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Year in review: The biggest stories from Germany in 2018

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Year in review: The biggest stories from Germany in 2018
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA
09:03 CET+01:00
With the final hours of 2018 ticking away, it's a good time to look back on the year. From scorching heatwaves to Germany’s terrible World Cup performance – and some political surprises, it’s been a year to remember.

Here are some of the biggest stories of the year, as covered by The Local.

SEE ALSO: Diesel, deadlines and deposit bottles: Everything that's set to change in 2019

Germany's World Cup woes

2018 was a World Cup year and in the lead up to the tournament, fans of World Champions Germany were pretty confident that they had the squad to go far in the competition.

Germany had made at least the semi-finals of every major tournament in the previous decade and pundits had already penciled Germany’s name into the semis this year. Head coach Joachim Löw told star player Marco Reus ahead of the tournament opener against Mexico that he would be “saved for the knockout rounds”. 

But for the first time in history, Germany was eliminated from the group stages after losing to Mexico and South Korea, prompting heartache throughout the Bundesrepublik. The subsequent fallout from the tournament included calls for Löw’s head, criticism of his decision to leave out star youngster Leroy Sane and the retirement of Mesut Özil.  

Hearbroken Germany fans. Photo: DPA

SEE ALSO: 'I thought they'd get killed by Germany': Fans react to Die Mannschaft's shock defeat

Refugees, Cottbus, Chemnitz and rising anti-immigrant sentiment

Refugees and immigration policy remained a big story in Germany in 2018.

In March we visited Cottbus to report on the city’s decision to stop accepting refugees. Formerly a part of East Germany, Cottbus has seen a significant decline in its population in recent years. The poor economic situation has led to a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, with the right-wing group Zukunft Heimat (Future Homeland) holding regular rallies in the town square. 

A two-hour drive away via Dresden is Chemnitz, another city of the former East, which also became a hotbed of extremist action after a series of rallies took place in late August and early September.

Extremist groups and thousands of locals took to the streets following a fatal knife attack on a German-Cuban man allegedly by asylum seekers, with many participants shouting anti-foreigner slurs and showing the illegal Nazi salute.
 
Mobs also assaulted reporters and police, sparking counter-racism demonstrations and prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to declare that "hate in the streets" had no place in Germany and that vigilante justice would not be tolerated. There were also concerns after members from the right-wing to far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD)  joined some of the rallies.

Later in the year we paid a visit to Chemnitz and found there was more to the city than tensions and far-right extremism, although it is still a topic the city is battling.

SEE ALSO: In-depth: Is the AfD becoming too extreme?

The spy who gave too much away

One of the biggest stories in Germany in 2018 involved a civil servant sparking a political crisis that threatened to bring down the government. Hans-Georg Maaßen, who headed up the Office for Constitutional Protection (BfV), contradicted Merkel, saying that footage showing "the hunting down of foreigners" during the unrest in Chemnitz may have been made up.

He was sacked and then essentially promoted, before landing a job in the Interior Ministry. Yet an explosive leaving speech in which he stood by his comments saw him sent into early retirement in November.

Hot in the city

As we reported on Friday, 2018 was officially the hottest year on record for Germany. Frankfurt’s average temperature of 12.9 degrees made it the warmest year for any German town or city since record keeping began in 1881. 

While concerns about drought gripped the country during summer, we also had a look at some more quirky stories coming out of the heatwave – including Germany completely selling out of pedestal fans and a group of “unemployed” wasps marauding across the country in a bid to ruin people’s picnics. 

Photo: DPA

Angela Merkel steps down as CDU leader

It was a huge year in the political world. The biggest story was that Merkel, who has been in the country's top job for 13 years as well as leader of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) for 18 years, announced she was to stand down as head of the CDU.

Her stance on accepting refugees into Germany at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015 resulted in widespread praise as well as criticism both at home and abroad. 

In the years since the 2016 election of US President Donald Trump, Merkel has become increasingly influential on the global stage, and has had a key role in issues such as Brexit.

Yet the so-called 'people's parties' of Germany – the CDU and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) which make up the fragile coalition in Berlin – have increasingly lost support amid a rise in populism.

