As told to Hannah Wolff
Recently while working out at a local gym in Germany I heard a guy behind me shouting a wave of racist anti-refugee profanities at a group of teenagers speaking Arabic.
At first I ignored him as did the subjects of his insults. However, when he got up to walk towards them I started getting more uncomfortable. Luckily the teenagers then left and as a response the guy loudly and proudly proclaimed his victory of having scared them away.
That's when my decency as a human being obliged me to turn around and ask muscle guy if this was really necessary to which his response was that it indeed was necessary. When I asked him why he explained that refugees 'have done a lot to him', not clarifying what exactly they have done to him. His girlfriend added wisely that 'at some point refugees just become annoying'. Together they looked like a match made in ignorance heaven, it would almost be heartwarming if their comments weren't so pointless and confusing.
Even though they didn't seem like the type of people one should start a discussion with, I couldn't resist asking what a big muscular guy like him could possibly fear from a group of skinny teenagers who are half his size. Ignorant and racist people always seem to fear something and this was my chance to actually find out what it is that makes them so scared of people that are different from them.
Unfortunately I never received an answer. I am not sure which part of my question insulted him but it must have triggered something in his brain or muscles because now he started to become aggressive and personal towards me. He gave my t-shirt, which depicted the name of the grammar school I went to with my graduation date, a disgusted look and informed me that he could tell exactly what kind of person I was from my tshirt: a person with a stick up her ass.
I was too confused about his verdict of my personality to actually be upset by what he said. Instead I pointed out to him that he didn't make any sense because apparently he has a problem with me because I am a foreigner with a degree who speaks fluent German but at the same time he also has a problem with those teenagers he scared away because they are foreigners who don't speak German.
In the same breath I added, 'And you know who I have a problem with? I have a problem with people like you who have a problem with everyone and everything.'
I looked around searching for approval in the faces of the onlookers who have gathered around us but no one said a word whilst they continued to stare at us like a pop up theatre play.
Muscle guy's response was very simple, he told me to 'piss off'. At this point I decided to give up on this fruitless conversation and just went back to my workout all the while trying to ignore his insults that kept flying at me from his corner where he was spread out with his girlfriend and friends.
Eventually though his chants, which mostly consisted of him telling me to piss off became too loud to overhear and I told him I wasn't going to leave and asked him what he was going to do about it. He looked at me in disbelief and started laughing, asking me if I was kidding him.
When I informed him that I wasn't kidding and that he is extremely disrespectful he got up and started walking towards me to scare me off the same way he scared off those teenagers but I told him 'I am not scared of you and your intimidation technique is not working on me.'
As a response he went back to his 'piss off' chants. I started to feel like I am in a bad movie, the only thing missing was our mute audience joining in on those chants.
Muscle guy didn't have much gravitas to start with but the tiny ounce of respect I had for him as a human being has totally disappeared by now so I got up, walked over to him looked him into his eyes and told him 'Why don you piss off if you have a problem.'
I think I could hear our audience gasp but I might be wrong.
Muscle guy turned around to his girlfriend and workout buddies who were clearly enjoying this exchange and asked them if they could see how I am provoking him, to which they vehemently agreed.
I dryly asked if he was looking for witnesses so he could justify attacking me and indeed, I barely finished my sentence before he started charging towards me and pushing me a couple of times until I nearly fell to the ground.
I started screaming telling him to stop.
Finally, a bystander from the mute audience stepped forward but instead of restraining muscle guy he gently pushed me away telling me to just leave already.
If this situation felt like a bad movie before, it now started to feel like a nightmare.
When I finally caught sight of one of the gym trainers I thought my luck had finally turned and quickly called him over. He slowly walked over and when he saw muscle guy they greeted each other by their nicknames like old buddies.
Before I even had a chance to explain what has been going on muscle guy quickly told the trainer his version of events which was basically that I provoked him for no reason and him pushing me away from him because I stepped too close to him.
I tried to explain what really happened but the trainer didn't really seem interested. Muscle guy sealed the deal when he ordered that one guy from the mute audience who stepped in earlier to tell the trainer who of us is telling the truth. The testimony of the guy consisted of the simple sentence, 'everything happened as he just described it happened'.
The audience who witnessed the whole incident was still watching and still mute.
Looking at the mute group of people around us my frustration over their cowardeness boiled over and I started yelling at them 'I hope there will never be a war in Germany again because people will then be as messed up to you when you become refugees as you are towards refugees now.'
There was still no reaction from anyone and muscle guy used my meltdown as example to explain that I am crazy.
All of a sudden tiredness and exhaustion overwhelmed me and I just wanted to get away from all these people.
I made my way towards the exit when another trainer came running up to me asking me to sit down with him and muscle guy to 'talk out' the issue and confront him about his behavior. I was pretty sure this wasn't going to go well but the trainer kept on insisting and against my own judgment I agreed to walk back to muscle guy to confront him once again.
As expected the conversation didn't go well, it ended in muscle guy insulting me in front of the trainer and threatening me to drag me out of the gym by my hair if I didn't shut up and that I was a liar because he would never even touch my disgusting body.
I asked the people around us to finally speak up and tell the truth about what happened. No one did.
'Are you serious?' I asked the crowd and muscle guy, 'I feel like fainting from all of your lies. I need to sit down.'
Once I sat down I tried to regain my strength to finally walk off the gym but muscle guy was at it again, yelling that it makes him aggressive if people do injustice to him.
'Hold on', I asked him, 'Don't you see the irony of what you just said? You just harassed three young boys which is how the whole situation started and then you attacked a woman who stood up for them but you are the one injustice is being done to? You are not a very clever man. You just insulted me, harassed me and threatened me all at the same time trying to prove your innocence. Don't you see I have enough evidence by now to press charges against you?'
His response was to pace around and brief heavily like a mad and helpless lion in his cage.
'Can I do to you what you did to me?' I asked him.
'Don't you dare touch me.'
'That's interesting. I won't touch you because I respect your private space but unfortunately you didn't give me the same respect.'
I then slowly got up and finally managed to get away without anyone stopping or insulting me.
The next day I filed a complaint with the police and the gym, both complaints didn't lead to anything.
I never received an apology from the gym, instead they made it pretty clear that they don't believe my version of events as I don't have any witnesses. The irony of not having a single witness despite having had a whole crowd watch me like a movie didn't get lost on me.
'German multiculturalism has 'utterly failed', Angela Merkel famously proclaimed, asserting that immigrants don't do enough to integrate into German society.
I agree that multiculturalism in Germany has failed but immigrants alone are not to blame.
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