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2020 on

When we launched this website towards the end of 2019, we had little idea what was ahead. 2020 was a year of disease and of right-wing gains, but it was also a year of resistance. Phil Butland looks at what happened, how we reacted, and looks forward to a relaunch of the website next year


For the last 2 days, we’ve been publishing a list of the 30 most viewed articles on ‘theleftberlin’ in 2020 – first #30 – #11 and then the top ten. Speaking personally, I was expecting our most viewed articles to be mainly about COVID-19. In fact, less than a third have a direct relationship to the Coronavirus.

Although the virus has rearranged our everyday routines, life – and politics – have gone on. Whether it’s the growing effect of gentrification in Berlin, the continued growth of the far right, or the failed attempts of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders to provide an electoral challenge to capitalism, there has been much to regret in the past year.

But our side has also had significant victories – even if these were mainly in reaction to the right wing offensive. The police murder of George Floyd provoked an international movement which took things into its own hands and tore down colonial statues. The continued attacks by the Polish government meant that the ‘Black Umbrellas’ movement took to the street once more. And as the year was drawing to a close, we witnessed the biggest general strike in world history in India.

In Berlin there have been demonstrations against racism and gentrification and to stop the privatisation of the S-Bahn. And in Moabit, Korean and Japanese activists have been demonstrating to retain a statue (the Friedensstatue) in remembrance of the mainly Korean victims of sexual violence in Japan.

Our website has covered all these events and more. We have also worked with various international movements in Berlin to help give them a voice and to ensure that German politics does not lose the international dimension. You can read about this in the various article in our blog. This article is about what else we contributed.

Original Articles

This website originally published some original articles, together with a variety of interesting articles from other left websites. Towards the end of 2020, we took the decision to concentrate on providing primarily original articles. We now try to publish one article each day, which has been either written or translated by, or for us. We also occasionally publish articles from partner organisations which deserve a wider audience.

If you are interested in us publishing something that you have written or translated, please contact us at Please also send us articles which were not written in English, so that we can send them to one of our translators. We are also always looking for people to join our editorial team. And if you wish to help us by translation this is also wonderful and needed.

Photo Galleries of Demonstrations

Partly because of the number of non-Germans living here, Berlin has hosted a wide range of international demonstrations and other actions. Internationals have also taken part in more “local” demos against growing racism and increased gentrification.

Here are some of the demonstrations which we attended and photographed in 2020:

Recordings of Meetings

We continued to work closely with the Berlin LINKE Internationals, who organise public meetings at least once a month. Because of Lockdown, most of these meetings this year were recorded. We published videos of the following:


On 28 March 2020, we launched our weekly Newsletter, which now goes out every Saturday at around midday (Berlin time). Each Newsletter now roughly consists of the following sections:

  • Letter from the Editors – Summary of the activities and meetings coming up in Berlin in the next week and beyond
  • Meetings organised by theleftberlin and the Berlin LINKE Internationals – coming meetings for which we, or our partners in the Berlin LINKE Internationals, are responsible
  • Campaign of the Week – introduction to a campaign, particularly one in Berlin which might be interesting to Internationals. So far, we have introduced 30 Campaigns of the Week which you can read more about ,here
  • News from Germany and Berlin – this week’s most interesting stories from the local news summarized and translated into English. You can see stories from previous weeks here.
  • New on , – a summary of the articles which were published on in the previous week.
  • Video of the Week – occasional series of videos from meetings in the previous week

If you have not subscribed to the Newsletter already, enter your e-mail address in the bottom left corner of any page of , or contact us at

What to expect in 2021

There are several important events scheduled for 2021 including a general and local elections and the referendum initiated by ‘Deutsche Wohnen & Co Enteignen’ for expropriating the big property speculators. We also know that we must continue to be vigilant in the fight against the far right and for international justice.

