Yesterday we had a meeting a city hall with the Mayor of Regensburg who spoke to us about immigration and integration of refugees in the city. The city has been very welcoming to the refugees who will number 4000 by the end of the year. Reminder that the population of Regensburg is 140,000. Many people have volunteered to help teach the language, customs, provide accommodation and activities.
Germany has taken in more refugees than any other EU country. Part of the reason is that in Germany's constitution is Basic Law 16a, that states that refugees are guaranteed the right to seek asylum. This of course was due to the treatment of Jews during WW2. While the people have generally been accepting, there are challenges: assessing qualifications, finding appropriate jobs, finding long term accommodations, providing social services and psychologists. The city expects to receive 1000 refugees per year for the next several years. So far, Regensburg has spent 10 million Euros on refugees, about 80% will be reimbursed by the state and federal governments. Regensburg is quite a wealthy city so they can afford these costs - at this point.
In the afternoon we took a boat trip along the Danube to a memorial called Walhalla. It looks much like the Parthenon atop the hill in Athens and in fact was modelled on that famous location. Inside is a hall of honours for famous Germans. There are 65 commemorative plaques and 130m busts.
A tour of a craft beer brewery followed and then dinner at a Greek restaurant before some stayed to watch the German/France Euro soccer game. Germany lost...
This morning we took the train from Regensburg to Leipzig - a 4 hour trip. After freshening up at the hotel we met with Gisela Kallenbach. She is a chemical engineer who was a member of the first environmental/protest group in Leipzig during the Cold War. She chatted about what it was like to live in East Germany during the Cold War, the fear, the strength it took to have 'peaceful prayers' every Monday night in the Luther Church. Pamphlets were produced for distribution but it was illegal for groups to provide materials on environmentalism or anything else. So... they had to write, "for internal use only," on the bottom of the information sheets. That way, when the materials were found outside the church - the group members were safe because the had that disclaimer on the bottom.
While it was in Berlin that the Wall fell, the protests that led to that historic event actually started in Leipzig and these "peaceful pray" meetings. Encouraged by Solidarity protests in 1980 in Poland and Glasnost and Perestroika in the USSR, citizens of Leipzig started to take their inside meetings out to the streets. At first only about 5 people came, then 10, then in official newspapers these people were called criminals by the government, but nothing was done to stop them. Therefore many more people started to come to the meetings to check out the "criminals." Oct. 9, 1989 was a break through day, as 70,000 people showed up to protest the communist government - it was too many for the authorities to arrest all of them. There was a concern by the protestors that strong force would be used by the military - such as had been used earlier that year in China at Tiananmen Square. Nothing was done and this encouraged people in Leipzig and throughout Eastern Germany. On Nov. 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and on Oct. 3, 1990 Germany was reunified. Since that 'rebirth' as a single nation, it has become the de-facto leader of the EU.
Gisela went on to be a local politician, then at the state level, at the EU, worked for the UN in Bosnia and is now retired. Quite an interesting life and it was wonderful to hear it in person.
Tonight's dinner was like all of our other meals here - lots of variety and huge portions! They like their bread, desserts and beer...