Podcast "We are TUM" – Transcript, ninth episode

"Fashion changes during and after a crisis. In a way fashion reacts to the crisis, since fashion in this case is actually too trivial for people to really spend time on it. That means people pay attention to the more important things in life, things like health for example or certain other topics, and fashion is then not topic number one, it has a lower priority and that's where change in fashion starts to take place."

[Moderator Matthias Kirsch:] The woman we just heard is Stine Kindervater. She's a student at TU Munich; to her, the Corona pandemic was one big experiment. It was an opportunity for her to research how the pandemic has changed the way we dress and look at fashion. In addition to fashion, in this episode we'll have a look at another topic which is a little less colorful: Taxes. Tax consultant Raymond Kudraß will share his ideas with us on how students can optimize their tax returns.

Hello and welcome to "We are TUM", the podcast by and for the Technical University of Munich. My name is Matthias Kirsch and I'll be guiding you through this podcast. As always university President Thomas Hofmann will get things started by introducing the remaining topics of today's episode to you.

[President Thomas F. Hofmann:]
Welcome, dear listeners: A good breakfast makes it easier to start off the day and a delicious lunch gives us energy for the next round of lectures. But anyone who keeps an unhealthy diet over a longer period of time runs a higher risk of contracting chronic illnesses. The segment on Cutting-Edge Research in this episode of "We are TUM" features Nutritional Medicine specialist Dr. Hans Hauner, whose research focuses on obesity and type 2 diabetes. He's the Director of the Else Kröner-Fresenius Center for Nutritional Medicine, with locations at the university hospital TUM Klinikum rechts der Isar and at the School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan. This episode's "We are TUM" Hidden Champion is a man that most of our 48,000 students have already had something to do with. For five years now Daniel Koll has been head of the university's telephone student counseling service. Daniel Koll and his team have an answer to almost any question relating to student life. And now I wish you an enjoyable listening experience with the latest episode of "We are TUM" .

Cutting-Edge Research

[Kirsch:] In theory it's all very easy: Fruit and vegetables with every meal, moderate amounts of sugar and fat and skip the cola for some water instead, and that's your healthy diet. Of course we all know it's not as simple as it sounds: There's no resisting the temptation to grab that bag of potato chips or just a tiny little bit of chocolate. Wouldn't it be great if there were just a couple of pills or powders which could add the vitamins and nutrients we need? That's exactly what a whole range of dietary supplements promise. But are these supplements really a substitute for a well-balanced diet? My colleague Marcel Laskus asks Nutrition Scientist Hans Hauner, Director of the Else Kröner-Fresenius Center for Nutritional Medicine at TUM, who researches nutrition-related illnesses such as obesity and diabetes.

[Marcel Laskus:] Nutrition is more than simply consuming food; there's a lot we can do wrong. Hardly anyone knows that as well as Professor Hans Hauner, Director of the Else Kröner Fresenius Center for Nutritional Medicine at the TU Munich. Hello, Professor Hauner.

[Hans Hauner:] Hello.

[Laskus:] As much as thirty percent of Germans make regular use of dietary supplements. Pharmacies, online shops and drugstores are earning record sums with these supplements. Why are these pills so popular?

[Hauner:] Well, there certainly is a lot of business activity going on which people can make a good living off of. It's not really clear why so many people use these products, there's certainly no sensible scientific reason for doing so, but it's a major business and many people profit from it. People are constantly being told that they lack micronutrients and that our modern nutrition no longer gives us enough of them and that this is why they need these products. In some cases what happens here is simply fraudulent, and a lot people then at some point somehow decide they should buy and take this kind of supplement.

[Laskus:] That sound like a fairly critical take on the situation. So when I'm in the supermarket and I see the shelves full of magnesium tablets for example or vitamin C, and I know, oh, the last few days or weeks I haven't been eating right, maybe I do a lot of sports and need some extra magnesium, what can I actually do wrong?

[Hauner:] Well, our nutrition is certainly on average less than optimal, but it's also not bad. The normal average diet in Germany really does contain all the important micronutrients, with just a couple of exceptions; for example iodine comes out a little short in our diets, but otherwise the substances these products provide are actually well covered by a normal diet, so we really don't need these supplements, we're just constantly told that we do. And often they just serve as a kind of alibi, of course everyone knows they could make some small improvements to their diets, at least in some situations; so just to take care of their guilty consciences, people tend to be more than willing to buy these products and take them. Or it may just be a convenient excuse for yourself to not pay so much attention to a healthy diet, since you can compensate by buying products like these.

