Picture credit: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images
The Critic Essay

Fear and tension in Frankfurt

Mass immigration has exacerbated societal dysfunction in Germany

Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof station was a scene of desperation. One woman lay motionless on the pavement, her head perilously dangling over the curb’s edge, mere inches from speeding cars. Beside her, a skeletal man in a wheelchair injected crystal meth into his legs. His actions were unabashed. In this city, open drug use had spread like wildfire but was merely a symptom of deeper societal problems.

Yet, it wasn’t Frankfurt’s struggle alone that weighed on my mind, rather an unchecked shift in social structure—a thought I was all too familiar with in my home country, Britain.

Last year, over 1.2 million migrants came to Britain. A substantial increase since the pre-pandemic figure of 609,000 in 2019. Meanwhile, the number of illegal immigrants crossing the channel by boats continue to land in Dover at an alarming rate, despite all the government’s attempts to stem the tide. As speculation grows across Europe about open borders, we in Britain need to learn and decide to what extent immigration has a positive or negative effect on the British economy. Whilst we await the outcome of a Labour government’s immigration policy, eager to dismantle the Rwanda bill and watch the ongoing game of immigration ping-pong being acted out between the Conservatives and Irish government, where do we turn for answers in this growing international crisis? Let’s shine a light on Germany, specifically Frankfurt, where the effects of Angela Merkel’s open-border policies should serve as a serious wake-up-call for Britain. 

You may recall the support and jubilation for “Mother Merkel” in 2015. Her whimsical vision of a multicultural utopia led her flock through the gates of a promised land, transforming the Germany once heralded by all as a beacon of integration success into a more fearful and dangerous place

I was greeted not by the usual hoopla of a bustling metropolis but by a dirge of societal gloom

Germany has long been praised as the manufacturing powerhouse of Europe with Frankfurt as its financial hub. While the ambiance may be akin to the City of London, on the other hand, when I stepped off the train at Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof railway station, I was greeted not by the usual hoopla of a bustling metropolis but by a dirge of societal gloom. Outside the station I was instantly confronted by a herd of homeless souls who congregated around me. An acrid stench of urine hung in the air. Stumbling, laughing and hysterical crying — this was not just a group of homeless people. I had found myself in a nexus of addiction.  

I was raised in the suburbs of London, where homelessness and drug addiction were alien to me. My exposure to homelessness was a handful of poor souls sitting with a money cup and sometimes a sad looking dog in Oxford Street. Certainly far removed from the harsh reality of life I had encountered upon stepping off the train on my arrival in Frankfurt. 

I soon learned that homelessness and drug addiction had plagued Frankfurt for years but was surprised to find that the police do little to address the issue. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and World Health Organisation (WHO), harm reduction measures such as injection rooms and needle exchanges became widely accepted in the 90s to address the heroin crisis. In the last decade, the surge in crack cocaine and meth use underlines the utter failure of the city’s social department’s addiction treatment services. This abdication of responsibility by the authorities has turned Frankfurt into a drug dealer’s Valhalla. Residents I spoke to all agreed that the consequences of angering drug dealers were reason enough to remain silent and turn a blind eye.

When I spoke to Willy Klinger, Deputy Chairman of the AfD (Alternative for Germany) faction and Frankfurt City Councillor he explained that post Merkel: “Anyone had the ability to just show up here and register as a refugee, people were not turned down and they were not asked to return home, even if their asylum application was denied.”

“The dealers are largely foreigners…the police should be able to prosecute them and send them back to their own country.”

Frankfurt’s addiction crisis is just one thread in a tangled tapestry of criminality. I learned that the criminals who run “Frankfurt’s underworld” also have their hands in much of the city’s real estate.

A marked increase in violent gang activities has occurred in Frankfurt since the implementation of the open borders policy in 2015. A recent report issued by the Magistrate of Frankfurt am Main highlights violent confrontations between two rival clans. One is of Turkish origin and the other is a multi-ethnic group, both operating like “families”.

The report states, “The S. family is a family of Turkish origin with around 200 to 250 family members in the Federal Republic of Germany.”

