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Andreas Bochmann, a dissident imprisoned during communist times and today, unlike Hermenau, still a member of the Green Party, tells me over lunch in Chemnitz that all people want is law and order and respect from newcomers. Chemnitz, population 247,000, has taken in 7,000 refugees. Bochmann talks about his daughter enduring cat-calls and insults walking in the city centre, and young men on street corners who turn hostile toward him when he fails to give them a cigarette. “Scheiss-Deutsche,” he claims to have heard.

Indeed, across Germany, not just in the east, one hears stories of young Muslim men behaving badly. A writer in Cologne told me this past summer of how her girlfriend witnessed a boy from North Africa punching a German girl in the face at a railway station. In Berlin, a vocational school teacher told me she felt obliged to take self-defence training. “Some of our young Muslim men only respect force,” she claimed, recounting an instance of male Syrian students attacking a couple of gay German boys in her school because the two kissed. These are vignettes, impressions, but fair or unfair they form a narrative that seems to have taken hold in many circles. Over dinner on my previous visit to Chemnitz, Andreas Bochmann was full of foreboding, arguing that a social explosion was coming.

Step back and there’s a bigger picture, and context for much of this. For some years now across much of the West voter ties to establishment parties have been weakening. Germany is no exception. And, as far as we know, there is no exception to the rule that nature abhors a vacuum.

Franz Josef Strauss, the legendary former leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the Christian Democrats, used to say, “To the right of me is only the wall.” In other words, he would allow no room for right-wing antics outside his control: the CSU would absorb and endeavour to manage all the unsavoury temptations floating around in conservative circles.

Merkel might have considered the thought. Instead, she  moved the CDU leftward over the past dozen years, on everything from nuclear energy to gay marriage to borders and refugees. She is the socially liberal daughter of a Protestant pastor, after all. Merkel is also a shrewd politician who understood for her first decade in power that votes were to be had in the centre. Times changed. The 2015 refugee crisis was a catalyst. A gaping hole opened on the Right.

I recall the conventional wisdom in Berlin before national elections a year ago that the right-wing protest party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) would get into the Bundestag, with 7-8 per cent of the vote; and that Merkel’s Christian Democrats would end up with roughly 40 per cent. The CDU settled for a disappointing 33 per cent. With 20 per cent, the Social Democrats suffered their worst result since the end of World War II. And the upstart AfD did indeed enter the Bundestag — with 12.6 per cent of the electorate’s support. Half a dozen years after its founding AfD is now represented in 14 of Germany’s 16 state parliaments.
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