Every day, 31 million people show their social commitment in Germany. Their ideas, input and support are indispensable in many areas. The fields of this civil involvement are very diverse. Volunteers are active in social projects, schools, kindergardens, the protection of nature and animal welfare, or they make outstanding contributions in sports, theatre, music, leisure and healthcare.

Without the thousands of hours these volunteer helpers work with young people and the elderly, in the fire brigade or at elections, our country would not be the same.


Living culture – Broadening horizons

Acknowledging the work of volunteers and thanking them for their commitment – that is the German Citizen Award’s goal which the Savings Banks brought into being in 2003 in cooperation with committed members of the Federal Parliament and municipal umbrella organisations. Since then, the German Citizen Award annually honours the exceptional commitment of individuals, societies and companies on a local, regional and national level. An example is Schleswig-Holstein. Here, the Citizen Award is conferred by the State Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein, in cooperation with the Savings Banks within the state. North German public broadcaster NDR is the media partner.

An award that helps raise awareness for volunteer work and its importance for Germany.

Once a year, a diverse group comes together at the German Savings Banks Association in Kiel. The experts on volunteering, and for the respective focal topic, face the difficult task of selecting,the most impressive volunteer workers in Schleswig-Holstein from over 60 applicants. These meetings are meticulously prepared by Mareike Kahlcke. She is in charge of the Citizen Award at the Savings Banks Association Schleswig-Holstein, and she makes sure that the representatives of the Regional Youth Association (“Landesjugendring”), the Regional Sports Association (“Landessportverband”)

and the Regional Association for the Disabled (“Landesverband der Behinderten”) – to name but a few – can concentrate on their job: picking the winners in the categories “U21”, “Everyday hero” and “Lifetime achievement” for Schleswig-Holstein. “It’s worth applying,”says Ms Kahlcke. “Overall, we award cash and non-cash prizes with a total value of EUR 32,500. And on top of this, all prize winners and nominees are given a professional video portrait about their form of commitment.” Naturally, the application numbers are high, averaging between 60 and 100 in the past years.

“You know when you’re making others happy with what you’re doing, and if other people are happy, then I am too,” says Katharina Kolterjahn, and she should know. She is part of the Lübeck-based children’s book club Book Pirates (“Bücherpiraten”) whose goal is to turn children and teenagers into enthusiastic readers. The most important event of the year for them is Lübeck Youth Book Days (“Lübecker Jugendbuchtage”) held in their own Children's Literature House. The event is organised by youngsters, aged between twelve and 17. The number of visitors is impressive: up to 1,000 visitors participate in the event, which lasts five or six days, depending on the year. The visitors attend lectures and poetry slams, or join a workshop for short stories. The youngsters are responsible not only for the contents, but also for organisation and sponsoring – and they manage to get authors, actors and audio book speakers on board as readers. Their dedication has not just impressed the Citizen Award jury in Schleswig-Holstein, but also people all over Germany. At a large event in Berlin, the Book Pirates were also honoured to become the First Prize Winners of the German Citizen Award 2015.


Double accolade for avid readers: Lübeck-based Book Pirates were honoured both at state and federal level.

Improving linguistic proficiency and fighting prejudice – the refugee theatre project “Szol Ha” came in second.

However, the young literature fans were not the only ones to be honoured twice, at state and federal level. The refugee theatre project “Szol Ha” from Rendsburg came in second. In this theatre project, refugees from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq work together with local actors. In cooperation with the State Theatre of Schleswig-Holstein, the project produced and performed the documentary drama “The long way to freedom and back”, which deals with the refugee issue. The project aims to improve language skills, promote integration and foster understanding. As actor Ali Shahrabadi says: “We also want to reduce prejudices. Some people hold prejudices, thinking that we only want to improve our economic situation. But that is not true.” The young man knows what he is talking about: he was sentenced to death in Iran. His fate, and that of other refugees, explains the extraordinary name “Szol Ha”, which means “peace” in the Afghan language Pashto.

In order to live together in peace, it also helps to make music together. Hella Lorberg from Bargteheide, for example, has been committed to music for many years. Her work was honoured with the Citizen Award in the “Lifetime achievement” category. She has been involved with many organisations since 1984. She is chairwoman of the Bargteheide Association for Ecclesiastical Music (“Förderverein Bargteheider Kirchenmusik”), founded the Bargteheide Culture Network (“Bargteheider Kulturträger”), the Chamber Music Association à la Carte (“à la carte Kammermusik”) and the Bargteheide Town Musicians (“Bargteheider Stadtmusikanten”), a network of institutions for the musical education of children. In addition, she collected EUR 250,000 in donations for the restoration of the church organ and for a Steinway grand piano in the “Stadthaus Bargteheide” community centre. When asked what drives her, Hella Lorberg answers: “It is important to promote harmony and beauty.”

The German Citizen Award’s self-imposed goal is to provide a platform for all those who voluntarily stand up for others. At the same time, the award reflects the diversity and success of this involvement, as more and more people are engaging in voluntary work. In 2014, 43.6% of the resident population over 14 years of age was involved in some form of voluntary work – that equates to 30.9 million people. Over the past 15 years, the involvement rate has increased by ca. 10%. And the upwards trend continues.

Hella Lorberg was honoured with the Citizen Award in the “Lifetime achievement” category for her long-standing, multifaceted commitment.