Violence has since escalated, with incidents such as shootings and knife attacks increasing dramatically

These conflicts, where evidence is available, include struggles for dominance in drug trafficking and illegal gambling. Violence has since escalated, with incidents such as shootings and knife attacks increasing dramatically in the last 3 years. The Turkish family operates around 20 businesses in Frankfurt, including kiosks, grocery stores, shisha bars and gambling establishments, holding countless assets and properties. The report identifies that the primary gangs are largely composed of individuals with “immigrant backgrounds”. Despite the escalating violence, the report reveals major challenges faced by the police in preventing these crimes. The lack of substantial evidence and specific information about clan-operated businesses often leaves authorities acting only after crimes have been committed rather than taking preventative measures. The violence in Frankfurt isn’t exclusively confined to gang wars. Evidence from the Frankfurt am Main Police Crime statistics reveals that 70 per cent of suspects in all crimes in Frankfurt are non-German.

This growing sense of insecurity has left many Frankfurt residents fearful of the possibility of living in a city overwhelmed by rampant crime. 

Klinger claimed, “The average family is certainly noticing these changes, and a lot of wealthier families are now moving out of town to safer areas.”

Another area of major concern is the rise of sexual violence. After the horrors of the 2015-2016 New Year’s Eve attacks — where around 1,200 women were surrounded and assaulted by groups of North African and Middle Eastern men across the country, predominantly in Cologne — one would expect a significant crackdown. Yet, the reality remains sobering. In 2023 alone, Frankfurt recorded 123 cases of sexual abuse, 183 cases of rape and sexual assault, and an additional 206 cases of sexual abuse involving children and young people. A disturbing number of these cases were committed by immigrants, a grim reminder of that New Year’s Eve. 

I wanted to investigate the effect that immigration has had on sexual violence, so I sat down with 18-year-old Matilde to discuss her thoughts on the gravity of the situation and her personal experiences as a young woman living in Frankfurt. According to her, sexual violence is rife in the red-light district, where houses of prostitution coexist with the popular nightlife spots for young adults aged 18-29.

I asked Matilde whether she feels safe on the streets in Frankfurt. “The red-light district attracts a certain crowd to Frankfurt making the city very scary for any young woman. Even in the middle of the day, when I’m just going into a café, men are catcalling me and shouting at me. I never entertain their behaviour.”

She continued: “Recently I left work and I was followed by a South Asian man all the way to my house. I told him to go away and that I would call the police many times, but he didn’t stop harassing me. He kept saying to me, ‘But I need a girlfriend.’”

Listening to her experiences I wasn’t remotely surprised given the whistling and ogling I had experienced while walking through the city. Dressed simply in jeans and a jumper, I constantly felt the unnerving gaze of men trying to size me up. While this may not be so very different from the UK, I noticed that none of these men appeared to be of German origin.

Matilde said, “There is a stereotype that these men are only foreigners, and honestly this is true, as the foreigners congregate in the red-light district and certain areas and they do this, but they ruin the representation for even the innocent foreigners.”

“My family came to Germany after escaping the Czech Republic, so I understand what it is like to be labelled a foreigner. However, the problem is that there are many foreigners who commit crimes and harass girls, creating the image that all foreigners are bad. This is why there is so much prejudice in Frankfurt.” 

She continued: “The issue is not just with the foreigners, but also with the police. My friend was raped a couple of weeks ago … you go to the police and report a sexual assault or a rape, they say it can’t be investigated unless there is some sort of evidence.”

There are undeniably charming parts of Frankfurt — even if they can be overshadowed by its broader troubles. During my visit, I took a stroll around Opernplatz, one of the city’s main squares. The stately elegance of traditional buildings, restaurants, and cafés, set against a backdrop of soaring glass behemoths, creates a breath-taking view that deserves recognition. 