[Laskus:] Why do we place so many exaggerated expectations in dietary supplements?

[Hauner:] Well, that's modern consumer behavior together with the associated activities on the part of the industry, which would like to advertise for these products and of course make a fantastic profit. In terms of manufacturing, these are very inexpensive products which however can be sold anywhere at high prices in drugstores, in supermarkets, you'll find them wherever you want. Of course, they come together with plenty of promises and offers, which is all just a big fraud, since most people really don't need these products. This would only be people with certain illnesses or maybe other problems which make it difficult for them to absorb nutrients. But this is a small minority and hardly the vast number of people who actually take these supplements.

[Laskus:] Nevertheless there are actually groups and individuals who really depend on dietary supplements. Who are they?

[Hauner:] There are indeed people who might be able to use these substances, of course under highly different conditions where the need may arise. The best example is probably pregnancy. A pregnant woman needs a particularly large supply of certain micronutrients for the optimum growth of the child, including for example folic acid and iodine, since requirements rise. Under some circumstances a significantly larger amount of iron may also be necessary. In this situation it does indeed make sense to use these supplements, and we know how beneficial it is when the pregnant woman follows exactly these established recommendations, and that's only possible with supplements. Or let's take the example of vegan nutrition: here microsubstances are missing which are normally found only in meat. The best example here is vitamin B12, which does not exist in vegetable foodstuffs. Here of course a supplement is necessary, otherwise a vitamin B12 deficiency may occur which can then lead to clinical problems. So here the supplement is actually necessary.

[Laskus:] And what's the situation like for people who are neither vegan, pregnant nor, let's say, at an advanced age. How would I myself notice that dietary supplements might be a good idea for me? How do I find that out?

[Hauner:] You wouldn't actually notice that yourself, because the lack or deficiency of whatever it might be, calcium or magnesium, isn't immediately apparent, you can only ascertain it with a complicated diagnosis. Accordingly, you wouldn't have to worry a lot about it as a person who has a normal diet. Of course it makes good sense to have your general health checked on a regular basis, which many people today do with their general practitioner or at a special facility. And if a health check should show some indications, then you could consider it, but really only if it's recommended by a qualitied expert and not just randomly and swallowing all kinds of tablets. The most interesting thing is that the vendors don't use medicine as their approach, they address the consumer directly, because they of course know that in many cases it's really not necessary to use their products. They want to convince the consumer directly, without having qualified expert opinions get in the way.

[Laskus:] The internet is full of advertising promises for high-dosage, extra high-dosage products, which seem to be even more present there than in drug stores and supermarkets. What are the things we should be especially careful about when we encounter lots of promises?

[Hauner:] It's particularly bad in the internet, since there are almost not controls on what is said. The vendors are often located in some foreign country and just want to make some revenue for themselves, by any means possible, to put it bluntly. And they'll promise you anything. Weight-loss supplements are for example very popular. Many people struggle with their weight and the internet is used to offer weight-loss remedies which are in many cases practically criminal and in some cases dangerous. There are products, usually from Chinese sources, which sometimes contain toxic substances, and even here in Germany there are occasional cases and reports of people have purchased this kind of product and then really done serious damage to their health.

You could make a very long list, even of just the products we know about. The whole thing often takes place behind the scenes. We don't have any good statistics, since so much goes undetected when people just buy something and then use it almost at random and maybe at much too high dosages. The risks are pretty manageable for most of these dietary supplements, unless the hazard is emptying your wallet and making your money disappear. Often anything unnecessary you put in your body is usually just expelled anyway. But there is certainly no benefit to be expected, it's really a waste of money.

[Laskus:] Thank you for speaking with us Dr. Hauner.

[Hauner:] It's my pleasure.

