The past two or three years have been dominated by reports of general hostility towards immigrants including physical attacks by ultranationalists egged on by a sympathetic crowd of locals. The regional support for the Pegida anti-islam marches in Dresden and elsewhere in the east gave the ugly impression that Germans opposed foreigners.
Simultaneously, opinion polls showed a completely different picture. In every poll, the majority view was that immigration was acceptable or to be welcomed, although concerns were expressed about the logistics of housing, financing and employing new arrivals. In the past year, there was a breathtaking increase in refugee influx and other immigration to 1.4 million. As has been widely reported, with the continuing horrors of city bombings mainly in Syria, the pressure to flee increased from a stream to a flood. Relentless reports of drownings, images of long trails of families walking hundreds of kilometres stirred the feelings of millions in Europe, arousing this time not hostility but sympathy and fellow-feeling.
As if tripping a switch, a simple statement by Merkel accepting in principle something approaching another million immigrants into Germany has totally changed the atmosphere. In addition, the SPD minister of employment is issuing carte-blanche work permits to another 20,000 young Syrians, irrespective of the qualifications. Large charity organisations mobilised thousands of volunteers, offering assistance to new arrivals. When asked, an astonishing 90% of Germans said they had already donated or were intending to donate money or clothing to migrants. Hundreds of former schools, offices, factories have been converted in accommodation blocks. I visited two of these to deliver packages and found them well-ordered and secure. Merkel's statement and countless media interviews of ordinary folk spoke of solidarity, Christian values, human decency and "paying back" what they had already themselves received, either as East Germans after reunification or those with longer memories remembering the Care packages and Marshall Aid post 1945.
These are the real, living views of the mass of German population, eclipsing the inhuman and vicious stunts of the handfuls of Neo-Nazis and their shamefaced hangers-on, burning down refugee asylum buildings as a prelude to burning to people.
Socialists will know why there was a Marshall Plan to redevelop West German capitalism as a bulwark against the USSR. And that the annexation of East Germany and the destruction of its planned economy opened fruitful fields for expansion by German capital. And also that Merkel was in reality voicing the needs of the German economy in a country where population growth is stagnant and has been declining, where an influx of hundreds of thousands of young, mainly healthy, well-educated Syrians will do wonders for financing the pensions of the ageing population.
But for the moment, it is a pleasure to see and feel this complete change in public attitudes.