Photo Gallery: Bright Germany, Dark Germany
Dark Germany, Bright Germany Which Side Will Prevail Under Strain of Refugees?
Anger is in the air. Angela Merkel has come to Heidenau and the locals are lined up to see her. But it is anything but a friendly welcome: It is a crowd full of hate. Some call out: "Traitor to Your People!" Others yell "We Are the Pack," a reference to Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel's strong condemnation of right-wing, anti-refugee demonstrators.
It is the pride of idiots. After the chancellor disappears into the former building supplies store, where 400 refugees have found shelter, the residents of the small Saxony town begin talking about the outsiders who have become their temporary neighbors.
"Did you see the young men? Full of hormones and with nothing sensible to do. They can't help but get dumb ideas," says one tanned pensioner wearing a bike helmet. A woman nods and says she no longer allows her granddaughter to walk past the building supplies store alone.
A policeman with foreign features is standing in front of the villagers wearing a firearm and a baton, but his face is friendly. Eventually, he joins the discussion. "I was born in Germany in 1980, but my parents are from Afghanistan," he says. "They came to escape the war with the Russians." His German is flawless. The emblem of the Lower Saxony police force is displayed prominently on his breast. The Saxons around him listen closely. And are amazed.
"My father was a teacher in Afghanistan and my mother worked in the technical field," the policeman says. "But of course they could no longer practice their professions here." The young man speaks calmly, but insistently, looking at the people behind the police barricade directly in the eyes. He declines to give his name -- not out of fear, but because he doesn't want to speak of his political viewpoints while in uniform. The man with the Afghan parents has completely internalized Germany's civil servant principles.
The Heidenau residents say nothing; their enmity goes silent for a short moment. For the first time all day.
Germany, in this late summer of 2015, can be a confusing place. There are migrants in uniform who have to protect the chancellor, herself from East Germany, from an eastern German mob.
The attacks on refugee hostels in Germany have reached a shocking level this year. By July 6, there were fully 199 of them, and the attacks have shown no signs of stopping. At the same time, though, Germans seem more willing to help than ever before. They visit refugee hostels, bringing along clothes and toys. They cook together with the Syrians and Sudanese. They invite migrant boys to join the football teams where their own children play.
Which Germany will prevail? The Germany of racist chants from the roadside? The Germany of rioters and drunken rock-throwers? "Dark Germany," as President Joachim Gauck calls it? Or will it be the new, bright Germany, represented by the young policeman with his roots in Afghanistan? Will Western Europe ultimately prefer to allow the refugees to die in trucks rather than to open the door to the desperate? Or will Germany rejoice in helping and in allowing the refugees to take part in the unbelievable prosperity that the republic has enjoyed in recent decades?
Germany has always harbored its illusions about migrants. In the 1960s, it was said that the workers brought in from Italy and Turkey were only guests in the country, helping hands on the assembly lines of Bosch and Daimler. Then, when they stayed and their children sat next to German kids in schools and Turkish vegetable stands sprung up on every street corner, the overwhelming majority of German policymakers continued to refuse to identify Germany as a country of immigration.
Is a new lie now being told today? Germany's political leadership still hasn't made up its mind and seems simultaneously tentative and courageous. It is hard to know in which direction it will end up going. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière long acted as though the problems were merely administrative in nature.
But there are rays of hope. After days of silence, the chancellor visited the refugee hostel in Heidenau that were the target of right-wing protests last weekend. Her deputy chancellor, Gabriel, had earlier this year voiced understanding for the xenophobic protests of the Pegida movement, known by its full name as Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident. This time around, though, he didn't mince words. The protesters, he said, were "a pack, a mob" that "should be locked up."
But how long will this consensus, this alliance of reason, hold up? That's just one of the many questions that must now be addressed. As many as 800,000 refugees and migrants may arrive in Germany this year, according to Interior Ministry forecasts. And even if we don't really know how things will develop in coming years, one thing is certain: The numbers aren't likely to drop appreciably. The civil war in Syria grinds on, there is no end in sight to terror in Iraq, and the situation in Eritrea isn't likely to improve any time soon, to name just a few significant drivers of migration.
