"It isn't exactly a secret." Karina, a German of Russian descent, says she lives in Allermöhe, a residential neighborhood with a large immigrant community in Hamburg. Many of her neighbors, she adds, only came to Germany because they believed that "money would be handed to them on a silver platter."
Support for Sarrazin is even more widespread on the Internet. Only a week after it was published, there were already more than 200 customer comments on his controversial book on Amazon's German site, most of them awarding the author the highest possible rating of five stars for his work.
In one comment, Michael Dienstbier from Bochum in western Germany writes: "We truly want to be tolerant, from the bottom of our hearts, and we want everyone to be able to express his culture. But you also get the sense that there could be a high price to pay for this tolerance, that foreign cultures are not always interested in living together peacefully, and that, sooner or later, you sometimes have to have the courage to be intolerant to preserve your own cultural identity. For many people, this it the brutal truth that court jester Sarrazin is screaming into their faces."
On Sunday evening, that court jester was having dinner with a friend at a Chinese restaurant in Berlin's Wilmersdorf neighborhood. About once every five minutes, one of the other guests approached Sarrazin to congratulate him.
Sarrazin was surprised, and sometimes even a little worried, by the scope of the approval and outrage over his theories. He had expected it to cause a stir, but he felt a little queasy when Chancellor Angela Merkel felt compelled to sharply criticize the book even before it was published. Although being an outsider had never troubled Sarrazin, he is too bourgeois to not care about being ostracized.
He began his career as a civil servant, then served as Berlin's finance senator and, finally, as a member of the executive board of the Bundesbank. He has long been known for pushing boundaries. He has derided government officials for having poor physical hygiene and has characterized the unemployed as lazy. In response to repeated claims that a person couldn't live on the 347 ($440) German welfare recipients receive, he designed a diet intended to prove that the opposite was the case.
Last October, the cultural magazine Lettre International asked Sarrazin whether he was interested in a lengthy discussion about his native Berlin. When the interview was published, it included controversial statements like: "The Turks are conquering Germany the way the Kosovars conquered Kosovo: with a higher birth rate." He also said that "a large number of Arabs and Turks in (Berlin) ... have no productive function other than in the fruit and vegetable trade."
The interview set off a storm of outrage. His name was mentioned in the same breath as Göring, Goebbels and Hitler, and a number of Social Democrats called for his ejection from the party. But the letters and emails he received revealed to Sarrazin that he had addressed a subject that has many people worried. He decided to continue pursuing the issue.
Those in Germany who feel misunderstood, and who are now taking a stand against the elites, have selected as their hero a man who thinks and feels in more elitist ways that most people in the political world, and who is quick to reveal the superiority he feels over less intelligent people. Many fail to recognize his arrogance, which is softened by his quirky behavior as an outsider.
Treating Admirers with Contempt
What most people see as a cranky pose -- the outstretched chin and the arms crossed across his chest -- does in fact reveal the worldview of someone who peers down from high above at the turmoil and teeming crowds at the base of his mountain.
Sarrazin's way of thinking is based on resentment. It isn't directed against those who own less or come from less privileged families. Money and parentage are irrelevant to Sarrazin, and in that sense he is a democrat through and through. The most important standard of valuation for Sarrazin, an avid reader who studied Latin, Hebrew and Greek in high school, is the desire for education. But what his fans fail to realize is that Sarrazin himself would probably treat many of his admirers with contempt.
It is a large group, but it doesn't include all Germans by far. In an public opinion poll conducted for German public broadcaster ARD last week, the majority of respondents said that they were in favor of Sarrazin leaving the executive board of the Bundesbank. Still, the view that there are serious problems with immigrants is also widespread -- even though Mesut Özil was one of the German national team's stars in the last World Cup and Sibel Kekilli is a television star. Instead of such celebrities with Turkish backgrounds, many Germans are apparently more likely to think first of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, in 2008, told Turks living in Germany: "No one can expect you to subject yourselves to assimilation, because assimilation is a crime against humanity."
Assimilation certainly hasn't taken hold in Neukölln, the Berlin district Sarrazin mentions most often in connection with his theories. He spoke with Heinz Buschkowsky, the district mayor and a fellow Social Democrat. The northern section of Neukölln is home to about 81,000 people with an immigration background. They come from about 160 countries and their children make up 90 percent of elementary school students. Depending on the block, two-thirds to three-quarters of residents live on welfare benefits.
Buschkowsky is angry. "He didn't include in his book many of the things that I had explained to him in detail," like the differences among Muslims, for example. "Among the Alawites, gender equality, the condemnation of violence and education are important principles of life," he says, noting that Sarrazin "proved to be resistant to advice."
On the other hand, says Buschkowsky, Sarrazin accurately describes some of the everyday problems. In some cities there are parallel societies, although many refuse to believe that they exist. "It's the usual refusal to acknowledge reality, the whitewashing, that I even find among integration officials. The biggest enemy of a reasonable integration policy is ignorance."
Kazim Erdogan, a psychologist, is among those who address the desolate conditions in Berlin's troubled Neukölln neighborhood every day: violent fathers, drug-addicted sons, children who can barely read at the age of 10. "We've all known for a long time that the problems are massive," he says. "And now, when I read that Sarrazin has triggered a long overdue debate, I feel mocked."
Erdogan has been trying to bring about change in Neukölln for years. "It's an arduous path, but there are a growing number of successes" -- a child who makes it into high school or an adolescent who finds a job. "You can't simply behave as if none of this existed."