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Vanir
Tuesday, June 21st, 2005, 02:27 PM
Is There a German Melting Pot?
Bruno Schrep, 9 May 2005, Spiegel Online

When most people think of Germany, it's lederhosen and frothy mugs of beer that come to mind. With immigrants from all over the world, however, the real Germany is a mecca of multiculturalism. Streets like Wellritzstrasse -- with its 25 nationalities -- in the western German town of Wiesbaden are representative. But is it an example of integration, or merely segregated co-existence?

It's 5 p.m. In the Westend Café, the street's social magnet, a few men are talking soccer. In German, a rare occurrence. A slight, gray-haired man with a stubbly beard is standing at the heart of the group and yet somehow outside it. He can't really speak the language, just a few words, and expresses himself with the aid of animated gestures. He wears a friendly smile.

More than 30 years ago, the Turkish grocer Ramazan Oezdemir left his village in Anatolia in search of a new life in Germany. For years he ran a store just around the corner. When he came he brought exotic customs and spices, and sold halal lamb from sheep slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law.

Now he is old and worn. His store is a thing of the past. But he has no intention of returning to the village where many of his relatives still live, including two of his children. He extends his arms toward the street outside. "My home!" he says.

A few doors down another man points through the window: German retiree Ludwig Wondrak, who has lived here for half a century. "I would never have imagined things here looking like this," he concedes. Annoyed, he scans the motley crowd outside: women with headscarves, the dark-haired children, the stores with foreign names. "Sometimes I feel like a stranger here," he says.

Wellritzstrasse in Wiesbaden is 460 meters long. Named after a former forest, it was built between 1860 and 1900. Classical facades, cramped inner courtyards. More than 100 shops. Too few parking spaces. One-way traffic. Not a single tree.

A street in Germany. A century of history. Thousands of stories. Of buildings and their occupants. Of people driven away, returned or newly arrived. Of destruction and reconstruction. Of breathtaking change. Until some three decades ago, almost every resident on this street was German: laborers, office workers, craftspeople. Today, the street is home to 25 nationalities: Turks and Moroccans, Afghans and Congolese, Italians and Pakistanis, Poles and Albanians.

"A ghetto," curse those locals who disapprove. They make long detours to avoid setting foot on this street. "A melting pot," say others. They make long detours to go shopping here.

A microcosm representative of many similar streets around the country. A benchmark gauging whether Germans and foreigners, Christians and Muslims, a mix of myriad minorities can live side by side. It's a challenge.

The ideal scenario -- harmonious interaction -- is the exception, not the rule. Conflicts between vastly different mentalities are far less frequent than the skeptics fear. Normality is a largely peaceful coexistence: ever fragile, ever imperiled.

"At our place Afghans, Germans and Turks meet up. They talk, laugh and argue," says 34-year-old Erol Erdan, who runs the Westend Café. The trendy dresser is known as one of the brightest people in the hood. He has spruced up his café, serves Italian coffee specialties like latte macchiato, cappuccino and espresso, and makes real Turkish tea. Multiculturalism is his strategy for success.

"The eastern and German mentalities don't gel," counters Rolf Eichert from the German bakery on the corner. Tall and pony-tailed, he thinks he knows why: different customs, different temperaments, different values. The people who stand chatting around his tables are all Germans. "Germans who go into foreign bars here get strange looks and don't get served," he says, "Integration doesn't work. We live separate lives here."

A sudden crunch of metal, followed by prolonged honking. Loud curses, car doors slamming. A white Opel and red Smart have just collided. There are scratches on the paintwork. "It's nothing, forget it," says the Opel driver, a young Turkish woman who backed up without checking the rearview. She proposes exchanging insurance numbers. "No, no," says the driver of the Smart, an older German man. "We'll have to call the police." He wants an official report that will settle the issue of who's at fault. He wants justice. After all, you never know with these foreigners ... "I warned my husband not to drive through here," his wife says. "This neighborhood is a jungle."

