OpinionTravel and Tours

The Other Side of Germany, By Abdulrahman A. Abdulrauf

Abdulrahman Abdulrauf
Abdulrahman Abdulrauf

At the close of work Wednesday, I stepped out of the magnificent edifice carrying a big logo with the inscription: DW Made for Minds – staring at you in the face as you arrive or leave the broadcasting house in Bonn.

Walking down to train station, the whole place had gone dark, even at just 5.30pm. I was cold and shivering, owing to the freezing weather as evidenced from my clattering teeth. At that point, the thought of people who could not afford a home crossed my mind. What’s their fate? How would they cope? How are they coping? This thought kept bombarding my head since we crossed over to winter. The intensity of the cold was so scary.

Victims of the inclement weather, particularly the eleemosynaries among them, can be seen everywhere you turn to. Some take shelter around shopping malls. For some, they hang around entertainment centres, in the hope of getting few cents and euros to make ends meet. They are also common sights at the train stations, where the petrifying wind ceaselessly blows, notwithstanding the yeoman’s job done at the stations in beefing up the places against untoward weather condition.

And just as I was on my way to work the next day, I ran into three of such homeless people at Pilttersdoffer – a train station at Bonn. While two of them wrapped themselves up in very thick duffel, the other kept sitting, standing and walking back-and-forth intermittently, apparently to negate the effect of the punishing cold.

This gentleman, particularly, caught my attention. Reason?  At least, while others were catching their sleep, he couldn’t – due to the chilly winter. And for me just waiting to catch the next train due to arrive in the next eight minutes, that platform was pretty too cold. Yet, some people pass the night(s) there.

My worst fears were confirmed when I came across frightening statistics of those who had fallen victims of this weather hassle, and the ones still struggling to survive it. Incredible! People lying stone dead on the floor!

Scary details by the Federal Association for the Support of the Homeless (BAG W), say nine people had lost their lives due to exposure to cold resulting from homelessness since October, last year. BAG W  is an umbrella organisation of  non-profit homeless service providers.

 “We know of nine people who died at night for no fault of their own.

“In some cases, forensic medical examinations are still ongoing, but we assume that the victims had no dwelling place and froze to death due to low temperatures,”  Werena Rosenke, the organisation’s managing director said in a media report

It was gathered that four of the deaths were reported in the port city of Hamburg, two in Düsseldorf and one each in Cologne, Essen and the eastern German city of Lauchhammer.

It further said three cold-related deaths were reported in 2017 during the same period, with many yet unreported.  More worrisome is that 300 people died from these cold-related deaths in the country from 1990 to date.

The body also noted that about 650,000 people do not have a permanent home, warning of what it called “rigid poverty,” which people struggle to get out of. These estimates, the body further says , are based on 2017 findings.

A glimpse into the figures shows some 375,000 asylum seekers and refugees in temporary accommodation, constitute over half of the number. Other highlights of the report reveal most homeless people live in emergency shelters, but around 48,000 people live on the streets. It also says migrants from EU nations, mostly Eastern Europe, account for most rough sleepers; three in four of the homeless across Germany are men, who are mostly single.

Even though the latest figure was low compared to the 2016 estimates, the body believes the drop was occasioned by the improvement in their (homeless) method of probably sorting themselves out instead of swarming all over the streets. But for this, the body further contends, the number must have shot up by 15 to 20%.

It further says: “Without homes for the homeless and without a well thought-through system of prevention in every community, we will not be able to tackle homelessness and the housing shortage.”

That is the very tragic story immigrants and even locals suffer in Germany.  That Germany is short of about two million houses, calls for worry, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the country’s integration policy of yielding some of its space to the immigrants.

Berlin protest

Upon realising some shylock landlords were behind their woes of homelessness, some residents of Berlin – the nation’s capital city – took it upon themselves to challenge government to wade into their predicament. The protest, which happened sometime in the middle of the year, yielded the desired result after all, as government is contemplating a five-year ban on rent increases and heavy monetary fines for violators.

Some landlords and property developers warned that the measure would scare away investors and exacerbate a worsening housing deficit that has shot rents to the rooftop.

According to reports, rents in Berlin, in the last decade, have doubled without a corresponding increase in wages. Naturally, this puts residents at the receiving end as they had to pay through their nose to get their rents settled.  And their noise/uproar did not go in vain as a responsible government in place, saw to their demands. All things being equal, the law is expected to take effect next January after the bill to that effect must have scaled through. While Berlin is not unaware that the problem persists across the whole of Europe, it, nonetheless, moved to put the marauding landlords under check. And with Berlin setting the pace, crowded urban areas like Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt as well as Hamburg may follow suit as they are not left out in the exploitative tendencies.

All that glitters, they say, is not gold. This, like any other setting, is true of Germany. Yes, this aspect or other side of the country may not be rosy, but it remains a fact that the system is up and doing and walking in the practical sense of it, to put everything in order.

Lesson(s)

And what does this tell us? The government has refused to leave its people at the mercy of some service providers who are always in a hurry to ‘slaughter’ consumers, all in a reckless pursuit of profits. It’s clear that government has demonstrated its readiness to be on the side of the people and has, therefore, earn their trust and respect.

And back home, the controversial and yet-to-be paid N30,000 minimum wage comes to mind.  Already, prices of goods and services are looking up even when, government at all levels, still relish in deceit. Although, Abuja has expressed ‘readiness’ to pay (or probably had commenced), some state governments do not appear to be on the same page with that arrangement. In all of this, an average Nigerian landlord is warming up to smile to the banks at the expense of their hapless tenants!

As I joyfully look forward to returning home this weekend after a three-month professional sojourns in Germany, I just hope and pray we will learn to do things right

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