro 4 norm, which allows only half of the former emissions. There is also a stricter noise limit requirement for motorcycles over 175 cubic centimeters (80 decibles maximum). Existing, already registered bikes are exempt from the new requirements. Dealers may also offer good deals on older bikes. More (in German): Das wird 2017 anders
- Motorcycle driver’s license | The fee for the driving test for motorcycles (Motorrad-Prüfung) has gone up to 121.38 euros. The cost of a motorcycle license has also risen, mostly because of the increased hours required in driving school (Fahrschule). The required TÜV auto safety check (die Hauptuntersuchung) for your bike will now cost from 35 to 54.86 euros, depending on the Bundesland.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA (SORRY, NOT YET)
While the United States and some other countries have been moving toward legalizing marijuana (cannabis) for medical and/or recreational use, Germany has been slow to embrace legalization, even for medical purposes. Although a German federal medical marijuana program was expected to go into effect in 2017, the proposed bill was unexpectedly put on hold in early December 2016. Despite recent attempts by various German localities (Berlin, Düsseldorf) to allow medical marijuana use, a federal law has been elusive. Even if it does eventually get approved, the German law, as written, would be far more restrictive than similar laws in the US and elsewhere. (Guam and 24 American states allow some form of medical marijuana treatment.) For one thing, the German law states that cannabis would only be an option for a few specific, serious illnesses (cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s, etc.) for which conventional treatments have not been effective. Potential cannabis patients also would have to get a doctor’s written recommendation before they could petition the government for medical marijuana treatment.
For current German cannabis (Hanf, Haschish, Marihuana) news in German, see this website: hanfverband.de.
EARLIER CHANGES – AUGUST 1, 2016
The following German laws changed on August 1, 2016. Just in case you missed it…
- Routerpflicht | Germany used to require the registration of modems in the old dial-up days, so it may come as no surprise to learn that until recently consumers had to use the router provided by their Internet provider (Telekom, Unitymedia, etc.). Since August 2016, new customers have the option of buying and using their own better, newer router. The service provider has to provide the customer with all the necessary data and codes for Internet access. This change applies only to new customers, but some companies allow existing customers to use their own router. Some customers have complained about difficulties in getting things set up with certain providers.
- BAföG | This student support program helps university students pay for their room and board, plus books, etc. In August 2016 the BAföG program increased benefits for students living at home (7 percent increase) or those living way from home (up to 9.7 percent increase). The maximum benefit amount went from 670 to 735 euros. There was also an increase in the income tax deduction (der Freibetrag) for the parents of BAföG students. An estimated 110,000 more students became eligible for study benefits in 2016.
- Hartz IV | The welfare program known as Hartz IV (Hartz vier) offered a modest increase in benefits in August 2016. Financial support for children aged 6 to 13 increased by 21 euros to 291 euros per month. Similar increases applied to different types of recipients, but children under six continue to receive 237 euros per month.
Enjoy the new year with your new awareness of all the new German laws and regulations for 2017!