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CRIME

Is Germany one step closer to having its first far-right AfD mayor?

The eastern German border city of Görlitz is known for being a charming filming hub - and now for a popular Alternative for Germany (AfD) candidate who came out on top of Sunday's mayoral elections.

Is Germany one step closer to having its first far-right AfD mayor?
A look at Görlitz's old town, leading to the town hall. Photo: DPA

In mayoral elections held on Sunday, the AfD candidate Sebastian Wippel, 36, took 36.4 percent of the vote, followed by Christian Democratic Candidate Octavian Ursu, 51, who won 30.3 percent of the vote. Green Party candidate Franziska Schubert, 37, came in third place with 27.9 percent of the vote.

SEE ALSO: Meet the East German Greens candidate offering another alternative

However, because none of the candidates won an absolute majority, there will be another round of elections on June 16th. On Sunday, 58.6 percent of the city's 56,000 residents voted.

The results show a political rift in the population. The far-right populists here won 32.9 percent of the votes in the Bundestag (parliamentary) elections in 2017 and were 6 percentage points ahead of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

SEE ALSO: Far-right AfD marches into parliament with strong election results

AfD candidate Sebastian Wippel. Photo: DPA

'An Anti-European signal'

Stephan Meyer, parliamentary managing director of the Saxon CDU state parliamentary group, spoke of a “choice of direction for the whole of Germany”. The issue was whether Görlitz would continue to be shaped by “pro-European people” or send out an “anti-European signal”.

However, AfD candidate Wippel, a 36-year-old police superintendent, presents himself as European and sees Görlitz as a gateway to eastern Europe.

“The border situation is more of an opportunity than a burden. The inhabitants on both sides of the Neiße river can also grow together through partnerships,” said Wippel, adding that he has already met with the mayor of Görlitz' sister city of Zgorzelec, Poland.

Green Party candidate Schubert, 37, told The Local on Friday that she would offer another alternative to the “beautiful, European city”

“Görlitz deserves to have a friendly, open-minded image,” said Schubert, a member of Saxony's parliament who studied international relations. “With an AfD mayor from the right, we will lose people, students, enterprises and reputation.”

Her campaign also included cross-border cultural partnerships, upgrades to infrastructure and public transportation, and attracting and starting new jobs, including for the city's younger population.

Schubert told DPA she was considering whether to run again on the second ballot but added “I'm aware of my responsibility” to prevent the election of an AfD mayor.

The AfD is often viewed as a party of contradictions, with some members critical of the European Union to the point of calling for Germany to withdraw from it.

SEE ALSO: Far-right AfD to campaign on German EU Exit

Shining in the spotlight

Görlitz has also received many positive headlines. The municipality, which calls itself European City, often shines in the spotlight – quite literally.

Ever since Hollywood used it as the as a backdrop for productions such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglorious Basterds, it has borne the name Görliwood.

SEE ALSO: Eastern German town of Görlitz named best filming location in Europe

Walking through the historic old town feels like being in an outdoor architecture museum – with all the essential styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau on display, and over 4,000 cultural monuments.

The city is therefore very popular with tourists and specifically recruits western German senior citizens so that they can spend their retirement in Görlitz at comparatively low rents.

Görlitz' charming centre brings in many tourists, and film directors. Photo: DPA

Tackling crime

Crime is an important topic in the election campaign. In a border town like Görlitz, it is more common than elsewhere, even twice as high as the national average, according to Wippel.

Especially with the abolition of border controls after Poland joined the EU in 2004, thefts and drug-related crime have skyrocketed. Wippel believes that “those in Berlin” don't care: “We are the victims of a great political goal”.

In the election campaign he advertises with the slogan “It's better to live with borders”. Ursu also wants to score points with the topic of security. He can be seen on billboards with video surveillance cameras.

This article was updated on Monday, May 27th at 10 am.

Vocabulary

Rift – (der) Riss

Mayoral elections – (die) Oberbürgermeisterwahl

Border situation – (die) Grenzlage

Election posters – (die) Wahlplakate

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CRIME

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

Borys Shyfrin fled as a young child, along with other members of his Jewish family, from the Nazis.