To help us do this, we are planning to relaunch the website in a new form in the next few months. We hope that it will look much better and be easier to use. If you would like to be part of this, or want to know more about what we are doing, you are invited to a meeting Planning 2021 with on Sunday, January 3rd at 5pm

On Tuesday, 12th January at 7pm, our colleagues at the LINKE Berlin Internationals are holding their 2021 Kickoff meeting where they will plan their activities for 2021, most of which we will cover on this website. You can access the meeting online, but if Lockdown is lifted as planned, there is also a limited number of ‘live’ places in Karl-Liebknecht Haus.

We are also planning the following Events, for which we don’t yet have a definite date:

  • Dayschool for left activists in Berlin on using social media
  • Workshop at the LINKE Berlin Internationals Summer Camp in Hermsdorf
  • Monthly “Küfa” with food and chat in Bilgisaray. More details when Lockdown restrictions have been lifted enough for us to do this.

We will discuss other possibilities at the meetings on 3rd and 12th January, and throughout the year. Please contact us if you would like to be more involved. in 2020, Part Two – most viewed articles, #1-#10

Yesterday, we published the 11th to 30th most viewed articles on in 2020. Here are the 10 most viewed articles of the year.


#1 ,Please stop telling me that everything‘s fine in Germany

When the Coronavirus first hit, the international press was full of reports praising Angela Merkel’s handling of the pandemic. In an article written in April, Phil Butland argued that if you look at the actual statistics, German response was middling, somewhere between Singapore and Portugal, and much worse than large swathes of the Global South.

#2 How a viral facebook post came to symbolise Berlin’s growing housing crisis

In late October, a facebook post offered a room in the Berlin district of Neukölln. The room was a bathroom, and you must bring your own mattress. Alice Lambert argued that, regardless of whether this was a hoax, it symbolized the pressing issue of gentrification in Berlin.

#3 German. Anti-German, Syn-German?

Nothing seems to confuse International activists in Germany more than the Antideutsche (anti-Germans), supposedly left-wingers who support every last crime of the Israeli government. In July, we asked Berlin-based Israeli activist Yossi Bartal to explain who are the Antideutsche and where they come from.

#4 Killing twelve chickens a minute

In June, Nora Labo, union organiser in the Irish meat plant industry, reported a crisis of terrible working conditions that was being exacerbated by the Coronavirus crisis. Workers in the industry – mainly women from Easter Europe were starting to fight back to defend themselves.

#5 What’s happening in Berlin on May 1, 2020?

On 30 April, the day before the annual demonstrations for International Workers’ Day, we published a map of where all planned demos were taking place and how the organisation had been affected by the Coronavirus.

#6 Kamala Harris is no Feminist Hero

The selection of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate was hailed by some as a great victory for Black women, In September, Elena Gagovska argued that if we look at Harris’s track record, neither women nor Black people can expect to benefit from her tenure.

#7 A socialist comes off the fence

In 2017, Anna Southern joined the Labour Party, excited by Jeremy Corbyn’s programme of radical reforms. Just over three years later, she’s had enough and resigned from the party (while remaining politically active). In September, we published Anna’s resignation letter.

#8 Men and babysitting, women and childcare

At the beginning of December, Jacinta Nandi called out liberal dads for not doing their fair share of childcare. And despite welcoming the fact that men will (finally) pay for half of the babysitting costs, it’s mainly women who have to organise it all.

#9 Yes, the Ausländerbehörde is a racist institution

In the most recent article in this list, from only last week, Tina Lee explains how she’s fed up of hearing people tell her that racism’s not a real problem in Germany. In a rant about everyday racism here, she points out that its particularly bad in the Ausländerbehörde. She’s even provided links in German for her doubters.

#10 Solidarity instead of common cause with Nazis

In August, as the extreme right were welcomed on the “Querdenker” demonstrations against Corona restrictions, we translated an article by German MP Christine Buchholz and Rene Paukolat from Aufstehen gegen Rassismus explaining how these demonstrations are dangerous and why die LINKE is opposing them. in 2020, Part One – most viewed articles, #11-#30

In the year 2020 we published a lot of articles on This is the first of a three-part series summarizing our year. Today its the 11th to 30th most viewed articles. Tomorrow we’ll list the top 10 and the day after we’ll review our year


#11 hijra, gender and sexual rights in Bangladesh

In April, Adnan Hossain wrote for us about the hijra, Bangladesh’s “third gender”.

