AMA with a Syrian Refugee in Germany

A Syrian refugee living in Germany did an AMA recently, and the result was fascinating. He's a young man who ran a successful Internet cafe and left because of threatened conscription. He's gotten asylum and has been in Germany 9 months, learning German.

I've pasted a few of the exchanges I found the most interesting. Reformatted them hastily, since I find reddit's format a bit hard to follow.

First, my favorite exchange of all: 

thegingerduck: How did you learn English? Did you learn while in Syria?

StraightOuttaSyria: Movies, TV-shows, books, music, youtube, internet in general.

thegingerduck: Are you doing the same for german?

StraightOuttaSyria: Yup, the radio and tv are always on, discovered some great German bands and singers, can't read books now but will asap.

OgGorrilaKing: It's Rammstein isn't it? You've been listening to Rammstein.

StraightOuttaSyria: I've been listening to them even before coming to Germany :D

Arntown: Yeah, and for advanced learning try Herbert Grönemeyer. If you can understand him, you're better than 50% of the Germans :D

Asked what the biggest culture shocks were:

  • Public drinking
  • Relationships ( female - male )
  • General acceptance for LGBT
  • Sex-Ed in school? Good luck with that
  • Shared Showers

What does he think of Western airstrikes against ISIS? "It's awesome, like really it's the best thing that happened since the start of the revolution and civil war in Syria."

What it's like to live in ISIS-run areas:

Great question.

They have very strict rules you need to follow, but generally they try to keep the population under their control "comfortable", because they wouldn't be able to fight an inside war and expand their "Caliphate" too, actually, the regions under ISIS control are the regions with the most access to water and electricity in Syria.

so yeah, so many rules, very strict rules, but if you follow you'll live ok.

Another question has to do with the image of Europe:

There are rumors about refugees being fed obvious lies about the welfare system in Germany: Things like getting top notch housing, a car and a well paid job upon arrival. What do you think of it?

Answer: SO MUCH LIES. they all think of Europe as a paradise on Earth, these lies are fed very much through the smugglers who try to convince you to go to Europe, as I suggested in another comment, I think the Europe should build a website putting every decision and news related to the refugees in it so they can get an authentic source of news and know who it is in Europe.

Good Syrian dishes: 

In the years to come I expect we will see Syrian restaurants and take-aways appear in the EU. What are good / unique dishes we can look forward to? Any good vegetarian dishes?

Answer: Look for "Fatte" "فتة", it's great

On how the EU should manage the crisis: 

What are your thoughts About how the EU should manage the refugee crisis? Glad you made it welcome to germany.

StraightOuttaSyria: Obviously I'm happy many people can get a chance for a better life. But the way it happens now is wrong, mass numbers will hurt the people before the host countries, and eventually will lead to more troubles. There are many way they can help the people and get everything under control, as I've said couple of times, get them legal status in Turkey, then sort the people who need to get to Europe, and pick them from the camps. These are some of the simplest ways.

And on ISIS infiltrators:

Do you believe that ISIS terrorists are disguising themselves as refugees to get into Europe and the US?

StraightOuttaSyria: It's a quite big possibility, but hopefully the authorities run a good background check before granting anyone asylum.

redditor401: No offence to you, but judging by the way you got in, I don't think that's really happening, lol.

Merkel Should Apologize and Ask for Help

Germany, which will receive around 130,000 migrants this month alone, is overwhelmed. Signs of crisis and breakdown are everywhere, and there are still hundreds of thousands of migrants in the pipeline. Desperate German (and some European) politicians continue to try to get other European countries to accept more of the million migrants Germany lured to the continent. 

So far they've tried two methods.

The first method is appeals to European "solidarity" and European "values". This doesn't work, because those are lofty abstractions, and nobody agrees on their meaning.

The second method is by threatening to withhold EU funds to countries that don't take "enough" migrants. This doesn't work, because it looks like Germany bullying other countries to clean up its mess. It enrages countries which are much poorer than Germany, threatening to gravely damage the EU itself.

There is a third option, although one that, in my experience, German civil servants never consider: Apologize. A short speech for Merkel:

Europe (or the rest of the world), Germany has been a main driver of this crisis. We failed to anticipate a flow of refugees that anyone could have seen was coming. We didn't prepare. We made a decision to ignore Schengen that sent the wrong signal, luring hundreds of thousands more people. We take full responsibility for this problem. But right now, we are faced with a number of refugees which we simply cannot handle. So in the spirit of humility, we apologize for our previous actions and ask for help.