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

More than eight decades on, the Ukrainian Holocaust survivor has been forced from his home once more – but this time he’s found a safe haven in Germany.

Shyfrin is among a number of Ukrainian Jews who lived through the Nazi terror and have now fled to the country from which Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich launched its drive try to wipe Jews out.

He never wanted to leave Mariupol, where he had lived for decades. But Russia’s brutal assault on the Ukrainian port city made it impossible to stay.

“There was no gas, no electricity, no water whatsoever,” the 81-year-old told AFP from a care home in Frankfurt, recalling the relentless bombardment by Moscow’s forces.

“We were waiting for the authorities to come… We waited for a day, two days a week.”

Bodies of people killed by bombs and gunfire littered the streets, recalled Shyfrin, a widower who had lost contact with his only son.

“There were so many of them… no one picked them up. People got used to it – no one paid attention.”

People scraped by finding what food they could, with water supplied by a fire engine that made regular visits to his neighbourhood.

Shyfrin’s apartment was damaged during the fighting in Mariupol – defended so fiercely that it became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance – and he spent much time sheltering in the cellar of his building.

Became homeless

The elderly man eventually left Mariupol with the aid of a rabbi, who helped the local Jewish population get out of the city.

He was evacuated to Crimea, and from there, travelled on a lengthy overland journey through Russia and Belarus, eventually arriving in Warsaw, Poland.

After some weeks in Poland, a place in a care home was found in Frankfurt.

In July, he was transported to Germany in an ambulance, with the help of the Claims Conference, a Jewish organisation that has been aiding the evacuation of Ukrainian Holocaust survivors.

Shyfrin, who walks with the aid of a stick, is still processing the whirlwind of events that carried him unexpectedly to Germany.

The outbreak of war was a “very big surprise”, he said.

“I used to love (Russian President Vladimir) Putin very much,” said Shyfrin, who is a native Russian speaker, did military service in the Soviet Union, and went on to work as a radio engineer with the military.

“Now I do not know whether Putin is right to be at war with Ukraine or not – but somehow, because of this war, I have become homeless.”

Shyfrin was born in 1941, in Gomel, Belarus.

When he was just three months old, his family fled to Tajikistan to escape German Nazi forces who were occupying the region.

Many of Belarus’s Jews died during the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed a total of six million European Jews.

In neighbouring Ukraine, the once-large Jewish community was also almost completely wiped out.

After the war, his family returned to Belarus and Shyfrin completed his studies, did military service, and settled in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in the mid-1970s.

“Traumatised”

The pensioner seemed philosophical about the twist of fate that has forced him to leave his home.

“Well, it’s not up to me,” he said, when asked about having to flee war for the second time in his life.

His most immediate concerns are more practical – such as how to access his money back home.

“I can’t even receive my honestly earned military pension,” he said.

He recently moved to a new care home run by the Jewish community, where there are more Russian speakers.

As well as helping Shyfrin on the final leg of his journey, the Claims Conference provided him with financial assistance.

It has evacuated over 90 Ukrainian Holocaust survivors to Germany since the outbreak of the conflict, a break from the organisation’s usual work of ensuring that survivors get compensation and ongoing support.

The body had long been helping to run care programmes for Holocaust victims in Ukraine.

But, as the conflict intensified, it became clear such care programmes could no longer be sustained, particularly in the east, said Ruediger Mahlo, the Conference’s representative in Germany.

“Because many of the survivors needed a lot of care and could not survive without this help, it was clear we had to try to do everything to evacuate (them),” he told AFP.

Getting them out involved huge logistical challenges, from finding ambulances in Ukraine to locating suitable care homes.

For many of the frail Holocaust survivors, it can be a struggle to grasp the fact that they have found refuge in Germany, said Mahlo.

They are fleeing to a country that “had in the past persecuted them, and done everything to kill them,” he said.

“Certainly, they are traumatised,” he said.

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