Otherwise known as the GEZ, this is Germany’s public media content which everyone must pay for who uses it. However, unlike in the US where public television is federally funded and accepts donations/sponsorships, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland has made it a law that anyone owning a television must pay the television license (around 17 Euros/month). This is whether you watch the public channels or not. You are given no choice, but are made to pay just for the fact that can switch to that channel to watch.
For poor, starving students as ourselves, this was no good. Although we were all very grateful to our landlady for providing us with a free television for our arrival, we decided in the end that the fine was not worth it.
The dilemma, however, was which action to take. How would the GEZ even know we had a television? We could just as well keep the television and not pay. According to Tobi, however, the GEZ like to pull clever tricks to get you to let them into your house. Pretending to be electricians, officials from the state, etc. And they are not afraid to be aggressive. The fine, if you are caught, is upwards of 2,000€.
This is why we all came to a flat-wide agreement to return the television to our landlady as soon as her next office hour rolled around.
No sooner was this decided than a strange man rang our doorbell one Monday morning. I answered and he asked for ‘Ms. Moore’ by name. I asked who he was and he replied that he was conducting a survey of Germany and it’s future.. what people think, from the perspective of natives and, in my case, foreigners.
I was immediately suspicious, but figured that if it really was a survey, it would be nice to help out. So I told him that I was heading out to class, but that we can reschedule for another day. Thursday.
While I was having this conversation with the young man, Tobi happened to be on his way downstairs and ran into him at the door, taking down all of our names into his Palm. He asked the strange man what he was doing there, but the stranger was evasive, saying only that he wanted to speak to ‘Ms. Moore’.
At that point, we were all suspicious and agreed to take down the T.V. as soon as possible and bring it back that Thursday morning. We also formed a plan of attack: Tobi would ask him up front Thursday morning whether he was from the GEZ or not (they are not allowed to lie, and you are not obligated to allow them into your house).
Thursday morning dawned. Tobi could not be there, so Michael took his place. The stranger rang the bell again and down we went. I opened the door to a nice-looking man in his late 30’s, who held out his hand and began to talk.
The guy: Hi, you must be Jennifer. In English, right? Well, you must be wondering why I’m here.
The guy: So, I just wanted to ask you a few questions on how you feel about the future of Germany. I mean, unemployment is very high…
Me: Oh.. well… I don’t think things are so bad. Germany’s economy is actually doing pretty well.
The guy: Ok, then. What do you think about war? Do you think there can be a future without war? Or that there can be peace on earth?
Me: No. There will always be cultural conflicts because different people have different standards about what is right and wrong and how to punish offenders.
The guy: I see. Well, do you think we would ever be able to live in a world without poverty?
Me: No. There will always be poor people.
The guy: And just why do you think that is? Did you know that Ghandi once said that if everyone were happy with what they had…
I raised my eyebrows at this point..
Then he reaches into his black suitcase and pulls out a black book:
The guy: And in the bible, Jesus writes…
I tried my very best to smother my laughter. We gave him another ten minutes to finish his spiel, then politely shook his hand, and giggled our way up the stairs.