AFP/ Berlin

Germany may have witnessed violent anti-refugee protests this week -- but the message from the country's media and celebrities is a loud and determined welcome for people fleeing the horrors of war.

As part of its "We're helping" campaign, Germany's Bild am Sonntag tabloid devoted seven pages to celebrities from football stars like Lukas Podolski to business leaders like Daimler's boss Dieter Zetsche to musicians like Scorpions lead singer Klaus Meine, all mobilising "against refugee hate".

The tabloid, which has launched a high-profile charity campaign to assist refugees, also ran an editorial by Nobel-winning writer Herta Mueller titled: "I was also a refugee."

The editorial recalled how hundreds of thousands of Germans fled their country during Nazi rule.

"Everyone who fled into exile from the Nazis was saved... Germany must do what other countries had done earlier for the Germans," wrote Mueller.

"We have the responsibility given the past. But beyond that, sympathy is an act of humanity. Those who no longer know that have a brutal concept of homeland that once drove Germans out of Germany," she wrote.

Germany is expecting an unprecedented 800,000 asylum-seekers this year as Europe grapples with its biggest migration crisis since World War II.

While many believe that Germany's wealth -- combined with the dark legacy of its Nazi past -- mean it has a unique responsibility to provide safe haven to the persecuted, not everyone has been happy to see refugee centres springing up across the country.

A spate of arson attacks have hit these shelters, and far-right protesters have organised noisy and sometimes violent demonstrations against refugees.

Hostility is strongest in the former communist east, which still lags behind the west in terms of jobs and opportunities a quarter-century after reunification.

In that context, the eastern town of Heidenau has become a symbol of Germany's struggle to absorb the massive arrivals, with dozens injured in clashes last weekend between police and extreme-right activists opposing the opening of a new refugee centre there.

When Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the centre this week to show her support, she was booed by a crowd who called her a traitor.

Many media outlets have added their voices to Bild's.

News magazine Der Spiegel ran two different covers this week: the first, titled "Dark Germany", showed a refugee centre in flames; the second, titled "Bright Germany" bore a message of hope, with migrant children releasing balloons into the sky.

"It's up to us to decide how we're going to live. We have the choice," the magazine said.

In Munich, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper offered its readers a practical guide for how to donate clothes and food to the new arrivals.


- 'Germany is rediscovering itself' -

A slew of celebrities, too, have come out in support.

"Dear refugees, it's good that you're here," German Real Madrid player Toni Kroos said in comments reported by the press, "because it allows us to test our values and show respect to others."

The actor Til Schweiger is among the most prominent pro-migrant voices in German showbiz, while rock singer Udo Lindenberg is hoping to organise a major Berlin concert against anti-migrant hate, slated for October 4.

This is not the first time Germany has seen a jump in racist crimes -- nor the first time it has witnessed an outpouring of calls for tolerance in response.

In 2000, then chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called for an "uprising of decent people" after a synagogue was burned down in the western city of Duesseldorf.

Germany is "a tolerant and open country", Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere insisted in a weekend interview with the newspaper Die Welt, blasting those who "believe they represent the silent majority when they prey on foreigners".

In an editorial entitled "Who we are", the paper said that in spite of the xenophobic attacks, the positive response from ordinary Germans is "changing the face of Germany", a nation that is "in the process of rediscovering itself" by welcoming large numbers of people in need.

In January, a survey by the non-profit Bertelsmann Foundation found the German public largely sympathetic to the refugees; 60 percent said they were ready to welcome the newcomers, up from 49 percent three years ago.

But the study noted that the country remains divided on whether immigration is an opportunity for Europe's economic powerhouse, or a burden.

In Dresden -- capital of the eastern Saxony state that has borne the brunt of the anti-migrant violence -- thousands took to the streets on Saturday to take a stand against the xenophobic attacks.

"Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here," they chanted.



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