Opinion: Polarized Germany | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.10.2016
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Opinion: Polarized Germany

Reunification cannot be the central focus of this year's Day of German Unity. The country has been facing new challenges for some time now, and Dresden is the ideal place to address them, DW's Felix Steiner writes.

For a quarter of a century, October 3 provided an opportunity for Germany to consider the convergence in living conditions between its former East and West. On the Day of German Unity 2016, nothing would seem less appropriate.

With the arrival of more than 1 million displaced people since the start of 2015, Germany is facing challenges of an entirely new quality. Whether living conditions are similar in the Erz Mountains (in former East Germany) or in the Hunsrück mountain region (in the West) seems to be a rather anachronistic question. 

So far, though, we have heard little more than the mantra of "we can do this!" from either Chancellor Angela Merkel or German President Joachim Gauck.

Steiner Felix Kommentarbild App

DW's Felix Steiner

Yes, the state has done a lot: from accommodating to taking care of and registering the arrivals. (At the end of September, the Federal Minister of the Interior finally knew how many of them there were in 2015.)  And  - according to Angela Merkel - German authorities are working as hard as they can to ensure that"a situation like that won't be repeated." Which simply means that they are trying to seal the country off by every possible means (laws, agreements with other countries, ongoing border controls).

But the state cannot manage the integration of the new arrivals by itself. For that, it needs the whole of society: neighbors who welcome their new neighbors; teachers who make a special effort to encourage and challenge the young; companies that give trainees a chance even if their German is not perfect yet. So far, Germany has waited in vain for appeals of this kind. October 3 would be a good opportunity for this.    

Online hate speech

German society has become more polarized than ever in its recent history. The heavy loss of support for the mainstream Conservatives (CDU) and Social-Democrats (SPD) and the rapid rise of the right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) are just a small indication of the massive shift that is currently underway. Far more decisive is the coarsening of the tone that manifests itself day after day on social media.

Numerous people are not even hiding behind the cloak of anonymity when propagating violence as a means of settling political disagreements. They rant about rising up against the governing elite, and stir up hatred in the vilest of ways against those who have arrived in the country. This, of course, has consequences. Refugee shelters are pelted with stones and Molotov cocktails, mayors resign because they and their families are being threatened;politicians' cars are set on fire -including that of the AfD-leader. The enemies of democracy may stand predominantly on the far right of the political spectrum, but that's by no means the only place where they can be found!

It is a coincidence that the main celebrations for the Day of German Unity are taking place in Dresden this year, but perhaps fate also had a hand in it. Dresden, the city where - even months before the refugee crisis - the anti-immigrant Pegida-demonstrations attracted thousands of marchers carrying symbolic gallows for Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is the city where homemade bombs went off outside a mosque and a conference center last week. 

This, of course, raises fears, which is why an unprecedented police presence is accompanying the celebration of German unity. Yet the chancellor, the German president and all the other political leaders still need to come to precisely this city on this day - to show that democracy is not weakening, that its representatives are not hiding away but remain connected to the citizens of this country. Perhaps it would also be an occasion to clarify why exactly fear of Islamization should be particularly great in Dresden, of all places.

Just over 100 years ago, the city approved the construction of a huge cigarette factory that looked like a mosque (pictured). This has been part of the cityscape ever since. It would be nice if the courage and cosmopolitanism of 1908 were once again associated with the city of Dresden.

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