Bonn Christmas market trader targeted by neo-Nazis for sheltering refugees | News | DW | 24.11.2016
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Germany

Bonn Christmas market trader targeted by neo-Nazis for sheltering refugees

Right-wing vandals targeted German beekeeper Klaus Maresch after he provided accommodation to two gay refugees from Iraq. "We've had such times in Germany," Klaus Maresch told DW. "And they're times we don't want again."

Bonn Einbruch (Klaus Maresch)

'I was here' - last month, Maresch awoke to this graffiti where he keeps his bees

With Advent just around the corner, Bonn, like most other German cities, is in full swing for the countdown to Christmas. The market is open, the shoppers are out and the mulled wine is on to warm. Selling his honey-based products among the city's 180 stalls is Klaus Maresch.

When he's not tending to business on the Christmas market, the 49-year-old is a writer of fantasy novels. In recent months, however, vampires and werewolves have been the least of his worries. Instead, the beekeeper-come-novelist has had neo-Nazis to contend with.

After seven break-ins within a year, Maresch has had enough. After 35 years in the business, he has closed his honey farm for good.

"It was pure vandalism," he told DW. "Swastikas on the walls."

Two of the incidents were particularly bad, Maresch recalled. The roof was destroyed and he shut up shop.

"Would I do it again and offer to help?" he asked, "Of course, I would."

But it was after reaching out to those in need that Maresch was targeted by right-wing extremists.

Iraqi asylum seekers

In the flat next to the office of Maresch's book group - ironically labeled "The Federal Office for Magical Beings," complete with mock government insignia - live Achmet and Messut who fled from Iraq in June 2015.

As homosexuals, however, the two young men - both in their early 20s - weren't only escaping the so.called "Islamic State" (IS), they were also fleeing the hostility and hatred of their own compatriots. Neither of them have told their family about their sexuality.

On arriving in Germany, however, the persecution wasn't over. In the refugee homes, the men continued to be threatened, humiliated and harassed.

"I knew my partner and I had to help," Maresch said.

By October last year, Achmet had moved into Maresch's empty flat and was joined eight months later by Messut.

"We informed our customers and called on them to think about if them could also offer accommodation to refugees," Maresch said. In doing so, however, Maresch's good deed was targeted by some with a backlash of vandalism and verbal abuse.

"One man - who told us he was from Saxony [in eastern Germany] -  said what we were doing was part of the "Umvolkung," created Angela Merkel to replace the German population with asylum seekers," Maresch said.

Klaus Maresch at his Christmas market stall in Bonn

Beekeeper and novelist Klaus Maresch is better-known in the fantasy literature world as Hagen Ulrich

The term "Umvolkung," which translates as "ethnicity inversion," was a term used in Nazi ideology to describe a process of assimilation of members of the German people.

"He told us that if the right party was in power, we'd see what would happen to people like us," Maresch recalled.

"The fact that we're living in a time, once again, where there is hate against refugees and minorities is completely unacceptable," he said. "We've had such times in Germany. And they're times we don't want again."

Call for clear stance from Berlin

As support for nationalism and right-wing populism continues to grow across Europe, Maresch is calling on Berlin to launch a "steadfast confrontation against this right-wing hate."

"It's disgusting to see how this climate which generates politicians like Frauke Petry," he added, referring to the leader of right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The controversial party currently holds seats in nine of Germany's 16 state parliaments. Much of the AfD's campaign has been spun off the back of Merkel's immigration policy which enabled 890,000 asylum seekers to cross Germany's borders last year - a gesture praised by Maresch.

"I'm no huge fan of Angela Merkel and the Christian Democrats - particularly as a gay man. But on the matter of refugees, she has my full support," Maresch told DW. "I never thought she was capable of that."

Human values

In the hope of continuing their respective university studies in culture and dentistry, the two young Iraqis taken in by Maresch are now working towards their German language exams.

The break-ins, however, proved to be yet another setback in the long process of beginning their new lives in Germany.

"Of course they were worried," Maresch said. "We all were." As a result of the break-ins, Maresch began suffering from panic attacks, but he remains resolute in his decision to help.

"They may have ruined by business, but this hate has not ruined my determination to stand up and do the right thing," Maresch said. "This has nothing to do with religion. This is about universal human values to help someone as much as possible."

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