Germany's Biggest Film Star to Build Center for Refugees

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Til Schweiger

Til Schweiger has garnered praise and criticism for his call for more direct action and saying there was too much "xenophobia and pure hatred" in Germany.

Til Schweiger, Germany's number one film star, has jumped straight into the middle of the country's most heated political debate, saying he will build his own center to house refugees.

Schweiger, known for his role in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, as well as his many local-language comedy hits, has begun to raise money for his center, which he says will be a "showcase project" with sports facilities and workshops to train new immigrants to prepare them for employment. His plan is to convert abandoned military barracks near the Harz Mountains. The project would see up to 600 immigrants housed in the former barracks.

Over the weekend, Schweiger met with German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel to discuss his plans. The actor posted on Facebook that he spent a half hour with Gabriel expressing his frustration that in a country that "not so long ago" saw millions fleeing war "there is so much xenophobia and pure hatred ... but in one aspect we were in instant agreement: that the majority of Germans do not share this hate!!!!"

Gabriel, who is also the head of Germany's Social Democratic Party, posted a picture of the meeting, saying it was an "intense and good discussion."

Ernste Gesichter zu einem ernsten Thema: Gestern habe ich mich mit Til Schweiger in Berlin getroffen. Wir haben...

Posted by Sigmar Gabriel on Saturday, 8 August 2015

Schweiger said he was motivated to "do something truly relevant" amid what is widely seen as an immigration crisis in Germany and across Europe. The number of refugees arriving in Germany is expected to more than double to a record 450,000 this year, most of them people fleeing war in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

While no prominent German politician has emulated Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump in condemning migrants as "killers and rapists," online commentary has gotten more heated. Right-wing groups, some of which have been blamed for fire bombings and other attacks on German refugee centers, have ratcheted up the rhetoric.

Last week a German TV presenter became an online sensation when she used a commentary slot on the country's most-watched news program to call on "all decent people" to take a public stand against racist and xenophobic comments online.

"Apparently it’s no longer embarrassing — on the contrary, in reaction to phrases like 'filthy vermin should drown in the sea,' you get excited consensus and a lot of 'likes,' " said Anja Reschke, speaking on the Tagesthemen news show on public broadcaster ARD. "We can say: 'Yeah, well, there are always idiots — best to ignore them. But they're not just words. They already exist — there are arson attacks on refugee shelters."

In fact, German officials recorded 202 attacks against refugees in the first six months of this year alone — the same amount as there were in the entirety of 2014. The commentary segment went viral almost immediately and has since been viewed more than 10 million times.

Predictably, both Reschke and Schweiger have been targeted by online trolls but both have also been widely praised for their pro-immigration and anti-racist stance.

Schweiger is in the midst of shooting his latest feature, a crime drama which Warner Bros. will release in Germany, but said he will devote more time to the refugee problem.

Twitter: @sroxborough

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