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