This month’s European crisis has without a doubt been the waves of refugees trekking their way from Turkey, through Greece and then northwesterly up the Balkans, whose eventual desired destination has generally been Germany. Germany itself has changed before our very eyes: first taken aback by developments, then taking a welcoming attitude, but now dialing that greeting back somewhat, with border controls and other restrictions, as the full reality hits of what that welcoming attitude has wrought.
Here are a couple of “under-the-radar” articles from the German press on how that country has been trying to deal with circumstances. First: gut gedacht, schlecht gemacht (“good intentions, terrible execution”).
The goal was a noble one, if perhaps also serving as good PR for reBuy.de, a German site that functions as an on-line marketplace for used goods of all types. But what better company to launch an effort to solicit and coordinate used clothing donations for the refugees, right? So it made an arrangement with the German Red Cross; donors could send in their used clothing for free, using labels provided by reBuy.de, via the Hermes package-deliver service.
There was a major misunderstanding, however. For the German Red Cross, this was supposed to be a local action confined to its Berlin Wedding/Prenzlauer Berg affiliate. But reBuy.de understood it to be nationwide – and improperly used the nationwide German Red Cross logo on its website announcing the action. The result was the rest of the German Red Cross’ branches throughout the length and breadth of Germany being inundated with clothes they never expected, before the whole national organization abruptly withdrew from the effort. reBuy.de employees all over Germany gamely tried to push on anyway, accepting, sorting and distributing the clothing themselves, but things soon broke down entirely, with many recriminations.
Then there is this other interesting development in Berlin.
Even beyond clothing, a major concern for the German authorities in dealing with all the refugees has been finding them sufficient acceptable shelter, particularly in view of the oncoming colder weather. Already Berlin officials have taken some decisive measures to achieve this. Last month they pressed into action an old town hall, that of the city quarter Wilmersdorf (capacity: 500), for housing refugees, and the Berliner Morgenpost piece also reports they recently confiscated a former bank in the same area for the same use.
But now those authorities are ready to take things up another notch. Specifically, another Berlin quarter, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (known for decades for its many immigrants and left-wing politics) now wants to make use of the many apartments standing empty within its boundaries. These are generally higher-quality residences, and the reason they are not being actively used is either because they are being withheld by their owners for speculation or because they function as second homes for well-off people who usually live elsewhere. They are estimated to number up to 5,000.
It does look like those apartments are going to be pressed into service. Will it be confiscation, or some sort of money paid to the owners as compensation? Likely the former. Here we encounter the age-old conflict between private property on the one hand and taking care of people’s urgent needs, in an emergency situation, on the other hand. Those owning those apartments really should not be surprised; the squatting movement has been particularly active in Berlin and Hamburg for decades, way before any refugee crisis.