Hidden Champion

[Kirsch:] 900 e-mails is quite a lot. And luckily most of us only rarely have to deal with that kind of flood of electronic letters. To Daniel Koll on the other hand 900 e-mails are par for the course, a normal working day. And as if replying to these messages wasn't enough, each year Koll and his team receive 37,000 telephone calls. For the last five years Daniel Koll has been in charge of the student information service at TU Munich. Koll is for many students the first contact point with questions relating to all aspects of studying at the university. My colleague Clarissa Ruge speaks with him about how he masters the flood of interest in TUM.

[Clarissa Ruge:] Mr. Koll, why do you think we've chosen you as Hidden Champion right now? And I'm asking you the question for a reason…

[Daniel Koll:] Well, probably because as point of first contact here at TUM, we respond to many inquiries from those interested in studying here, from applicants and from current students. Each year we receive over 30,000 calls, we have to respond to over 60,000 e-mails and we try to keep the university approachable for everyone and to stay in contact with the students and with anyone interested in TUM.

[Ruge:] Could you say that the deciding factor for interest in the university is the good tone you maintain with the people contacting you?

[Koll:] Yes, certainly. To us – I should say, I'm from the business world, the commercial world where we communicate with customers – to us it's extremely important to give people a professional impression of TUM, and not to use this bureaucratic communication that so many expect, responding to people as if they were soliciting something and simply turning them away. We want to treat them in a friendly and professional way and also to provide them with the information they need.

[Ruge:] What was a typical day like before the pandemic, during the pandemic and what's it like now, hopefully after the pandemic?

[Koll:] Not a whole lot has changed in our daily routine, but the physical contact point has been impacted very heavily. Our day is easy: communicate, communicate, communicate. We do a lot on the telephone, we answer a lot of e-mails and we try to identify with the issues people bring to us.

[Ruge:] And now I have a classic lockdown question of course. Before the interview you mentioned the fact that many people were very worried because they were stuck in their native countries. Can you describe this situation again?

[Koll:] Yes, that was a really major obstruction starting in April 2020. So, TUM is very successful with its internationalization strategy and has always regarded itself as an in-person, on location university and said: we're not doing any remote learning, we're not an open university, a long-distance university. And then suddenly all these people were in all kinds of different countries, they weren't able to get any visas, and had no way to travel here. So within the shortest possible time TUM of course also had to create a structure for these people, so that they didn't have to just give up on their studies due to these external circumstances.

[Ruge:] So sometimes you were more of a psychiatrist than advisor…

[Koll:] Yes, of course. For example, all of a sudden visas became a major topic for us, which they had never been before. Now we're trying to react properly with a new office which takes more care of the issue.

[Ruge:] In your opinion, what has changed in recent years, are there different inquiries or different people contacting you?

[Koll:] I think the one thing that has changed most is the general uncertainty about the living situation, about the possibility of being here. And I think that in general the constant change has had an impact on people and has called a lot into question: The ability to travel freely, live freely, things we took for granted before.

[Ruge:] I have another keyword for you: Parents.

[Koll:] We have a lot of contact with parents, especially for German expatriates. They're a very important target group for TUM, and they include a lot of highly educated people. Very often these parents have put their children in international educational systems, and with the pandemic many have decided it would be better to return to Germany. Of course they have a lot of questions and are usually very involved in their children's education. That's naturally often a big challenge, since you then have several different contact persons and also you often have to explain, well, your son, your daughter, they're important too, it's important that they get involved too and take care of things themselves. That's one thing that has certainly increased.

[Ruge:] Then the parents tend to be more demanding than their children in terms of their thirst for knowledge?

[Koll:] Right. Many of these parents are TUM alumni themselves, they may want more prepared information, might want more finished packages and the like. And we place a lot of emphasis on individuals doing their own research, finding their own information, making sure that everything is made ready to go and then we field the questions on the specific details.

[Ruge:] And how do you manage to politely say, go do the research yourself?

[Koll:] We do our best to make sure that our self-service ranges, as we call them, the homepage, the information, we want to have that all as well prepared as possible, we want to make sure that we're not using dry and intimidating administrative language, the we offer easily readable step-by-step instructions. And it's very often the case that when we point out how easy it is to find our information – and I say this with full self-confidence – compared to some other leading universities, then the people are often convinced. That happens quite frequently.

[Ruge:] So, before we conclude our little discussion, one last point. About how many e-mails do you read every day?

[Koll:] Oh, I'd say somewhere around two hundred.

