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WORLD MAYOR 2018
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WORLD MAYOR 2016
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• Raison d'être
• Mayor of Athens
• Mayor of Lahr
• Mayor of Mechelen
• Mayor of Aleppo
• Mayor of Amstelveen
• Mayor of Athens
• Mayor of Cologne
• Mayor of Gdansk
• Mayor of Grande-Synthe
• Mayor of Hettstedt
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• Mayor of Lampedusa
• Mayor of Lesbos
• Mayor of Mechelen
• Mayor of Philadelphia
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• Mayor of Amstelveen
• Mayor of Athens
• Mayor of Gdansk
• Mayor of Lahr
• Mayor of Mechelen
• Mayor of Schwäbisch Gmünd
• Mayor of Amstelveen
• Mayor of Athens
• Mayor of Cologne
• Mayor of Gdansk
• Mayor of Grande-Synthe
• Mayor of Lahr
• Mayor of Lampedusa
• Mayor of Lesbos
• Mayor of Mechelen
• Mayor of Schwäbisch Gmünd
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Lahr Mayor Wolfgang G Müller
interviewed by an international audience
14 February 2017: World Mayor invited participants from the 2016 Project to put questions to Lahr Mayor Dr Wolfgang G Müller, winner of the 2016 World Mayor Commendation for services to integration. From the questions received, a representative selection was forwarded to the mayor. He replies below with candour and thoughtfulness.
By Frank S., Offenburg, Germany:
Question: Please describe your strategy to integrate refugees and other newcomers in Lahr’s civic society.
Mayor Müller replies: This question gives me the opportunity to provide you with a very thorough and comprehensive report on our work and our understanding of integration as required by the World Mayor Foundation. It’s an opportunity I welcome.
People from around 110 different countries live in Lahr, and all of them are part of the fabric of our community. We want to turn residents into citizens!
The City of Lahr understands the colourful diversity of the cultures and lifestyles we have here as a valuable asset to our common life. This understanding is based on a fundamental attitude of tolerance and acceptance, as well as identification with the values defined in the German Constitution. A “Mission Statement on Coexistence” which is binding for all citizens and which was resolved by the Local Council, defines the basic principles, goals, and strategy Lahr uses in its integration work.
Our city has seen the integration of refugees and other new immigrants as one of our long-term overall social duties since the 1990s. Growing, learning, and working together is everyone’s job, and it requires each individual to take on responsibility for creating vibrant interaction and community.
For immigrants, successfully integrating into a new culture doesn’t mean giving up their culture of origin or their native language. We don't want to create carbon copies of ourselves! But we do ask immigrants to take on responsibility for ensuring their integration is successful. We ask for openness towards new learning processes. Sustainable integration demands continuing work towards providing equal access to the central areas of life in our society. These include the worlds of economics and labour, the education and qualification systems, neighbourhoods, and political, social, and cultural realms.
For me personally, it’s important that citizens participate in the decision-making process and in shaping opinions in the city, making a peaceful contribution to our community. Engaged citizens and representatives from associations, organisations, and groups from immigrant backgrounds are key contact persons, partners, and multipliers.
One successful example of local political commitment by migrants is the city of Lahr’s Intercultural Advisory Board. It currently has 32 members, half of whom come from an immigrant background.
The body functions as a platform for shaping opinions and exchanging experiences on social, cultural, economic, and societal issues. The Intercultural Advisory Board is an initiator and supporter of many different activities and events such as the International Lahr Soup Fest, the Festival of Cultures, projects focused on political participation, and intercultural days. These actions are especially important from an integration standpoint, as they bring together people from different cultures and religions, allow them to get to know one another, show off the strengths of our migrants, and help break down prejudices.
While integration measures in the 1990s were focused strongly on the immigrant groups coming to our area at the time, so-called “late resettlers” (Spätaussiedler) of German ethnic background, today's services and aid programs are directed towards the diverse challenges that exist for Lahr's residents from very different countries of origin and immigration backgrounds.
For many people, Lahr has already become their new home, not at least by the support of volunteers in our day care centres, our schools, local businesses, projects by social welfare organisations, and the city administration. In the meantime many children, young people, and young adults from immigrant backgrounds have found better ways to access the associations, church communities, political parties, and the social and cultural life of the city.
Different types of volunteer and civic engagement also continue to develop. Many citizens with an immigrant background identify with their city and feel at home here in Lahr. From my point of view as Mayor, as well as from the point of view of the Administration and the Local Council, successfully creating community is the responsibility of everyone in our city, and requires networking between all the players involved on both professional and volunteer levels.
Efforts on the part of the municipal government, the churches, faith communities, clubs, associations, social welfare organizations, other groups, and all the institutions and people here in Lahr are indispensable.
By creating a good social infrastructure and continuing to develop the landscape of education here in Lahr, our city is supporting Lahr residents from immigrant backgrounds specifically and others as well in their developmental and integration processes. Some key elements in these processes include building language competency from childhood to adulthood, providing support in educational development, integration into the labour market, supporting and advising families in everyday and parenting issues, educational and recreational services for children and young adults, projects that facilitate interaction between different people, residential programs that work to build community, and programs to prevent violence, addiction, and criminality.
The challenges in a city shaped by immigration are diverse and constantly changing. That’s why we must continuously work to develop comprehensive strategies, reflect on structures and programs, and apply expert knowledge to networks. It’s also why we established a central office in the city of Lahr to handle controlling and advising for our local integration programs.
The integration officer is tasked with continuously developing our programmes and offerings for people with immigrant backgrounds, designing new programmes according to community needs, maintaining the necessary networks, and promoting successful community between people of different backgrounds in Lahr.
After the admission of hundreds of thousands of refugees across Germany in 2015, and following the increased flow of refugees into Lahr, we also established a coordination office for refugee issues in 2015 and added another position to work on these matters. The refugee officer's tasks include receiving and submitting questions and concerns from citizens to the correct parties, coordinating donations of goods and aid services, maintaining contact with volunteer organisations such as the “Refugee’s Circle of Friends in Lahr”, establishing a broad network and initiating services to support the refugees who come to Lahr.
By opening up our administration and institutions to intercultural issues, the city of Lahr is dedicated to increasing the number of employees from immigrant backgrounds and to providing further training to our employees on issues of intercultural competence. Furthermore, we are committed to increasing access to services, official agencies, and public institutions, offering aid wherever necessary.
We established a “Volunteer interpreter pool” in 2013 already in the Lahr multi-generation house to help overcome language barriers in kindergartens, schools, information centres, agencies, and at the doctor or hospital. In particular for parents who speak no or very little German, interpreters are necessary to help them play an active role in their child's interests and take advantage of counselling services. To give people moving to Lahr from abroad a point of orientation and aid upon their arrival, the city of Lahr's Intercultural Advisory Board started the push to issue a brochure: “New Start Welcome to Lahr”. This brochure serves as a guide, providing information on services and programs.
As you can see, I’ve tried to give you the comprehensive answer you were looking for even if I was only able to mention a few different details and aspects.
By Jean-Claude B., France
Question: Lahr has a good story to tell when it comes to the integration of migrants and refugees. But it is a small city. Do you sometimes feel frustrated that the successes of smaller communities, like Lahr, are often overlooked nationally and internationally?
Mayor Müller replies: Your perception is correct. Everyone involved in the integration process in our city has been doing very successful integration work for many years. They have made it possible for so many different nationalities to live together in mutual appreciation and acceptance. We work towards an open, equal attitude towards one another free from prejudice, and we also work against every form of ethnic, cultural, and religious discrimination.
It’s true that we’re not a large city. However, we’ve gained attention in the past for our engagement on these issues. There are lots of examples! Our successful work has been recognised both through multiple prizes in national competitions focused on successful integration and through project grants on the federal level and the state level within Baden-Württemberg. We see the interest from regional, nationwide, and some national media in our successful integration work in Lahr, and the inquiries we receive from other communities, as an affirmation.
Some pioneering projects have been developed in our city, such as the “bridge teacher concept”, creating a position for a refugee guide, language support in childcare facilities, and creating integration tandems between citizens and immigrants. Later on, the federal and state governments provided funding for these projects also for other cities. Doing exemplary work others can build on makes us proud.
Integration doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It doesn't happen in the Chancellor's office either, but rather in our cities and communities. That’s a fact! This is why I'm not disappointed the bigger cities get more attention. But my nomination as World Mayor does show that what we’re doing is recognised.
By Ewald L., Munich, Germany
Question: The integration of migrants is unthinkable without the help of volunteers. Have you experienced that the fear of right-wing pressure is preventing ordinary people to come forward and offer their help?
Mayor Müller replies: Volunteers are key helpers and multipliers for integrating residents with immigration or refugee backgrounds. They welcome newcomers, help them meet other people, give them language tutoring, act as sponsors, bring refugees into work / educational groups, and much more. I've never heard of a case in Lahr where someone wanted to get involved but didn’t do so because they were afraid of pressure from the right.
Over 150 volunteer helpers are active in just the three Lahr volunteer circles “Freundeskreis Flüchtlinge Lahr” (Lahr Refugee Circle of Friends), the group “Willkommen in Hugsweier” (Welcome to Hugsweier), and the association “Sulz hilft” e.V. (Sulz helps). Many other people living in the nearby area are also involved, as well as people who have contact with refugees in some other way. They take on responsibility for creating a lively, conflict-free coexistence in Lahr built on solidarity, and support the integration process.
The support, assistance, and guidance our city offers to volunteers play a key role. Volunteers receive help from initiatives and clubs as well as from full-time professional staff members, such as staff from our divisions and offices, and in particular from the city of Lahr's refugee and integration officers. The two city employees in our coordination office serve as contacts for volunteer workers. They help create networks and initiate aid programs and integration actions. Meetings take place regularly to exchange ideas, and targeted training sessions like “Intercultural competence for volunteer work with refugees but how?” are offered.
What's important is that we speak out immediately against public sentiment if it turns against people groups or belief systems, as it did in Lahr in early 2016 in response to Germany’s refugee policy. But we also have to concede that the social climate and discussions on social networks have become much more heated. I certainly can’t say that potential volunteers never decide not to get involved because they’re afraid of right wing pressure or because their work wouldn’t be perceived well by family and friends.
By Peter R., Lahr:
Question: It sometimes seems that German language courses are the only lessons provided to forward integration. Don’t you think that integration courses should include other cultural, social and political elements?
Mayor Müller replies: You’re absolutely right. German courses alone aren’t enough to pave the way for integration. That’s why we have so much else going on!
The Federal Office of Migration and Refugees has financed “integration courses” since 2005. These courses are offered across the country by both private and public agencies. The city's adult education centre has also offered these courses in a language school for years.
Language learning is the central focus, but it's taught in a practical way. Language skills are practised using situations relevant to everyday life, such as interacting with agencies, talking with your neighbours and colleagues, writing letters and filling out forms, linking language skills closely to participants’ overall social integration.
The curriculum deals with cultural, social, and political aspects of Germany right from the start. These issues are built into the lessons. The last course module, the orientation course, prepares participants specifically for the naturalisation test “Living in Germany”, which requires them to prove their knowledge of our laws, social system, and customs.
Integration courses are a key component of integration, but they have to be supplemented with other actions. As part of the “Lahr integration tandem” project, the city helps finding residents to escort migrants through the integration process and give them individual tutoring to learn the German language. Besides the primary goal of language learning, the integration escorts also provide support in everyday questions - such as dealing with offices and agencies or professional orientation.
Another key building block of support, especially for immigrants, is general multilingual social counselling, offered by the city of Lahr in German/Turkish, German/Russian, German/Kurdish, and German/Arabic.
By Wolfgang T., Frankfurt, Germany
Question: The City of Lahr is now home to three fundamentally different ethnic groups the Christian Orthodox German Russians, the mainly Muslim asylum seekers and the native Christian Germans. How will you ensure that these three groups accept and respect each other?
