BONN — AS if to make up for the disrupted anti-racism demonstration in Berlin Nov. 8, over 100,000 Germans descended on the much smaller city of Bonn on Saturday, protesting xenophobia and right-wing extremism in Germany.
The crowd, which turned the expansive university lawn here into a squishy ooze, was a cross-section of the population: older Germans, families with children in tow, youths in the "uniform" of black leather jacket and black pants, as well as Greens supporters, a typical presence at this kind of mass protests.
"I hope that the world's impression will change of Germany. We can demonstrate and not have violence," says Detlef Fiehler, a Frankfurt banker accompanied by his wife and three children.
Mr. Fiehler was referring to the Berlin demonstration, which was disrupted by leftist radicals who pelted eggs, paint bombs, and stones at Germany's top politicians as they took part in the anti-xenophobia protest. A major theme of the Bonn protest was that the country should not change its liberal asylum laws, which have encouraged a flood of foreigners into Germany and fueled attacks on foreigners.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl has long sought the support of the opposition Social Democrats to tighten the law. The Social Democrats now are expected to favor such a move at an emergency party congress today.
"I think it's important to let the politicians know that many people do not want to change Article 16," the constitutional provision for political asylum, says Werner Rapp, a surveying engineer at the Bonn protest.
"We in Western Europe need to learn to share more. We have so much. Problems will just get worse if we tightly hold onto our property and lock people out from us," Mr. Rapp says.
Many of the demonstrators said political leaders in Bonn are missing the boat by concentrating on the asylum issue instead of effectively controlling the right-wing extremists who are attacking the asylum seekers.
Klaus Kissel, another protester in Bonn, says he regrets the Berlin violence but that he understands why leftists went after politicians: "The politicians are doing nothing about the right extremists and think only about changing the Constitution."
"We need to deal with the right [extremists]," Fiehler agrees. "Asylum is not really the problem. We have to learn to live with the people who come here."
Still, according to a new poll by ZDF television, 73 percent of Germans believe the asylum law is being abused and 61 percent want it changed.
Days before the Bonn protest, the German media warned that leftists would create mayhem at the rally. But instead of the expected 2,000 leftist protesters, only 150 to 200 showed up. Notably, no leading politicians attended the Bonn demonstration.