It is also certain that the newcomers will change our country. Germans have only recently become used to the idea that they live in a country of immigration and now, the next illusion is being destroyed: that there is such a thing as controlled immigration. It isn't just the best minds that are coming to us; it is people fleeing Assad's barrel bombs and Islamic State brutality. They are running for their lives, whether they are illustrious or illiterate.
The good news is that most Germans don't have a problem with this. Sixty percent are of the opinion that the country can absorb the huge numbers of refugees currently arriving. And a new form of civility is developing, one that isn't just being driven by pricks of conscience and the weight of the past. Rather, it is fueled by the joy of doing good. But how long will it last?
During the World Cup in 2006, Germany presented itself as a joyful country. Finally the world liked the Germans. But it was an easily earned affection. A bit of good weather and a few people waving flags for football instead of for fascism was enough.
Now, though, the situation is a different one. The refugees are going to be a burden on the country; that much is clear. They will move into apartments that are already in short supply in some cities. They will present a challenge to teachers, because children who speak no German will enter the school system. This will not be the kind of summer fairy tale that 2006 was.
This new Germany will demand a fair amount from its citizens. But it also represents an opportunity. The refugees are mostly young, whereas Germany is rapidly aging. At the moment, the vast wave of desperate newcomers is dividing the European Union, but it also presents a chance for the community to find a new identity. It could also provide further proof that German democracy works even in moments of great difficulty and challenge.
But what must be done for the positive to prevail? And how might the country -- the destination of dreams for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of refugees -- be changed?
Günther Schulze has two mobile phones. One rings every couple of minutes while the other receives an unbroken stream of emails. A woman has a mattress to donate, 200 centimenters by 90 centimeters, but it has to be picked up. Another is collecting school bags: "How many do you need?" A third writes in with the information that the publishing house he works for has just made its online Arabic-German dictionary available free of charge. Schulze says he could spend the whole day writing answers. And he would like to send thank you notes to everybody. But he is starting to worry that, if he did, he would no longer have enough time to take care of his real work.
One year ago, the Willkommensbündnis für Flüchtlinge (or Welcoming Alliance for Refugees) was established in the upper middle-class Berlin quarter of Steglitz-Zehlendorf. Some 300,000 people live in the district along with, as of recently, a few hundred refugees divided up among five shelters. More than 1,000 people support the initiative with 300 people volunteering their time to help the newcomers with bureaucratic formalities or to collect donated clothing for them.
It is just one example of a new grassroots movement of a kind never before seen in Germany. "At the beginning of the 1990s, there was a wave of people willing to help the refugees who were coming to the country to escape the war in Yugoslavia," says Olaf Kleist, a research fellow at the Refugee Studies Center at Oxford University. "But it wasn't nearly this big or this broad."
It is a movement from the center of German society. But it is one not focused inward, but outward, toward those who are now arriving in the country. "It is a clear indication that the German society is prepared to change. It is becoming more curious and open to novelty," Kleist says.
Gaby Engelmann, for example, became involved because she found the protests against a refugee hostel in the Berlin quarter of Hellersdorf to be so insufferable. She got in touch with the Willkommensbündnis and initially helped by distributing clothing before another helper asked her to accompany a refugee on a visit to the authorities. Her calendar entry for that February day read "10:00 a.m. Syrian." Today, she sees that Syrian almost every day. "My son has taken to calling him 'half-brother,'" the 69-year-old says. She has accompanied him to various agencies and to the health insurance company. She demanded a credit rating for him from the German agency responsible and even called the German Embassy in Beirut so that his family might join him more quickly.
"I suddenly feel happy," Engelmann says. "I am becoming acquainted with other cultures, I have improved my English and I have many new friends."
The readiness to help is particularly large among pensioners like Schulze and Engelmann. They have plenty of time and many of those in their age group are looking for something to give their lives meaning after all those years in the labor market. They see Germany as an island of prosperity and feel morally obliged to help.
Such good intentions will permanently change Germany. Helpers, and society at large, are changed by their interactions with the refugees. Contact with people from other cultures becomes more normal and tolerance rises as a result. A new view is created of the foreigners coming to the country: a view free of prejudice, but also free of illusions.
