Bild: Philipp Guelland / Getty Images
Ein Bürgermeister schreibt den Flüchtlingen in seinem Dorf ein Regelbuch. Wir schreiben ihnen einen Brief.

An Arabic version of this letter is here


Welcome to Germany!


Like most other Germans I am very happy you arrived in our country. You probably fled a dangerous and desperate situation in your home country and have a very dangerous trip behind you. We see images in the news of people who drowned in the Mediterranean sea. We feel shocked and powerless that fellow men are dying in a sea we use to swim in during our beach vacation.

I am truly happy that you are safe now.

I would love to think that the story ends here, but you probably know better than I do that it doesn’t. Like you, many refugees have come to Germany this year and we as a country haven’t been well prepared – logistically, politically and emotionally. Way too many of you have to live in run-down shelters and are often left alone with all your aspirations and hopes for your new life here.

To add insult to injury, a village in Southern Germany is distributing a list of rules that you – who now live there – should abide by. Starting with “Dear foreigner” it advises you not to steal in shops, do your business in public or talk to women and ask for their mobile phone number.

All of these rules are very valid, in principle, and of course should be followed (except the women rule. You need to be polite, of course, but you have the same rights as Germans). But if that whole rulebook sounds weird and patronizing to you, you are not alone. Many of you have lived in large, cosmopolitan cities like Damascus or Aleppo before you had to flee here – I strongly believe you know how to use a toilet.

If you read the letter, you may be angry about its tone: Its faux “compassion” at the beginning, its detached staccato of rule after rule without any attempt to relate to your situation. Its total disregard for the fact that local police have not registered an increase in crime since refugees were welcomed to the village. I understand if you’re angry and disappointed. I would be if such a letter was directed at me.

"Dear foreign woman": The Hardheim rulebook for refugees

But try not to be anyway: Hardheim is a small village whose population has increased from 4,600 to 5,600 within a few weeks. I haven’t been to Hardheim personally but grew up in a village of a similar size that lies less than two hours away by car. So everything I’m writing here is based on personal conversations and guesswork, but I hope it’s educated guesswork.

Like my hometown, Hardheim is a place that used to have very few foreigners. Some have been afraid of Muslims since 9/11 and haven’t had much contact with actual people to ease these fears. Residents are not afraid because you give them reason to. They have seen the murders by ISIS on TV and equate them with those who have actually fled their home countries, because of that very same violence.

Still most of these people, maybe all, I’m sure, are good people who have to adapt to a situation they never have been in before.

So if you can, please take that letter, take any suspicious looks, even bad words by the German population with a grain of salt (I’m not talking about violence, abuse or arson here which a heinous criminal acts that will be persecuted by German authorities). In general, Germans are a welcoming people that – despite all their bureaucratic processes and way too widespread aloofness – are trying to make the best of the situation caused by the civil war and other terrible circumstances in your home countries. None of this is your responsibility, let alone your fault. It is just something we all have to deal with – together.

In fact, there is no “we” and “you” anymore at this point. It does not matter whether you are a temporary guest or our new fellow citizen. This is our common task, our common destiny for the time being. To improve it, we will all have to work together. The most important rule is much simpler: Keep following your dream of a peaceful life that made you come here. Most of what Germans expect will follow from that.

There is a message much more important than the letter of Hardheim’s mayor. Our chancellor Angela Merkel said it on German TV yesterday, answering the very first question of an interview: “We can do it”. There is nothing I can add to that.

Was bedeutet der Hinweis "Meinung"?

Unsere Autoren und Redakteure argumentieren klar, meinungsstark, manchmal polemisch. Unsere Kommentare sind, das liegt in der Natur der Sache, absolut subjektiv und müssen nicht der Meinung der gesamten Redaktion entsprechen. Wir wollen weder unseren Lesern noch unseren Kollegen vorschreiben, wie sie über einen Sachverhalt zu denken haben; wir wollen zur Debatte anregen – und freuen uns auf den Dialog. (Mehr Fragen und Antworten zum Redaktionsalltag findet ihr hier: FAQ)

Four women explain why they wear it, and how they deal with daily racism: My headscarf and I.
Hier zeigen Geflüchtete, was sie mit Deutschland verbinden.