Middle Eastern politics have never been easy for Berlin. The German state supports the Israeli one, for obvious reasons, and the narrower limits on free speech are an outgrowth of WWII: You can’t praise Hitler, fly a swastika, deny the Holocaust or utter antisemitic hate speech. But the tendency in Germany right now is to squelch as much criticism of Israel as possible.
Africans came to East Germany for education and work under the banner of solidarity, yet the legacies of the East German experiment with anti-racism and anti-imperialism are entangled in the broader German history of race and empire.
Amid the renovated and repurposed villas that once belonged to the owners of the bell foundries and textile mills that once made Apolda a manufacturing hub were decrepit homes too that lay in ruins, and abandoned factories. They told a different story — one of a long Soviet occupation and what many here call the unfulfilled promise of Germany’s reunification.
There are many reasons for the growing popularity of Germany's far right. According to polling, two-thirds of AfD voters are drawn to the party because they are unhappy with the others, not because of ideological reasons. The party also appeals to those in eastern Germany who are opposed to immigrants — at times angry over state expenses on refugees but mostly, experts believe, because there is no interaction between the residents and the new arrivals.
Most Germans with whom I interacted seemed to agree that their country lost its right to celebrate its culture and heritage, given the last time Germany did such a thing. Many of the Syrians who live there have adopted the same negative view of looking back.
What does it take for a city to rebuild and heal its wounds? Berlin was once a war zone, a divided city with stories of people separated from their loved ones, sheltering from bombs and being smuggled to safety. Now it is a refuge — though not always a kind one — for people who fled these experiences much more recently.