Refugees: Keep toilets clean and cycle safely | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.10.2015
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Refugees: Keep toilets clean and cycle safely

Rules and instructions on the Internet explaining life in Germany aim to help refugees find their feet. Most are friendly, but the guidelines posted by the mayor of one small town come across as very heavy-handed.

All over the world, rules - written and unwritten - regulate how people live together.

For the many thousands of refugees in Germany, the Internet currently abounds with all manner of advice, explanations, tips and lists of dos and don'ts. After all, they face a foreign culture, a foreign language and often live in very cramped quarters with no privacy whatsoever.

It's important that we explain to the refugees the fundamental structures we live by and are accustomed to in Germany, says Claudia Beck, spokeswoman of Germany's Caritas aid organization, referring to both the refugee shelters' house rules and the country's social rules and values.

That's an integral part of integration, Beck told DW.

Culture clash

The guidelines posted by the mayor of Hardheim, a small town of 4,600 that currently houses 1,000 refugees in a former American military barracks in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg ended up making headlines.

Refugee centers nationwide naturally set up and explain house rules - distributed on flyers, often in the form of pictograms. The situation being bumpy in his town, Hardheim Mayor Volker Rohm posted his guidelines in a letter on the town's website. "Dear stranger," he writes. "Welcome to Germany, welcome to Hardheim."

Volker Rohm

The guidelines will stay on our website, says Mayor Rohm

"Many of you have been through terrible experiences." The threats to your lives, he continues, are over: "You are now in Germany, a peaceful country."

The text, translated into various languages, then explains that Germany is a "clean country and should remain so," that Germans separate their trash, people don't enter private property or take fruit or vegetables from private gardens.

He probably meant well, but the tone is awkward, and comes across as heavy-handed and formalistic, says Beck.

Quiet, please

The reaction on social media was, for the most part, dismissive:

Water, the mayor explains, is used for cooking, washing, cleaning - and "for flushing toilets." He admonishes migrants not to eat food before buying it in supermarkets, orders them to treat women with respect, cycle safely and not to relieve themselves in gardens, parks, behind hedges and behind bushes or to make noise after 10 pm, when "the night's rest" applies.

Why didn't the mayor distribute his "unfortunate guidelines" to everyone in town, this user asks.

Unperturbed, Mayor Rohm insists the guidelines will stay on the local community website despite widespread criticism. De-escalation and information were foremost on his mind, he argues. In fact, Mayor Rohm is convinced the refugees will "benefit in terms of integration."

The idea was to lower the potential for conflict, he says, and adds: Not necessarily to turn the asylum-seekers into "good Germans, but perhaps into good guests."

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