The German TV License

Imagine if PBS, instead of holding a phone-a-thon each year in which they show old movies and give away t-shirts and mugs with paid donation, showed up at your door to calculate your quarterly bill.

“But I don’t watch PBS,” you say. “I don’t even have cable.”

“Doesn’t matter. You have a TV, right?”

This is the situation I walked into when I came home from walking the dog on Friday. This gentleman was standing at our door speaking to Kevin when I came up the stairs, and he quickly turned the conversation over to me when I got there.

Apparently this gentleman, we’ll call him Herr Meier, was from the GEZ (Bayern, that is). He was updating records for homes in the area, checking on the number of radios and televisions in each flat. The GEZ levies a license fee for broadcasting, which supports state-run television and radio channels. These channels are limited in the amount of advertising they’re allowed, so they are funded through these license fees.

There’s a discussion on ToyTown Germany, a great site for expats in the area, over these fees. Basically, this means that I’m paying €17 per month for the privilege of having a television in my home. Even though we don’t watch television.

When I saw that “basic” cable (through the landlord) was €12,16 a month (part of our “Nebenkosten,” which I must pay whether I use it or not), I thought it sounded awfully cheap. Another €17 brings it up to €30, or $45, more along the lines of what I’m used to paying for cable. I guess we’ll start watching German television. Maybe it will help with learning the language.

Herr Meier explained it in this way: “You pay, in the United States, a fee, a tax, for having a car, yes? If you drive once, or 10,000 kilometers, is the same tax, yes?” I wanted to reply that, if the car were sitting on blocks in my backyard, not being used, I wouldn’t be paying a thing… but it wouldn’t have helped. The mere presence of the TV in the house is the kicker.

We didn’t even HAVE a television until today! Herr Meier was dumbfounded by this statement on Friday. “You really don’t have a television?” We invited him to look for himself! So he filled out our registration form, with radio from June to present and television beginning in September.

They’ll send us a bill.

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