By KERSTIN SOPKE
WUNSIEDEL, Germany (AP) â¿¿ A small town in Germany that once was a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis is now welcoming jobless foreigners with open arms.
A dozen Spaniards affected by record unemployment in their home country have made their way last year to Wunsiedel on the German-Czech border. The town, nestled in the north Bavarian hills mountains, was best known as the burial place of Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess, drawing annual far-right marches until authorities put a stop to them in 2005.
Now Wunsiedel has become an example of how the jobless of southern Europe can be helped to find work in the north, where low birthrates and continued economic prosperity have created a labor shortage.Wunsiedel needs to recruit outsiders because the town's population is shrinking â¿¿ just 9,500 live here now. The town wants to grow again and needs to reach at least 10,000 inhabitants to turn the downward trend around. Bernd Birke, the owner of an electrical firm in Wunsiedel â¿¿ where the unemployment rate is 5.6 percent â¿¿ traveled to Padron in Galicia in Spain â¿¿ where about one in four people are out of work â¿¿ in March 2012 to find workers willing to relocate to Germany. Last year alone, almost 19,000 people emigrated from Spain to Germany. Birke needed more trained electricians than he could find at home. But he didn't expect the overwhelming response he got from the unemployed in Padron. "We went to Spain with a queasy feeling," said Birke. "Nobody had any kind of experiences with such a project, whether it could be successful or not." More than 200 people desperate to find work gathered in Padron's town hall, and each vacancy received several applications on the spot. The plan to recruit workers in crisis-hit Spain was hatched by Bernd Schoeffel, Wunsiedel's deputy mayor. Schoeffel recalled how about 30 years ago an influx of "guest workers" from Galicia filled a labor shortage in the local ceramic industry.Â