HARNEKOP – From his home on a former East German army base, Jens Raeder can power up a carefully restored Soviet shortwave transmitter and communicate with military radio enthusiasts around the world.
Getting a signal on his smartphone is a different matter, however. To connect to the mobile network, Raeder has to drive 5 kilometers (3 miles) to a nearby village with a cell tower.
“People have learned that I’m simply not reachable on my cell,” the 57-year-old said during an interview in Harnekop, population 100, about a 90-minute drive from Berlin.
Raeder is among hundreds of thousands of Germans who live in a “Funkloch,” or radio hole, as such coverage dead spots are known.
While mobile carriers claim they cover close to the entire country, users often report little or no signal inside buildings or outside large towns.
Two years ago, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government voiced his anger about the poor cellphone reception in the country, calling the existence of such dead spots "one of the greatest disgraces for Germany as a center of technology.”
“I’m on the road a lot of the time," Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said. "I’ve told my office that I don’t want to be connected to foreign officials because I’m incredibly embarrassed when I have to call them back three, four times because I keep losing the connection.”
The coronavirus pandemic has added urgency to this frustration. Cut off from family, friends, schools and their workplace, millions around the world have relied on digital devices to stay connected - widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.