Reverse Migration? Germans Move To Orban’s Hungary To Flee Immigrants

Up close with some of the growing numbers of Germans settling in Hungary, a country that has shut out refugees from the Middle East.

A quaint (and Christian) setting across the border in Hungary
A quaint (and Christian) setting across the border in Hungary
Stephane Kovacs

MARCALI — A room downstairs for grandpa, and three upstairs for the family. Outside, a flower garden for Bonny the dog, and above all, peace and quiet. Just a month ago, the Brandt family came to Hungary for the first time and discovered, in the gleaming sunshine, Lake Balaton. Five days later, they bought a quaint wooden house on the edge of Marcali, a little village 15 kilometers from the lake.

The Brandts are not the only Germans to find a second home in the very conservative Hungary of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, as they sought cheaper, but also "safer" lives, which they finally admit is a motivating factor. Ottmar Heide, a local real estate agent, does not hesitate: "Eight out of 10 of my German customers are fleeing the mass arrival of migrants in Germany," he declares. Heide says his German customers regularly complain about Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy. "They don't want to live in fear anymore, surrounded by radical Muslims," he adds.

On her lawn interspersed with porcelain gnomes, the head of Balaton Immobilien estate agency, Günter Schwarz, rubs his hands. "I have never had so many inquiries from Germany," says this tall man with dark hair. About 15 a day, he says, "that is five times more than a year ago." His shop window displays home prices ranging from 30,000 to 300,000 euros. "The Germans, practically all my customers, generally look for a house between 50,000 and 100,000 euros," he says. "All of them talk of their fears of being invaded by foreigners, which is the main reason why they are moving."

He knew just what to say to the Brandts. "I'll drive you to very pretty, peaceful places," he told them as they got into his four-wheel drive. "No refugees, no crime, friendly neighbors, nature."

Birgit, a 53-year-old cashier and her husband Udo, a truck driver, are from Frankfurt. It did not take them long to confide that they too are "sick of a country they can barely recognize anymore." Birgit, petite and blond, says "my colleagues and I are afraid when we leave the supermarket late at night, with all the rape stories you hear ..." Her husband, a big man with tattooed arms, asks how much Merkel's refugee policy "will cost, in terms of attacks and also financially ... We're worried for our children's future and our pensions."

Udo's father, Johann, an 81-year-old former miner, says what he likes about Hungary, compared to Germany: "We're in a Christian country here: no mosques or kebabs at every corner."

Since late August 2015, when Merkel declared Germany would "make it work" with refugees, the Hungarian realtor says "it's been all profits for us. Even if she has recognized her mistake, it carries on ... people feel betrayed. They are afraid of bomb attacks, muggings, everything that is happening, but especially everything that could happen later."

Language learning

The villages have impossible names: Cserszegtomaj, Somogyfajsz or Vonyarcvashegy, and the Hungarian language in general is incomprehensible, but the Brandts are motivated. "In six months, the time needed to do the paperwork," says Udo, "we'll settle in Marcali, look for work and learn Hungarian."

Birgit adds, "We'll do what we would like migrants to do in Germany."

The Lake Balaton area's growing German community now has its newspaper, Balaton Zeitung. Restaurant menus are in German, and supermarkets like Aldi or Lidl stack shelves with their favorite products. Taxes are also lower, a flat 16% rate. At Keszthely, the main town south of the lake, the Heidi private elementary school, where German is spoken to children, eagerly awaits the arrival of young couples.

Political scientist and European specialist Zoltan Kiszelly cautions that this "reverse" migration is "not a mass phenomenon and Germans are not arriving in their thousands the way they land on (the Spanish vacation island) Mallorca."

Still, Kiszelly says this a trend worth watching. "Since the migration crisis, Hungary's image has improved, not in the media but among European citizens," he notes. "For conservatives who care about the Church and the family, Hungary is a good choice. You feel like you were in Germany 30 years ago. And so long as Orban is in power — and everything points to his reelection in 2018 — they have the assurance they will not come across too many migrants."

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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