But volunteer work cannot completely supplant the state. Günther Schulze, founder of the Willkommensbündnis, sometimes feels abandoned. If citizen initiatives are going to take on tasks that should really be fulfilled by the state, then they should at least get financial support for doing so, Schulze demands. Sometimes, it would also help if the bureaucrats were a little less zealous in their work. One thing refugees can be sure of as soon as they have found their first apartment in Germany: As absurd as it may sound, one of their first pieces of mail will be a letter demanding their contribution to Germany's public broadcasting system.
Something is changing. Alexander Gauland can feel it when he goes to his local bar in Potsdam. People stop at his table to chat; some even want to sit down with him. They say things like: "It's good that you are tackling the issue of asylum-seekers." He has even had perfect strangers yell to him during his evening swim in a nearby lake: "Keep it up!"
Alexander Gauland, 74, is deputy head of the Alternative for Germany (AfD). The party began as an anti-euro organization, but Gauland was one of the first to nudge it towards being anti-foreigner as well, even if he would never say it quite like that.
"We will certainly continue to be needed," Gauland says, when asked if his party has a bright future ahead of it. "The Germans won't accept 1.5 million refugees. The mood will change. When it does, you can only hope that people will vote for us instead of for the NPD," he adds, referring to the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany. Gauland sells himself as a savior of political honesty. The AfD, he says, isn't afraid of talking about uncomfortable truths. If that is populist, he says, then he is happy to be given that label.
In the coming weeks, Gauland will demand that young Germans be given specialist training instead of taking in "foreign, unqualified people." He will demand that guards and police be better protected against violent conflicts among asylum-seekers. And, Gauland would "suspend the right to asylum if the refugee problem can't be solved in another way."
Gauland is at pains to appear the Prussian gentleman, an educated man in tweed who quotes the 19th century German author Theodor Fontane and greets women by kissing their hand. But in the last Brandenburg state election, he won 12 percent of the vote -- on the strength of his campaign against a refugee hostel. He took part in the anti-Muslim demonstrations in Dresden organized by the xenophobic Pegida organization and professed to seeing only "completely normal citizens" there. After a planned refugee hostel went up in flames in Nauen recently, Gauland blamed the politicians -- for not taking the worries of the populace seriously.
Is history repeating itself? In the 1990s, right-wing extremist parties were able to profit from the fear of an "asylum glut." In 1992, the right-wing nationalist party DVU landed in the Schleswig-Holstein state parliament with 6.3 percent of the vote and the nationalist-conservative Republicans got 10.9 percent in a state vote in Baden-Württemberg. That year, some 438,000 asylum-seekers arrived in Germany. This year, almost double that amount is expected.
Graphic: Waves of Asylum-Seekers in GermanyFoto: DER SPIEGEL
But times have changed. Germans have become more cosmopolitan and their understanding for misery in the world, and for the motivations driving the refugees, has grown as a result. Furthermore, many frustrated voters don't end up joining forces with the right wing. They simply don't vote at all.
Nevertheless, the refugee crisis is likely to influence the political decisions taken by many voters. "The fears in the 1990s were similar to those of today," says Matthias Jung, head of the leading German polling agency Forschungsgruppe Wahlen. "It's just that the economic situation was much worse back then. There wasn't only the irrational fear of too many foreigners, but also the rational fear of unemployment." Many people, particularly in former East Germany, lost their jobs in the months and years after reunification. The right-wing at the time handed out leaflets reading: "Today, they are standing at your machine. Tomorrow, they'll be sleeping with your Christine."
More than 20 years later, the economic situation is better and fear of foreigners is less of a factor. "Many voters doubt the abilities of policymakers," Jung says. They have the impression, he continues, that ministers, agencies and parliamentarians are helpless in the face of the inflow of refugees.
Which is why it is imperative that the burden of that inflow be more fairly distributed. That isn't populism. It is a dictate of rationality. In the first seven months of this year, 44 percent of the migrants arriving in Germany came from the Balkans. Their reasons for coming may be totally legitimate, but their home countries are free of both war and totalitarianism. The asylum applications of these people must be processed more rapidly. And they have to leave the country more quickly.
