When hundreds of thousands of refugees made their way into Germany over the Balkan route in 2015, it appeared to us as if this country was born again. The phrase “Refugees Welcome” was ubiquitous, and those who could, donated clothing, their time – or at least applauded the arriving refugees.
In joyful excitement, large parts of the population went to the makeshift refugee camps, helped out and showed they cared. Many demonstrating their solidarity with the people primarily from Syria were patriots. For them, welcoming the refugees also had to do with loving their own country. “We” help “them” who are in need.
But after the party came the hangover. In Europe’s largest economy, some started to fear whether we hadn’t taken in too many refugees after all. Our European neighbors were conspicuously less generous and scolded Chancellor Angela Merkel for acting irresponsibly.
Furthermore, many realized that the refugees had brought new problems into the country. Doubts about whether “we can do it” – as Ms. Merkel famously said – grew. And it became increasingly clear that lots of “we” didn’t even want to “do it.” Previously normal, law-abiding citizens didn’t shy away from arson attacks and pogrom-like mobs to stop Germany, as they feared, being overrun by foreigners.