[Ruge:] Wow, that would make anyone tired. What's your personal tip for when to take a break, to make sure you can keep things from getting overwhelming, how do you do that?

[Koll:] For me it's movement, movement, movement. Sometimes we also hold our meetings while walking. Of course we're lucky enough to have this very beautiful location here. Otherwise we stroll a lot in the office, get up, move around, keep the body moving, that's extremely important.

[Ruge:] When you take a critical look at yourself, what would you say is the perfect advice?

[Koll:] Precisely matching the target group. That's the important thing, that I don't try to force individuals into some kind of generally applicable template, but rather I ask: What does this person need? A German secondary school graduate doesn't need any advice on proof of German skills, that's something for people from the international educational systems. If I prepare myself well and really know my target groups, then I can achieve a lot with well-prepared information and predefined services ranges.

[Ruge:] And do you enjoy the task, every day?

[Koll:] Yes, definitely. I like to communicate, I also don't mind spending three hours on the telephone, that doesn't bother me at all. There are always some little new challenges, little tasks, every call, every e-mail is something new, I find it highly satisfying.

[Ruge:] Thank you for speaking with us, Mr. Koll. Bye!

[Koll:] Thank you too. See you…

The Young Perspective

[Kirsch:] We all know that the Corona pandemic is changing the world. The change is not only visible in terms of larger dimensions, but also in the little everyday things. Working from home for example has gone from being an exception to being the standard. And with the office at home, the work wardrobe has changed as well. At home the business suit has been replaced by the comfortable pair of sweatpants. During the pandemic TUM student Stine Kindervater, a prospective vocational school teacher, did some research on this change in fashion, since fashion is after all a mirror of society. My colleague Fabian Dilger met with Stine Kindervater.

[Fabian Dilger:] Hello Ms. Kindervater, thank you for joining us.

[Stine Kindervater:] Hello, Mr. Dilger.

[Dilger:] Ms. Kindervater, what outfit do you feel the most comfortable in?

[Kindervater:] Well, the outfit I feel most comfortable in really depends on the situation. For example now, when I'm at home on my study day, since I'm right in the middle of exams, I prefer my leisure clothes, I put on a pair of leggings, my sweater and a t-shirt. And when I then go out for a walk, I just throw on a jacket and I can spend the entire day in this outfit. But for example if I go out with my friends for a coffee or make a shopping date in the city or for lunch, then I like to put on something like a dress with a floral pattern and maybe some high-heeled shoes. So it certainly depends.

[Dilger:] You're doing research on how fashion has changed as a result of the pandemic. Are sweatpants here to stay?

[Kindervater:] Definitely, because working from home is here to stay as well. And I think working from home has a strong connection with sweatpants and with the topic of relaxed comfort at the workstation and the feel-good factor. And we always find it difficult to give up on good new habits to return to other ways of doing things that may be less comfortable.

[Dilger:] This trend towards comfort, towards relaxation, why was it the result of the Corona pandemic, of all things?

[Kindervater:] The pandemic didn't really cause the switch, more than anything it accelerated it. A couple of years earlier we had a change of generations which was somehow making more leisurely clothing popular. Comfort is very important to us, and narcissism plays a major role somewhere, and then the pandemic appeared and sped all that up. I've spoken to fashion experts and the crisis we have now is actually following the general course of a typical crisis, since fashion changes during and after a crisis. In a way fashion reacts to the crisis, since fashion in this case is actually too trivial for people to really spend time on it. That means people pay attention to the more important things in life, things like health for example or certain other topics, and fashion is then not topic number one, it has a lower priority and that's where change in fashion starts to take place.

[Dilger:] Now, in addition to comfort and relaxation, what other advantages does this fashion change have, what's good about being able to dress according to my personal preferences?

[Kindervater:] In particular, I think people who weren't all that oriented towards fashion in the past and who had to squeeze into whatever clothing they needed, they now have a particular advantage, since they don't have to spend hours wondering about what to wear to work today, what will I have to squeeze into. Instead they can just wear whatever feels most comfortable. When interviewing experts I interviewed a young bank employee who had been waiting for a long time for the dress code to finally change, since he hated the suit and necktie, although he totally enjoys his work. In his opinion the change in dress code means he works much more productively, that he's more motivated to get to work and he has more self-confidence when dealing with customers.

