Helping people like Idowu regain traction in life is also an element of “we can do this.” There are lots of good intentions, even if they are sometimes slightly misguided. On the outskirts of Hassloch is the Holiday Park Pfalz amusement park, home to a number of rides, including whitewater rafting and “Beach Rescue,” where you become “the captain of your own small lifeboat.” Asylum seekers receive complimentary tickets to the park, a friendly gesture to be sure, but someone like Idowu isn’t likely to take advantage. Her trauma therapy sessions begin in August.
Has Idowu “done this”? And if so, how exactly? There are no statistics for anguish.
For a few months beginning in the fall of 2017, normalcy in Hassloch was upended. Without warning, the administrative district sent a convicted sex offender from Somalia to the town.
“We had to organize police protection,” Deputy Mayor Tobias Meyer recalls. “They went by regularly to check on him and make sure he was taking his medication.” He continues: “A municipality like ours simply isn’t set up for something like that.”
The man ultimately left voluntarily, returning to Somalia. But by then, the first demonstrations in front of the townhall had already taken place, organized by the head of the local chapter of Alternative for Germany (AfD), the right-wing radical party. Ahead of state elections, AfD head Jörg Meuthen even paid a visit to Hassloch and the AfD ended up winning 18.8 percent of the vote there, even doing well in the more affluent areas of town — a reasonable representation of the political proclivities present in the country at large that fall. The result was a rather colorful coalition in city government — the “Papaya coalition,” as Meyer calls it — matching up the CDU, the Green Party and the FWG, a group of independent voters.
Merkel’s “we can do this” call, it seems, also awakened resentments and rejection in small towns like Hassloch — resentments that had perhaps always been there.
Ismael Ahmed is guiding his Škoda to a supermarket on the outskirts of Hassloch, where he intends to buy sesame crackers, onions, eggplants and other necessities. A miniature Koran swings from the rearview mirror as his daughter Suzan sits in the backseat listening to the Kurdish-Lebanese rapper Mudi singing about love in German.
If you ask about refugees in Hassloch, you will likely be directed to the Ahmed family. Perhaps because they are so normal. Perhaps because they have been so successfully integrated.
A Kurdish family, the Ahmeds sold their home in Syria when their son was to be drafted into the Syrian army. The parents have a total of six children, with the two oldest having left Syria earlier. They are both now married, with one living in Stuttgart and the other in Moers, a town on the Rhine. Four still live with their parents in Hassloch, where they received their official residency permits on Dec. 4, 2015.
The house where they now live has a yard and a brick barbecue. Who used to live in the house? “Two lesbians, I think,” says their daughter Suzan. Her best friend lives across the way and she plays on a local basketball team in addition to completing an internship with the police. School? “It’s totally OK, the teachers are totally fine,” she says. The Ahmeds are among the 5, perhaps 10 percent of refugees in Hassloch, according to a townhall estimate, who are in no need of public assistance.
There are, though, also families who are completely withdrawn, with their only window to the world at large being the schools their children attend. According to a BAMF survey conducted in 2017, around a fifth of those who have fled to Germany have never had contact to Germans in their private lives.