November 25, 2017
BERLIN — One spring evening in 2015, he said goodbye to his old life. He grabbed that despised book with the white cover, the Holy Koran, and line-by-line, page-by-page, marked all the verses on the topic that troubled him most: sura 2:191; sura 8:39; sura 33:61. These are verses that call on believers to hunt down, seize and kill apostates.
When he was done, he had marked more than 700 verses. Then and there, he decided to be baptized.
The man, who has asked to remain anonymous, is no longer a Muslim. He was born and raised in Iran, but has since fled his home in Tehran and today lives in Berlin as a Christian.
He belongs to a minority among refugees. Time and again, Christians who've come to Germany from the Middle East say they are threatened and attacked by radical Muslims. The man from Tehran says a family member back in Iran had threatened him in a text message: "I'm going to kill you when I find you."
It is not clear how common these threats and attacks are, since crimes targeting Christians in Germany have only been recorded since January 2017 and the Interior Ministry still lacks statistics on the phenomenon. Last year, the German Bishops' Conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany issued a joint statement about attacks against Christians in refugee centers, concluding that there was no "extensive and systematic discrimination" against religious minorities.
Independent churches and evangelical organizations disagree. According to their information, violence has been rife between converts and Muslims, especially in refugee centers, where crowded living conditions lead to clashes of minds and faiths. In October 2016, Open Doors, an evangelical charity for persecuted Christians, published a study that documented attacks on 743 Christians.
Now, one year later, experts say that the centers have become safer — but the problem has not disappeared completely.
Gottfried Martens, a pastor at Trinity Church in Berlin, knows the subject well. He says he has baptized some 1,000 Afghans and Iranians in recent years. His church has become a gathering point for refugees living in Berlin and the surrounding area. He has gained a reputation among the refugees: If you want to convert, or if you simply have a problem, go see Gottfried Martens.
Though he the number of attacks in refugee centers has dropped, Martens says the problem has simply moved to the streets. "Many of those who lived in refugee housing a year ago now have private apartments. Of course, this has not changed their attitude toward the Christian faith." Encounters also occur on the street or the subway. He uses the word "encounter," a strange trivialization of the problem.
In May, an Afghan Christian woman in southern Germany was stabbed to death, and police probed the possibility of a religious motive.
In July, three teenagers attacked a 39-year-old man on a tram in Berlin because he wore a necklace with a crucifix.
In September, two men in Berlin punched another Afghan man who was also wearing a cross around his neck.
Victims usually do not want to attract attention.
It is unclear how often Christian refugees are attacked on the street. "To our knowledge, it only happens sporadically," says Ado Greve of the nonprofit Open Doors. "On the other hand, we don't get word of it much either. Not everyone wants to talk about it." Victims usually do not want to attract attention to themselves. They also often feel that the authorities will not help. "Of course, the police can only respond to concrete cases."
Open Doors cites several reasons for the declining number of cases in refugee centers. "First, the influx of refugees to Germany has decreased," Greve says. "Secondly, housing in large refugee shelters is largely a thing of the past."
As a result, there is less tension between different religions in smaller homes. "The large complexes are only in a few cities, for example in Berlin. There, Christian refugees are occasionally attacked. But the situation is not as bad as in 2015 or 2016."
Some politicians have also taken measures. Greve offers the Hesse regional government as an example. Together with church representatives, the local parliament in Hesse drew up a list of what the shelters needed, such as Christian translators, Christian guards and Christian employees at the information stands.
One Sunday afternoon Sister Rosemarie was preaching in Haus Gotteshilfe, an independent parish within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Berlin's Neukölln quarter, an epicenter of violence against Christian refugees. In May and September, residents had reported suspected anti-Christian attacks in the neighborhood. And in August, a fully-veiled woman reportedly assaulted a saleswoman for displaying scantily-dressed mannequins in a shop window. These were isolated cases, too few to speak of a growing trend, but too many to be ignored.
Sister Rosemarie's full name is Rosemarie Götze. She is a Lutheran and leads services in German and Persian every Sunday. She preaches and someone translates. Afghans and Iranians sit in the wooden pews of her church, listening to her speak of Jesus, the disciples and the parables. They sing Persian songs with Christian lyrics.
Speaking with some of the converts you get the impression that the intolerance goes both ways. "I hate Islam," one says. "I don't talk to Muslims." The recurring mantra is, "we are good, they are bad."
Unlike Gottfried Martens and Open Doors, Sister Rosemarie does not believe that the situation for Christian refugees has improved, noting that most refugees do not report attacks. "They are afraid that they will be attacked again. Or that the families that are still overseas will learn that they are Christians."
Like the man from Tehran: When he received the threatening text message from his relative, he went to the police. The authorities only advice: break all contact with his family.
Die Welt ("The World") is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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