Sixty years earlier, this neighborhood had suffered much worse damage. During the night of February 3, 1945, the British dropped incendiary and high explosive bombs on Wiesbaden. Hans-Peter Schickel, just 8 at the time and living in number 47, was huddled in one of the street's air raid shelters, clinging anxiously to his mother. She held him tight and kept repeating, mantra-like, "We're going to be OK. We're going to be OK." Today the 68-year-old still remembers his mother's steadfastness: "An incredible confidence that kept me going."

Death was but a few feet away that day: the house on the corner took a direct hit. A grisly image remains etched on the older residents' memories: the huge blast wave had smashed a woman against the building across the street. The enormous bloodstain remained visible on the wall until the end of the war.

Halfway down the block, another bomb shredded buildings on both sides. Several residents lost their lives, dozens their homes. Number 18 was blasted to bits. The destruction had actually begun before the war, namely on November 9, 1938, which went down in history as Reichskristallnacht. Armed with axes and shovels, Hitler's SA storm troopers had demolished the popular clothing store run by Julius Rothschild. The 56-year-old was beaten up by the Gestapo and shipped off to Buchenwald. Two days before Christmas, his wife received a package containing his ashes. C.O.D.

Shortly afterwards, the widow was forced to sell the building to a baker -- for a pittance. She was deported to Poland in 1941. Their 19-year-old son, Helmut Rothschild, managed to escape: he quit his apprenticeship and fled to Africa at the end of 1938. Today, 86 years old and nearly blind, he lives in a Jewish retirement home near Johannesburg. He has never forgotten the street where he grew up and has made more than a dozen trips to Wiesbaden since 1945. But he never visited Elisabeth Barneis.

The 92-year-old, who has trouble walking but otherwise bears her age well, is the daughter of the baker who bought the Rothschilds' shop. After the war, when the building was no more than a heap of debris, Elisabeth Barneis was a Trümmerfrau, one of countless women who cleared the rubble and literally helped rebuild German cities with their own bare hands. She organized transport, drove trucks to the countryside, scavenged for building material, and lugged boards and bricks for the reconstruction process. She still lives on the second floor of the new building, and ran a candy store on the ground floor until 1977.

What about the name Rothschild? Does it ring any bells? Yes, the old lady says, it does remind her of something. Of course: "Shortly after the war, I had to pay 5,000 marks in restitution. That was a lot of money back then. But my lawyer advised me to pay."

The first Italians arrived in the mid-1960s, so-called "guest workers" in the economic wunderland. They added exotic splashes of color to a street that was still German to the core. The first pizzeria opened in 1968, but the era of the Cavaleros, Raffrenatos and Ripellinos passed quickly. The pizza and pasta makers were soon forced to yield to the kebab shops. Today the street is firmly in the hands of the Turks.

Vanir
Tuesday, June 21st, 2005, 02:28 PM
Part two: Police raids against the Turks

Sunday, 11 a.m. The sun is shining, car engines are roaring. As often happens on Sundays, a private parade is rolling slowly down the street. Disorganized, spontaneous, cacophonous. Sleek, sporty cars with gleaming chrome cruise by in threes and fours. Mercedes, Porsches, BMWs. There are a few old Volkswagen Golfs and Opel Astras, their windows rolled down. Middle-eastern pop wafts from the car speakers.

The automobile is the street's No. 1 status symbol. Anybody able to park a new S-Class Mercedes out front -- like café owner Erdan -- is announcing that he or she has made it.

An hour later. The first members are arriving at number 53, the Turkish sports team clubhouse. The soccer players are the pride of the street. Beneath a photo of modern Turkey's founder Atatürk and posters of the country's top teams, the men are preparing for a championship game. Nearly all the players are grandchildren of Turkish immigrants, more than half of them now German citizens. Team talks are conducted in German.

