A former school – which closed due to a lack of local children – is due to be converted into a home for around 400 refugees in the Marzahn-Hellersdorf area of Berlin. The plan has been greeted with hostility from some locals and sparked a campaign from members of the neo-Nazi NPD party.
An information event organized by the local council on Tuesday evening was dominated by members of the Berlin NPD party, the leader of which Sebastian Schmidtke held up a sign reading “Asylum home? No thanks.” He was joined by fellow NPD members from across the city, the Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported.
More than the police estimated 800 people showed up, most of them not interested in the information but more intent on domination, the paper said. Repeated shouts of “Germany for Germans”, “No to the home” and “What do I care for others’ suffering?” interrupted those trying to speak.
“The atmosphere reminded me strongly of Rostock-Lichtenhagen where the asylum homes were burned,” said Petra Pau, vice president of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, whose constituency is in the area.
She said she had spotted men wearing T-shirts printed with Lichtenhagen and the dates of the 1992 pogroms there – and told the police. Local residents were not neo-Nazis themselves, but were being used by those who were, she said.
Yet in a heartening twist, other people have started to organize support for the project and the people who would eventually live there. The Facebook page “Hellersdorf helps asylum-seekers” (Hellersdorf hilft Asylbewerbern) had, by Friday lunchtime, attracted the support of nearly 5,000 people.
The site warns of what it calls a dangerous atmosphere developing in Hellersdorf, and an “ominous” citizens’ initiative against the refugee home.
The group says it aims to help to offer those fleeing war and daily terror a humane place to live, and the chance to integrate into society. “We are doing what should be done – regarding refugees as people, not as potential criminals, or a threat, or a burden,” the site says.
The NPD is organizing several rallies around Berlin on Saturday morning to try to strengthen the mood against homes for refugees. Various groups including Hellersdorf hilft Asylbewerbern are calling for people to go to the rallies to take part in counter-demonstrations.