What you can earn where in Germany

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Germany

Publishing organisation: ZEIT ONLINE

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-09-06

Language: German

Authors: Paul Blickle, Annick Ehmann, Christian Endt, David Gutensohn, Carla Grefe-Huge, Valentin Peter, David Schach, Julian Stahnke, Julius Tröger, Benja Zehr


Julius Tröger leads the interdisciplinary team of data journalists, designers and developers “Data and Visualization”. In addition to graphics, interactive tools and experimental forms of presentation, he is also responsible for the implementation of all data journalism projects. He has been working at ZEIT ONLINE since 2018. Before that, he was head of the interactive team at “Berliner Morgenpost” and interned at “ProPublica” and “Guardian US” in New York.

Project description:

In which place in Germany do residents earn the most, and where the least? Talking about money and salaries is still a taboo in this country. ZEIT ONLINE has brought transparency to the debate and used exclusive data to show for the first time how salaries in Germany’s municipalities have developed over the past 20 years.

Impact reached:

ZEIT ONLINE obtained and analyzed salary data from the Federal Employment Agency from all 4,252 municipalities in Germany. The analysis shows what effect inflation has had on earnings, where the top earners live and how much East and West Germany still differ.

For the first time, the data analysis provides a detailed picture of salaries in Germany’s municipalities. ZEIT ONLINE has published 4,252 individual articles – one for each municipality in the country. This allows readers to find out how salaries have developed in the municipality, how great the disparity is between low and top earners, and how the locality compares to neighboring municipalities.

Nationwide, the data analysis shows that salaried employees earn an average of 3,525 euros per month, and their salaries have increased by 7.3 percent over the past 20 years, adjusted for inflation. But wages are not rising everywhere: eastern Germany has continued to catch up in the nationwide salary comparison. From 2002 to 2021, wages there rose by 17.3 percent; in the west, by contrast, by only 5.5 percent. At the same time, the dataset shows that top- and middle-earning communities are often separated by only a few kilometers. High-income earners are drawn primarily to the suburbs of major cities. The lowest earnings are in tourist strongholds such as Binz on the Baltic Sea. This shows how little employees in clinics, hotels and restaurants in tourist regions or health resorts usually earn.

Techniques/technologies used:

From a technical perspective, it was a challenge to visualize all municipalities at once. We knew that we wanted to show them in different states and then find a way to elegantly switch back and forth between those states. The tool of our choice was therefore three.js. Each of our municipalities was actually a small sphere in a 3-dimensional space, which we then repositioned depending on the state. This had the great advantage that we could move the ‘camera’ around the thousands of circles in a very smooth way with simple moves and zooms. The Javascript libraries D3 and React helped us with the computation and logic of the visualization.

For the data analysis itself we used a combination of Python and R.

Context about the project:

We have already started the project in 2021. Due to current developments in the Corona pandemic and subsequently the Ukraine war and the energy crisis, we had to interrupt work on it again and again. Since this is a cross-departmental project, the coordination for it was very complex.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

In comparable articles, interactivity is often used to make the data of one’s own place of residence visible. In this case, ZEIT ONLINE took a different approach and used virtually no interactivity.

Instead, a separate article was published for each city. For this purpose, we created a template and filled it with data. The graphics and texts automatically adapted to the respective figures. Thus, the story was not only findable on the homepage of ZEIT ONLINE on one day, but also visible as a long-tail via search engines for people who are not regular readers.

Project links: