MUNICH — Dirk Rateike values ecologically friendly living and runs an organic hotel in the north of Hesse. But he's facing anonymous threats from his own neighbors in the village of Gilserberg, between Marburg and Kassel in central Germany.
The intimidation has included warnings that he shouldn't go out at night lest he should face assault — or worse. The police advised Rateike not to sleep in his own apartment, but now he fears that his hotel may be attacked.
The 46-year-old has attracted the wrath of his village through a well-meaning, if not entirely selfless, gesture: Rateike wants to provide the local government with accommodations for asylum seekers.
He first considered short-term rentals to the town council during the winter months, when there are very few guests. His parents had been running the establishment as a hotel; Rateike renovated and expanded it, transforming it into a "certified organic" business, where the food offered is vegetarian. It's a lovely place for both hotelier and guests.
Until a few weeks ago, that is. The village decided to erect a building for fattening chickens right across from the hotel — a horrific thought for organic travelers and potential guests of the hotel. Rateike realized that he couldn't continue with his "biohotel" business as before and instead offered to lease the entirety of his hotel for five years to the district authority, enough rooms for 80 people.
The district authority was delighted because it has been charged with finding accommodations for 900 asylum seekers this year alone. Suitable apartments are few and far between, and a building with enough space for even larger families and a number of bathrooms is in high demand. The district authority is aware of the opposition by locals and other surrounding communities.
There are the confirmed skeptics who wonder how a small town with 3,500 inhabitants is supposed to deal with 80 asylum seekers. Are there enough play school spaces? Who will be responsible for keeping the peace, and who will look after the refugees? These and other questions are to be addressed at a citizen's meeting. But those who threatened Rateike anonymously will not be swayed by any of the supporting arguments presented. The hotelier is convinced that "these people fear foreigners and do not want them in their community."
Although the threats and opposition to his proposal are worrying, Rateike has not withdrawn his offer to the district authorities. He sought a family meeting with his 84-year-old mother and her partner, who have both been very active in associations that fight inequality. Together they decided to go ahead with their plans, "especially now, especially under these circumstances," to fight xenophobia.