But on the field the players feel Turkish, determined to honor their country of origin with every kick. The crowd brandishes Turkish flags. Each game is an international joust pitting Turkey against Germany, even if the opponents are as obscure as Germania Schwanheim, FC Lorsbach or FC Eschborn.

In the evening the mood in the clubhouse is gloomy. The team lost 3-1. Two of its players were red-carded. Worse still: Harun Erdogan, their most successful striker, is signing with a rival German club. Cash-strapped like so many soccer teams, the "Turks" can no longer afford Erdogan's goalscoring feats.

Things used to be different. In the olden days, cheap haircuts were offered and big bets placed in the back rooms of the clubhouse. And a percentage of the profits flowed into the club's coffers. At least until one spring day.

That fateful day in May, the police closed more than 30 Turkish and Moroccan clubhouses in and around Wellritzstrasse. Men-only clubs, where housing and loans changed hands and where you could get a shave or lose a fortune. The charges included tax evasion and illegal gambling. With the clubs forced to close, some of the illicit activities gravitated outside. Suddenly the street sprouted betting shops, loan companies, real estate agents.

The street's remaining Germans congregate elsewhere, sometimes even early in the morning.

Two German bars -- two different worlds. Tuesday, 6:10 a.m. Police officers galvanize into action at number 37, which houses the Relax bar. An inebriated woman is accusing an inebriated man of rape. They're both babbling incoherently. The sound of broken glass, screams. The woman runs out into the street, crashes into a car, falls over, struggles back up, collapses again, bleeds.

"That's par for the course here," says bar owner Harald Freeb reassuringly. "The police and ambulances are here almost every day. Nothing we can do about it."

This bar has seen many changes, weathered many years. The Relax, formerly known as Top-Kapi and later Dampfkessel, has always maintained its reputation as a non-discriminatory watering hole -- for losers of both sexes and all ages.

A small beer costs 1.80 euros in this 24 meter by 7 meter sanctuary. If you're broke you get credit, if you're homeless you stay the night.

At noontime the place comes alive. The owner's brother is dancing with the last lingerer from the night before, the woman behind the bar knocks back a schnapps, a punk's dog is barking excitedly, and a few drunks sing along with the jukebox. "It pays the bills," says the barkeeper's wife Petra Moeller.

For Sylvelin Bernhardt, the steadfast owner of the Bumerang at the other end of the street, her bar has become a mere hobby. At 69 and long a grandmother, she can't live without her customers and they can't live without her. They have grown old together.

If there had ever been a German revolution, it would have started here. For decades, theories were concocted and strategies hashed out during all-night discussions, interrupted only by games of chess and dice. Of course they all leaned to the left. Where the heart is.

The revolutionaries among them who succeeded in infiltrating government institutions are now heading toward retirement. Those who stalled somewhere along the line still blame society.

The boozers in the Relax share one thing only with the customers of the Bumerang: a very narrow world view. Few Bumerang patrons have noticed that the Turkish men's bar across the street has metamorphosed into the hangout of choice for the "Gray Wolves," radical young Turkish nationalists. And scarcely a soul in the Relax is interested in the people next door at number 39.

The postman used to have it easy there. The mailboxes bore traditional names like Kohler and Kratz, Meurer and Piel, Rebell and Schuldes. Since the last German tenants moved out, the mail has been arriving from Africa, the Middle East and Turkey. Complicating deliveries. The writing is often barely decipherable. Is a letter for the Kabamba family on the first floor, or the Assiris upstairs? Or for some mystery subtenant whose name isn't on the mailbox?

Some 20 children are racing around in the courtyard and stairwell; black, brown and white children whose din easily drowns out the adult voices clamoring for peace and quiet.

Dating back to 1865, this building is one of the oldest here and has become a refuge for the persecuted from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Congo.

Shada Assiri from Jalalabad rolls up the sleeve of her sweater and points to a gunshot scar on her left arm. The mother of six found herself caught between the fronts in the war in Afghanistan. A bullet from the Mujahedeen is still lodged in her back.

