Dark Germany, Bright Germany: Which Side Will Prevail Under Strain of Refugees?

DEU, Deutschland, Berlin 27.08.2015: Asylbewerber stehen in der zentralen Anlaufstelle für Asylbewerber, dem Lageso (Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales) um unter anderem einen Asylantrag zu stellen oder Geld zu bekommen.

Hermann Bredehorst/ DER SPIEGEL

Germany is experiencing an unprecedented influx of immigrants who will fundamentally change the country. They represent a burden, but also a chance to create a New Germany, one that is more cosmopolitan and generous. By SPIEGEL Staff

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 levelthis 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 seemmore 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.

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