Mayor Müller replies: People from over 110 different countries live in Lahr. As a result of this, our religious diversity is also broad. The percentage of residents from immigrant backgrounds is approx. 42 per cent, including 10,000 German-Russians primarily from various former Soviet Union countries. The percentage of German-Russians, then, is 22.7 percent of the total population. The percentage of foreign nationals without German citizenship is 12.5 per cent. People with Turkish backgrounds are the largest migrant group, 1,107 individuals, followed by people of Romanian origin with 815 residents. A total of 1,267 refugees live in Lahr (as of December 2016).
With these numbers, it's clear that Lahr's population is more heterogeneous and intercultural than it might seem at first glance. This diversity is also reflected in the churches and faith communities we have here in Lahr. They range from large Christian churches (Catholic / Protestant) to Turkish Islam communities, the Alawites, the Syrian Orthodox church, a community of Yazidis, and various unaffiliated Protestant churches. We also have Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and other faith groups. The majority of German-Russians belong to the Protestant church or one of the unaffiliated churches. There is no Russian Orthodox Church in our city.
The various churches and faith communities are tolerated and respected by the City of Lahr. However, I am critical whenever I see a tendency to segregate between different religious groups. It's important to maintain a dialogue between representatives of the different faiths and to work with the backing of our Constitution to ensure religious discrimination has no place in our town.
The interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians has become more intense over the last few years, initiated by the city of Lahr’s Intercultural Advisory Board. Lahr residents got a chance to discuss issues across religious boundaries in an event series called “Being a guest in our churches and faith communities”. Events of this kind build bridges. They help us recognize not only our religious and cultural differences, but also our shared basic values like a desire for openness, solidarity, and mutual respect.
The City of Lahr is supporting the current, ongoing mosque construction project by the Turkish-Muslim community. It will become a place for all Lahr Muslims in the future, no matter their faith flow. It was important to the city of Lahr that it serves this function. The Turkish-Muslim community is committed to making the mosque a symbol of tolerance. Non-Muslims are also welcome in the Turkish-Muslim community's mosque. The Catholic and Protestant churches are in contact with the mosque and have already signalled their readiness to continue the dialogue. They see the mosque as a place to meet others and to celebrate peaceful coexistence.
The Turkish-Muslim community holds an annual ceremony to break the fast. They invite Lahr citizens from different religions and cultures, refugees, association representatives, city counsellors, and myself personally. The event strengthens bridges between populations and encourages interpersonal dialogue.
By Hugo V., Brazil
Question: How do the schools in Lahr deal with so many students from different countries and different cultures?
Mayor Müller replies: Education is the key to tolerance and peaceful co-existence, as well as successful economic development. Lahr is a regional hub, and we are a hub for education as well. We currently have over 17 schools and educational institutions.
Offering additional support programs and services in city schools has a long tradition in Lahr, as does the diverse make-up of our student population. The City of Lahr cooperated with independent sponsors (Caritas, Worker's Welfare Association) to set up social pedagogy services for elementary and secondary school students in the city centre back at the start of the 1990s. Core elements of student aid focused on social pedagogy include help with homework, providing recreational opportunities, and advising parents.
Today, after-school services in the form of social pedagogy programs are available in all Lahr elementary schools, including the neighbourhoods, at the school for children with learning disabilities, and at the Theater Heuss technical secondary school. We are currently reaching over 400 students, most of them from immigrant backgrounds, with this targeted support.
School social work has also become a fixed part of the Lahr educational landscape. School social work encourages children and young adults in their personal, social, school-related, and career development, and helps students grow into independent and socially responsible individuals. Services focus on counteracting social disadvantages and compensating for personal disabilities. We want all children and young adults to successfully complete their schooling.
Today, the City of Lahr is offering school social work services in 4 elementary schools, 1 technical secondary school, 1 school for students with learning disabilities, 1 comprehensive school, 1 secondary modern school, and 2 college prep secondary school. A total of 7.4 full-time workers focused on these issues in the 2016/2017 school year.
School development in the city of Lahr is based on the education policy requirements of the state of Baden-Württemberg. These requirements also focus on the diverse make-up of our student body and students’ origins from a variety of cultures as central challenges to the school system.
