Cologne Coexistence: Where the AfD and a refugee agency share an office space

Cologne’s AfD office shares a kitchen and sanitation facilities with a refugee coordination office. Can this work out, or it is the material of the sitcom? Both parties have a very clear opinion about it.

Cologne Coexistence: Where the AfD and a refugee agency share an office space
Hans-Jürgen Oster stands next to a sign showing his unusual neighbour. Photo: DPA

Haus Neuerburg is a beautiful building, an officially listed monument built almost 100 years ago by a cigarette manufacturer and the Consul General of Greece.

Nevertheless, Hans-Jürgen Oster, head of the municipal refugee agency, had certain reservations when he moved in at the beginning of 2016 with his newly founded department.

The offices of the Cologne AfD parliamentary group are located right next to the rooms he found space in, after his offices outgrew their former location in the city's Rathaus, or town hall.

“This is a group and an office which we would normally not house next to each other,” says Oster cautiously. But then he said resolutely, “Gucken wir uns das doch mal an,” or “Well, we might as well see.”

The AfD does not have as large of a presence in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia as elsewhere in Germany, but received 7.2 percent of the vote in state elections in 2017, enough to comfortably put them into the parliament.

The right-wing group encompasses a smorgasbord of issues from standing against a ban on diesel cars to cutting back on immigration: in the past month, the AfD Cologne has tweeted about crimes around the country, emphasizing the migration background of the perpetrators.

A sitcom in the making?

Stepping into Haus Neuerburg, there are several people coming and going throughout the busy building. That’s owed on one hand to the building being the location registrar’s office and on the other to the refugee office.

Everywhere – be it in the foyer, corridors and elevator – you meet people who don’t appear as though their families had been living in the Rhineland for generations.

Haus Neuerburg in the centre of Cologne. Photo: DPA

Some of the greatest legendary Kölner themselves have refugee roots. Take, for example, prolific actor and theatre director Willy Millowitsch (1909-1999) whose family came originally from the Balkans.

The third floor: The sign says: “Alternative for Germany. Group in the Council of the City of Cologne. Room 319, 320”. And right underneath: “Refugee Coordination Unit. Room 322 to 326”.

A photo of a similar sign outside at the entrance was recently tweeted by TV author Tommi Schmitt. His comment: “I want 1 sitcom about this building.”

There are some elements with situation comedy potential: The AfD politicians and the refugee coordinators share a kitchenette “and the sanitary facilities”, as Oster puts it.

In retrospect, he doesn't find the set-up so bad at all: at least the two groups can learn from each other and gather information from each other. “A colleague once said: “The city of Cologne must have an educational mission.”

The ‘odd couple’ neighbours don’t seem to mind the other’s presence. Even if the AfD people would have to go past posters, which for example advertise volunteer refugee helpers, they would have never complained.

Knocking down the truth

Is that really true? After an energetic knock on one of the AfD doors faction speaker Mattias Büschges answers energetically. “Yes, please!” he says, his voice heightening in an inviting tone.

He does not understand at all what should be so special about coexistence. “That's no problem at all,” he assures. “We even work together with our colleagues. If we have questions, then we talk.”

The Cologne AfD confirmed their desire for coexistence on Twitter, quoting Büschges that they feel “quite comfortable and don't want to move away from here.”

Have there ever been hostilities? “Not at all! Why would there be?” says Büschges.

He also said he does not have anything against the department being renamed “Office for Integration and Diversity” in December — a sign which is to be placed directly under “Alternative for Germany”.

Additionally, the AfD can't think of a better place in Cologne.

“We feel really at home here and don't want to leave,” Büschges asserts. And as proof, he points to the window – and what it has to behold: “We even have a view of the cathedral here!”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Protesters hit the streets in Thuringia against far-right deal

Several thousand people demonstrated Saturday in Erfurt, capital of Thuringia state in Germany's former communist east, where far-right lawmakers last week helped install a new state premier.

Protesters hit the streets in Thuringia against far-right deal

“Not with us! No pacts with fascists any time or anywhere!” is the motto for the protest, organised by the DGB trade union federation, NGOs, artists and politicians belonging to the “Unteilbar” (indivisible) movement.

Organisers said they expected a total of 10,000 protesters to join. Demonstrators carried banners with slogans including “We don't want a Fourth Reich” or “We don't want power at any price”.

Thuringia rocked national politics on February 5, when state lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU party voted with far-right, anti-immigrant AfD representatives to elect liberal politician Thomas Kemmerich state premier.

“I'm demonstrating because the AfD is gaining a lot of influence in the eastern regions,” said Maria Reuter, a 74-year old Erfurt resident. 

“A red line was crossed when the right and far-right combined their votes,” she said, adding: “This cannot stand”. 

The Erfurt gathering was the latest of many protests that broke out spontaneously across Germany in response to the controversial electoral pact, and which have been targeted especially against the CDU and Kemmerich's Free Democrats (FDP).



Barely 24 hours after accepting the vote, Kemmerich agreed to step down. But outrage at the centrist parties accepting help from the far right, a first since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949, remains deep-seated among the protest organisers.

'End of a taboo'

“This election was the end of a taboo” against cooperation with the far-right, Michael Rudolph, leader of the DBG in Thuringia, told AFP.

Saturday's protest appeared peaceful, but elsewhere in Germany had taken out their rage in attacks on FDP offices this week, Der Spiegel reported, a sign of festering tensions nationwide.

Mainstream politicians charge that one of AfD's aims is to paralyse or render ridiculous the normal functioning of the country's institutions.

Merkel accused the party of wanting to “cripple democracy”, and in Thuringia, Kemmerich's election and subsequent standing down have left the region hobbled for more than a week.

Now the far right says it could lend its votes to popular former Left party premier Bodo Ramelow in case of a new vote in Erfurt, potentially forcing him to turn down a new term.

Representatives from all parties apart from AfD plan to meet Monday to work through their options. From a minority government to going back to the people in fresh elections, there are possibilities that could shut out AfD. But the crisis has already claimed one big scalp, after Merkel's chosen successor and CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) resigned on Monday when it became clear her grip on the party was too weak.

Some CDU members, especially in the former communist east, see no harm in working with the far right, which in recent state elections has booked scores above 20 percent across the region. 

'Funeral march'

AfD's rhetoric of a remote Berlin elite more interested in coddling immigrants than supporting hard-working Germans resonates in the former East.

In Thuringia, average incomes reached 35,700 euros ($38,692) in 2018, compared with almost 43,000 euros nationwide, according to statistics authority Destatis.

The state's unemployment rate is little higher than the national level of 5.0 percent, but large numbers of young people are leaving and the birth rate is on the slide.

More than one in four residents in Thuringia is older than 65, against just over one in five across Germany.

February's coup for the far right came days before 75th anniversary commemorations in Dresden, capital of neighbouring Saxony state, for the baroque old city's destruction in one night and day by Allied bombers in 1945.

Around 1,500 neo-Nazis are expected to hold a demonstration there Saturday, met with large numbers of counter-marchers and a heavy police presence.

They plan a “funeral march” for the supposed “martyrdom” of the city, which right-wing extremists — leaning on inflated reports of the number of victims in Nazi propaganda at the time — often claim is a crime by the Allies on par with the Holocaust.