"Today Germany is helping us, tomorrow we'll help the Germans," she says. Her adolescent sons are doing wonderfully at school, except for one. But he's an excellent soccer player, she adds. Her husband Abdul, the breadwinner, is out on his shift. He grosses 1,000 a month on a cleaning crew. Others here make do on even less. The jobless rate is 25 percent, one in five residents is on welfare.

Mutiyaseh Kabamba earns a bit more, 1,500 euros after taxes. Every day he takes up his post in a spice factory, standing at a bay of heavy machinery and pressing buttons to blend pepper and mustard, horseradish and paprika into spice mixes and sauces. In the Congo he had been a teacher. His opposition to the country's dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, forced him to flee.

"I learned German here on the streets," he says. So well, in fact, that he easily passed the language test mandatory for German citizenship.

But his wife Veronique -- who looks like Tina Turner 30 years ago, despite raising seven children -- failed the test. When everyone is finally in bed at night, she is too exhausted to study grammar.

But she understands enough to register animosity. When, in an argument over the price of tomatoes, a Turkish vegetable dealer recently called her a "dumb Negro," she mustered all her linguistic skills: "Why are you treating me like dirt? You think you're better than me?" Blacks are a minority on this street of minorities. They have it tougher than most and face more insults. As a result, they stick closer together.

The Kurds share a similar fate. "He acts like a country bumpkin," says a dapper Turkish high school student of the "kebab carver" next door to the Westend Café.

"Just listen to the loudmouth. And see how he walks? What an embarrassment." And they call this social integration? The Turks, most of whom come from small Anatolian towns, look down on the Kurds as ignorant yokels who run junk stores that wreck the street's reputation.

Yueksel Topcu, the Turk who owns number 39, would really prefer German tenants. "Germans are disciplined," he says. "They follow house rules." But these foreigners are nothing but trouble. "They don't sort their trash. They toss their cigarette butts in the doorway. They never clean the stairs."

Topcu, a real estate agent with fine manners and fine clothes, bought the property cheap and then completely renovated the ramshackle building.

When he gazes out at the street, the Turkish businessman sees a host of opportunities for anyone willing to take a risk. "Our fathers shipped the money they earned back home," says the 38-year-old. That was then. "Now we're investing it right here." Topcu, who already owns several buildings, belongs to a group of foreign investors that is putting its own distinct stamp on the street.

Take the Bucak family. Three brothers. Two buildings. A café. A bakery. And a fruit and vegetable store. That greengrocery got the whole thing started, nearly 30 years ago. Even today the product range is amazing: tomatoes from Italy, potatoes from Cyprus, pears from Argentina, carrots from Germany, grapes from Chile, oranges from Israel and bananas from Ecuador.

Ertegrul Bucak, the youngest and most industrious of the three brothers, has ambitions beyond peddling vegetables. He still carts crates around at 6:30 a.m., but back at the café he has decorated the walls with the works of young painters, a revolutionary statement on this street. He dreams of setting up a meeting place for artists, where he can hold exhibitions and auctions. And somewhere down the line he wants to run a modern, growth-oriented company.

Family-run businesses have the best chances of success. Few of the stores could survive without nearby relatives and friends who accept low wages or even just room and board for manning the bar, breaking their backs in the warehouse, or serving up the obligatory rounds of tea. Nobody knows this better than Dieter Kumpf. The stocky little man is one of the few who knows just about every resident, property owner and businessperson. When showing strangers around the street, he is wont to suddenly stop and unleash a caustic comment.

"Bastard," he says, pointing to the offices of a housing agent whose name has become mud. Later he passes a building that is coming apart at the seams: "A militant German anti-investor. Doesn't do shit and pockets sky-high rents."

The irate Mr. Kumpf is a city planner. He and his Turkish colleague Buelent Ekiz work for a consulting firm specializing in urban redevelopment projects. Every day they meet in their office with architects, local politicians and residents. They discuss all the things that need changing to improve integration.

