The murder of a Chinese university student has shocked locals in the eastern German town of Dessau. Amid reports of growing xenophobia, DW's Kate Brady headed east to talk to the region's Chinese population.
Racial violence in eastern Germany is a frequent topic of headlines, both at home and abroad. As the number of refugees in Germany began to rise significantly last year, so did the level of racial hostility from right-wing factions - and the number of violent attacks on foreigners. The rise of the xenophobic PEGIDA movement in Dresden and the success of the right-wing Alternative for Germany in Saxony-Anhalt's state elections have further damaged the region's reputation.
Though the states that were part of East Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 have slowly begun to recover economically from their transition to a market system after four decades of Soviet-style communism, a new media focus on violent right-wing outbursts could overshadow any successes in the changing popular perception.
So, when reports came two weeks ago of the death of a female Chinese student in the eastern city of Dessau, alarm bells began to ring in other parts of Germany. The body of the 25-year-old architecture student was found some 100 meters (330 feet) from her student accommodation on May 13 - two days after she failed to return from a jog. Two suspects have since been arrested for her death. The man and woman - both aged 20 - told German authorities that they had previously met with the Chinese student for consensual sex. DNA from the male suspect was also found on the victim's body. Authorities are continuing their investigation into possible motives for the murder.
Richard Lammel, the chairman of the German-Chinese Friendship Association, which is based in the eastern city of Leipzig, told DW that a racially motivated attack was unlikely. "Let me make one thing clear," Lammel said. "There is no problem between Germans and Chinese. The murder in Dessau is a tragic case, but this is an isolated incident."
"Eastern Germans are used to people from Asia living here," Lammel said. "During the GDR, a huge number of Vietnamese came to the east to strengthen the workforce."
"The Chinese living in Germany maintain a low profile," Lammel said. "In China the tendency is to show everyone your wealth, which is a hugely different behavior to here in Germany. But there's also a saying - 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do' - and the Chinese follow this idiom when they live here.
"This is why there are no problems between the Chinese and Germans."
Lammel and his wife, Luoding, who was born in Shanghai, are also the chief executives of the International China Projects (ICP), which enables companies to develop business between China and Germany - an economic partnership that has bloomed in recent years. "The recent events in Dessau aren't about to change this," the 78-year-old said, even though the Chinese business partners working with ICP are also the types of parents with the financial means to send their children to university in Germany.
'A safe country'
Lunchtime at Leipzig Uni, and the canteen was teeming with hungry students. Among them were two 20-year-old linguistics students - just two of the around 25,500 Chinese students in Germany.
"I love it here," one of the students who wished to remain anonymous told DW. "Everyone has always been so welcoming." She moved from Yichang, in the eastern Chinese province of Heubei, one year ago.
"The murder of the girl in Dessau is so sad," she said. "In China, people think of Germany as a safe country, but of course the murder will be at the front of people's minds if they're considering moving here."
"But this could happen anywhere - any part of Germany, any country," added the other student, who moved to Leipzig from Tiajin in northeastern China.
She said her parents had expressed their concerns for her safety after hearing of the Dessau murder.
"My mum told me to take extra care of myself and not to go wandering around in the dark on my own," the student told DW. "But this is just common sense. I'm sure all students' parents are saying the same thing - regardless of where they're from."
Some Chinese people do suspect that bias played a part in the killing, however. As police investigations continue, one Chinese businessman living in Germany speculated on China's WeChat messaging service that the murder in Dessau could have been racially motivated.
"People in the east are traditionally hostile towards foreigners," the businessman wrote.
For the most part, however, that sentiment did not seem to be shared in the east. "I think it's completely unfair to tar everyone with the same brush," a man named Liu Wei said. The 36-year-old has lived in Germany all his life and said neither he nor his family had ever felt threatened or persecuted.
"Movements like PEGIDA are giving the east a bad name," he said. "These right-wing supporters are the minority, but, unfortunately, they're making a lot of noise, which is grabbing the attention of the media."
A university professor in eastern Germany who wished to remain anonymous told DW that she had carried a personal alarm since the murder in Dessau.
"But so do my German colleagues," the 29-year-old said. "They're in no less danger than women - or men - with a Chinese background."