Graphic: Ayslum-seekers in 2015 by country of originFoto: DER SPIEGEL
At the same time, with some 87 percent of them being accepted anyway, the asylum applications of Syrians could also be sped up. Since 2001, an EU guideline demands that help, free of bureaucracy, be offered to civil war refugees. But still today, the guideline would seem to exist only on paper.
On Monday, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans and European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopulos will leave the sterile hallways of their Brussels offices to take a personal look at the misery of the refugees in the port city of Calais, in northern France. The unofficial camps surrounding Calais have become a symbol for the failure of Europe's refugee policies.
"Is this Europe?" asks Ali, and gestures at a hovel made of plastic sheeting. Using a couple of twigs and a ball of paper, he lights a small fire between three rocks to cook some rice. Ali is a 29-year-old from the crisis region of Darfur in Sudan and is an engineer. On the way to northern France, he crossed the desert to Libya and then paid traffickers several thousand euros to bring him across the Mediterranean.
Here, on the English Channel, he is almost 5,000 kilometers from home and he still hasn't reached his goal. Like many of the more than 3,000 people in the "Jungle," as the camp is known, he wants to get to Great Britain. "I have friends in London," he says.
Every evening, Ali and his friends head out looking for a hole in the security fence protecting the Calais ferry port and the entrance to the Eurotunnel, like some gigantic prison. Every night, French police patrols with their dogs try to prevent the refugees from continuing on their dangerous journey. It has become a daily routine in the heart of Europe -- a routine that regularly results in injuries and even death.
Illegal camps like the "Jungle" shouldn't actually exist. Europe, an "area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers," according to the Lisbon Treaty, has joint standards pertaining to the housing of refugees. But the European rules have become fragile as a result of the hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the borders into the EU.
Thus far, Europe has responded to the crisis with organized irresponsibility. Italy and Greece allow asylum-seekers to continue their journeys, despite the Dublin Regulation, which requires that refugees apply for asylum where they first enter the EU. It is a system that has allowed countries like Germany and France to ignore the true dimensions of the problem for years.
But there are plenty of other indications as well that the EU migration system is collapsing. Hungary and Bulgaria, for example, are building border fences and Slovakia has said it only wants to accept Christian refugees, and not Muslims. Austria's government announced that it would cease processing new asylum applications. Great Britain intends to pass strict laws against illegal immigration.
Chancellor Merkel is concerned that the refugee crisis has the potential to destroy the European idea. What, after all, are the wonderful ideals worth when all Europe is talking about is how to keep the desperate and rejected away? Recently, German Interior Minister de Maizière called into question one of the great achievements of united Europe: border-free travel in the Schengen area. As though such efforts would stop refugees like Ali.
The fire in Ali's hovel finally burns hot and the water on his cast-iron pot comes to a boil. The tent's plastic sheeting flaps as a column of black vehicles speeds down the pot-holed road nearby. They are officials who have come in advance of the approaching visits of senior European and French politicians.
It is often said that Europe grows in times of crisis. But that isn't how things currently look. On the contrary. It almost seems as though the refugee emergency is bringing out the worst in Europe: xenophobia, isolationism and the eternal argument about who is responsible. But the late summer of 2015 also offers the possibility of reflection. The refugees present Europe with the opportunity to show that it takes seriously the values spelled out in its treaties.
A good start would be an agreement by all member states on a fair refugee distribution plan so that countries like Italy and Greece, Germany and Sweden, are not forced to carry the lion's share of the weight. But the mutual distrust among Europe's heads of government has already become too great for such an agreement. Another necessity is the development of a common asylum policy. Even though the EU long ago agreed on a joint asylum system, the rules are applied differently in each country, which is one reason why Germany is such a popular destination country.
Europe's long-term goal, though, has to be that of fighting the causes of migration. Of course Europe won't be able to quickly impose peace on Syria or to transform Eritrea into a democracy. But at the moment, EU member states aren't even trying to look beyond the borders of Europe. EU countries agreed 10 years ago to increase their development aid to 0.7 percent of their gross domestic products. But hardly any member states have achieved that goal.
Instead, the EU is planning new incentives to encourage African countries of origin to take back the refugees that Europe rejects. At the EU-Africa summit in Malta in November, the European Commission intends to offer €1 billion more for an EU-Africa trust fund -- but the money will only be provided in exchange for cooperation.