Can it really work? "It has to," says the urban planner. "What's the alternative?" Not the way it was six or seven years ago. Things couldn't have been worse. Many stores were just hollow shells, and elderly residents rarely ventured outside. Anyone with the money just took off. For the most part, that meant the Germans. One reason for the German exodus: activists from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, hungry for funds to support their battle for an independent Kurdistan, had been blackmailing Kurdish businessmen. People who refused to pay put their lives on the line. Just around the corner a firebomb exploded, killing one man and gutting a store.

Vanir
Tuesday, June 21st, 2005, 02:29 PM
Part Three: Segregation and "the Wave" phenomenon

Another reason: the disco in number 5. Back when it was called Pam-Pam, right up until the 1980s, U.S. soldiers stationed in Wiesbaden would slug it out until dawn -- every payday. It had become something of a local tradition.

Later, however, scores of hollow-faced figures, male and female, would slink around the disco nightly, which was now called Anadolu. Heroin was the attraction, smuggled in through Kurdish channels and sold at rock-bottom prices that no other dealer could touch. The street had degenerated into a drug haven.

"When I opened the store in the morning, I often found half-dead junkies lying outside," one local businessman remembers. Robberies, thefts and stabbings were commonplace. The nightmare didn't end until the addicts and dealers were finally driven out by a series of narc raids.

In the Wellritz pharmacy on the corner, where trembling addicts would beg for opiate substitutes like codeine or methadone, totally different drugs are now in hot demand. "Lots of people want Viagra over the counter," says pharmacist Gabriele Fischer. "I could sell the stuff by the case for three to four times the regular price."

But Gabriele Fischer has always refused to sell the drug without a prescription. The picture was different in the Theresien pharmacy down the street, a century-old institution. The German owner, apparently strapped for cash, got into the business in a big way.

Last summer customs officials at Istanbul Airport inspected his baggage. The contents: packets of black-market Viagra by the thousands. The pharmacist was arrested and consigned to a Turkish prison.

The old Theresien pharmacy is gone. A few German stores have braved the storm, like tiny islands in the ocean. Specialty shops that have been serving an established customer base for decades.

The owners: gruff, dogged, iron-willed characters. Cantankerous old Hans-Georg Schaefer of "Fishing Rod Schaefer" stocks more than 10,000 angling articles: hooks, rods, bait. Adi Rossel from the paint store across the street is showing off a new machine that mixes 170,000 different colors.

Hans-Juergen Velte's store is a paradise for badminton fans, while Hans-Peter Pischinger sells professional apparel -- from overalls to the tailcoats worn by conductors. Foreign customers are a rare sight here. Too specialized, too expensive. Conflicts, by contrast, are common.

Backed by city officials, the new café owners and bar operators want more tables and chairs on the sidewalk. More business, more life, more big-city flair. But the German merchants are up in arms over the idea, which would cut the available parking. They fear that their customers, most of whom come from other neighborhoods, would end up "driving to distraction." Segregation, not integration. Newly opened stores have scant prospect of staying in business as long as the old German shops. For one simple reason -- a phenomenon known as "the wave."

"I should have stayed in Turkey," rails Muntaz Baki as he lathers a customer's chin. The 41-year-old invested more than 50,000 euros in his barbershop, splashing out on elegant lighting, comfortable chairs, new sinks and a separate women's section. And now this! As word began to spread that Baki's business was booming, the copycats started drifting in. Here a barbershop. There a barbershop. Before you knew it, everywhere a barbershop. The result: a ruinous price war. Initially Baki was charging 15 euros for a cut, wash and dry. He soon had to shave 3 euros off the price, and then trim it down to 10. But the competition is charging 8 - and the customers dry their own hair.

The barbershop wave was preceded by bakery and kebab waves. And a new one is currently gaining momentum. Whenever a store closes, a telephone shop opens.

