Young Germans are to join other Europeans in being offered a voucher to spend on their choice of cultural offerings under a scheme launched by the government.
The €200 Kulturpass, which will be made available to all 18-year-olds, has twin aims: to encourage young adults to experience live culture and drop stay-at-home pandemic habits; and give a financial boost to the arts scene, which has yet to recover from repeated lockdowns.
Germany’s culture minister, Claudia Roth, described the cultural passport as the “equivalent of a birthday present” for the 750,000 people who will turn 18 in 2023. It will bring the EU’s most populous country in line with France, Italy and Spain, which have introduced similar schemes.
The finance minister, Christian Lindner, described the pass as “cultural start-up capital” that its recipients can use within a two-year period for everything from theatre and concert tickets to books or music. It will be managed via an app and a website that provides a direct connection to a virtual marketplace of everything from bookshops to theatres.
The estimated cost to the German state is about €100m , in addition to the country’s annual €2.3bn cultural budget.
Particular emphasis is being put on live culture, with theatres and concert venues expected to use the scheme to recruit new audience members as they compete for the revenue.
Online platforms such as Amazon and Spotify have been excluded from the scheme, which places an emphasis on smaller, often local organisations, such as independent cinemas and bookshops. Individual purchases will be limited in value to prevent someone from using the voucher to buy, for example, a single concert ticket for €200.
Launching the Kulturpass, Roth and Lindner said that if successful, the scheme would be extended and probably rolled out to a wider age group, possibly from the age of 15 upwards.
A similar scheme, announced last year by Spain’s Socialist-led coalition government, offers young people a €400 culture voucher when they reach 18. According to the Spanish government, 57.6% of all those who turned 18 in 2022 registered for the voucher scheme in its first year.
France’s Pass Culture, or youth culture pass, a promise from President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 election campaign, was trialled across the country the following year and – after a lengthy delay due to the pandemic – officially launched in 2021.
The app-based pass gives every 18-year-old €300 to spend on cinema, museum, theatre and concert tickets, as well as on books, art materials, arts courses, musical instruments or a subscription to a French digital platform such as Canal Plus, Salto or, for music, Deezer.
This year the €200m-a-year scheme was extended to over-15s, in two parts: a collective allowance of (depending on age) €25-30 per pupil per year available to teachers for class visits to exhibitions, films, plays, concerts or workshops, plus from €20-30 that each teenager can spend individually.
In 2016, Italy introduced a “culture bonus” of €500 for every 18-year-old under prime minister, Matteo Renzi, It has been maintained by the culture ministry despite various changes of government since then and an attempt by populist leaders to scrap it in 2018.
83% of those who took it up have spent the money on books followed by music products and concert tickets, according to the culture ministry.
Roth said the German pass would open up a range of cultural opportunities for young people comparable with the Interrail Pass, a train ticket that has allowed generations of Europeans the opportunity to travel cheaply around the continent.
Olaf Zimmermann, the chairman of the German Cultural Council, an umbrella organisation representing more than 200 cultural associations, said the voucher was a “meaningful way to support both young people and the world of culture which have suffered in particular from the pandemic”. But he said that establishing what young adults would be able to spend it on was “likely to be complicated” and should cover as many areas as possible, from drawing classes to the purchase of a musical instrument.
He urged the culture ministry to make its guidelines clear soon, “to ensure this really is a birthday present for soon-to-be 18 year olds”.