Germany's World Cup Aims Frustrated by Racists

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Germany is getting ready to welcome millions of visitors for the World Cup, which starts in a few weeks. The country is also trying to bolster its image as a multi-cultural, fun-loving kind of place — but a series of racial hate crimes in recent months has put the spotlight on what many say is a growing racism problem that Germany has tried to ignore.

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Germany is getting ready to welcome millions of visitors for the soccer World Cup, which starts in just over a week. The country is trying to put forward an image of a multicultural, fun-loving kind of place, but a series of hate crimes in recent months has highlighted a growing problem with racism. It's a problem that some say Germany has tried to ignore.

NPR's Rachel Martin reports from Berlin.

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: A band from Ghana kick-starts the music. Spontaneous dancing erupts in front of the bandstand and a couple hundred hip, ethnically diverse young people mill about the cobblestone plaza outside Berlin's Hackescher Markt S-Bahn station.

It's billed as a fundraiser for Africa, but it's also a chance for the city to bolster its image as a cosmopolitan, tolerant place, an image that's been tainted by several violent racist attacks in Berlin and surrounding areas.

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: In April an Ethiopian man was almost beaten to death just outside Berlin. Last week, a member of the German Parliament of Turkish decent was physically attacked in the eastern part of the city.

As well as these high-profile attacks, German officials say there is a continued stream of racist harassment and intimidation. The situation has generated calls for action from anti-racism advocates like Uwe-Karsten Heye, himself a former spokesman for the German government.

UWE: (Through translator): I think there are smaller towns in Germany, in Brandenburg and elsewhere, that I would suggest people of another skin color avoid. Probably they wouldn't leave that place alive.

: Even though police statistics confirm neo-Nazi hate crime is on the rise, Haya's remarks sparked a wave of criticism from German politicians, who condemned him for making dangerous generalizations. Berlin senator Erhart Koerting controls the city's police department. He says Haya's comments will only stir up unjustified paranoia.

ERHART KOERTING: Berlin is a tolerant city all the time. And I do think its inhabitants are tolerant. But, of course, some peoples living here think otherwise. And we are interested since they are not painting the face of Berlin to their way.

: But others say politicians should focus less on the city's image and more on public safety.

JUDY GUMMICH: You can lose your life if you go there in certain areas.

: Judy Gummich is with the Africa Council of Berlin. The dreadlocked Munich native says her group has started giving safety tips to Africans visiting Germany during the World Cup. Goomie says the Africa Council didn't want to stigmatize particular neighborhoods or regions, but they want black travelers to know there are certain areas with ties to neo-Nazi groups.

GUMMICH: Therefore we say, okay, if you go there so please be careful. Because we know that in East Germany or in some parts of eastern Berlin, it's not so safe to go there if you are black and if you are alone and if you are a male and if it's night. So the risk is very high that they might be attacked.

: Gummich says while German politicians often talk about the need to wipe out xenophobia and extremism, she says the word racism is rarely used because of its resonance with Germany's Nazi past.

GUMMICH: Most people say it's the right wing, but right wing people are on the edge of society. But racism is a problem from the whole society. And when you don't start to deal with this issue, racism, then you can't find solutions, you can't overcome racism. But the first thing is you have to name it.

: Germany's interior minister has pledged to make the World Cup safe from extremist violence and right wing propaganda, but Germany's far right wing party, the NPD, has stated on its website that it will use the World Cup as a forum to protest the inclusion of black players on the German National team.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Berlin.

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