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An Eco-Friendly Hotel For Refugees Faces Local Wrath

Dirk Rateike's Biohotel Gruen in central Germany
Dirk Rateike's Biohotel Gruen in central Germany
Susanne Höll

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.

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What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

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