#12 What is Cancel Culture? And does it matter?

In July, Phil Butland responded to the ongoing debate about ‘Cancel Culture’ by arguing that most – but not all – of its victims were actually profiting from the controversy.

#13 How should Marxists view the COVID-19 pandemic of 2019-2020?

In March, Hari Kumar responded to the then new outbreak of Covid-19, and tried to locate it in a Marxist understanding of the world.

#14 What are the causes of the Coronavirus?

Also in March, we published an interview with evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace who was one of the first people to provide a thought-out analysis of what was happening.

#15 The problem of Pablo Picasso

In May, Hari Kumar looked at the legacy of the painter Pablo Picasso.

#16 Ernst Nolte, the Holocaust and the AfD

In April, Pashraw Mohammed looked at the ideological continuum leading from German historian Ernst Nolte to the AfD.

#17 The dangers of ending the lockdown

In April, Jonathan Neale argued passionately against calls to end the lockdown.

#18 My feminism will always be unfinished

In March, Berlin-based Sudanese socialist Sara Abbas explained what feminism means to her.

#19 Yehudit Yinhar on unlearning Zionism

In October, we interviewed Berlin-based Israeli artist Yehudit Yinhar about the School for Unlearning Zionism, an event that she had helped organise that was dogged by false accusations of antisemitism.

#20 Spain’s lockdown is an act of solidarity

In March, Bilbao-based socialist Ana Barrena Lertxundi argued in favour of the Spanish lockdown.

#21 Jewish socialists in the UK speak out

In December, we interviewed Rob Ferguson, Lisa Halgarten, Ilan Pappe, David Rosenberg and Saira Weiner about Jeremy Corbyn, antisemitism in the UK and more.

#22 Coronavirus and community activism

In March, Jonathan Neale suggested a different way of responding to epidemics

#23 Germany has a Nazi problem

In July, we published an extended version of Duroyan Fertl’s article about Nazi infiltration into Germany’s intelligence service.

#24 The German Neutrality law – a travesty

In September, Jacinta Nandi unpicked the inherent racism in Germany’s neutrality law.

#25 View from Paris: Nightmare in France

In October, our regular French correspondent John Mullen reported on Islamophobic responses to the recent killing of a schoolteacher.

#26 Jack Charlton – the footballer who fought fascism

In July, Anna Southern remembered the anti-fascist footballer and football manager from the mining community of Northern England.

#27 Extreme right escalates violence in Portugal

In August, Fabian Figueiredo reported a new escalation of extreme right-wing violence in Portugal.

#28 Who is European? A message from the Mediterranean trench

In April, Ana Barrena Lertxundi looked at the EU plan for tackling COVID-19.

#29 The lonesome martyrdom of Jeremy Corbyn

In December, Phil Butland looked at the right-wing intrigues behind the rapid fall of Jeremy Corbyn.

#30 White Fraglity is a corporate cult

In July, Australian socialist Louise O’Shea argued that White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo has a racket to rival that of the Catholic Church.

Not such a bad year after all – 2020 in Film

Despite the closure of cinemas for several months, 2020 was a surprisingly good year for films. There was very little to moan about, if we ignore Sofia Coppola for a moment.


For the last couple of years, I’ve been compiling end of year lists of the best and worst films for my Berliner film blog. In comparison with previous years, the results for 2020 were surprisingly good. Normally, I list the 20 best films and the 10 worst, but to be honest – at least if we just take the 157 films that I actually saw [yes, I know] – I didn’t see 10 bad films.

I’ve already written about why I think that one of the unexpected side-effects of lockdown was a much more diverse cinema programme. This article looks at some of the films we got to see as a result, as well as fulfilling my childish desire to make lists.

The quality is so great that there’s no room in my Top 20 for Armando Iannucci’s marvellous colour-blind adaption of David Copperfield or the tremendous Georgian gay ballet drama And Then we Danced. Both of these – and many more – are well worth a visit.

There are 8 US-American films in the list, as well as 4 from Germany, 2 from France and one each from Algeria, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Syria and the UK. 8 are directed by women and 9 by Black directors, which is a promising indication for 2021.

Without further ado, here is – from best to not quite as good – my top 20 and, er, worst 2 films of 2020. In case you’re mad that something obvious is missing, other opinions are allowed. Besides, I’m only counting new films which I first saw in 2020 in a cinema or as a pre-release stream.

1. Les Miserables (not that one)

Also known as Die Wütenden in Germany, the film unluckily came up against Parasite for the 2019 Best foreign film Oscar. Even though the Oscar jury untypically made a good call with Parasite, I still think that this one is even better. An everyday story of life in the banlieux for Black kids and their regular conflicts with the racist police. Les Miserables has been deservedly compared to Matthieu Kassovitz’s superb La Haine, which celebrated its 25th birthday this year. The fervent anger sustains it right to the great final scene.

2. White Riot

This superb documentary about Rock Against Racism was snuck out to insufficient praise as COVID-19 hit, but we were treated to a sneak preview at the Berlinale. White Riot opens by reminding us how exceptionally racist 1970s British television was, before focusing in on the musicians who tried to change this and quell the growing Nazi threat. It receives bonus points for pointing out that these musicians were not automatically progressive and that hard arguments by good activists were also necessary. All this with by far the soundtrack of the year.

3. Nardjes A

This was another film which made a hit at the Berlinale (with me at least), but then got lost in the subsequent COVID-19 programming. A day in the life of a female activist in the recent Algerian uprisings. Nardjes A shows that social upheavals do not contain the order ascribed to them in some films. Everything is chaotic, and a diversity of opinions is shown as the participants try to make sense of what’s happening. This started out as a documentary about something else entirely, and allows director Karim Aïnouz to find himself swept along by historic events.

4. Cocoon

Cocoon is a touching tale of first love, where Nora’s “normal” teenage problems are intensified because the love of her life is (a) unpredictable and (b) a girl. There is a metaphor going on about Nora’s pet caterpillars emerging from their cocoon but the story of working-class, multi-cultural life transcends the usual clichés. It’s a life-affirming film, but not short of deep heartache. In other words, it treats a gay romance exactly the same way good film treats heterosexual young love. It’s a shame that this is exceptional, but this is a rare gem.

5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

It’s a simple enough story. You’re pregnant and you live in a conservative town where it’s impossible to get an abortion without your parents’ consent. The only person you can trust is your cousin, so you go together to New York to deal with your problem. The simple premise addresses an everyday crisis which still affects many girls. And the film approaches this traumatic event with inconspicuous panache. The strength in Never Rarely Sometimes Always is that it never claims to be extraordinary. This is what normal life is like for many people.

6. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror

Horror Noire is an absolutely fascinating documentary about the history of Black horror films. From the Klan-loving Birth of a Nation over a century ago, to Jordan Peele’s Get Out, we are shown exactly how the depiction of Black characters in film reflected their status in society. Night of the Living Dead is lauded as being maybe the first film with a Black character with whom an audience could unequivocally identify, but in many later horror films, the Black character was still always the first victim. This offers a subtle and sympathetic analysis which contains a lot more worth watching.

7. Knives Out

A murder mystery is played for laughs à la the great Murder by Death. But there’s also plenty of social commentary, and a message of contempt for the idle rich in between the jokes. Daniel Craig has a great deal of fun hamming it up as strangely accented detective Benoit Blanc, but this is very much an ensemble film, which delights us in showing us that no character’s point of view is entirely accurate. I went again when it was shown in Summer open air cinema and it was even better second time round.

