Geoff Roberts


26 August 2016

German Lessons

I started teaching a German language course in a small town near Frankfurt in February, taking over a class of 12 adult students who had been meeting for three hours a day, four times a week, for two years. First they had to learn the Latin alphabet, and many struggled with writing from left to right. Now most of them can understand a letter from the local authority. Four came to Germany from Afghanistan, three from Ethiopia, two from Bulgaria, one from Bangladesh, one from Tibet and one from Yemen. Their average age was about fifty. Some of them have lived here for more than thirty years, but weren’t allocated to a language course until 2014. German governments used to assume that ‘guest workers’ and refugees would eventually go ‘home’, and integration was a low priority.


23 August 2014

Sabotage

The trio known as the National Socialist Underground (NSU) are thought to be responsible for ten murders, two bomb attacks and a number of bank raids. The Thuringia legislature has just published the findings of a committee that examined the reasons for the many failures in the official search for the NSU, from the time they went underground in 1998 until their last bank raid in Eisenach in November 2011.


21 November 2012

At the Brandenburg Gate

According to government sources, there are about 50,000 refugees in Germany. Most of them are from Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and lately from Syria. The German authorities keep them in closed camps, usually a long way from neighbouring towns, and require them to stay put until their cases are heard. Refugees who arrive by plane are kept for months in special quarters at Frankfurt Airport, well out of sight of the other passengers. Until recently, they were given a subsistence allowance of €224 a month, with many local councils issuing food stamps instead of cash. A few weeks ago, the High Court recognised that €224 was not enough for a person to live on and the payment has been raised to €336 a month: €30 less than someone on Hartz IV, the modern German version of the dole. In recent weeks there has been an influx of refugees from Romania, most of them Sinti or Roma. The German policy has been to send them back as quickly as possible: the usual wait for the bureaucratic wheels to turn has miraculously been shortened, officially because they come from a European Union member country.


20 July 2012

Drinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

There are now two boards of inquiry looking into how three neo-Nazis could have travelled around Germany and killed ten people before the security services (16 branches in total, not counting special police units whose job is to keep an eye on right-wing groups) tracked them down last November. Two of the suspects died as the police were closing in on them in Eisenach; the third, Beate Zschäpe, is in jail awaiting trial.


26 June 2012

We Are Pope!

As Philip Oltermann writes in the latest LRB, it's sixty years since Bild was first published. To mark the anniversary on Sunday, the Springer Company delivered 41 million copies of the tabloid’s 'jubilee issue' to every household in Germany. A celebration of six decades of fearless journalism, or a desperate bid to boost circulation? Twenty years ago, Bild sold about five million copies daily; it's now down to about half that.


19 June 2012

Hermann's Version

Almost all western media reports of the massacre at Houla on 25 May said that it was carried out by members of the Shabiha militia, irregular forces loyal to the Assad regime. But in two articles for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Rainer Hermann has raised doubts about the reliability of the accepted version of events and offered evidence that rebel forces were responsible.


14 May 2012

Rise of the Pirates

The first European Pirate Party emerged in Sweden in 2006, when a group calling itself the Piratpartiet was formed to campaign for the right to download everything. The German Pirates were first elected to the Berlin Landtag last September. Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein followed, and now they have been elected to the assembly in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. The Pirates have won support at the expense of all the other parties, and there is talk of their joining a coalition government after the federal election in September 2013.


27 February 2012

Bismarck speaks

In 1889, Adelbert Wangemann, an associate of Thomas Edison, came to Europe to promote Edison's latest invention, the phonograph. After making some recordings in Paris, Wangemann travelled to Germany, where the Siemens family opened doors for him to be received by the kaiser. On 7 October 1889, Wangemann met Otto von Bismarck, who agreed to speak a few words into the megaphone.


11 January 2012

A Small Town in Germany

On 4 November 2011, the police finally tracked down two men who were wanted for questioning in connection with at least 14 bank raids in towns across East Germany. Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos were found dead in a camping bus in Eisenach, along with a pistol that had been used to kill at least nine men between 1999 and 2007. Eight of the victims were of Turkish origin, the ninth was born in Greece. The authorities had not previously considered that the murders might be racially motivated: racist attacks are often explained away by the police as 'drunken brawls over private issues'. Official data put the number of racially motivated murders in Germany since 1990 at 48, but activist groups and journalists say the figure is closer to 140.