Despite the fact that I’ve been in Germany for more than two years now, I’ve really only lived in Berlin—which, as a diverse international capital city, is hardly representative of life in Germany more broadly.
So in order to better understand parts of the country that vote heavily for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), I spent the month of August living in Görlitz, a small city of about 57,000 in Saxony that sits on Germany’s eastern border with Poland. The city’s been in existence for centuries and has a picturesque old town that, due to lucky circumstances at several points, remained standing through World War II and the Communist East German regime. At the same time, it is representative of many of the struggles and inequalities facing eastern Germany nearly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall—and voted nearly 38 percent for the AfD in Saxony’s Sept. 1 elections.
Spending such a significant amount of time in a place gave me the chance to slow down, get to know the city and meet people from a wide range of professions, generations and walks of life. And rather than my usual reporting trips, which tend to involve a few packed days of interviews and campaign events, my month in Görlitz felt different. In addition to feeling a quick affection for the city itself, it helped me better understand the mindset of eastern Germans who cast their ballots for the AfD.
I wrote about the experience for ICWA, which gave me a chance to get into Görlitz’s fascinating history as well as talk with people across the political spectrum. You can read that piece here.
And for The Atlantic, I focused in on one town square that felt to me like an encapsulation of the debate over immigration, culture and open societies: Görlitz’s Wilhelmsplatz. That piece is available here.