Much ado about Thilo

Germans must forget the hysteria surrounding Thilo Sarrazin and take an honest look at the integration of immigrants into their society, argues Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent for the British daily The Times.

Much ado about Thilo
Photo: DPA

A year ago a Turkish entrepreneur set up a kebab shop just opposite my favourite baker near the entrance to the train station. At first, there were Anatolian delights like Döner and Börek, then he expanded to include newspapers, coffee and grilled chicken. Finally, he ended up selling the classic Berlin fast food Currywurst. Last week the shop was shut.

A sad development for him personally, but his business plan was not exactly brilliant: my neighbourhood Grunewald is not exactly famous for its thriving Turkish community – indeed many of its elderly German residents would probably be itching to call the police if they saw a young Muslim-looking man roving the streets.

Of course, the name Thilo Sarrazin has been on everybody’s lips in our sedate and resolutely conservative ‘hood lately. Attacking the alleged unwillingness of Muslim immigrants to integrate into German society, the disgraced Bundesbank board member has become a kind of martyr, a supposed truth-teller; a hero in the struggle against suffocating political correctness apparently on the rise in Germany. But we know that the story is a little more complex than that, don’t we?

Sarrazin’s controversial book, Deutschland schafft sich ab – Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen, or “Abolishing Germany – How we’re putting our country at jeopardy,” tries to use statistics to make a variety of contradictory arguments.

But in the end it is not clear whether he is trying to tell us something about intelligence and race, about education and finance, or about the science of Germany’s national decline. Frankly, it’s not unlike the jumble of latent xenophobia often found down at your local pub.

But I don’t believe Sarrazin is a racist, merely a misguided troublemaker. He is also extremely naïve.

Sarrazin’s true error was not to offend the Muslims and the Jews – any buffoon can do that – but to imagine that he was going to be the vanguard of a movement asking suppressed questions about the meaning of immigration in Germany.

As soon as he has been formally sacked from the Bundesbank, he will have fulfilled his function: the creation of outrage. He will sell books but will not convince the political establishment that it needs to change.

But the leadership of the Social Democratic Party would be stupid to follow the central bank’s lead by also expelling Sarrazin. If I understand my (borrowed) copy of the book correctly, he is primarily concerned with the so-called underclass. Immigrants, as we know, form a significant chunk of this group, but then so do Germans who can trace their Teutonic roots back to the Middle Ages.

One section of the Sarrazin book calls for the withholding of welfare payments if parents do not send their children to school. That is the punitive Sarrazin, and you can love him or hate him. His underlying case, however, is that the country’s underclass should be opened up and made more socially porous. Work has to have meaning; individuals have to take their lives into their own hands. This, surely, is a core message of the modern Social Democratic Party. Sarrazin is not simply some kind of right-wing fanatic.

Perhaps he would have been given more credit if he hadn’t unfairly decided to single out one group (Muslims) and accepted that plenty of Arab and Turkish immigrants do indeed make determined efforts to fit into German society.

I have written before about a friend, Ayfer, who is a fashionable hairdresser in Berlin’s fancy Mitte district. One of many children from a Turkish immigrant family, she left school early but discovered she had a passion for hair. Fortunately Germany’s adult education system, the so-called zweiter Bildungsweg, is far superior to anything Britain has, and she eventually got her Abitur school diploma. After stints at Vidal Sassoon and Tony & Guy she eventually claimed her Meisterbrief.

She then decided to open her own salon, but the bank rejected her as a bad credit risk being single, female, a hairdresser, and, of course, Turkish. Ayfer’s parents had to give up their savings – intended for their retirement in Turkey – so that she could open the salon. Today she employs four Germans and is a German citizen herself.

What does that show us? That the German system really does offer chances for the ambitious – but that it can also throw up plenty of obstacles. And that you don’t have to know a single line of mediaeval poetry by Walter von der Vogelweide in order to commit yourself – as Ayfer’s parents did – to a wholly German future. These are the mechanisms of social integration. They have to be understood and refined but we are still a long way from Sarrazin’s nightmarishly bleak vision of the future.

Let’s remove the hysteria from the debate, look at the problems unblinkingly, and see what can be improved. Every major European society has similar immigration and integration issues. It is time that Germany exchanged experiences with some its neighbours and opened up a bit.

It is no use pretending that everything is perfect, but neither should a particular group of immigrants be made the scapegoat for all the problems.

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.