The migrants are not to blame, at least not the migrants who are actually fleeing war and persecution. They should not suffer unduly for our mistake. We ask you to take significantly more refugees. In return, we will agree to tax our citizens to provide a lavish financial aid package that will reduce the financial burden to a minimum. We will also agree to immediately implement and help pay for strict border controls on the EU outer border, to ensure that we do not get further streams of refugees when we can't cope with the ones we already have.

Other nations of Europe (or the rest of the world), please accept our apology and help us out. We'll remember it the next time you need a favor. That is solidarity.

Maybe it will work, maybe not. But it would be a big improvement on threats and abstractions. 

Glimpse Tomorrow's Migrant Policies Today on This Blog

Well, so much for the one-post-a-week plan. I just can't help myself. You don't associate prudent, practical Germans with the act of sleepwalking into a crisis, but that seems to be what they're doing right now. It's a fascinating new experience for me. In any case, all my immigration posts will be tagged as such, so you can ignore them if you wish.

A while ago I jotted down an 11-point sketch for handling the migrant crisis. Nothing particularly original, but I thought it might stimulate some debate. Some readers surely found may plan Draconian and cold-hearted. Yet, as the migrant crisis keeps spiraling out of control (headline in the Sueddeutsche yesterday: "Increasing Signs of a Crisis" (g)), and costs mount into the dozens of billions of Euros, my modest proposals are quickly becoming the mainstream consensus.

A few examples:

Me, August 30: "The EU should build a high-tech fence around its external borders with non-EU nations."

Veteran Swedish diplomat and former Swedish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt (strong opponent of the Iraq War), yesterday: '"[W]e have to find a coherent European response. Controlling the outer border of Schengen is vital to the system,” he said, referring to the passport-free zone within Europe. “It is uncomfortable but necessary, and it needs to be done.'"

Me, August 30: "All states within Europe, perhaps with the exception of Belarus, should be declared safe countries of origin. All migrants from Albania, Kosovo, etc. should be swiftly deported unless they can qualify for refugee status...."

Germany's leading grand coalition, policy reform proposals agreed yesterday (g): Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia will be declared secure countries of origin, immigrants from these countries will be swiftly deported, once their asylum claims are denied their cash handouts and in-kind support will be significantly reduced.

Seems like a weekend in which 20,000 refugees arrived in Germany (as many as Britain has pledged to take in 5 years), priorities quickly snapped into place. Send those buses brimming with Bogdans barreling back to the Balkans, aber schnell!

In other news, the right-wing anti-immigrant party Sweden Democrats is now the most popular party in Sweden, with 25% of the vote. This may have something to do with the fact that two Eritrean asylum seekers have recently been charged with stabbing a Swedish mother and her son to death in a terrifying random attack in an IKEA store, and asylum seekers have also been charged with the gang-rape of a Swedish woman in the town of Ludvika.

One might wonder whether Sweden is doing a responsible job of screening and monitoring asylum seekers to protect its citizens.

In any case, an official of Sweden's new most popular political party enthused: "It’s a tremendous breakthrough for us!" Until this time, mainstream Swedish parties have enforced a cordon sanitaire policy, refusing to form coalitions with the untouchable 'populist' Sweden Democrats. I wonder how that's going to work if they continue to be the single most popular party in the country.

And speaking of democracy, the leaders of Germany's grand coalition demanded a 'national act of strength' (Kraftakt) of Germans to handle the influx of hundreds of thousands of new migrants. They didn't mention that, over the years, these hundreds of thousands will swell to millions due to chain migration. They compared this massive national challenge to the reunification of Germany in the early 1990s. This trope was enthusiastically taken up by dozens of newspaper commentators calling on Germans to fundamentally re-assess their idea of what German society is and to prepare for 'huge new challenges' that will last for 'generations to come'. Am I the only one who finds this sort of language a bit ominous?

Also, these commentators are missing a rather fundamental distinction. The economic miracle and re-unification were national projects taken on by Germans, for Germans, with overwhelming popular approval from the German electorate (70% (g) were for re-unification in 1990). Current poll numbers show a similar level of support right now for providing immediate assistance to refugees. But after the initial rush of hospitality is over, people are going to start asking what was the precise democratic legitimacy behind the policy of (1) violating EU law by refusing to enforce the Dublin accords; which (2) let hundreds of thousands of completely unknown foreigners into the country; which (3) will impose huge and unknowable burdens on Germany for 'generations' to come. 