Equal opportunity and educational justice are central issues in establishing all-day elementary schools, secondary schools, and community schools. The need for additional student services (students with two working parents, single parent) is another major focus.
The pedagogical concept at community schools is focused on comprehensive and differentiated instruction, depending on the performance and abilities of the individual student, as well as intensive individual support and mentoring by instructors.
In addition, international preparatory classes have been established in all full-day schools, the community school, and as a supplement to elementary schools in the city centre.
In these classes, students work intensively on their German skills so they can then be integrated step by step into the regular classroom. Furthermore, students can also take advantage of so-called “VABO” classes, a pre-qualification year during which students with no or little knowledge of German can prepare for work or a career. The make-up of our Youth Advisory Council is evidence of the success of our school and educational policies. 80 90 % of the chosen members come from immigrant families, and they've been able to win the trust of their fellow students.
As you can see, we are fulfilling our educational mission through differentiated and comprehensive programmes. We're also working on further expanding and optimising our educational services. We want to see only successful student outcomes. Here as well, I believe more support is needed from the Federal government.
By Dorothea H., Lahr
Question: How do imagine our City of Lahr to look like in 20 years’ time? Will the new arrivals have found permanent homes and work and will they have become part of everyday society?
Mayor Müller replies: The City of Lahr will continue to grow, overall, and will have reached over 50,000 inhabitants. It will become more international and more diverse, and will grow in economic importance as well. Today's refugees will contribute to that growth. Unemployment among former refugees will drop to a level consistent with the general standard among foreign nationals in Germany.
Some of the refugees arrived here in 2015 and later will have returned to their homelands, but the majority will remain here with us permanently. However, even these individuals will want to maintain their relationships with people “back home” for many years. Some of our new Lahr residents want to participate fully in the social life of the city, while others prefer to live amongst themselves. Many will maintain their own, original cultural identity for many years, preserving their identification with their homelands. I believe this is part of a fundamental human right to control your own identity. I think of German immigrants to the USA, Canada, Brazil, or Venezuela, for instance, many of whom still maintain relationships with Germany. As visitors to these countries, we enjoy seeing German traditions still maintained after 100 years.
Of course, our common language on the streets will still be German. We will have made progress with regard to German language skills, especially when it comes to the children of immigrants and to adults. We will have even more cultural diversity, which will continue to enrich the programs and activities in our city and our society. There’s plenty of room for everyone. We will find confirmation for many actions we took over the past decade, from expanding our transportation infrastructure, kindergartens and schools, investing in the 2018 State Garden Exhibition (Landesgartenschau), and above all: The friendly treatment we've shown refugees who feel welcome here, who enjoy being residents of Lahr, who are part of our economic strengths, and who are another link between Lahr and the rest of the world. In all of these highly positive assumptions, I’m assuming the number of refugees over the coming years will be much lower than in the first years of the 2015/16 refugee movement.
Another thing that gives me hope is how well we in Lahr succeeded in integrating German-Russian immigrants into our labour market. For example, approx. 280 German-Russian immigrants currently work at Schaeffler Technologies, the largest industrial employer in Lahr. With a total workforce of approx. 1,200, this is roughly 23% of its employees. Furthermore, 15 to 20 new companies have been founded consistently every year by German-Russian immigrants and citizens of Turkish origin alone in Lahr. 20 to 25 years ago, few would have believed that the new arrivals could be integrated so successfully into our society.
By Helga W., Lahr:
Question: Do you believe your nomination for the World Mayor Prize has encouraged more citizens to reflect on the causes of migration and the welcome offered to refugees?
Mayor Müller replies: I don’t want to blow my nomination out of proportion. It’s neither going to create a paradigm shift with critics of an open society nor wasn’t it necessary to keep people who are working in refugee aid involved. However, it is certainly an important way to gain attention, and will give us an additional push in the right direction. It's a push I'm happy to take advantage of!
The nomination helps make clear that the causes of migration abroad, and housing refugees here in our very own communities are intertwined issues. This isn’t just something that affects aid organizations or those - as the cliché goes - naive do-gooders and government representatives you always see defending themselves on the talk shows. Instead, the whole city has a responsibility!