Is it naïve to tell the story of Bnana Darwish? Of course not all children from refugee families are such luminous examples as she is -- educated, cultivated, hungry for opportunity.
Darwish's father worked in Syria as a teacher of the Muslim religion and as a teacher trainer while her mother is a translator of English. At the end of 2012, the Darwish family had to flee from Damascus to Beirut due to the civil war. In spring 2014, they arrived in Baden-Württemberg as part of the contingent of Syrian refugees that Germany had agreed in 2013 to accept from Lebanon.
Bnana, 25, now lives in a house there with her father and four siblings. Her mother remained in Lebanon. Bnana's youngest brother is going to a college-prep high school and she herself got a scholarship, sponsored by the state and by the German-American Exchange Service (DAAD), to begin studying architecture at the University of Stuttgart in October.
Graphic: Age distribution of asylum-seekers in Germanyy in 2014Foto: DER SPIEGEL
It would be an exaggeration to proclaim Germany an integration success story because of Darwish, but it is still a positive example. One of the primary causes of the "parallel societies" that have developed in Germany is the lack of education. Immigrants who came to Germany in the 1960s and '70s tended to have limited education. The problem was made worse by Germany's refusal to provide training to the "guest workers." The country erroneously believed that the workers would leave again once they were no longer needed.
Now, Germany has a double opportunity. Not all of those currently coming are uneducated, particularly from countries like Syria, where the middle- and upper-classes are fleeing as well. A study by the Nuremberg-based Institute for Employment Research found that 13 percent of new arrivals in 2013 had a university degree, with almost one in four having at least a high school diploma.
Still, the largest group of newcomers, some 58 percent, has no occupational training whatsoever. If the country wants to avoid the mistakes made in the past, these people must quickly be given training. That will be one of the largest tasks in the coming years.
Already, some politicians are complaining that schools don't have the capability to accept more refugee children. "Capacity has been reached," wrote Erfurt Mayor Andreas Bausewein this week, for example, in an open letter to the chancellor and to the governor of his state of Thuringia.
And the situation is indeed a serious one. The statistical office in the state of Baden-Württemberg just recently discarded its forecasts for the number of schoolchildren it expects to enroll during the next 10 years. Instead of a decline, the statisticians now expect to see significantly more pupils in the state's elementary schools. Similar adjustments are being made by other states in Germany, with Hamburg enrolling more school children for the coming school year than it has since 1983.
Still, it would be wrong to exclude refugees from the school system. If Germany wants today to avoid laying the groundwork for tomorrow's problems, then refugee children must be quickly allocated slots in German daycare facilities. Their right to a spot from the age of one is already written into German law, but in practice, municipalities often fail to create sufficient capacity.
Furthermore, the German school system needs thousands of new teachers to deal with the refugees. In the coming years, that effort will likely cost hundreds of millions of euros. Still, it would be money well invested. The German labor market, after all, is healthy.
"It is erroneous to believe that refugees could take jobs away from people," says Holger Bonin, labor market expert at the Center for European Economic Research. Hotels, restaurants, care homes and farmers: All are searching for workers.
But asylum laws still place hurdles in the way. To integrate refugees into the labor market more quickly, it is high time to eliminate laws that give German and EU citizens priority for job openings. It is a highly bureaucratic form of discrimination that helps nobody. In practice, Germans don't want the kind of jobs -- in gastronomy, or harvesting asparagus -- that refugees are looking for anyway.
Furthermore, refugees in on-the-job training programs must be given the right to remain in Germany for at least three years after the completion of their apprenticeships. The reason? Many employers don't see the value in training refugees if there is a risk they might have to leave the country as soon as they are finished.
Oliver Junk's climb to nationwide fame began on Nov. 19, 2014. That was the night that Junk, the mayor of the central German town of Goslar, held a speech with a surprising conclusion, at least for a conservative Christian Democrat like himself. "We can only survive with immigration," he said. "Migration is good for us!"