The idea is basically good: the rates for psychedelic-colored cell phones with funky ring tones (a must for the socially mobile) are prohibitive for calls to Marrakech or Islamabad. Using a low-cost provider's fixed network at a telephone shop is at least 80 percent cheaper. Low profit margins, however, only work in highly frequented venues. But after the fourth and then fifth phone shop opened its doors, each charging just fractions of a cent less, the crowds have thinned appreciably. Segregation, not integration.

"People just need the right advice," says Bernd Ohl, an affable, gray-haired man in his early 50s. He hands out business cards promising: "I'll advise you like a friend."

An invention of his own making, the man numbers among the street's most colorful characters. Once he managed the branch office of a major insurance company. After being put on early disability retirement, he went looking for a new mission in life. Now he sits in the back room of the Westend Café, squeezed between the ready-made dough and industrial freezers, cooking up life-saving plans for moribund stores and quick pick-me-ups for faltering businesses. "Once I was a big pawn," he says. "Here I'm a small king." Inspired by visions of multicultural harmony, Bernd Ohl is striving to make his mark on the street. He has persuaded a jeweler, a hairdresser and the owner of a fashion store to invest in image enhancement and coordinate strategies. He wants the expensive stores to lure more German customers to Wellritzstrasse. The name of his project: Only Women.

But there's no guarantee of success. "As a woman, you constantly get hit on down here," says Nadine Durel, an office worker with nice clothes, long hair and a pretty face. She lived on the street for three years before finally moving out. She was fed up with the everyday hassles.

The mere thought of middle-eastern men can work her into a rage. "If you're wearing tight jeans or a skimpy T-shirt, you're automatically fair game." Although of Turkish origin herself, the 23-year-old is most upset about the hypocrisy. "Pedestrians with head scarves are left alone," she says. "Muslim women are off-limits." Theoretically.

Friday, 11:30 p.m. Loud music is blaring onto the street through the thick walls of a former school; an imposing structure from the Wilhelminian era (1888 - 1914) housing numerous social agencies. The middle-eastern rhythms are reverberating from the ground-floor restaurant, Aspendos.

Inside, in semidarkness, a dark-haired, scantily clad, well-endowed woman is gyrating her hips, shaking her booty and bouncing her breasts. Donsaf, the young Tunisian belly dancer, sweeps through the restaurant on her 20-minute gig. Straight out of Arabian Nights.

The male guests, sitting in a semi-circle, are urging her on with rhythmic clapping. A few dance along. Some slip money inside her beaded bra when she comes within reach.

The pleasure generated by Donsaf's gyrations is considered a tradition, not a sin. And the beer the men are drinking as they watch? "Allah will be looking the other way," one quips.

Many of the street's Muslim men have married women from their home villages, some at the behest of their parents. But many also break their marriage vows, have girlfriends, get divorced. One wellknown businessman, married for years and the father of three, has just tried to square the circle. He was wed for a second time before an imam, this time to his girlfriend.

Now he has two wives. "One before God above, and one before his proxy down here," he says. Sitting on that fence is quite a balancing act.

Most Muslim women have never been to a restaurant on their own. Announcing "The Women Are Coming," several had planned to join forces with a few German women and venture into one of the street's typical, male-dominated haunts. In the end they only mustered enough courage for the restaurant Harput, the street's main attraction and symbol of the new prosperity. Lured by the exotic ambience and affordable prices, many German office workers from downtown lunch here -- on shish kebab, tripe and lamb pita.

But there is an invisible fissure running through the Harput, of all places. The two owners hail from two completely different worlds. Their conflict highlights the chasm that not only separates Germans and foreigners, but many immigrants on the street as well. The name of the fault line: religion.

One of the Harput's owners, Ali Cal, is an ambitious young entrepreneur just like his fellow countrymen Bucak and Topcu. He has been living here since he was 12 and is a fully assimilated member of the community.