So, my answer would be a definite “Yes!” I assume my nomination has inspired some people to think about whether they have some responsibility for the refugee movements, and what consequences could result for us.
What I want to do is address the silent majority of undecided people, who neither reject refugees nor actively work to help them integrate. I think it's important to critique and break up this black and white view of the world by bring the political discourse to the population as a whole. Otherwise we’ll never get away from a pointed, emotional discussion. We have to make our decisions after serious consideration, and act in the knowledge of our responsibility towards both refugees and native Germans. I am calling for honesty and courage from our government, to say that the path is going to be difficult, that all of us are going to have to make sacrifices, and that we need to leave behind our images of the past and our idyllic and sentimental memories.
Europe and Germany aren’t islands; the world is being rearranged right now. The major powers of China, Russia, and the USA are repositioning themselves on every level. China is trying to reinvigorate the old Silk Road (one belt one road). The European Union is looking for its path into the future. War and famine rage in many areas of the Middle East and Africa. In my view, historical responsibility, human dignity, and our economic interests leave only one pathway to a positive future open to Europe and specifically to Germany: The path of the open society that allows immigration while fighting the causes of the refugee crisis. This development allows and also requires regulations, but isolating ourselves is not an option. It is an economically promising path, but it does demand financial sacrifices on behalf of refugee regions.
The World Mayor Foundation should be congratulated for its choice of themes in 2016, as it helps bring the political discussion on the causes, contexts, and effects of migration to the local level. Communities have to commit themselves more to this kind of constructive discussion. Simply dealing with how to house refugees - even if integration programs are included - isn’t enough.
By Kurt L., Baden-Baden, Germany:
Question: Do you believe any of your ideals and as well as local values are relevant to peace, freedom and prosperity worldwide?
Mayor Müller replies: I'd like to touch on two constitutional points that affect the Lahr situation in my answer.
For over 100 years, Lahr has been used to the fact that we have a very large number of residents who came from foreign cities. These were first Germans, then French, then Canadian soldiers. Afterwards, since 1994 about a quarter of Lahr's population has come from the former Soviet Union republics as German-Russians. Today, immigrants specifically from Europe and refugees are coming in. In general, their experiences in the city tend to follow a certain pattern:
Firstly, dealing with newcomers is a challenge for long-term residents. Over time, they understand it's important to approach the new residents and get them involved in the city. This grows into active contribution and an awareness of a certain bond: we're all residents of Lahr. Ultimately, this is followed by a recognition: The city has used immigration to its advantage, ultimately becoming stronger because of it. Lahr never sought out this situation, but we’ve always accepted the challenge and turned it into an advantage.
This also applies to our geographic location, in the triangle between the three countries of Germany, France, and Switzerland. Decades ago, it was still seen as a “border zone” and treated more like a peripheral city. Today, cities benefit from recognising the advantages of cross-border collaboration and using them early on.
Secondly, municipalities have an especially strong position within Baden-Württemberg under a principle of subsidiarity. This helps to ensure municipalities that have comprehensive jurisdiction, if there are no higher interests like national defence or uniform social standards. This is also accompanied by a historically high number of clubs and associations, a broadly anchored awareness for volunteering, and strong support among the population for the Local Council and public administration.
These two circumstances have led to the following societal realisations in Lahr:
We can learn something from foreigners, and we can personally benefit from this knowledge. This doesn't just apply to Lahr! Being open is more difficult than isolating oneself, but it's also more rewarding in the long-term. These views and goals are our values, and can contribute to peace, freedom, and well-being in a global context.
By Yves G., Canada:
Question: Would you like to do more to share your experience in integrating newcomers with mayors nationally and worldwide? And if so, how?
Mayor Müller replies: Yes, I'd love to! Mayors speak openly with one another across state and party borders, which is a positive tradition.
I myself have placed a lot of focus on ensuring that I always keep my eyes and ears open as Mayor to learn from other cities. I've done so ever since the start of my time in office (1997). You always have to find out for yourself which other cities and which colleagues you can draw the most from. We invited colleagues to a conference in Lahr to work on the topic of “Integrating German-Russian immigrants a path forward or a dead end?”
