Lonely in Berlin: German capital mulls Commissioner for Loneliness

One in two households in Berlin is made up of only one person.
One in two households in Berlin is made up of only one person.
By Viola Stefanello
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Half of all households in Berlin are made up of only one person.


There's a spectre haunting Berlin - and it's not that of socialism.

In the German capital, home to over 3,5 million people, half of all households are made up of only one person - and at least 300 people die in their apartments every year without anyone noticing.

One in ten people living in Berlin is reportedly affected by loneliness, with the epidemic of particular concern for the elderly: a study by Ruhr University Bochum showed that one in five Germans over 85 felt lonely.

This issue has the potential to become a full-blown public health crisis - after all, studies show that, in the long term, being lonely increases mortality just as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The Red Cross has even gotten to the point of calling it "a hidden epidemic".

German lawmakers have already set up some creative solutions. Back in 2017, it set up a hotline for lonely seniors who were spending the winter holidays on their own, and the idea of following in the United Kindom's footsteps by setting up a national Ministry for Loneliness had been tossed around.

Now, the Berlin branch of Angela Merkel's CDU party is taking the proposal one step further by suggesting the German capital arms itself with an Official Commissioner for Loneliness.

"Berlin, as a growing metropolis of millions, needs to take this step," CDU spokesman Maik Penn told a German public broadcaster. "It takes a full-time employee to coordinate everything". If the proposal passes, the Commissioner would be given a fund of up to 100,000 euros annually for its projects.

A global epidemic

In 2015 Eurostat revealed that six per cent of adults in the EU had nobody to ask for help when it was needed - reaching a peak of 13% in Italy and Luxembourg.

Estimates by the New Economics Foundation that showed that 1.2 million Britons suffered from chronic loneliness attracted Theresa May's attention in 2018.

One in three French adults live alone, and an estimated 12% of the nation's population over 12 lives without any social relations - be it family, friends or colleagues.

Even those Nordic countries usually crowned as the world's happiest societies - Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland - struggle with loneliness, especially among young people, as a collaborative international research project by the Happiness Research Institute in Copenaghen shows.

Meanwhile, Japan's Hikikomori, the "social recluses" who often outright refuse to leave the comfort of their homes, are almost iconic.

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