A small Bavarian town on the Austrian border has been overwhelmed by the constant flood of refugees passing through. Citizens are at their wits' end. Daniel Heinrich reports from Freilassing.
Life has been anything but normal in Freilassing for quite some time. The Bavarian town was in a state of emergency even before the government decided to call in federal police and reintroduce border controls.
Citizens say the situation has been chaotic for months. Most of the refugees headed toward Germany on the so-called Balkan route pass through Freilassing, the first town on German soil after the Austrian border. In the last few days 15,000 people have passed through - which is about the size of the town's population.
Many here feel the situation deteriorated in the aftermath of Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent welcome to the refugees.
The refugees just bring problems to Germany, says Tobias, a 20-year-old waiting for a train at the station, his nerves on edge. "Theft, burglary and other trouble - just look around, some people have begun to protect themselves with handguns." One of his neighbors, Tobias tells DW, is so panicked that he bought a shotgun.
Tobias says he has caught refugees trying to steal from his garage more than once. "This is a small town; we're not used to such things and people are scared."
Waiting on the platform because trains have once again been cancelled as a result of the border controls, many Freilassing citizens would agree. But very few dare say so openly. Like Tobias, most citizens of the small town fear being labeled supporters of the far-right scene.
Dressed skater-style, their hair tousled, a group of teenagers is hanging out on the square in front of the train station. "It's rare that anyone speaks their opinion, because then they're immediately labeled right-wing or a Nazi," says Lukas.
With his hoodie, baggy jeans and skateboard, he certainly doesn't look like a neo-Nazi. But all the same, he says he's really had it. "But it's not only Germany that's overextending," he says. "Something has to happen fast, or Europe will self-destruct."
World policies, geraniums and an Alpine panorama
Big words - but the current situation has forced people to deal with such far-reaching issues. Rural Freilassing, with its neat houses, window boxes trailing bright geraniums and the obligatory view of the Alps, suddenly found itself smack in the middle of world policy discussions.
That's too much for many Freilassing citizens, even if they want to help, like the elderly lady on her way to do her shopping. She's mainly worried about the children. For the past two weeks, she says, she's dropped off donations. "I feel so sorry for many of the refugees, but I can't donate every day. I don't get that much retirement pay," she said.
Some of the federal police officers conducting the border controls look a bit lost. Many were brought in from all over Germany on short notice, as every train from Austria carries more refugees. The procedure never changes: a train arrives, the police officers go on board, identify and pull out possible refugees and gather them in a cordoned off area.
The train station is hopelessly overcrowded, the entrance hall holds no more than 50 people. There are two restrooms for hundreds of refugees and regular passengers. The police bus the refugees to hastily erected camps or gyms, where they are registered and receive medical attention.
It's a grind. Standing in the midst of his men, the officer in charge, dressed in a blue vest with yellow writing, looks weary despite his youth. Ludger Otto can only guess how much longer the operation will take.
"Presumably, there will continue to be people on the trains from Austria who don't meet the entry requirements, and we have to act accordingly," he says. How many? Coming up with figures would be pure speculation, he says.
No real solutions
The citizens of Freilassing are less cautious in their assessment of the situation. Many feel the politicians are leaving them in the lurch, and closing the border is just an act for the sake of doing something. Most of them miss real solutions.
"Actually, you'd have to solve the problems in the countries of origin first," says Kathrin, as she pours the people standing around another free coffee. It's her "service for people stranded here," the owner of the newsstand winks, wondering aloud why millions of people have to seek refuge in the first place. "Germany simply can't take them all in," she argues.
Everyone in town wants to know what happens next. They're willing to help people in emergencies, and care for those who really need support. But the citizens of Freilassing agree: We can't take them all.