To the East?

When I spent six months on a study abroad program in Berlin, my academic advisor took me aside and told me that there certain parts of the city, concentrated on the eastern reaches of the mass transit system, that I should avoid. Xenophobic violence wasn’t common, but it could happen. What was implied that a man with my face like mine could rile up some skinheads.
Apparently, some Indian men settled into the formerly East German town of Muegeln didn’t get the bulletin. Unemployment is high, the right wing is strong and frustration abounds.

The European Jewish Press reports:
At a summer festival Saturday night, a group of about 50 Germans, some shouting neo-Nazi slogans, chased eight Indians through the streets of the town of Muegeln and broke down the door of a pizzeria where they had sought refuge.
Kramer said it was clear Berlin and the regional states had failed to tackle the problem of extremist violence head-on.
“There is still no nationally-coordinated plan with the states and local governments,” he said.
Kramer said it was “a bitter truth” that foreigners should be warned against living in some areas of the depressed former communist east, where he saw an escalating problem with racist attacks.
“Yesterday it was people of colour, today it is foreigners and tomorrow it will be gays and lesbians or perhaps Jews,” he said.

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11 thoughts on “To the East?

  1. In the Month I spent in the Former East Germany I saw NO antisemitism at all. It is true that there are pockets of xenophobia in the East, but these are the exception and not the rule. And Berlin, to my knowledge, is a pretty good city for Jewish life, much of the Jewish community of Berlin is located in Mitte, in the East including the yeshiva and the Kosher market. Some members of the Berlin community even felt more comfortable wearing a yarmulke there than they had in NYC. So to conflate Berlin with certain rural backwaters of the East is sort of a stretch. Like conflating the westernmost stretches of NYC with Appalachia.

  2. Chakira,
    I experienced very little antisemitism in my time in Berlin. I lived for 3 months in the west and 3 months in the east. However, I did routinely walk by white power grafitti in such eastern neighborhoods as Marzahn, Hellersdorf and over by the Schonefeld airport. The yeshiva bachurs I talked to breifly from the Lauder Yeshiva on Rykestrasse had almost all, at one point in their time, complained of an uncomfortable situation while living in the city. Of course, it is very hard to qualify such a difficult experience.
    It is certainly a stretch to say that my comparison is like comparing the westernmost stretches of nyc with appalachia. Appalachia and NYC are entirely different regions of the US. The former East Germany and Saxony and the Former East Berlin were part under the same communist regime, have similar populations and have suffered similar economic hardships over time, albeit over different urban landscapes. Western Appalachia is in the American South. Hellersdorf and Dresden are only a few hours away from each other.
    “And Berlin, to my knowledge, is a pretty good city for Jewish life, much of the Jewish community of Berlin is located in Mitte, in the East including the yeshiva and the Kosher market. Some members of the Berlin community even felt more comfortable wearing a yarmulke there than they had in NYC.”
    C’mon, how could you possibly back that up? The eastern part of Mitte has seen its Jewish areas entirely gentrified after the disintegration of the DDR. The Yeshiva is mostly students from the former Soviet Union. The Kosher markets are all relatively dismal. More comfortable than NY…hmm..alright. Don’t get me wrong, I dig on berlin.

  3. I agree with Eli as a former Berlin resident. I lived in Kreuzberg in the East and there was a very good reason the police had 24 protection on the shul I went to…not to mention the Russian speaking Israeli guards who patted me down and asked me of my intentions week after week.
    Mitte is a ghost town when it comes to Jewish life…everything has moved West with Chabad or the primarily Russian Jewish community, which is so isolated you would have a tough time making an appearance without calling way ahead. The New Synagogue is in Mitte (tourist attraction), the Jewish Gemeinde is down there to be close to the Bundestag, but active Jewish life has headed down the Kudamm.
    And to say that there is no anti-semitism in Berlin is not accurate either:
    I talked with a few of Berlin’s orthodox Jews while I was in Israel and they said they wouldn’t be caught dead without some sort of cap over their Kippa.
    Ignoring these things won’t make them go away. Germany is trying to deal with Right-wing extremism in the East but are losing at the moment. To make matters more frustrating the NPD is gaining steam in some areas. To give you an idea of the NPD and its leadership, the Party Leader Udo Voigt said of the new Holocaust memorial in October of 2004:
    „Für uns ist das kein Holocaust- Gedenkmal, sondern wir bedanken uns dafür, dass man uns dort jetzt schon die Fundamente der neuen deutschen Reichskanzlei geschaffen hat.“
    “For us, that is not a Holocaust memorial, rather we are thankful that someone has created the foundation for the New German Imperial Chancellery.”

