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#228: Palestinian demo, Deutschland Ticket, Tesla, Kristallnacht
Will refugee homes finally get proper WiFi?
Dear 20 Percent,
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Once in a while, a reader comes to us with a story they feel needs to be told. Today, we bring your a tale of patchy or non-existent WiFi at Berlin’s many refugee and asylum seeker homes. While the government wants us all to interact with bureaucracy online, it has been pretty negligent when it comes to making sure that refugees, some of the most vulnerable Berliners, can get access. Scroll down to read the full piece.
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Pro-Palestinian demo at Alex
According to police estimates, 8,500 people marched through Mitte on Saturday to protest Israeli attacks on Gaza. Around 1,400 police were present. Before the event began, police officers inspected participants’ signs for alleged antisemitic content. Germany has banned slogans such as “From the river to the sea”, because they imply the elimination of the Israseli state. A radio journalist at Deutschlandfunk said he saw a placard depicting an Israeli flag being thrown into a bin — which could be seen as antisemitic by authorities. There were isolated reports of attacks on photojournalists at the demo. News agency dpa reported an assault on a journalist. Despite 68 arrests, the Berlin police concluded that the demonstration was largely peaceful.
Deutschland tix not nixed
German state and national leaders met Monday to talk about the future of the €49 Deutschland Ticket that gives you flat-rate access to regional public transport across the country. The programme is set to run out next May. Costs ran higher this year than expected so state and federal governments will have to up their funding to keep the ticket alive. According to RBB a vague agreement was reached Monday night. In essence, the Deutschland Ticket is here to stay but could be more expensive. Stay tuned!
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Cash only at KaDeWe
At least this weekend. Thanks to an cyberattack by Russian hackers, the high-end department store could only accept cash on Saturday until it got it network running securely again. The attack is being attributed to Russian hacker-gang Play. “The KaDeWe Group contacted the authorities immediately after becoming aware of the attack, filed a criminal complaint and is in dialogue with the Cyber Crime Unit of the Berlin Police,” the store wrote in a press statement. So far, it’s unclear whether the hackers were able to acquire sensitive data.
The 11,000-odd workers at Tesla’s plant to the east of Berlin are getting a 4% raise, according to press reports. The raise was announced during Elon Musk’s visit to the factory on Friday. According to the Wall Street Journal, the pay package includes a €1,500 end-of-year bonus. Production workers will see their annual pay boosted by €2,500. Tesla has come under pressure from German unions, following reports of safety issues at the plant. The IG Metall union says it’s seen a surge of signups from Tesla workers. Meanwhile, an anonymous source told Reuters that Tesla was planning to produce a new cheap (€25,000) EV at the Brandenburg location.
November 9 marks the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, known as the Novemberpogrome or Reichspogromnacht in Germany. For several days in November 1938, antisemitc violence sanctioned and encouraged by the Nazi regime resulted in hundreds of German Jews being killed and thousands being deported to concentration camps. Hundreds of synagogues, community centres and cemeteries were damaged or destroyed. Countless Jewish-owned businesses were looted. Kristallnacht was a major escalation in German violence against Jews, which eventually ended in the Holocaust.
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Longer read: No WiFi in refugee accommodation?
Last week, Madeline, a 20% Berlin reader and former social worker in a residence for refugees and asylum seekers in Lichtenberg, wrote to us to complain that residents at the home hadn’t had internet access since early October. She was told that the internet was cut off because Berlin’s Landesamt für Flüchtlingsangelegenheiten (LAF) had stopped paying the bills last February. She was concerned for residents who need a good internet connection for everything from staying in touch with family to applying for benefits online to keeping up with the news.
“A bad situation”
One resident said: “We can talk to family and keep in touch with them in Libya, check on them, and they on us through the internet. But without the internet, we can't communicate with them.”
Another resident spoke of how it affected their children’s and own education: “Life without internet is challenging since we handle most of our affairs online. I don't speak German, and I used to manage my children's school documents through a translation programme. Now, without internet access, it naturally becomes difficult. The education of my children and myself is seriously affected. I've started a new school and need the internet because I have just begun a course with a professor.”
While some residents buy cards that allow them to go online via their phones, one person said they couldn’t afford one because they hadn’t received any money in four months. Another resident said: “I usually use my mobile data, but then I have to cut back on other things for my children. To avoid cutting back on their needs, I often can't afford to use mobile data. So, we're in a really bad situation.”
I wrote to LAF spokeswoman Monika Hebbinghaus, who answered promptly: “In the past, the accommodation in question had a contract with a WiFi provider that expired. This was not extended because LAF is now working with a new provider which will gradually provide all state-owned accommodation with reliable WiFi.” Hebbinghaus says WiFi will be installed at the Lichtenberg centre around November 27.
Until now, said Hebbinghaus, each centre was responsible for its own WiFi, but “this has led to a patchwork of contracts and various technical requirements, some of which are inadequate, and because major measures are also required at some locations due to structural difficulties in order to achieve full Wi-Fi coverage, the LAF put the Wi-Fi equipment for the state-owned accommodation centres out to tender again this year.”
According to a recent LinkedIn post by LAF, Anil Süer, of the agency’s building department, has developed a WiFi masterplan. Following the tender, LAF hired The Cloud Networks GmbH which “is now developing professional solutions for our accommodation step by step.” The first residence to receive new, fast, building-wide WiFi was one on Senftenberger Ring in Reinickendorf,
Through the pandemic with bad WiFi
That sounds promising, but for one staff member at another Berlin refugee accommodation, getting WiFi has been a long battle: “Some homes didn’t even have internet. It was not seen as a priority to get it sorted.”
“In Covid times it was a total nightmare. Kids couldn’t take part in lessons (e.g. a family with four kids sharing their parents one smart phone and having no internet anyway). Or people learning German online - forget it. Even online psychologist sessions etc.”
“Awful times and no one gave a shit.” She also points to a document put out by the Berlin government on the integration of refugees, in which it was worried that providing internet could lead to some young refugees becoming radicalised online. “I remember five years ago as I started my fight to get the WiFi working that someone said, ‘Well, we cant give “them” uncontrolled access, they might use it to organise terrorism.’ WTF!” She said at some homes volunteers set up internet. At some point she even offered to pay for a contract out of her own pocket.
“Wi-Fi is a basic need and should be a fundamental right, especially for refugees, for many good reasons.”
In that LinkedIn post, LAF says it hopes that comprehensive WiFi will be installed in all refugee accommodation by spring.
“Petty, bureaucratic tasks”
When we told her about the new plan, former social worker Madeline said the problem went beyond just WiFi:
“Even if they are putting together a master plan, or reinstalling WiFi in a few weeks, these gaps in access make things systematically harder for residents. And because they are the body funding and overseeing the accommodations, the residents' hands are tied. They are powerless against the very agency they rely on to provide benefits and hopefully give them documentation to build a new life in Germany. So even if the lack of access is temporary, this affects residents' in ways that slowly add up. There is an immense burden, even WITH WiFi, for refugees and asylum seekers to make do within a system that gives them very difficult parameters within which to function.”
According to Madeline, patchy internet also puts a strain on the social workers who have to fill time their time with petty, bureaucratic tasks. “This takes away from time that could be used for community building, supporting people in establishing independence, or just healing and thriving. But instead, social workers are instrumentalized by the state to maintain a certain status quo and support a very confusing bureaucracy.”