8. For Sama

This essential documentary focuses on bombed out Aleppo, and its inhabitants who are still fighting to survive. Sama is the baby daughter of co-director and narrator Waas al-Kateab. This is the grim story of the first precarious year of her life. Al-Kateab’s husband is a doctor, so we see plenty of scenes of valiant hospital workers struggling to keep their patients alive in between life-threatening power cuts. There are occasional moments of joy, but this is a sickeningly accurate document of desperate times which still affect people trapped inside Syria’s ruins.

9. Advantages of Travelling by Train

With a poster like an Yves Tanguy painting, this absolutely batshit crazy film may worry you that its going to be one of those self-referential “post-modern” films that smugly celebrate their own weirdness. It may well be to some people, but I loved its crazed logic. It’s about story-telling by narrators who are not to be trusted even though their tales have their own perverse logic and are often hilarious. This is one of those films where trying to explain what happens diminishes its lustre. It’s best just to go and watch it for yourself.

10. Where no one knows us

This remarkable Austrian film follows the everyday life of a pair of Chechen refugees. After their mother is taken into a psychiatric hospital, they go on the run, but are eventually caught and fostered out (separately of course) to well-meaning liberal care givers. Their new guardians have good intentions, even if they are insufferably smug, and the film treats them with critical understanding. But it never loses sight of the poor kids who are the real victims of the piece. A bleak film of misplaced hope which still has space to appreciate its few moments of joy.

11. Harriet

I’m sure I’ve read at least one lefty review condemning Harriet for some minor historic inaccuracy, but that would be to seriously miss the point. This is an inspirational story of Harriet Tubman, the one time slave who was at the forefront of the liberation movement. The film hit Berlin screens just as international demonstrators were taking matters into their own hands and tearing down colonial statues. Harriet shows people who were not just victims of the colonialists, but were also active in driving them out. Religious undercurrents permeate the film, which may scare off some people, but you shouldn’t change history.

12. Queen and Slim

Queen and Slim is a film that never sinks into cliché, although we’ve experienced much of the plot in many other films, not least Bonnie and Clyde. To a degree the freshness comes because both characters are Black, and in a(nother) year of Black Lives Matter, God knows we need more films which speak of the Black experience. What also makes Queen and Slim spectacular is the great directing and beautiful filming by creator of music videos turned first time film director, Melina Matsoukas. She should go far if she avoids being sucked into making soul-destroying franchise films.

13. Varda by Agnès

Agnès Varda died in 2019, but her final film didn’t reach Berlin till 2020. It’s a “Best Of” which shows scenes from her previous films, accompanied by on-screen commentary by the great director. Varda’s presence is a significant plus, as the screen is infected by the mischievous woman in a pudding bowl haircut. Is this her best film? Probably not, but we are inspired to look through her back catalogue for ourselves, and it is a fitting tribute to a groundbreaking artist who will be sorely missed.

14. Berlin Alexanderplatz

Burhan Qurbani reimagines Alfred Döblin’s classic novel in modern Berlin, and hero Franz becomes the refugee Francis (later Frank as he “integrates” into German society). Although the film looks sumptuous, Berlin is shown in all its sordid detail, oozing with corruption and racism beneath the glossy surface. It all looks like a sleek music video, but a strong plot and a cast of great actors provide the film with some serious and astutely observed content. The lavish film almost justifies its running time of over 3 hours.

15. Waves

Often judging a book by its cover is perfectly fine – in the absence of other information, what else is there? And yet sometimes, a shiny Oscar-bait trailer hides a film with much more depth than you were expecting. The intelligent film tells the story of two young black siblings negotiating life, and shows how many young people manage to fuck up their lives because they aren’t offered any serious alternatives. The flawed individuals on screen hold our hope before showing they are, ultimately, only human and thus prone to occasionally make really stupid decisions.