[Dilger:] A well-known entrepreneur once said he finds it improper to go to a business appointment without a necktie. Does that mean that this change toward more casual clothing may take quite a long time until it reaches the society at large?

[Kindervater:] I think that working from home has sped up the whole thing quite a bit. Right now we're in a period where, because of the pandemic, we can dress super casually at home, a period where the comfy dress code at home has certainly established itself. This change may take a little longer for some people, particularly older people; it may take a while until for example sweatpants will have become an acceptable outfit in a shop for a 50-year-old housewife. The change has already taken place for younger people, though. We're in a period where this casual dress code and comfortable clothing in the office, at the university, maybe for students in the part-time job, has become totally accepted.

[Dilger:] Is that a factor for students, for your fellow students, when they look for jobs, let's say that I can wear a hooded sweatshirt to the office and don't necessarily need a necktie or a suit jacket?

[Kindervater:] I think that's definitely one of the selection criteria when it comes to choosing a place to work, since there are a lot of people who maybe just say: I learned to save during the pandemic, to be careful with my money and the first thing I can save on is clothing. Then once I find a good job where I don't need to spend a hundred euros every month or two for new business clothing, then of course I'd take the job in which I can dress more casually and still receive the same salary. And here companies are in a sort of competition with one another.

[Dilger:] And what's your forecast for the time after the pandemic, will students be coming to the university in much more casual clothes?

[Kindervater:] Well, for one thing that will be different depending on the subject being studied. After talking with several experts, here's what I've found: Sweatpants are somehow making their way into society and they're going to stay with us, especially in schools and in study programs, especially at the university; we'll be seeing sweatpants in the widest possible variety of variations, from Nike sweatpants to suit track pants, it will all be there, including in everyday campus life.

[Dilger:] Ms. Kindervater, thank you for speaking with us and sharing your insights into the changing world of fashion.

[Kindervater:] It was my pleasure, thank you as well.

Five Tips

[Kirsch:] We'll conclude this episode of "We are TUM" by once again leaving the direct environment of TU Munich and we have a look at, yes, the tax authorities. Taxes can be an annoying topic, one we usually like to avoid. Our guest today feels just the opposite. Raymond Kudraß is a tax consultant and has specialized in tax law for students for many years now. He tells my colleague Fabian Dilger among other things why it's worth it for some students to file a tax return.

[Fabian Dilger:] Welcome, Mr. Kudraß.

[Raymond Kudraß:] Glad to be here, Mr. Dilger.

[Dilger:] Mr. Kudraß, for which students will it pay off to file a tax return in most cases?

[Kudraß:] That's of course a question which many students should ask themselves, since as a rule it's worth it for anyone. Of course there are exceptions, you have to make a distinction between the first study program and the second study program. The first study program is a study program which really applies to the real first-time students, those who head straight to the university immediately after finishing high school and who do not first have a completed vocational education. On the other hand, a second study program applies to everyone who enters a Bachelor's degree program after first completing a vocational education or who is studying for their Master's, in dual studies programs or working towards their doctorate. These individuals are in their second study program. For them, expenses associated with studying are considered professional expenses are they have the clear benefit of being able to accrue these costs as tax loss carry-forward and deduct them later against their first income. In other words, it's worth it for everyone who can create a tax loss carry-forward which can then be deducted again the first professional income at a later time.

#1

So, my first tip is to take a look at the level of income, since unfortunately any taxable income in a given year is to be offset against the cost of studying. This is often underestimated. This means that for everyone who has no income, it's worth it to file and claim the cost of studying on a regular basis. But if somebody is earning between three and five thousand euros a year, then in our experience things start to get critical and at five thousand euros taxable income a year as a working student or something similar or through an internship, then it becomes highly unlikely that it makes sense to file a tax return.

#2

And the second tip, which is certainly an essential one, here we're talking about the time factor. Most students don't know that you can claim the costs of studying as far as seven years retroactively. Most people are only aware of the four-year statute of limitation for income tax declarations, but not the seven-year term, which applies for what is called loss assertion requests ("Verlustfeststellungsantrag"). This means today you can still claim the costs associated with studying for the years 2015 to 2017, in addition to the additional study expenses for the years 2018 to 2021. This means: Don't be intimidated, think back, you may have already finished your studies in 2018 or 2019 and can still file tax declarations.