Junk said that shrinking towns like Goslar could "also profit from refugees." They could be helpful as workers, would lower the population's average age and enrich the town culturally. Between 2002 and 2013, Goslar lost 4,000 residents, almost a 10th of the population. Currently, the city needs at least 200 immigrants per year to prevent the population from shrinking further.
The idea of using refugees to help solve Germany's demographic problems seems plausible. Were refugees to be settled in rural areas that are suffering from population decline, it could help combat the trend of people moving from the country to the cities -- "the constant internal migration from the periphery to the centers," as Reiner Klingholz, director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, calls it.
But Klingholz has difficulty believing in the idea of saving Germany's rural areas with refugees. The problem is massive, particularly in eastern Germany. But the reason is the lack of jobs in such areas. "People go where they can find work," Klingholz says, adding that it is also true of refugees.
In addition, large cities like Berlin or Cologne already have networks of people from many of the countries from which refugees are currently fleeing. They can offer newcomers both help and familiarity. By contrast, small towns in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for example, are full of xenophobia and prejudice. The pattern is the same elsewhere, with immigrants preferring to settle in metropolitan areas. Even in a country like the United States, which has traditionally accepted vast numbers of refugees, newcomers tend to avoid places like the rural Midwest.
Refugees are also unlikely to have much of an effect on Germany's aging society. Migrants do tend to have more children than German women, but the difference isn't huge: 1.6 children per woman versus 1.3. Demographics expert Herwig Birg says that up to 2 million immigrants would have to arrive every year in order to reverse the country's aging trends.
Back in Goslar, three-quarters of a year has passed since Junk's speech and nothing has changed. A political leader in the region, from the center-left Social Democrats, is blocking Junk's plans because, he says, Goslar is unable to integrate more refugees. Junk admits to being "a bit frustrated."
Esra Kücük was nine years old when racists set fire to accommodations for immigrants in both Rostock and Mölln. It was 1992. Kücük knew of the attacks primarily from stories her relatives told. They had little connection to her own life -- at least not until this summer.
Kücük, 32, is the founder and leader of the Young Islam Conference (JIK), a Berlin-based NGO that has for years successfully championed the interests of young Muslims in Germany. JIK has chapters in several German states and its members have been invited to meet with officials in the office of the German president and the Foreign Ministry.
Currently, the organization is dealing with almost daily reports of new attacks on refugees in Germany. During the first six months of this year, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) recorded 199 attacks on asylum-seeker accommodations, almost three times more than during the same period last year. Kücük frequently gets calls from immigrants who fear for their lives. "We're seriously asking ourselves if the 1990s have returned," she says.
But Germany is far from the 1990s. In contrast to the attacks in Rostock, leading German politicians have been far more decisive in condemning racist activities. German society has also changed. In western Germany, one in three primary school children comes from a family with an immigrant background. Germans have also become accustomed to senior government officials like Aydan Ozgüz, a minister of state in Merkel's Chancellery who is also Germany's commissioner for migration, refugees and integration, as well as famous film directors like Fatih Akin, who became known around the world for his film "Head On" about Turkish-Germans. It doesn't get any more conservative or traditional than the world-famous Oberammergau Passion Play, which is staged only once a decade. The 2020 performance will be directed by Abdullah Kenan Karaca, the son of Turkish immigrants. "Immigration has become part of normality in Germany," says Kücük.
Kücük grew up in Hamburg as the child of Turkish guest workers. At her high school, she was one of the only ones who was the child of immigrants. She remembers teachers asking her if she had been married off. Neighbors would ask when the family finally planned to return to Turkey.
At the same time, her own life continued to develop. Kücük got high scores on her high-school exit exams and studied politics at universities in Münster and Frankfurt. She later rose to become a manager of a major German foundation. Just like the police officer from Lower-Saxony with Afghan roots, she's the embodiment of the new Germany -- an immigrant who has made it.
It's a rainy August afternoon and Kücük is sitting in a hotel lobby in Hamburg, where she is participating in an international conference of young leaders. The guests from Brazil, India and the United States ask her what's wrong with Germany. Are the Nazis returning to power? Kücük makes a swiping gesture on her iPhone. The news about right-wing extremist rioting in Heidenau or Freital alarms her, she says, before adding: "I have never experienced hatred like that."