But just a ten-minute walk away, the clean streets become dark and dirt-ridden, strewn with dozens of stained mattresses, bin liners overflowing with rags, and stuffed baby buggies. Outside “Betten Zellekers”, the “Number 1” bed store in Frankfurt, a group of homeless immigrants have made the pavement their home. The sheer irony of the disparity could not have been made up. I stood there, struggling to fathom what dreams and promises had brought these people here, only to find themselves in such dire straits.

This question is at the heart of the debate surrounding immigration policies in Germany. The AfD party has been gaining attention in the political landscape, stirring controversy for their allegedly far-right and extremist beliefs. Several of the people I spoke with in Frankfurt were critical of the AfD, some of whom felt the party was racist, anti-Semitic or even an undercover Russian intelligence organisation. 

I spoke with Andreas Lichert, State Spokesman of the AfD Hesse and Member of the Hesse State Parliament. “People think we are racists, and that we want to get rid of all immigrants, which is just not true,” Lichert told me. 

“These immigrants are not acting irrationally and it is not their fault they want to come to Germany. The fault is with the government policies over the last decade that have been offered, which in reality, are just not realistic.”

Although at first glance it may seem that foreigners receive very little support in Frankfurt, especially when seeing them strung out on the streets, the reality is quite the opposite. In 2022, there were 23.8 million people in Germany with a “migrant background”. Perhaps a consequence of post-war remorse, a staggering 2.3 million people have claimed asylum in Germany over the past decade (2013-2023). Germany, like the UK, has a large welfare system. The “Citizen’s Allowance,” a state social benefit often paid after unemployment benefits, is one such example. In the first half of 2023, 62 per cent of foreign families received the Citizen’s Allowance. 

While tax-funded housing and inflation may grab headlines, the greatest challenge lies in the Herculean task of integrating immigrants into German society. I met with Tanja Wunderlich, Public Relations and Advocacy Representative from the government-funded organisation “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” (FIM), to learn about the integration process for immigrants and understand why there is such a glaring divide between native Germans and foreigners in Frankfurt.

Tanja explained that many of the women they counsel come from patriarchal backgrounds, which complicates their integration. “These women not only struggle with the concept of independence,” she noted, “but many also cannot read, write or speak German, making it impossible to find jobs upon arrival.”

 Another key point she highlighted was the extreme suffering many women experience before arriving in Germany. “Some of the 1,200 women that FIM counsels every year are so traumatised from their experiences in their home countries and they need our support to integrate into society.”

The consequences of a lack of integration are severe. Tanja explained that when women cannot manage to grasp the basics, they are often pushed into prostitution in Frankfurt’s red-light district. FIM has been working closely with these women, offering as much help and support as possible. However, Tanja added, “Recently, there has been an issue in human trafficking, so some of the women are also minors.”

I asked Tanja what she thought of the AfD and their aims to control immigration, to which she replied, “The AfD are horrible on so many levels. They would not support FIM and if we were not able to complete our work, who would support these women? We are funded by the state, city, council, state of Hessain … any idea of an AfD government would be very detrimental to our cause.” 

From what I have observed and learned; the open borders “Mother Merkel” so proudly introduced have proven to be an unmitigated economic and social disaster. Instead of fostering a cohesive society, her policies have created isolated pockets of foreign cultures. This isn’t just about a language barrier. It’s a complete disconnect from the nation’s cultural fabric. 

During my travels, I was disheartened to see that the disdain for national pride I see among my generation in England is also present in Frankfurt, where locals treat patriotism as if it was the plague.

As immigration policies continue to spark heated debates in England, the lessons from Germany are a flashing red light. Britain now stands at a pivotal juncture, where the decisions made today will have a lasting impact on the country’s future. One path focuses on controlling immigration and prioritising security. We should take it. If we fail to act decisively, the safety and cohesion of our communities will be jeopardised, leading to irreversible consequences.

Do we really want to replicate Germany’s open border’s own goal? Our European neighbours seem to be pivoting away from liberal immigration policies, with Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer praising Britain’s Rwanda scheme as pioneering. Elsewhere, Nordic states have been working together to return migrants who have had their asylum claims rejected. Losing control of our borders will inevitably leave us economically and socially poorer. It’s time to change course.

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