Looking for alternatives: a tale of two German towns

On a Friday evening a couple of weeks ago, Michael Safi was in a small city about five hours’ drive north from Berlin. He was in a district called Sonnenberg, at a traditional summer festival. In June, Sonnenberg elected Robert Sesselmann from the party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) as the leader of its local council. His rise to office came with an unfortunate accolade: the first area of Germany to be run by a far-right party since the second world war.

It comes at a big moment for the country: the booming German economy of the past few decades is heading into recession, pitching the whole economic model into question. And as people get more disillusioned, they are looking for alternatives.

In a town called Ostelsheim, right over the other side of Germany near the French border, voters have elected one such alternative: a man called Ryyan Alshebl. He entered Germany as a refugee from Syria. Having learned the language and won the support of local people, he is now sitting in the town hall as mayor.

Ryyan Alshebl, mayor of Ostelsheim

Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

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