Refugee Reactions

Germany's Intolerant East

Anti-immigration protesters demonstrate near a refugee center in Heidenau, Saxony, this summer.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Support for anti-immigration parties and the number of attacks against refugees is higher in the former east than in the west of Germany.

  • Facts


    • A survey found that one in two people in the east think immigrants should not be welcomed; in the west, the figure is one in three.
    • Figures show that only 41 percent of western Germans could imagine living in the east.
    • Citizens of communist East Germany were rarely allowed to travel outside the country.
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A pile of sweaters, trousers, shoes, sheets and blankets interspersed with toys, pots and pans are piled in the basement room of a school in Schwerin, the capital of Germany’s northern state of Mecklenburg-Pomerania. Nadida Nouri, 49, and Rita Eisentraut, 57, make an interesting pair as they carefully sort through the donations from charitable Germans.

Ms. Nouri fled Syria almost two years ago with her husband and their four children. Like Ms. Eisentraut, a German, Ms. Nouri was lucky to get into LaQs, a federally funded project for the long-term unemployed, jobless migrants and refugees. Its goal is to better prepare them to enter Germany’s labor force.

Syrian and German work well together here, something that is not always self-evident, either in Schwerin or elsewhere in eastern Germany. Hardly a day goes by without reports of arson attacks on refugee centers. Last weekend, a large apartment block near the northern city of Rostock that was slated to receive refugees was burned down.

Violence is leveled not only against refugees, but also those helping them. In Neuhardenberg in the eastern state of Brandenburg, two cars owned by supporters of an initiative to aid refugees were set on fire and destroyed. In nearby Saxony, more right-wing disturbances have followed riots in the towns of Heidenau, Freital and Dresden.

Sociologists are unanimous in their verdict: Decades of communism and authoritarian rule in the former East Germany have left their mark. Many eastern Germans continue to think and feel differently to their fellow citizens in the west, who experienced liberalism, democracy and freedom to travel. Are people in the new German states that used to make up the East more xenophobic than those in the west?

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