There are already regular mayoral meetings to allow us to exchange experiences among colleagues throughout the state and the country. The City of Lahr, and I myself as Mayor, are also members in multiple international associations where mayors discuss a variety of topics.
Based on my professional CV, I also maintain contacts to intercontinental associations - some of them worldwide - resulting in professional visits primarily from West African countries and South America. We had our first delegation from China as our guests in December. We have partner cities in France, Costa Rica, and Canada, so I'm in contact with colleagues from all these countries.
Whenever I have time, I am glad to share my experiences related to integrating new residents as Mayor of Lahr with my colleagues. I'm very happy that interest in Lahr’s integration program has been high for so many years. The nomination from the World Mayor Foundation has grown this interest even more.
National and international conferences and colloquia are a good format for this. I was invited to Tokyo/Japan in December of 2016 by UNHCR to give a speech. I was also invited as a guest speaker to a meeting of the SPD (Social Democratic Party) group in the Baden-Württemberg State Parliament. Both my colleagues and myself focused on finding the right format for creating a way we could exchange our experiences productively and efficiently.
By Reiner W.H., Canada:
Question: As a former resident of Lahr, I would like to know what efforts are being made to keep the ‘Lahr diaspora’ informed about their former hometown.
Mayor Müller replies: The question refers to an aspect that’s very important to the discussion on integrating refugees: Maintaining the connection to an old hometown while emigrating to a new one is positive, and is no threat to identification with the migrant's new home. We need to remind ourselves of this in Germany and across Europe when we feel surprised how much new citizens remain attached to their countries of origin even after many years, or when we suggest to refugees that they need to cut themselves off more internally from their homelands if they want to live here (see answer to question 7).
To the question at hand:
As a former citizen of Lahr, you probably still remember the publication “Bridge to home,” which was sent to the “Lahr diaspora” by the city administration under Mayor Dr. Brucker. Today, we’re using another option offered to us by modern technology. We've been consistently expanding the online services offered by Lahr for years, and we have a live presence today across the world on many different channels. This includes our city homepage, of course, our own Facebook page and Twitter account, and our city cultural calendar.
Three daily newspapers are published in Lahr, all of which are online and offer full e-paper subscriptions. We put out over 800 press releases every year, most of which are available at www.lahr.de. We also offer many other city services like the adult education centre or the music school. Furthermore, you can learn about our seven city districts online. Many different associations link to our page.
Web radio is another popular service used by both public and private broadcasters reporting on Lahr. I’d recommend starting at www.lahr.de, then reading an online paper by one of our daily publications to get a quick overview of what’s happening in Lahr today from abroad. I also want to recommend the book “Zeitenwende” (Turning Point) to more savvy readers interested in history. We're currently working on the book with multiple authors. It’s going to be published in 2018, and will illuminate our recent history from 1993 - the start of conversion after withdrawal of the military - to 2018 - year of the State Garden Exhibition.
By Frank S., Offenburg, Germany
Question: How would you increase the cross-border co-operation between French and German communities on either side of the Rhine?
Mayor Müller replies: Our border region was the site of countless disastrous wars over the centuries, as well as deeply rooted “traditional rivalries,” (often stirred up by outside parties). Even though we believe we’ve simply overcome this phase today, this outcome was by no means an obvious one. Instead, it's the result of decades of intensive effort from both sides of the Rhine.
The City of Lahr is taking on a leading role in two cross-border municipal organizations: the joint board Vis-à-Vis, with around 130,000 inhabitants, and the Euro-district Strasbourg-Ortenau with almost a million inhabitants. Both of them are working to build tighter connections: not just existing side by side, but creating true togetherness.
Cross-border thinking has made major advancements here on our local political level. Long-term, intensive collaboration has helped to develop trust and familiarity. Our common interest in implementing projects for all life situations, however, regularly butts up against its limits on the community level due to a lack of skills. This applies more to the French than to the German side. We have to continue demanding more (legal, administrative, financial) means from higher-level state offices through professional lobbying. At the same time, we always have to review the existing framework for the options it offers us, taking advantage of these as much as possible. We have to have the courage to be “laboratory”!
