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Will migration damage tourism?

These are uncertain times for a nation that likes to have everything planned

How quickly this summer’s events have moved on. I was in Greece earlier this week, on the non-migrant shore. It wasn’t so long ago that that country, when it was in conflict with Germany about austerity and bank loans, threatened to send all its refugees on to Berlin, no questions asked. At that time, Angela Merkel’s face was appearing on posters in Athens, daubed with a Hitler moustache.

None of the Greeks are saying bad words about the Germans now – at least they weren’t in my hearing. They don’t dare. Merkel’s humanity has been relieving the Balkan bottleneck, and the Greeks are doing just what they had threatened to do – pointing refugees towards Berlin, no questions asked.

The pressure that the refugee movement has placed on Greece, in times of economic strife, has been difficult, and unfairly onerous, but to give the Greeks credit I haven’t heard much in the way of official complaint. Tourism, however, has inevitably suffered, with Lesbos and Kos losing their traditional international visitor arrivals hand over fist.

So will the same happen in Germany, as it surpasses its stated total this year of 800,000 refugees? What impact will that migration have on tourism? Certainly, Munich station has become something of scrum these past few days. Who knows what will happen when Oktoberfest kicks off, bringing huge numbers of beer-drinkers to those same platforms. The odd heavy drinker may even find himself waking up in a camp!

Whether there will be any other conflict between tourism and refugees remains to be seen; there’s a lot of available space in former eastern Germany where many towns are half empty, but these are not places where tourists yet go. They also tend to be strongholds of the Far Right.

The official line from the embassy is very upbeat: “the refugee story has no impact whatsoever on Germany as a tourist destination. Germany is and remains an open and friendly country that receives all visitors with a smile and a big welcome.”

That ‘big welcome’ is good PR for brand Germany, of course. And it is also a connection with history. One of the stories that doesn’t get told in the English-language history books is the huge migration at the end of World War II, where between 12 and 14 million German-speaking refugees were transported across a much diminished Germany and deposited on regional towns and cities. In most cases local residents were forced to give up rooms in their houses to these unwelcome visitors, and many of the newcomers remained with their hosts, as deeply resented ‘guests’, for years, until Germany’s economic recovery was sufficient to breathe back new vigour into their lives.

The ex director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, described it as “the biggest forced migration in Europe’s history, possibly in all history.” It is still a strong memory in the minds of many Germans, and in the end, the country came out of it very well.

More recently, there was German re-unification, and the massive movement of people that that produced. From which Germany has also emerged very well.

But those were people of the same culture. Absorbing 800,000 plus non-German speakers from a very different culture will be a tough task.

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