Escaping the Crisis: Greek Kindergarten Teachers Find Work in Germany

By Stefanie Maeck

German daycare centers are suffering a woeful shortage of teachers. A recruitment agency is hiring Greek kindergarten teachers who are desperate to escape the debt crisis. With as many as 14,000 positions unfilled in Germany, these workers are being welcomed with open arms.

Preschool teacher Kyriaki Nikolaidou moved from Kalampaki, Greece, to take a job at a kindergarten in Munich. Zoom
Dirk Bruniecki/ DER SPIEGEL

Preschool teacher Kyriaki Nikolaidou moved from Kalampaki, Greece, to take a job at a kindergarten in Munich.

Athanossios Tsokos and his brother run the Axia recruitment agency, which has offices in Munich and Athens and is about to open one in Thessaloniki. He used to find jobs in Germany mainly for doctors and engineers. These days, though, his focus is on teachers for kindergartens, as preschools are called here.

Western Germany's preschools lack some 14,000 teachers. Greece lacks some €345 billion ($457 billion). Indeed, Greece's debt crisis and Germany's kindergarten crisis have merged into a wonderful business opportunity for Tsokos.

He has just introduced Kyriaki Nikolaidou, 22, a trained teacher from Greece, to several kindergarten managers in the offices of the Munich child protection society, organization focused on child welfare that also operates preschools in the region. They complain that one of their vacancies was unfilled for two years and that many candidates didn't even show up to the interviews.

Highly Qualified

Nikolaidou lived with her parents in Kalampaki, a village in northern Greece. Her father drives delivery vans. She and her brother went to university. She got top marks in her high school diploma and in her college degree in pre-school teaching, she has a German language certificate from the Goethe Institute and visited seminars in cognitive psychology. She was working in a café for €200 a month when she saw the job advertisement that Axia posted on the Internet. She spoke to the company and to one of the preschool managers who flew to Athens to meet her.

Kyriaki knows that academic qualifications aren't that common among German preschool teachers -- the share is around three percent according to the most recent figures. But she says German teachers are committed, that they take the children outside and don't just want to sit around drinking coffee. She is about to take on a job that pays €3,000 per month gross in the Taku Tuka nursery in the Munich district of Haidhausen. She has decided that the children should just call her "Sandy," which is easier to say than Kyriaki.

She and a young woman from Crete who is also about to start work were surprised at the speed of German bureaucracy. At home, they said, it would take months to process applications. She was amazed that she was allowed to make free photocopies in German public offices. The lady in the citizen's registry office seemed friendly, they said. In Greece, by contrast, officials were less polite now.

"One has to explain to them that everything is very easy here," says Tsokos. And that you don't have to bribe officials in Germany.

Tsokos moves effortlessly between the two worlds. His parents moved to Germany in the 1960s. He grew up in the town of Traunstein in Bavaria. Then he studied economics in Thessaloniki. He advanced his career in the crisis.

He says he earns slightly more than €3,000 for each teacher he finds a job for. His service includes arranging accommodation, registering them for health insurance, showing them the public transport system and generally making sure they're all right. His company has just moved into an office in exclusive premises in Munich's Ludwigstrasse.

He explains to the childcare officials that the two new teachers will inevitably get a cold. "You must get healthy, that's important for you," says the lady from the child protection society. The Greek women smile. Everything has been organized, they're ready to start.

They've been handed ginger bread hearts which they wore around their necks. The words "Herzlich Willkommen" are written on it in icing. "A Hearty Welcome."

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