We need to create framework conditions that facilitate cross-border opportunities for citizens as a simple fact of everyday life. We also have to continue breaking down barriers and creating or supporting connections. Key instruments / elements here are accessibility (local transportation connections, streets, bridges), language (learning, media, signage...), and joint activities (work, education, shopping, leisure...).
At the same time, we want to increase curiosity about the other side of the Rhine among various groups with lots of attractive services, reducing fears about the border. A few examples of this are a joint charity run for elementary school students, a dual-language theatre ensemble for kids and adults, cross-border vocational training and job placement, joint trade fair exhibitions, the new tram line Strasbourg(F) - Kehl (D), and a close cooperation in providing services to drug addicts. What’s important in most of these projects is that while the Euro-district does provide some start-up aid, the project itself is handled more and more by the initiators and contributors from the civilian population.
Even if we can achieve quite a bit in our border region, we will have to do more in the future to hold together the seams of a Europe that's drifting apart. I will continue to work tirelessly on these issues. However, I also expect major contributions from the population, who can speak up on their opinions in citizens’ forums or on the Euro-district website.
By Indrig S., Lahr
Question: What are your plans for Lahr and the Ortenau region to prosper in the coming decade?
Mayor Müller replies: All the forecasts for the next 10 years predict above average population growth in Lahr. Besides dealing with immigration and integration, we will (continue) to create positive conditions and an attractive climate for many different population groups, as well as jobs for different qualification levels. We’ll do all this by ensuring the best quality education, support, culture, leisure opportunities, environment, and supply possible. Tourism is also playing an ever-growing role.
The stage is set in Lahr for new parks, children’s centres, a multi-functional sport complex with a multi-purpose hall, a new city museum, renovations of existing residential areas and public facilities - as well as good housekeeping (reduction of debt after almost 20 years). Despite all the changes, Lahr will still have the same basic character in 2030: a colourful, open mid-sized city with a historic city centre to serve as a point of identification and a magnet, actively and optimistically shaping our own future.
The Ortenau region, located between the major cities of Strasbourg, Karlsruhe, and Freiburg, is around 1,900 square km in size. This makes it the largest district in Baden-Württemberg with 420,000 residents. It encompasses 5 prosperous mid-sized cities between 20,000 and 60,000 residents, and is mainly a rural area with the natural preserves of the Rheinebene (Rhine Plains) and the Schwarzwald (Black Forest). The economic structure is based on mid-sized companies, with a high percentage of commercial-industrial operations. Despite high investment in rural areas, the city centres will continue to play a growing role in Ortenau in the future. This must be accompanied by improved public transportation links and investment in the areas of schools, the labour market, social services, and culture. The City of Lahr is ready to fulfil our responsibilities to the surrounding area to an even greater extent.
By Birgit K., Lahr
Question: How would you characterise the City of Lahr in three words?
Welcoming! Energetic! La(h)rge-minded!
By Günter S., Germany and Brazil
Question: You are still a relatively young and active man. Do you have any ambitions to continue your political activities at a higher level, perhaps in Stuttgart, Berlin or even abroad?
Mayor Müller replies: I’ll reach the end of my legal term limit as Mayor of the City of Lahr in October 2019. By that time, I’ll be 68 years old and ready to retire.
However, I hope that I will still be able to share my professional expertise for a few more years to come. I also don’t want to stop learning myself either.
I worked on international collaboration projects (GTZ, Brazil, El Salvador) for many years, as well as on the Committee for Trade, Industry, and Corporate Development of UN/ECE in Geneva. I'd like to continue/ to take up on this. .
I could imagine myself working with the Senior Expert Service (SES), as an election monitor (ZIF), as a supporter of political foundations, or as an active participant in conferences and colloquia - to name just a few examples.
In addition, I'd like to engage myself voluntarily in Lahr.
I'll just have to wait and see what options open up to me after I've left the Mayor’s office.
In any case, I want to work for a free and democratic world that requires “good governance” on all levels in as many ways as I can.