World Cup visitors who aren't white should steer clear of the state of Brandenburg, a former government spokesman cautioned on Wednesday. His warning caused a storm of outrage -- as well as agreement -- from politicians.
Visitors with dark skin should watch where they go, Heye said
"There are small and mid-sized towns in Brandenburg and elsewhere where I would advise anyone with a different skin color not to go. They might not make it out alive," Uwe-Karsten Heye told Deutschlandradio Kultur.
Heye was former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government spokesman from 1998 to 2002. He now runs an anti-racist action group called Gesicht zeigen (Show Your Face).
His remarks provoked angry reactions. In Brandenburg, state Premier Matthias Platzeck, a fellow Social Democrat, called the comments an "absurd slur of a whole region that is no way justifiable." Brandenburg Interior Minister Jörg Schönbohm of the Christian Democrats (CDU) said Heye should resign from his position at Gesicht zeigen.
While extremism and xenophobia shouldn't be minimized, said Wolfgang Bosback, a leading CDU parliamentarian, "You can't stamp broad areas of the new German states or of the state of Brandenburg suspicious and at least indirectly declare them so-called no-go areas." He added that it would be "fatal" if comments such as Heye's would cause people not to come to the World Cup.
But Heye also received backing from other quarters. "The reality is that school classes with many migrant children ask whether it's safe to go camping in Brandenburg or Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania," said Daniel-Cohn Bendit, Green party leader in the European Parliament.
Social Democratic parliamentarian Sebastian Edathy said Heye's warning was fully comprehensible. "Here the message is not the messenger's fault," he said. Edathy, whose father comes from India, added that there were certain areas of Berlin, such as the eastern Treptow district, where he wouldn't take the train at night.
Berlin political scientist Yonas Endrias, a member of the Africa Council, an umbrella organization of African community groups and activists in Germany which plans to publish a guide to "no-go" areas for black visitors to Germany, agreed, too.
Neo-Nazis are a problem in western Germany as well
"None of us blacks would take our families on an outing to Brandenburg," he told the Neue Presse newspaper. "In western Germany there's also racism, but in an eastern German place you're much more likely to be attacked as a black."
Later in the day, Heye said he hadn't wanted to stigmatize Brandenburg. He pointed out that the Africa Council had already declared some parts of Germany, including Brandenburg, dangerous for black people.
The state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, was the scene of a brutal attack on a 37-year-old man of Ethiopian origin in April.