There's never been as much hate, but also never as much helpfulness -- it's a simple formula that accurately sums up the new Germany. The silent majority falls between these two poles. "Those who have always griped are griping even louder now. And those who always had a positive attitude are now getting active and helping," says Joachim Eisenkolb, the mayor of Elchingen, a town located along the Danube River near Ulm. The town has become a model for the integration of refugees in Germany. He says the majority of people in the town are "sympathetically neutral" to the refugees.
The major task for German politicians now is to ensure that this sympathetically neutral majority doesn't defect into the camp of the gripers. But two things are necessary in order to guarantee this happens: boundaries and honesty.
Politicians need to establish boundaries to ensure that Germany isn't overwhelmed, and that people's openness and helpfulness isn't overstrained. And they need to talk openly about the costs that Germans will soon be facing. After all, integration doesn't happen for free -- there are costs, both financially and socially.
The coexistence of hundreds of thousands of Arab and African Muslims -- in addition to the millions of Turks and people of Turkish origin already living here -- will test the limits of German tolerance. The country will again debate whether headscarves should be allowed in government workplaces, whether girls should be required to take co-educational swimming classes, whether minarets can be as high as church steeples and how loud the muezzins can conduct their calls to prayer. But this is a test that German society can, indeed must, endure.
If, fearing the wrath of voters, politicians duck uncomfortable truths, the hatred will spread and the public will lose faith in politics. Essentially, what Germany is confronted with is a double integration process: that of refugees who are coming to Germany and that of Germans who no longer feel they are a part of their own country. The only way societal cohesion in this new Germany can be guaranteed is if both of these groups are carried along as the country moves forward.
Mayor Eisenkolb is still optimistic. "Germany already managed to do this twice -- after World War II, when many refugees came, and again when the wave of guest workers arrived. "So, yeah, I'm sure we'll manage to do this again," he says. But he also laments that the political framework is lacking for dealing with the refugees. The top structures are absent. "I don't have the power to steer opinions," he says.
So far, the vast majority of Germans have shown themselves to be immune from right-wing populism. Alexander Gauland and his Alternative for Germany party is struggling to remain above the 5 percent mark in polls and it is anything but certain that it will clear the hurdle for seats in parliament in the next general election two years from now. But even if it does, it won't necessarily pose a significant threat. Right-wing populist parties are a part of the political spectrum across Europe. That's certainly not something people should welcome, but even if AfD does get seats, it won't pose a threat to democracy. Germany would be able to withstand it.
A failure of integration, on the other hand, is something Germany can ill afford. That's also a fact politicians need to address openly. It may well be that asylum-seekers from Syria and Eritrea go back to their homelands in a few years if peace and stability is restored. But it is just as possible that many of them will remain in Germany for years or decades to come. It is thus imperative that the government foster their integration. Successful integration policies offer the most successful means of combating racism. At the same time, failed integration can have two consequences: It can provide fertile ground for xenophobia and it can exacerbate security problems. So far at least, Germany has been largely spared from Islamic terrorism, but that may not be the case in the future.
It would already be helpful if those willing to assist refugees weren't hamstrung by the pitfalls of German bureaucracy. Just about every helper you talk to has stories to share about how solutions and support are hindered by some regulation or other. In the town of Jugenheim in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, for example, refugees were asked to provide their Syrian birth certificates before they could receive the cards necessary to access to Germany's national healthcare system. "Why don't you just make a call to Aleppo," the friendly health insurance employee recommended, without realizing that the city is completely bombed out.
"An application is required for everything," says one volunteer -- for lunch at all-day schools, for the costs of extra-curricular activities. Even a visit to the doctor requires that a form be filled out the first time. It feels like everything has to have that exaggerated Germans sense of order. That's something that will have to change in the new Germany, too. The arrival of the refugees will force quicker, more pragmatic and unconventional solutions. Things simply won't work any other way. Indeed, a bit of chaos is something that we, as Germans, actually ought to hope for.
By Melanie Amann, Jan Friedmann, Christiane Hoffmann, Horand Knaup, Martin Knobbe, Peter Müller, Conny Neumann, René Pfister, Maximilian Popp, Cornelia Schmergal, Christoph Schult and Michael Sontheimer