  4. I was just in Berlin last month. It seems that the parts of Berlin that were West Berlin are very nice. I was with many kippah wearing Jews without a problem (I didn’t feel comfortable wearing a kippah, but I don’t feel comfortable in the US either, and it’s more an issue of being seen as a religious Jew than fear of antisemitism).
    It’s basic economics. Poorer areas are more racist and xenophobic and it doesn’t help to see the rich Jews demand — to this day — “reparations” for the Holocaust (I’m not talking about the survivors’ checks that have been sent for decades). Any poor area is this way and it happens to be that there is vast economic differences within short distances.

  5. This little gem of hatred comes from the racist bilge pit over at Little Green Footballs:
    “Los Angeles is the second largest city of Mexican nationals in the world
    Well this situation WILL NOT CHANGE until:
    1) We as a Sovereign (Nation?) vote in politicians who follow the wishes of the people by enforcing the existing laws regarding immigration.
    2) We as a people act as one people instead of using the bs -American mentality. (this: (- ), means hyphen for you Kos kids out there).
    3) Anyone who hires illegal aliens be it the large corporations, small business, to the homeowner going to the Home Depot for day labors, face immediate penalties with no exception-HIRE an ILLEGAL, Goto jail, period.
    4) Enforce laws like prop 187, dismiss judges who rule against them. They are the WILL OF THE PEOPLE, any judge who would rule against the protection of LEGAL/NATURALIZED citizens should be removed immediately.
    5) PUT UP THAT WALL and f the U.N.
    6) Inform Mexico or any other third world malingering nations with their hands reaching into the U.S. taxpayers’ wallets, that the teat has run dry…they are on their own.
    7) PUT UP THAT WALL and tell MeCha to F Off.
    8) PUT UP THAT WALL and tell the LLL to f Off.
    9) PUT UP THAT WALL and run Sean Penn, Mic al-Moor, Alec Boldwimp and the rest of the whinning piss-ants out of here. If this country is So Bad, they shouldn’t mind leaving here and leaving here forever.”
    I have reported this prime example of racism to the proper authorities in my country. I urge others to do so as well. We as a sane people need to shut down Hate sites such as Little Green Footballs or else we shall face fascism at its root beginnings.

  6. Elon – you wrote that the The New Synagogue (the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue) is a tourist attraction, which is very true, but your statement implied it is ONLY a tourist attraction. Not so! It houses vibrant minyanim, including a very active Masorti congregation led by Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, the first female pulpit rabbi in Germany since the war.

  7. What makes the whole situation a bit unsettling is that antisemitism by immigrants from muslim countries is running high, too. The german government usually hide this fact and the police tends to ignore it (deliberately?). Also among there is a strong sympathy for Ahmadinejad among the neo-nazi and it’s nothing unusual to see rallies with participants waving Hizballah flags, condemning Israel. Also, a famous kosher deli in Berlin was closed 2 years ago because the proprietor, Ariye Tamm had enough of the constant attacks from antisemites. (http://www.hagalil.com/archiv/2005/09/berlin.htm – in german)

  8. Gregg,
    I thought the Minyanim were at the Gemeinde offices or above Qadima there next to the shul. My apologies, I stand corrected!

  9. There are many Germans who are ashamed and sorry (once again) for what happened. They even lit some candles in Muegeln… big deal.
    Some act, more than just going through the usual motions. Local folks from Muegeln (Saxony) launched a website abroad, to help prevent future Nazi mob attacks by applying economic and political pressure on their officials. Kind of… a global Safe Travel campaign for Nazi-infested towns in Germany. This whole issue is much worse than some of the comments here would suggest – just read the statements of the Jewish Council in Germany.
    The folks from Saxony ask you to kindly link to their website, to help prevent further attacks on foreigners:

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