Seems like a policy this important should be approved in advance by a majority of the population after a thorough debate, should it not?

Small German Leather Postal Bag from 1952

For funky charm, there's nothing like a German flea market. One of the finest is just a short bike ride away, in a street called Im Dahlacker (g). It's a covered indoor market open every Wednesday and Saturday. There, you can find anything from commemorative egg spoons to used letters to Richard Clayderman CDs. A large selection of eerie dolls. A pamphlet on how to make your own clown figurines. A painting featuring a black-painted banana being slit with a knife, with red paint oozing out.

And this square black leather case for a postman:


Hard to tell exactly what it was for: I presume that even in the dire post-war year of 1952, the average German postman had more mail than would fit into this wine-bottle-sized square case. Maybe it was for a flashlight? Who can say? At any rate, based on the liberal use of stamps on the inside of the cover, I bet there are dozens of bureaucratic entries tracing the entire history of this piece of West German government property. In fact, I'm not even sure it was legal for me to buy it under the Government Property Registration and Transfer Act of 1973. I suppose I'll find out soon enough. 

27.6% of Bulgarians Living in Germany are on Welfare

According to what I like to call the Magic Pixie Dust™ theory of mass immigration, Germany's booming economy is generating so many jobs that companies are searching desperately for qualified workers.* Therefore we should allow in large numbers of foreign migrants who are not refugees but simply looking for a better life. What could be simpler? Win-win! Anyone who disagrees must be a crytpo-fascist or worse.

So, let's see how this is working out. Since 2014 Bulgarians have been allowed to move to Germany and compete on an equal footing in the German job market. As it happens, I know a number of Bulgarians living in Germany who are hard-working, highly intelligent people with excellent language and job skills. But here's a surprising twist: it turns out that like all societies, Bulgaria has different social classes! According to this report (g) from the head of the Agency for Work, which administers welfare in Germany, 27.6% of the 203,000 Bulgarians in Germany are receiving subsistence welfare, and the proportion of unemployed Bulgarians is increasing.

Now that number doesn't paint the full picture, since some Bulgarians on welfare may have part-time employment, and not all Bulgarians are eligible for welfare. But still, this means a large number of recent Bulgarian immigrants are not finding jobs, even in booming Germany. The head of the agency lists the reasons: they have no language skills and left school before their education was complete. As anyone with access to Google knows, many of the people in this last category are Roma. He advises that local government will need lots of assistance in helping these people learn German, finish their educations, learn some kind of job skill, and fit into the job market. This is apparently Germany's responsibility. This assumes, of course, that the people currently receiving welfare actually want to do these things. I'm sure most of them do, but I'm equally sure many of them don't.

Which raises a few questions: Why should Germany spend millions of Euros providing social welfare, social services, and remedial education to citizens of another EU member state? Is the transfer of tens of thousands of unemployable welfare cases from one EU country to another what the framers of the EU had in mind when they created the policy of free movement? Is this state of affairs likely to increase trust in EU policy?

Continue reading "27.6% of Bulgarians Living in Germany are on Welfare" »

The Unknown Fate of the Düsseldorf Artists' Bunker

Now for the less-appealing side of Wersten. While innocently bicycling down the Kölner Landstrasse, I was confronted with perhaps the ugliest goddamn building I have ever seen. Not intentionally ugly, as in Brutalism, but unintentionally ugly, as in whoever designed it despised humans and wanted to actively make them suffer.

Which is true, since the building was originally a bunker (g) built by the National Socialists.

What we're dealing with is a two-story L-shaped building, probably about 3 stories tall, with a sheer stone facade with almost no windows. There is a copper roof with dormer windows set in irregular intervals, and strange barred windows, surrounded by bays of dark stone, placed seemingly at random. The entrance is, for some reason, painted a lively orange and white:

Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse
Entrance to Bunker Building Kölner Landstrasse

I suspected at first this might be a bunker. Like most German cities, Düsseldorf has many bunkers left over from World War II. They're 3 stories tall and made out of solid concrete. In many cases, it's extremely expensive or impossible to get rid of them, because the explosive force needed to blow through meters of solid concrete would irreparably damage other buildings nearby. Some can be dismantled, but it's painstaking work and usually creates major disruptions in the neighborhood and many complaints by nearby homeowners. The city or state sometimes tries to get rid of the bunkers but local neighborhood opposition gets in the way. So the bunker in my neighborhood, Bilk, still stands, with its annoying mural. One Düsseldorf bunker has even been turned into a church.