16. Jean Seberg – Against All Enemies

This could have very easily become a vanity project for star Kristen Stewart, but ends up as a powerful documentary about the “Breathless” star who was driven to mental instability after she was bugged by the CIA. Seberg felt genuine support for black militants, but as a rich white woman she would always stand on the edge of their struggle. Director Benedict Andrews does make one false step by trying to create a sympathetic CIA agent with whom we are asked to sympathize, but this is a minor diversion in an otherwise excellent film which tells an important hidden story.

17. Ask Dr Ruth

What seemed like it would be a conventional documentary turned out to be a fascinating watch. This is mainly down to the extraordinary history of the tiny sex therapist. In between normal interview footage, we see a backstory of fighting for abortion rights and the stigmatization of AIDS patients, being part of the transportation of children fleeing the Nazis and a terrible childhood in a Swiss school which did little to hide its contempt for the Jewish refugee schoolkids. I’d thought Dr. Ruth was just an overhyped media personality, but she really does have a story to tell.

18. Regeln am Band bei hoher Verschwindigkeit

When Yulia Lokshina started secretly filming workers in German slaughterhouses she could have hardly anticipate that they would become the centre of a scandal about insanitary working conditions, which helped cause the quick spread of the Covid virus. Tales of unsafe workplaces play alongside a school group rehearsing Brecht’s St Joan of the Stockyards. Meanwhile, Eastern European workers are played off against each other to the detriment of everyone’s health. The documentary has no obvious solution, but shows us a desperate situation which must be changed.

19. I am Greta

What must it be like to be Greta Thunberg? This documentary keeps a certain distance but offers us some clues. We are presented with a portrait of a strong-willed girl who is determined and deeply convinced of the righteousness of her cause, but are also often reminded that no girl her age should come under such scrutiny. This is very much not the story of a superhero, but of a vulnerable and remarkable young woman who would rather be at home playing with her pets than in the role which has been thrust upon her. It is an appropriate testament to an inspiring person.

20. Against the Tide

Against the Tide presents the remarkable story of Thomas Walter, who was accused of blowing up a deportation jail and fled to Venezuela. After staying underground for nearly 25 years, he suddenly applied for political asylum. Soon he was writing songs with the much younger refugee activist Pablo Mal Éléve. Walter’s niece’s father Sobo Swobodnik went to visit him and to film his story. This is a tale of political hope and disappointment, of a new career making music and of never giving up. It is a fascinating documentary about a life which should be much better known.

And the films to avoid

In all honesty, there were a few films this year that didn’t really do it for me, but only two that I would actively advise people not to see. In reverse order, here they are.

2. Divine

This utterly predictable Rom Com gives director Jan Schomburg plenty of time to bang on about why he thinks that religion is stupid. As if anyone cares what Jan Schomburg thinks. For what it’s worth, I’m a convinced atheist, but I feel that this kind of smugfest does nothing to bring the argument forward. The sentimental heartstrings are pushed to the max with brain tumours and sexy nuns and everything, but none of it runs remotely true. The low point is the assumption that men kissing other men is hilarious. What decade are we in again?

1. On the Rocks

Some critics seem to have a sexist need to diss Sofia Coppola just because she’s a female director. Such people can’t explain why the Virgin Suicides was great and Lost in Translation was flawed but still well worth a view. Having said this, On The Rocks is privileged, self-indulgent pants. A woman and her rich art dealer father drive through New York passing through the Arty venues to which people like Uz would be immediately denied access. It’s not so much that the film celebrates its exclusivity, more it just doesn’t seem to realise that this is not how most of us lead our lives. Bill Murray’s avuncular charm has saved many terrible films, but this one’s too much for even him.

Yes, the Ausländerbehörde is a racist institution

Allow me to expat-splain


Germany’s racist history

Germany is a multi-layered, diverse country with all the sorts of regional charms, historical antagonisms, city feuds and in-group/out-group preferences of any other. But it is also unique and has different traditions and traumas to other countries. As someone who’s lived here a decade, I discover new idiosyncrasies about this place all the time. What I’m saying is that Germany is special, and deeply weird, in ways that aren’t immediately apparent when you first move here.