Merkel announced her decision to step down as head of CDU at the end of October following the dismal results by her party in the Hesse state election. After an internal party election that breathed life into the party, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a Merkel loyalist, took over as her successor.

Merkel plans to stay in the Chancellor seat until her term ends in 2021. Of course, if the coalition breaks and an election is held she will have to give up the spot sooner.

SEE ALSO: End of an era: What you need to know about Merkel's planned departure

It wasn't only far-right ideology that experienced a surge in popularity (the AfD is now in all of Germany's state governments as well as the Bundestag in Berlin), the Greens also became a force to be reckoned with.

Taking on gentrification

In October we covered the grassroots group that fought against global tech giant Google’s plans to open a Campus startup hub in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. Google had announced that the Campus would be established in 2016, sparking a long fight with local groups and debates surrounding the city’s priorities at a time of rising rents and costs of living. 

But the tech firm abruptly said it was shelving plans for the Campus and would donate the space set aside for it to two social organizations. We spoke with local business owners and residents who hailed the decision as a victory for grassroots organizers and a changing environment which valued people over profits.

It's also been a year where people have been fighting rising rents, especially in Germany's bigger cities. Expect this theme to continue in the new year as communities try to keep the cost of living down.

SEE ALSO: Why are rents in Germany shooting through the roof? We found out.

Mesut Özil’s retirement sparks racism debate

The retirement of a decorated footballer at 30 years of age might not normally be a news story of national importance – but Mesut Özil’s decision to stand down from international football in July was an entirely different story. 

The midfielder announced he wouldn't play for his country in the wake of Germany’s poor World Cup performance, for which Özil was widely scapegoated. He cited the public furore surrounding his picture with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as evidence of institutionalized racism in German football.  

While critics saw the release of the picture as evidence of Özil’s support of the Turkish leader’s policies, the footballer hit back, pointing out the comparable lack of criticism of Lothar Matthäus after his meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. 

The announcement stirred fierce debate about Özil, the German Football Association, racism and the treatment of German-born citizens of foreign descent. 

As reported by The Local at the time, Özil said “In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose."

SEE ALSO: Sharing stories of everyday racism, #MeTwo takes off in Germany

Der Spiegel forgery scandal

A bad year for the media was made even worse late in 2018 when news emerged that a star reporter at one of Germany’s most trusted media sources had been fabricating his stories for years. 

Claas Relotius, 33, resigned from Der Spiegel in December after admitting to making up sources, fabricating quotes and entire stories during his time with the magazine. 

Der Spiegel issued a 23-page special report into the matter, apologizing to Relotius’ former colleague Juan Moreno who doubted the star reporter for years and played a crucial role in unearthing the fabrications. 

Claas Relotius. Photo: DPA

Weird and wonderful stories

Finally, we’d like to recap some of the weird, wonderful and wacky stories we covered across Germany in 2018. 

First there was the story of the Bochum woman who sued airport security after missing her flight to Mallorca. She sought damages from the federal police to cover the cost of a subsequent flight to the Spanish party island, saying she arrived on time but waited more than an hour in the line during the security check. 

In September we reported on Jaroslav Bobrowski, a German triathlete and former bodybuilder who was banned from an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant in Landshut, Bavaria, for eating too much. 

Bobrowski was reportedly stunned with the decision, while the restaurant’s owner told the press: “He eats for five people. That is not normal."

In mid-December we published one of our more popular stories of the year – the very real tale of a river of chocolate flowing through German streets. A spill from a chocolate factory in the Werl district of Westönnen, North Rhine-Westphalia, saw a tonne of chocolate flow out on the street. 

The spill took several hours to clean up, with the fire department and a specialist cleaning crew called in. 

Later in December we brought you the story of a nine-year-old boy who called the police to tell them he was unsatisfied with his Christmas gifts. The police decided to play along, launching an investigation into the matter. 

The findings of the investigation? Santa Claus must have confused his Christmas wishlist with that of another boy. 

Happy new year and, as always, thanks again for reading The Local. 

With additional reporting by Rachel Loxton

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