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Outrage over 'wall' blocking out Munich refugee home

Local politicians have expressed anger at a sound barrier built between a new refugee shelter and residential homes in the Munich district of Neuperlach. But others say they can't understand the excitement.

For some it's a symbol of division and marginalization and a scar on Munich's "welcome culture," while for others it's just a wall. It might be around a 100 meters (330 feet) long and four metres high and made of massive gray rocks held together by metal wires, but it's just a wall - built between a planned home for 160 refugees and the rest of the leafy district of Neuperlach, Munich.

That is not how Guido Bucholtz saw it though. The local independent politician released a video late last week that juxtaposed ominous images of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and his own pictures of the Neuperlach sound barrier filmed from a drone. The video pointed out portentously that the latter was 25 centimeters higher than the wall built by the authoritarian East German regime.

"If you stand in front of it, then you realize the scale of this lump," Bucholtz told "Die Welt" newspaper. "This wall is the opposite of integration."

Court compromise

Berlin München ICE Ankunft der Flüchtlinge im Herbst 2015 (Getty Images/C. Koall)

Some fear that Munich's "welcome culture" has been tarnished

The wall is the result of a two-and-a-half-year legal battle after some of the Neuperlach inhabitants launched petitions and lawsuits against the construction of a refugee shelter near their homes. As part of the deal hashed out in a Munich court, ball games and climbing have been banned from the vicinity of the wall, which does not completely encircle the refugee shelter, though it does curve in at either end.

The Munich Green party has launched a motion in the Munich municipal assembly to try to have the wall removed again. The main objection voiced by the party is its scale.

"What emerged is so outsized that it doesn't have anything to do with noise protection at all," said Gülseren Demirel, head of the Greens' local parliamentary faction. "We don't have four-meter walls in places where we have to put a barrier up against the noise of a highway - this is a residential area, there's not even a road."

Given that there is some fifty meters of space between the new shelter and the nearest local home, plus a line of trees, Demirel and Bucholtz wonder whether any kind of noise protection was necessary at all.

"This signals marginalization and division," Demirel told DW. "We can argue how much noise 160 people can make in the shelter they're living in, but it doesn't have any proportion to what has been built. Our opinion is: do you need a wall where people are just living together?"

Friendly neighborhood

Demirel wanted to underline that her criticism was not against the people of Neuperlach, which local media describes as peaceful and multicultural, but against the city council for accepting the wall as the only possible compromise. "In this conflict of interests, they seem to have valued the interests of the refugees less and concentrated more on the interests of the inhabitants," she said.

Deutschland PK CDU Sachsen und CSU zu Leit- und Rahmenkultur Markus Blume (picture alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini)

Markus Blume can't understand why people are so worked up

Meanwhile, Markus Blume, member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) in the Bavarian state parliament, said he couldn't understand the outrage over the wall at all.

"It's not an ugly symbol, it is the result of a legal process," he told DW. "It was always clear that housing refugees was not going to be realized against the inhabitants, but with the inhabitants. And part of that is finding compromises."

Like Demirel, Blume was keen to point out how open the locals were. "The refugees are welcome there," he added. "The people there have nothing against refugees - this was just the result of a legal comparison, because otherwise the construction on this site would not have been legally possible, according to construction law."

Locals interviewed by the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" had mixed feelings about the wall, with some calling it "horrible" and others being more phlegmatic: "The wall is there, so now we have to live with it."

For his part, Blume had no time for the opinions of outsiders criticizing the wall without being directly affected: "But who is saying that [it is an ugly symbol]? People who don't live there are saying that, who have nothing to do with the situation," he said. "I just think the criticism is completely unjustified. I think it's a shame that people are calling it a symbol - and it's not a perimeter to keep people in either. It's just a wall."

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