And yet, there is something it shares in common with other European countries with a history of colonialism, and even with my home country the United States, and that is a tradition of everyday and institutional racism.

It seems it is tempting for some Germans to negate this fact, saying that Germany’s unique history means it has a different set of issues to deal with. In a recent article (“Expat-Splaining”, 12.3) the editor of the English edition of Berliner Zeitung (and one of my former employers) argued that Americans who are trying to “import” discussions about racism to Germany are guilty of “cultural imperialism,” trying to bring “identity politics” where it doesn’t belong. This argument is incredibly off, and the latest in a long line of efforts to erase a vibrant history of exchange of racist ideas and practices between the continents and foist responsibility on to the other.

In fact, racist ideas were born not in the US but in Europe in the 1500s, as explored in the book Stamped from the Beginning by historian Ibram X Kendi. Racism against Africans and Slavs was theorized in Europe and used to justify early colonialism and the origins of the transatlantic slave trade – activities Germany enthusiastically and lucratively participated in. Later on, Germany practiced genocide on the basis of burgeoning racist ideas on more than 60,000 Herero and Nama people in Namibia, an act for which they still have paid no reparations and “eerily presaged” the methods used in the Holocaust years later.

When Hitler rose to power, he searched for examples of segregationist practices that would justify his set of Nuremberg Laws that outlawed various interactions with Jewish Germans. As outlined persuasively in the book Hitler’s American Model by US law professor James Whitman, Hitler’s researchers returned with an extensive catalogue of American race laws that persuaded him that the international community could raise no issue with the Nuremburg laws without being hypocritical about the US’s explicitly eugenicist legal traditions. This was not imperialism, but inspiration.

The idea that this interplay between Europe and the United States of developing racist ideas, laws, and conspiracy theories has suddenly come to a stop is utterly belied by the current immigration regime based on fear and racism. In 2015, European right-wing racist conspiracy theories about Syrian refugees being a Trojan Horse for ISIS terror cells traveled directly to the United States, where individual state governors called for their states to be removed from the US refugee resettlement regime and a young upstart you might know by the name of Donald Trump ran a presidential campaign promising a Muslim ban, constantly referencing Germany, which he said has been “destroyed” by immigration. Shortly thereafter, the AfD rode into parliament echoing many of the same arguments Trump has made (even using his same PR firm to craft campaign slogans). Keeping up, Germany’s fatuous interior minister changed the name of the ministry to “Homeland” (like the HBO show with Claire Danes!) and said in an interview that Islam doesn’t belong to Germany, the latest in a long line of imaginary racist ideas pinging back and forth seeking to exclude and delude to eek out a small political advantage. (In fact, there have been Muslims in German territory since before the country was unified as a state – you can visit proof of this in Berlin.)

The point is, Germany is unique, but not so unique that they only have occasion to discover racism if it’s pointed out by an immigrant from the United States. People who have allegedly lived here for years can’t have missed the political slogans like Kinder Statt Inder (“Children instead of Indians” CDU 2000), Wer betrügt, der fliegt (“Cheaters have to leave,” a reference to racist stereotypes about Roma, CSU 2013) and of course the litany of racist slogans, policies and scandals by the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, the AfD. I suppose a semi-conscious person cannot also miss the endless parade of nazi scandals plaguing the police, Bundeswehr, BAMF and more (a recent scandal had police exchanging doctored pictures of Black refugees in ovens).

Racism in the Ausländerbehörde

Even someone who has just moved here has occasion to find this out, because the one thing all we (non-EU) foreigners have in common is a trip to the place where the institutional racism that troubles Germany’s stable bureaucracy is most utterly apparent, the foreigner’s office, or Ausländerbehörde.

