“To mark No Go Areas, that is to say law-free areas with high danger potential, is nothing unusual,” Rüdiger Franz of Bonn, Germany’s General Anzeiger (GA) newspaper wrote, as travel guide entries for cities such as Detroit, Istanbul, Johannesburg, or Mogadishu show. Considerable controversy, however, ensued after a language school posted an Internet No Go Area map of Bonn and environs, drawing ongoing, often unwelcome attention to the problems Germany’s once serene former capital faces from newly arrived Muslim immigrants.
The No Go map at the website of the Steinke Institut (SI) language school’s Bonn branch first drew significant public interest at the conservative German website Politically Incorrect (PI) with a July 18, 2013, entry. Attention only grew in the following weeks with an “unexpectedly large echo” of about 50 Bonn residents contacting SI with approval, queries, and criticism, as an SI Internet statement at the beginning of September noted.
SI explained therein the school’s emphasis on teaching German as a foreign language to students “from the entire world.” The No Go map resulted “exclusively” from some 250 such students reporting in the last six years “extremely negative experiences” in various Bonn neighborhoods, with over 80% of the reports agreeing upon the map’s red-marked problem zones. SI elaborated that these “negative experiences” entailed harassment of women, theft, robbery, break-ins, assaults, and insults.
In contrast to the suspicions of “some concerned callers” at SI, these experiences had no “Neo-Nazi context.” Rather, “above all” East Asian and East European students “had made pertinent experiences with adolescents, who almost exclusively seem to have an immigration background.” A landlord from Bonn’s Bad Godesberg (BadGo) suburb confirmed in an October 23, 2013, GA article that many of her young renters suffered harassment from immigrants, particularly women, for “supposedly too short skirts and the wearing of shorts.” SI teaching personnel, many of whom “themselves live in these same city areas and are very often themselves connected with a partner with an immigrant background,” likewise agreed with the students, SI noted. On the other hand, the “overwhelming majority of the language students had a thoroughly positive impression of the German and/or as German perceived citizens of Bonn and confirm therefore the image of Bonn as a tolerant and cosmopolitan city.”
For each red zone on SI’s map, SI sought confirmation in the media and linked many of these articles to the statement. A subsequent PI entry criticized that SI “did not trust itself to name clearly what special kind of immigrants are responsible” for a “negative Germany image” among “peaceful and diligent foreign German learners.” Yet the linked “gruesome news reports” allowed an “unbiased observer” to surmise that the criticisms “all somehow had something to do with the I-word,” namely Islam.
An April 16, 2013, GA article, for example, noted in general that Bonn area “investigators and judges no longer conceal” that “more than 90% of all youth criminality is perpetrated by youth with an immigration background.” An earlier August 30, 2007, article in a regional boulevard paper, meanwhile, discussed the “Bad Go” gang in BadGo comprised of young adolescents “mostly from Arab families.” During a television report about the gang, one of the youths had discussed Hezbollah and how “you only come into paradise when the Israelis fight against you…and you then kill them…holy war, so to speak.”
A subsequent October 27, 2009, article in Germany’s conservative Die Welt newspaper elaborated BadGo’s development from a “pretty city area” to “tough streets” as one of the “crass consequences” of the capital’s move from Bonn to Berlin. Although Die Welt rejected equivalency with the Bronx, Berlin’s Neukölln, or notorious Paris suburbs, nonetheless “‘BadGo’ had become for many a ‘NoGo.’” Die Welt described a “new conflict” in BadGo in which “immigrant children, who see themselves as disadvantaged losers, take up position against elite offspring from well-to-do homes.” One anonymous 17-year-old college preparatory student, for example, discussed avoiding BadGo where “Kanaken” (a German derogatory term for South Europeans, Turks, and other majority-Muslim peoples) lie in wait to mug.
In particular, Ingrid Müller-Münch, the author of a 2009 book on BadGo discussed by Die Welt, described at the book’s homepage a gang assault upon a preparatory school summer pre-graduation party. Gang members suddenly emerged from cars and assaulted celebrating seniors in a public park with baseball bats, knives, and crowbars, taking cellphones and money while leaving behind bruises. Rather than an “isolated incident,” this attack is one of several in which “pre-graduation parties are downright stormed and messed up.” Graduating seniors accordingly fear publicly announcing their parties.
