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'Not much Germany here'

Daniel Heinrich / dcAugust 17, 2016

Bad Godesberg was once home to diplomats working in Bonn. Today, Muslim women in veils and Arab shops and restaurants are abounding. Many long-term residents no longer feel at home, reports Daniel Heinrich.

Deutschland Burkas in Bad Godesberg
Image: picture-alliance/U. Baumgarten

Sabine Galuschka knows everyone here. The 57-year-old owns a small flower shop in the middle of Bad Godesberg's main street. Her discussions with customers often go beyond the business of buying flowers. The current debate about banning burqas is a particularly hot topic. "I just don't like that there are so many veiled women walking around. That's not the way we dress when we go out," she said. "I would just like to know who's hiding beneath the veil."

Not all women in Bad Godesberg wear the veil. As I walk through the town center on a warm summer's day, the contrast is stark. On one side of the street there are young girls in hot pants and tops; on the other side, there are women in headscarves. There are also women swathed in black niqabs, a type of full-body veil with just a narrow opening for the eyes. But there's not a burqa in sight.

Fear of the 'right-wing' label

One passerby carrying shopping bags stops briefly to share her opinion. "You know what? I don't have a bad word to say about the Arab women here. Most of them are really nice to me, they often greet me. I just find it a shame that they don't show their faces." She reflects for a moment, choosing her words carefully. "This whole thing with the veils is part of their culture. They're not doing it to bother us." But then she adds that people who move to another country ought to adapt to the customs of that country. "Otherwise, they should go somewhere else." She declines to give her name or have her photo taken.

Deutschland Bad Godesberg Innenstadt Reportage Burka
Sabine Galuschka (R) with her coworker Sabine Mennen: The two are concerned about the changing townImage: DW/D. Heinrich

The debates about the refugee crisis and the burqa ban are touchy subjects in Bad Godesberg. Many people prefer not to comment, or say they're afraid of being labeled right-wing extremists. Many rumors routinely make the rounds in this town just south of Bonn. There's talk, for example, of front men who buy apartments for Arab businessmen, or of Arab families willing to pay rent at a monthly rate of 20 euros per square meter - far above the average.

"There's a kind of double standard at work here. Everyone likes Arab money, just not the people who are offering it," says one middle-aged man. He refuses to give his name, nor does he want his interview to be recorded.

Attempts to speak with Arab business owners go nowhere. The most common response is that people here "don't want any trouble." It's even harder to talk to any of the veiled women or their companions. Most put their hands in front of their faces and hurry away as soon as they see my microphone.

Deutschland Burkas in Bad Godesberg
Image: picture-alliance/U. Baumgarten

'Nothing but shisha bars'

Back in Sabine Galuschka's flower shop, I meet with one customer who is happy to talk. Simone Lavan, 50, is out walking her dog, and doesn't want to be photographed. She says a burqa ban is unnecessary as it only scratches the surface. The real problems are elsewhere. "Every day, I experience the kind of stereotypes Arab men have about women. You just have to walk into any of the Arab cafes around here. They stare at any women who so much as walk by." She says the looks don't scare her. "But it makes me sad that women are treated so badly in their own country."

Lavan adds that the transformation taking place in Bad Godesberg is a much bigger issue for her than the current political debates. She mentions the recent closing of "Aennchen," one of the last typically German restaurants left in Bad Godesberg. "Now you've got shisha bars springing up everywhere, with that sweet smell in the air," she says. "There's not much that's German here anymore, or even Italian. And you see Arabic script everywhere."

Deutschland Reportage Burka
Image: DW/D. Heinrich

Residents here tend to lean toward generalizations when talking about the growing Arab influence in their town. And yet, on my journey home, I take a quick peek into a local branch of a large German supermarket chain. And it's true: In addition to German and English, the signs are also written in Arabic.