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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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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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