#3

And here's tip number three, which has too due with deductible costs, and this is the most important tip: Expenses for maintaining a second household. What exactly does that mean, a second household? It means that two complete residences have to be maintained, one at the place of study, usually the room in a shared apartment at the location of the school or the on-campus dormitory room, and in addition the main residence, usually at the parents' home. Here it's necessary to prove that you have maintained a separate own household and were not simply integrated in the parents' household. So it's not enough to move back into the old children's bedroom, you also have to prove that you lived there and maintained your own household. That means you have to have shared in expenses. This can ideally be proven using payment documents for food purchases, purchasing supplies for everyday needs, as well as for household furnishings at the main residence, they're also important. And you also have to demonstrate that you administered this household at your own discretion, exactly like at the place of study. Then you can deduct the cost of accommodation at the place of study. And in the meantime a room in a shared apartment in Munich costs between six hundred to eight hundred euros a month, so we're talking about over seven to nine thousand euros per year times the number of years studied.

So as you can see, you arrive at five-digit amounts here pretty quickly. And on top of that, maintaining a double household also means you can deduct meal expenses and travel costs as well; the meal expenses are especially important here. Let's take London for example: 62 euros a day, times 90 days which you can clam, that adds up to a good 5,500 euros of professional expenses, so you can see we're talking about substantial amounts of money here.

And now I have a completely rare tip, namely that we don't need the second household when we're dealing with a partner university. TU Munich in particular has partner universities around the world as part of the Erasmus+ partnership program. And as long as I'm still enrolled in the main university and have a semester abroad or a practical exercise semester abroad or in Germany but at a second location, then that counts as a remote location and I don't even need a second household in order to be able to deduct the costs of accommodation at the remote location. This is an exception which some tax authorities don't know about yet even today.

[Dilger:] That was quite a few tips. Some of our listeners may however still feel a little uncertain. But the good news is, they don't have to navigate all this alone.

#4

[Kudraß:] Right, my tip number four is to go ahead and get some assistance here, don't be shy about asking for help, since the details really can get pretty complicated. And don't hesitate to get assistance from a tax accountant, since a serious tax accountant who also knows what he or she is doing is not going to cheat you. If you ask the accountant to do something which feels irresponsible, he or she will clearly say so. A tax accountant has the advantage of thinking along with you, making plans. This can be very important in individual cases, and that's something that a tax program on your computer can't do. And the tax program always takes only a retrospective point of view, it doesn't look to the future. These are all advantages of a tax accountant. And we offer a free half-hour initial consultation where we can clear up all these questions in advance. There are certainly other colleagues who offer the same thing. Just ask your parents and their tax accountants.

And the pandemic has also illustrated another special factor, and it's very important to me to share this special tip with you.

#5

As students, you'll typically think about starting to work at a job in the fall, the main hiring dates are in September and October. You'll gross about twelve to fourteen thousand euros in these three to four months. The good news is, you'll file a tax return for this year in any case, and you'll receive a tax refund because the tax you paid is calculated across the entire year. The bad news is you will have to calculate this amount, the amount you earn, against your valuable tax loss carry-forward which we've accumulated over the years you spent studying. My tip is: Forget these tax savings and just take that dream job: Corona has shown how quickly the times can change and nobody will really know whether or not that job will still be around in January.

[Kirsch:] And that's it for this episode of "We are TUM". In the next episode we'll once again be showcasing TUM's cutting-edge research, student life and we'll be speaking with all those who make TU Munich the unique place that it is. This has been "We are TUM". This episode was produced by Fabian Dilger, Marcel Laskus, Clarissa Ruge, ProLehre Medienproduktion and me, Matthias Kirsch. Sound design and post-production by Marco Meister at Edition Meister in Berlin. That's all until the next episode. Make sure to join us and discover the big and little secrets of the Technical University of Munich!

Technical University of Munich

Dr. phil. Clarissa Ruge
Creative Director Image & Presidential Events

Tel. +49 89 289 25769
Mobile phone +49 173 9484123
rugespam prevention@zv.tum.de

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