BROOKE: Christiane Hoffman, Deputy Head of Der Spiegel in Berlin, agrees that German coverage of the migration crisis has been sympathetic to the refugees plight, with even right-leaning tabloids like BILD publishing emotional appeals to the German public to be compassionate and helpful. It's a reflection a society altogether different, economically, and demographically from the one in which Der Spiegel rebuffed refugees with the headline Das Boot ist Voll, the boat is full...
HOFFMAN: Exactly and that was also due to the economic situation. In the 90s we had a high unemployment which we don't have now. On the contrary, because Germans are not having enough children, we really need migration. And then there's this feeling that Germany is in great shape economically, and we have been spared of a lot of negative developments that other countries in Europe have seen, so there's a certain amount of gratefulness, or thankfulness which Germans feel that they could pass on to others. And also I think that we have a very strong elderly generation of people who go on pension in their 60s, who are healthy, fit, and quite well off.
BROOKE: They're bored.
HOFFMAN: Yeah they're looking for something meaningful for them to do in life. So that's also why they engage.
BROOKE: How much does the context of the second world war play into this?
HOFFMAN: People might not be conscious of it, they might not even agree to it when you speak about it. But I think that you know for Germans to be the morally good nation, to do something that is right and that is respected everywhere is really a new feeling. Let's take the decision of Merkel to open the borders; that was taken at a point when she was in contact with the Hungarian president, Orban, and the Austrian Prime Minister, Feiba, and they were telling her about these refugees walking in the streets toward the German border. And this is very essentially a picture that reminds Germans of the death walks at the end of world war two, when Nazis were driving the prisoners out of concentration camps and they were dying while they were walking and they were so weak. And that was essentially what Austrian prime minister was telling to Merkel, is that you know we will have seen those people breaking down while they are walking towards Germany. It's very clear that these pictures have a historical background.
BROOKE: Piles of belongings, piles of clothes. There's a resonance there.
HOFFMAN: Exactly. And the sense is that we see in Hungary, it was the fences on the Hungarian border that were open and that started the process of German reunification. The trains coming from Hungary was East germans to west germany. It was the beginning of the brightest part of German history in the last century, but the trains in Germany are always the trains of Jews going to concentration camps, and going into their death. We've always felt we've never got rid of the shame of our history, so I think it really still feels somewhat strange for Germans to be on the good side of history.
BROOKE: There's been a lot of soul searching in Der Spiegel's coverage. A recent issue had two covers: one that was dark and sinister with a burning house, and the other was bright with a happy crowd flying balloons, and in the piece was the quote, "Which Germany will prevail? The Germany of racist chance from the roadside? The Germany of rioters and drunken rock throwers? Dark Germany, as President Joachim Gauck calls it? Or will it be the new bright Germany?"
HOFFMAN: Well it shows that Germany is still unsure about its identity. I feel that more mature nations, like maybe great britain who are more sure of who they are wouldn't go to the extremes that Germany is seeing at the moment. So as you said, we're doing soul searching and still asking the question, who are we?
BROOKE: So now that border controls have been reapplied, slowing the flow, are some of the tabloids like Bild Zeitung back to its old stance? Or is the coverage still mostly positive?
HOFFMAN: It is more neutral. There are stories about the difficulties of taking these people in, of handling the influx and Build even ran an interview with Orban of Hungary extremely critical of what Merkel has done and refuses to take in refugees so the coverage is more diverse, but it hasn't turned in a way that it's becomes negative.
BROOKE: Has the government been trying to shape the coverage in any way?
HOFFMAN: What I feel uneasy about is that during last week when I've been in several background meetings with politicians I heard a tone of trying to influence coverage by making a moral point, by appealing to the moral of journalists instead of accusing those who point to the difficulties of actually being xenophobic or playing into the hands of xenophobes.
BROOKE: You've had to confront and process as a reporter a story that's been floating around on the margins, practically your whole professional life, I assume. Have you discovered anything within yourself writing about this issue?
HOFFMAN: You know, I've covered Russia for 5 years in the 90s and I've covered the Middle East living in tehran and Iran, so I'm very much used to view that is not European and it has taught me actually to be very realistic. That's why I've been reluctant from the beginning to Merkel's gesture of idealism. I think we must give room to those who are afraid, we can't silence them by saying you shouldn't have these doubts because it's immoral. I'm always suspicious when you don't want to see the dark side, or when you just tell the dark side to be silent.
BROOKE: On the other hand you have a lot of old people whose social security needs to be paid and who need a purpose in life.
HOFFMAN: Yes! Very much so. And I see you know in so many people around me. My parents, my children say mommy can we do something for refugees. The good thing about it is that it's really about something. So many times when you cover politics it's about useless fights and this bubble of politics and media. And here we have a topic that is real and it concerns almost everyone and that feels good.
BROOKE: Christiane, thank you very much.
HOFFMAN: You're very welcome.
BROOKE: Christiane Hoffman is deputy head of Der Spiegel in Berlin.