He proudly presents a blue business card showcasing his picture in living color. The card identifies him as a local politician from the conservative Christian Democratic Union, and a member of a local advisory committee. With equal pride, he footnotes that he is also president of the Fasching Association and helps organize the annual carnival festivities. And what about religion? "I believe in God," Cal says. That's as far as it goes, he adds.

But his business partner, Ebubekir Duran, is a Muslim who lives strictly according to the laws of the Koran. He has insisted that no alcohol be served at the restaurant, which cuts into sales in the evenings. And that customers with dogs remain outside.

The devout man has sublet rooms right across the street in number 14, to similarly devout shopkeepers who sell Muslim books and clothing there. Their window display includes books with titles like "Allah's Last Message," "Why I Wear a Head Scarf" and "The Path to Proper Prayer."

A smell of incense and sound of monotone singing fill the store. The customers, mostly Muslim women, arrive in groups of two or three, giggle as they try on the headscarves, and jockey for position around the burkas, the traditional coat-like shawl that keeps curves well under wraps. The shop owner is a rosycheeked Muslim: Susanne Seifert from the Mombach district of Mainz. A former Protestant, the German woman used to wear a more secular uniform. As a police officer she hunted down thieves and traffic violators. But since 1997, when she married a Moroccan and converted to Islam, she too has lived by the Koran. Her thriving store is also a hub for conservative Islamists: young Sunni Koran students, some wearing long beards and robes. Most are Moroccan.

German customers only happen by occasionally. Non-believers arouse suspicion. Mistrust runs deep since 9/11. The mood is poisoned.

"Some just turn up and ask what people are trying to prove with 'this terrorism,'" the German Muslim says. To which she politely replies, "Kindly tell me what that has to do with Islam."

The store sells a book entitled "September 11th. An Investigative Report" for 20 euros. Its German author argues that the World Trade Center was blown up from inside and that the media coverage was faked.

Liberal Muslims would like the Islamic bookstore to go away. "It ruins the street's reputation," one says. "We've already had the first installment."

A December morning: at 6 a.m., police stormed the mosque run by the Islamic Association inside number 34, scouring every inch of the place and even slitting open the mattresses. They were looking for terrorist propaganda, published on the website www.dzihad.de from here after 9/11.

Islamic books and magazines were seized. The mosque, a regular meeting place for followers of the Islamic extremist Metin Kaplan, was shut down.

Questions were even raised about the building's owner Baki Yesilbas, until that day the toast of the street, thanks to his tasty doner kebabs. Was the owner of the Ali Baba snack bar really ignorant of what was going on?

"I've never prayed in that mosque," pleads the 38-year-old Kurd. Although a Sunni Muslim, he is not particularly religious and has zero interest in politics, he maintains. All he cares about is his business. "Hypocrites," says a local jeweler.

"The Muslims pretend to be liberal, but in reality they're totally different." After 9/11 plenty of Muslims had been secretly pleased. Out on the street, drawings depicting bin Laden raping U.S. President Bush made the rounds.

The jeweler and his brother run a beautifully remodeled store, one of the street's finest. He also has an axe to grind: as an orthodox Aramaic Christian, he had to flee southeastern Turkey with his family and was granted asylum in Germany. He does not trust his Muslim neighbors on either side of his store. The brothers, who consider themselves descendants of the original Christians, are very religious. They regularly attend the services held in their small church, and their priest sometimes drops by during the lunch-hour rush.

Step by laborious step, an old bag lady limps along the length of the street one Wednesday morning, beseeching her Maker. But no one knows which god she's addressing. A customer at the Westend Café gives her 50 cents. Outside the Turkish travel agency she garners a euro, and at Mini-Money, the chaotic supermarket, a passerby even shells out two.

Whenever someone gives her a coin, she stops and points her cane mutely toward the sky: the Almighty will reward you.

Zyklop
Tuesday, June 21st, 2005, 03:34 PM
Good article. Potrays the multicultural life in Germany perfectly.