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Germans Look To 2016 With Some Trepidation, Poll Results Show


If you're just feeling a sense of angst these days, maybe because of terrorism, economic troubles, something else, you might not be alone. Sure, it's just one country, one snapshot, but two polls in Germany suggest that plenty of people are nervous about what 2016 could bring. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Berlin, and she's been looking at these polls and speaking with people there. Hey, Soraya.


GREENE: So what do these polls tell us?

NELSON: Well, it's interesting. The fear runs across every demographic group. Although, one of the polls released last week by GfK research institute in Hamburg finds that middle-aged to older Germans were much more skittish than others. They had about 64 percent of respondents saying that they feared next year. And the survey also reports pessimism was higher among 34 to 55-year-olds when asked about the economy. That's kind of surprising given the fact there are many positive economic indicators that are coming out here. Another poll by a second research group in Hamburg came up with similar findings.

GREENE: OK. But, Soraya, just to be clear, these polls did not ask people why they are afraid. But do pollsters have some idea?

NELSON: The pollsters say they think it's because of the Greek debt crisis, the terror attacks in Paris and then, more importantly for Germans, the refugee crisis. At this stage, we have more than a million new asylum-seekers here in Germany this year. That's roughly one for every 82 people who live here. And then what I did yesterday was go to a Christmas market near the Berlin City Hall to see what people had to say about this.

GREENE: So this is one the famous European markets where, I mean, they're just selling ornaments and everything else and people were gathered sipping hot wine and everything, right?

NELSON: Absolutely, absolutely, but everybody I talked to there was very concerned, even though the security considerations have relaxed somewhat. I mean, they weren't letting people in with backpacks or anything at the beginning, but that seems to have all gone away. Sixty-one-year-old Barbara Leidinger was one of those who went to the market with two fellow retirees. And they were enjoying their mulled wine and watching the ice skaters while they were talking about what their fears are.

BARBARA LEIDINGER: (Foreign language spoken, laughter).

NELSON: She says she's nervous that newcomers will redefine Germany's identity, and she says we want to keep our culture. The Paris attacks last month also weigh on these women.

DORIS GERTH: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: Seventy-one-year-old Doris Gerth says in the back of her mind is whether it's a good idea to even come to outdoor markets like this. Her friend Gisela Moebus tells her you can't lock yourself indoors either.

GREENE: So, I mean, did people talk about who, if anyone, is making them feel reassured, I mean, like, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or anyone else?

NELSON: Well, Moebus says she pretty frustrated with the government.

GISELA MOEBUS: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: She says that at the beginning she had some faith in what the German government was doing, but at this stage feels they're making too many promises to refugees and to Germans that they simply can't keep. And the GfK poll also shows that German trusts in their politicians has reached a new low with almost 9 out of 10 people surveyed saying they feel that these politicians will continue to lose support.

GREENE: You know, Soraya, I just listened to one thing one of the women said there, I mean, fear of outsiders, wanting to protect identity, as she put it. This seems to be leading to far-right populist parties gaining a lot of support in some European countries. Could we see that in Germany?

NELSON: Probably not given the sensitivity that Germans have to their nationalist past. I mean, the Nazi Party in particular.


NELSON: And so the only populist party that's been palatable and did make it into parliament has imploded over a leadership squabble. But even so, the mainstream political factions are calling for capping refugee numbers and until recently were also asking for camps at borders to screen migrants coming in.

GREENE: All right, that's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson talking to us about two polls tapping into feelings in Germany right now. Soraya, thanks a lot.

NELSON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.