“Wir Schaffen Das,” has been a familiar message from German Chancellor Angela Merkel throughout the past year, as waves of asylum seekers have flooded into Germany. It literally means, “We will cope.”
Merkel held her summer press conference Thursday, a full month before it was originally scheduled, in part due to recent attacks in the country. Even in the press conference, her words were measured and calm.
“I am still convinced today that we can do it,” said Merkel responding to criticism from other parties over her handling of both asylum seekers and the terrorist threat.
Germany has been coping since more than one million asylum seekers flooded into the country since the summer of 2015.
The country of 82 million has opened its doors, hearts and wallets to help those fleeing unimaginable oppression and war in places like Syria and Afghanistan. For the most part, many German’s I’ve encountered since arriving in Berlin are proud to have been able to help.
I arrived here following the spate of recent attacks, in Germany and across Europe, that have been connected to the so-called Islamic State, in some cases, or traced back to asylum seekers in other cases.
After a July 18 attack on a train in Wurzburg, where an Afghan teenager injured four people with an axe, ISIS claimed the assailant was one of its “fighters.”
Then there was the July 22 attack in Munich, where a mentally-ill, German-born Iranian man killed nine people in a shooting rampage. In the confusion immediately following the attack, many feared terrorism. Germans I spoke with were happy when authorities said they had “no evidence” the 18-year-old shooter had no ties to ISIS.
In the past week, there was a machete attack, involving a Syrian asylum seeker who killed a woman and injured four others, followed by a suicide bombing in the southern town of Ansbach. The bomber was the only one killed in the blast, but 15 others were injured. It was later revealed that the bomber was also a migrant who had previously been an ISIS fighter.
With all of these incidents, and the recent attack, in Nice I wondered if this had changed German attitudes to asylum seekers or whether they felt a need to declare a “war on terror,” so to speak.
I became even more curious after landing at the airport in Berlin, where I noticed frequent security announcements and noticeably armed police — calmly walking around but always watching.
Just walking around my neighbourhood for a few hours on my first day, I encountered at least five police officers patrolling the area and even noticed a couple of police vans, sirens blaring and filled with officers decked out in full bullet proof vests, looking like they were ready for anything.
And then there was the delivery van I noticed. It looked perfectly normal from the outside, but police in Kevlar vests, emblazoned with POLIZEI, soon emerged from inside the vehicle.
Many Germans I’ve crossed paths with so far have displayed a quiet pragmatism — a definite contrast to rhetoric we see coming out of the United States throughout election season.
As German’s gear up for their own election next year, one might expect an increase in such rhetoric here. But despite the increased security, presence ordinary Germans seem to be taking it all very much in stride.
One German I spoke with even said that he believes the German history from the Second World War means they have learned not to “overreact” and he even believes that Germany has a special responsibility to do exactly what they are now doing, taking in those that need protection despite the possible risks of terrorism committed on German soil.
Even Germans with decidedly more reservations about the numbers of asylum seekers entering the country have the same sangfroid about both.
Overall, I’ve noticed there is still an inherent optimism here that may well be dulled slightly by the recent attacks in other parts of the country but its still there. Many here in Berlin seem to believe that they will do just what Merkel says in terms of both terrorism and the massive influx of migrants, “Wir Schaffen Das.”
Melanie de Klerk is currently living in Berlin as one of the 2016 Arthur F. Burns Journalism Fellows.