Households face spiralling bills as Moscow turns down gas supplies to Europe
By Enrique Anarte
BERLIN, Aug 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - After their gas bill tripled within a month, Phillip and Elias decided in February to turn off the heating in their Berlin flat.
They are among many people in Germany struggling with surging energy bills that are pushing up inflation and leaving many struggling to meet everyday living costs.
"Our monthly gas bill went from 70 ($71) to 214 euros," Phillip, 34, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, said in a interview at their flat in the popular Kreuzberg district.
His partner Elias, 36, who has been unemployed for a year, said he has also started to take cold showers.
"Every shower costs money," said Elias, who asked for his surname not to be used.
"(When) your income is fixed and your costs are continuing to rise, you have to cut back."
Read more: The Inflation Diaries series
Inflation is running at 8.5% in Germany, Europe's industrial powerhouse, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war pushing up food and fuel costs worldwide.
Meanwhile, Russia is reducing its gas supply to Europe in retaliation for sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, exacerbating energy shortages and driving up prices.
In Germany, which is heavily reliant on Russian gas, average energy prices have risen 35.7% in a year, and experts in the sector have warned household energy bills could triple as supplies dwindle further.
The economy ministry launched a campaign last month urging citizens to take quicker showers, increase their fridge's temperature by 1 degree and better insulate their homes, in an effort to build up gas reserves ahead of a winter crunch.
But with soaring bills and food prices already eating into budgets, more and more people are struggling to access basic goods.
HOUSEHOLDS CUT BACK
The Berliner Tafel, a food bank in the German capital, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the number of people seeking their services has increased since inflation started to rise – and about a third of food recipients are children.
In Munich, 41-year-old Anja Grossman is struggling to make ends meet while working as a paralegal and taking care of her 11-year-old daughter on her own.
Rising costs of basics such as food, as well higher petrol prices add to the cost of her rent, which already swallowed half her salary.
"Every time I go to the supermarket I have to ask myself: do I really need that?" she said.
Businesses are also feeling the pinch as they face rising outgoings and many people cut back on spending.
Shae O'Neill opened Berlin's first "queer barbershop" in August 2020 in the hipster district of Neukolln, complete with barber chairs, a tattoo studio and a bar that quickly gained popularity among LGBTQ+ locals.
The LaBarber business survived the COVID-19 pandemic, but now rising costs are forcing O'Neill to shut down the shop's bar.
"If things had been like they were before, when people could afford to go out more, it would all have been different," 34-year-old O'Neill said.
The space where the bar now stands will soon host three more barber chairs.
"Hair always grows. And it's craft work we do with our own hands, not something we buy and resell," O'Neill said.
($1 = 0.9792 euros)
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(Reporting by Enrique Anarte; Editing by Sonia Elks and Hugo Greenhalgh. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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