The Ausländerbehörde, (now relabeled in a friendlier tone “Landesamt für Einwanderung”) is a truly wretched institution that has caused deep despair for thousands of people. It is a place where dreams go to die and relationships are forced to end. It is place of long, anxious waits in the cold at dawn and then in rooms stinking of desperation, diapers and tears. It’s a place where the testimony of abusers is decisive over whether their ex gets to remain in the country. It’s a place where petty, vindictive office workers casually destroy lives. And above all, it is a place where institutional racism and xenophobia are on full display.

Anyone who has ever been there knows the drill. You go there at 5am (or earlier) because there are not appointments available for 8 months. You bring every document you have ever possessed, plus ones that don’t exist in other countries, like a document stating you aren’t married. (Apparently in Germany this document is issued fresh daily until the day you marry, other countries just aren’t as organized.) You bring a wad of cash (they won’t tell you how much in advance) because there is no ATM on premises, they don’t accept cards, and if you leave the building you forfeit your place in line. The clerks aren’t allowed to speak any other language than German to you, supposedly because you might be able to sue them if they say something wrong in non-Deutsch. There is no concern about the legal implications of forcing people to fill out documents in a language they don’t understand, or accidentally deporting them because of a linguistic misunderstanding. Oops! If you do speak German then they speak twice as fast and refuse to explain any bureaucratic terms that are over your head. This language issue is made worse by the fact that they so frequently get the law wrong, and jump to the conclusion that they can deport you for things like separating from your partner or not having an international marriage certificate translated. For this reason, one of my friends who is a lawyer always prints out the relevant laws to help the clerks do their job. Other people without a law degree might not be so well-equipped to deal with this.

Above all is the overall sentiment, reiterated in every interaction, that the employees of the Ausländerbehörde are just waiting for the opportunity to make you leave, rooted in a deep-seated belief, reinforced by the law, that foreigners only arrive in this country to take from the real Germans, and that the darker your skin color is the more likely that is true.

I am extremely confident in this assessment and would never be ashamed to state it publicly: the Ausländerbehörde is a prime example of institutional racism.

Listen up, Germany

I point that out because my comments about the Ausländerbehörde in a private facebook group for Americans became the basis for the article mentioned above about how American imperialists import ideas about racism and identity politics to Germany and then tirelessly and condescendingly lecture Germans about these completely foreign concepts.

While this whole set up raises a lot of interesting questions about journalistic practices, it raises an even more interesting question: are some Germans really not aware that the Ausländerbehörde is a terrible, racist pit of despair?

It’s a real possibility. Unlike the political slogans I mentioned above, most Germans have no reason to encounter the Ausländerbehörde unless they are helping to translate for someone there or have married a person from out of the country. In those circumstances, they are probably aware. (Actually, it’s more obvious if you understand German than when you don’t, because you pick up on racist comments by guards and clerks). But other than that, why would Germans know? And if foreigners complaining about their experiences in Germany is considered by some to be imperialism, then we are in a real pickle about how they can ever find out (barring that they join a private Facebook group to listen in.)

So below I’m just going to leave a few German sources here about how racist the Ausländerbehörde is, for people who prefer their lecturing about racism to come exclusively from people of their own nationality in order to avoid “woke imperialism”. They cover incidents of racist violence, racist statements, nazi sympathies, racism against co-workers, and more. They report how people in Germany experience the Ausländerbehorde as a “place of fear” and how people from certain countries are put under “general suspicion” on the basis of stereotypes. Even co-workers aren’t safe from racism at these offices. These are not disconnected, isolated incidents but endemic to the institution that exists to enforce immigration laws that are increasingly exclusionary and increasingly disregard international law.

I’m not sure what a big difference it makes to hear it in German, but then again, I’m always learning new things about this country. Maybe it’s a tradition that to acknowledge the racism that takes place in your name you need to have someone say it several times in German. I know it’s annoying to stick on this point, but foreigners like me live here, and have opinions. And look at it this way: if foreigners won’t tell Germans what goes down at the foreigners’ office, who else will?

And surely if they knew, they would want to change it?

Further reading