This bunker, like so many others, has a fascinating history. According to this article (g), a pair of German artists moved into the bunker in the mid-1980s, which is pretty common. Bunkers make good studios. The city of Düsseldorf granted the artists a lease. This is what Germans call Kulturpolitik: official state support for independent creative artists. The two artists created their studio inside the bunker, and presumably had cultural events there as well. Robbe has invested 70,000 Euro in renovations.Apparently, the bunker at some time officially became the property of the Bima, the Federal Ministry for Real Estate. 

This video from August 2012 gives you an idea of what the place looked like. Six artists had studios there at that time:


Then, nearly 30 years later, the Bima announced it had enough. It ordered the city of Düsseldorf to cancel the lease to the two artists by 30 September 2012. The Bima wants to build 'high-quality condos' on the spot. (Wersten is a working-class neighborhood where 50% of the children are on welfare). The artists fought the eviction notice in court. While that was ongoing, a construction firm began ripping the roof off the place, allowing rain and bird-droppings to flood the studio (g). The spokesman for the Bima is annoyed. The artists were supposed to have moved out by September 2012, they didn't, now somebody wants to buy the property. The artists obtained an injunction to stop this work. Apparently the parties were trying to work out a settlement as of early 2013.

I can't find any more recent news about this contretempts since that time. But from the look of the photographs, nothing much is happening in the former artists' bunker...

German Bloggers Accused of Treason For Publishing Budget Documents

Two German bloggers at the website (g) are now being investigated for treason (g) -- yes, treason -- for publishing leaked documents detailing the budget of the Federal Agency for Protection of the Constitution, the German state's domestic spy agency. There is a federal level APC and one in every state. They are highly controversial. Originally envisioned as a way of identifying right-wing threats to the German post-war social order, they are accused by left-wing groups of having an establishment bias, and primarily investigating left groups.

At this point the two men behind the website have only gotten letters telling them an investigation has begun. But the punishment is 'at least one year in prison'.

Germany has been conducting a completely pointless debate for the past two years over whether Germany should offer Edward Snowden asylum. That will never happen. Perhaps the focus should not shift to whether German bloggers should be offered pardons from allegations of treason for publishing documents the government didn't want Germans to see?

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport Makes its International Debut

Until now, I've only seen brief mentions of the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport fiasco in the English-language press. But now, Bloomberg brings all the gory details into the Interwebs, in all their goriness:

“Professor, let me understand this,” Loge said. “You are talking about having 800 people wearing orange vests, sitting on camping stools, holding thermoses filled with coffee, and shouting into their cell phones, ‘Open the fire door’?” Loge refused the airport an operating license. Schwarz stood up and walked out without another word.

The next day, in a hall packed with government officials and journalists, Schwarz sat grimly behind a table with four other officials, including Mayor Wowereit, and announced the unthinkable: The airport wouldn’t open as scheduled. The inaugural bash and overnight move from Tegel were scuttled.

It was merely a prelude to a debacle that is still unfolding. Three years later, Berlin Brandenburg has wrecked careers and joined two other bloated projects—Stuttgart 21, a years-late railway station €2 billion over budget, and an €865 million concert hall in Hamburg—in tarnishing Germany’s reputation for order, efficiency, and engineering mastery.

At the very moment Merkel and her allies are hectoring the Greeks about their profligacy, the airport’s cost, borne by taxpayers, has tripled to €5.4 billion. Two airport company directors (including Schwarz), three technical chiefs, the architects, and dozens if not hundreds of others have been fired or forced to quit, or have left in disgust. The government spends €16 million per month just to prevent the huge facility from falling into disrepair. According to the most optimistic scenarios, it won’t check in its first passengers until 2017, and sunny pronouncements have long since given way to “catastrophe,” “farce,” and “the building site of horror.” There is a noted German word for the delight some took in the mess, too. 

Germany: Do not Ban the Paternoster!

Germany is restricting use (g) of the paternoster elevator:

Animated scheme of a paternoster

It gets its name from the tendency of terrified newcomers to recite the pater noster when boarding and disembarking. There are hundreds (g) of these thrilling contraptions all over Germany. Leftists consider them the most 'socialist' of elevators. I have personally enjoyed several of them in the IG Farben building in Frankfurt. They're good clean fun! Elevator goes up, elevator goes down!

So far, the German government is just trying to restrict their use, but I can just imagine there are a bunch of moist-palped, sightless Eurocrats with translucent skin working deep underground in Brussels, cooking up plans to ban them entirely.

Will you join my crusade to keep the Elevators of Death?