In this environment, Die Welt reported, “immigrant youth gangs, whose tone is determined by Gangsta Rap and Kanaken-German and who proudly name themselves ‘foreigners,’ want to profile themselves with violence.” “What is mostly treated as a taboo is clearly spoken here” among the individuals interviewed by Die Welt: “Youth with an ‘immigrant background’ are—in their own estimate—more violence prone than Germans. The German hierarchy of law and values is not recognized.” As one 19-year-old of Syrian-Kurdish background stated, “I do not say that the Germans are weak, but they are not confident like the foreigners to punch away ... They only go to their parents and say, that guy hit me.”
The “city picture portrays the chasm,” as retired diplomats and ministerial officials, along with other individuals of means, continue to live in BadGo. “The wife of an ex-diplomat shares the pedestrian zone with a veiled Muslim or a Moroccan in traditional caftan. Not far from Gründerzeit villas there are shops like from the Orient, döner, and trash.”
Individual emails and phone calls to SI only further confirmed the media reports. By October 26, 2013, SI had recorded ten positive phone calls in response to the No Go map, opposed to 11 negative calls, but 129 positive emails to 6 negative. SI posted online email extracts with permission of their authors and their initials.
One G.G. condemned the “absolute scandal” that “certain population groups” rejected the “rules of a peaceful communal life.” F.O. likewise referenced the “same group of persons” and F.K. wrote of “Germans and foreigners fearing (certain) foreigners.” G.G. distinctly contrasted these immigrants living in “parallel societies” and enjoying “evidently the particular protection of the multi-culti faction in Bonn” with the “curiosity and politeness” of SI’s foreign students.
Reflecting comments by G.G., F.W. criticized that “critical consideration of ‘problems’ with ‘foreigners’ is politically avoided as much as possible” due to accusations of “rightwing thinking” and “populism.” C.H. likewise complained of such a taboo with respect to a “certain group of persons” that “always causes more and disproportionately many problems.” Yet D.W. condemned as “treason against one’s own people” and “extremely criminal” that “in Germany it may no longer be warned against dangers if these come from certain cultural circles.”
Foreigners such as T.C. confirmed that Bonn’s No Go areas concerned not just Germans. T.C. wrote of his two nieces visiting from the home country suffering sexual harassment during a walk through BadGo. The BadGo landlord N.R. similarly wrote of a “very nice” and “super integrated” Turkish married couple that simply could not accept their neighborhood environment after a half-year of renting. N.R.’s only prospective purchaser for a BadGo dwelling was also an “investor from the Orient” who demanded a 20% price rebate.
Not everyone, though, approved of SI’s map. BadGo’s district mayor, Annette Schwolen-Flümann, for example, considered the map in an October 22, 2013, letter “not constructive for objectively and sensitively informing foreign guests about the circumstances in our city.” “In Bonn you can go everywhere,” police spokesperson Daniela Lindemann concurred while noting a Bonn decrease in crime since 2012, “generalization does not do justice to reality.” More ominously, an anonymous caller who claimed to be an influential city official threatened to remove SI from the city list of immigrant integration course contractors, although SI had abandoned these courses in 2009.
Himself an immigrant of unspecified origins, SI director David Schah responded to these criticisms in an October 28, 2013, press release. Schah rejected Stamp’s demand for the map removal given support from the “overwhelming majority” of Bonn citizen responses that often described the map as a “symbol for the discrepancy between public and officially published opinion concerning the security situation in Bonn.” With respect to aiding “rightwing…populists,” the press release noted that ignorance of an “evidently widespread insecurity feeling” among citizens would lead to “their revenge at the ballot box.”
Schah in short advocated an unhindered discussion of immigration’s many, sometimes problematical facets in Bonn. As Bonn and the rest of Europe show, such discussions are desperately needed. Rather than experiencing a trouble-free post-Cold War “End of History” in a united global village of peace and prosperity, Germany’s former capital indicates the various culture clashes to come as peoples of differing means and mores come closer together.
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