I’ve learned a lot on this trip and through my research about how a country’s history and culture influences it’s actions and emotions towards immigrants and refugees. I’ve been able e to see all sides of the refugee crisis in Germany, the good and the bad, and I’ve been able to witness the beginning of a change in Berlin’s culture that seems to be leading them towards deeper consideration and discussion of race and citizenship issues in Berlin. I’ve also learned a lot about the culture of activism and art that comes from this city and how it’s affected actual policy and change within communities. Berlin is in a very exciting stage of change and it was amazing to be able to witness a part of it.
I’m hoping to take this experience and what I have learned to help me in my future studies. For example, in the next quarter I will be taking Introduction to International Relations and a international human rights law class. I think what I have seen in Germany provides an interesting background for me to jump off of. This trip has also sparked an even deeper interest in human rights law for me, specifically immigration and migration law. I’m hoping to get more experience through internships within the US so I can learn more about our system here, as I think this may be something I want to focus on in the future.
Navigating the intricacies of immigration and migration can be very difficult, as we all saw in our trip to Berlin. There are cultural barriers and language barriers that people have to overcome, and in a crisis like this, there is a lot of political back lash people have to push through. In seeing how the people who worked with the refugees were able to help ease the transition in a difficult situation I learned how this work can help make these people’s lives easier. It’s a hard job and often times a very stressful one. It can be emotionally taxing and can be hard on those who are trying to help these people but it is worth it to help those who are going through so much worse. That was the feeling of those who worked there and our feelings as well. I want to be able to have a career where I can help in situations like this which is why I am thinking about pursuing immigration law.
In doing my research I saw how learning about a countries history of immigration and migration can lend an inside into how they deal with migration and refugees. In learning the intricacies of the culture one can find ways to solve issues that may come up. German citizen in Berlin are using their history of activism through art and civil protests to move forward the discussion of race and migration in Germany, which will in time, help those who are trying to live in Germany and obtain citizenship. In the US, the narrative of an immigrant made country helps push forward a more accepting narrative through mean of demonstrations and protests. In both countries, it was the citizens who pushed forward change and who found ways to make their voices heard. This continues on in both countries today as the discussion of the refugee crisis has widened to discussion of race.
This is still what is on my mind two weeks later. There are a lot of nuances involved in navigating the influx of that many people into a country. Germany is facing those nuances now, and learning how to overcome these barriers whether they be cultural or legal. I’m excited to learn more about how these nuances function in our country with the difference in immigrant history and difference in narrative. There are many similarities and I think by looking at how Germany has handled this issue we can learn a lot about what to do and how to navigate our own nuances.
Interview One - Stephie
Stephie is the volunteer organizer and activities organizer at Neopantera. She does part of the administrative work as well as finding activities for the residents that are free or low cost. When we spoke to her, the office was a bit tense, as there was a meeting with the residents taking place that was getting kind of argumentative. She explained to us that the residents were not all too happy about their situation. They complained that it feels like a jail, that they want more translators, and they complain about the rules. There have to be rules bough, as Stephie explains. The anger is understandable. There is a lot of frustration: some of these people have been living here for two years and still have not been able to get a job or move out into their own homes. Stephie explains that in Germany, you need papers in order to do anything, and you need to have an understanding of German in order to work. Even to get medical attention, one needs a medical ID card, which they have to wait for and may take a while to receive. The distance from own is also not very helpful, as children get bored and it makes it inconvenient anytime the people want to leave. Still the public transportation is helpful as a bus comes every half hour or so to take people into town, where they can find anything they may need as well as a train that can take them into Berlin. There is also a school they can get to where the children go. While some children, specifically the older ones are having a bit of a hard time adjusting they are picking up the language very well, and the adults are being offered German speaking classes so that they also can pick up the language. Everyone is trying to make the best out of the situation at hand.
Interview Two - Jule
Jule is one of the two people in charge of Neopantera. She is in charge of all major administrative activity along with Clarissa, another one of the major administrators. When we talked to her we had just left a community festival, in which the neighboring town was celebrating 100 years. We had left on a particularly tense note after a loss against the army in a tug of war. She seemed pretty upset with the events. It's frustrating that now people will take this moment of aggression as a confirmation of their prejudices, she had said. The community has been accepting for the most part. The children have friends within the schools and the people are kind to them, but it’s hard to negotiate the cultural differences, especially with the older children. There have definitely been some complaints, especially from the housing complex across the street to do with noise and rowdiness and other such complaints. Overall the people have been tolerant, but she was saying that, since Germany is kind of at the beginning of their race talks, and due to the nature of this rural area and the general homogeneity of the area (most were white from what we could see at the fair), there are some issues with how they are perceived and a lack of understanding of why the residents act the way they do which can make things difficult. Yet, they do not feel totally unwelcome as they still do go to events and people are friendly, which she appreciates.
People in the community - The area directly surrounding the camp is less than 5% non German, but rises to about 10-20% non German as you head closer to Rathus-Spandau. The Religion is also mostly Christian. The only way to get from one place to another is by a bus that runs every 30 minutes, which can take you to surrounding towns or o parks and lakes. The most change that this population has experienced has been the influx of migrants in the past two years, and the new housing complex that is being built across the street from Neopanterra.
Housing - Just within the direct vicinity of Neopanterra, the housing in generally brand new, and is still being built as I write this. They are higher income houses (as Clarissa and Manuela mentioned to us) and are mostly populated by Germans as of now. They are generally 3 or four bedroom houses and look pretty modern in the way they re constructed.
Physical and Land Assets - It’s a pretty Rural Terrain. In order to get to Neopanterra we have to walk on a trail that goes through some of the surrounding forest. There are pieces of land owned by government agencies due to their historical nature, including the Army Barrack hat Neopanterra is using and a ballroom that also has historical significance. The ballroom is a vacant building owned by the government that can be used by Neoanterra, lthough they need to get insurance before they are able to use and convert it. It appears pretty safe although it is a bit old and rundown but definitely usable. It's not very dealt populated, Neighbors live kind of close to each other but each neighborhood s separated by woods. The public transportation is a great resource as it easily transports people where they need to go, and the old ballroom could be used as a gym or event center.
This weekend was one of our busier weekends on this trip. We visited Hamburg, where we got to witness how graffiti and street art can be used as an act of civil disobedience, watched an amazing play which discussed refugees and migration and the intricacies of the experience, and visited a concentration camp called Sachsenhausen, where our plans for the day were derailed by a flash flood.
That's right, a flash flood. In June. That's not something we are used to on the west coast, especially not in California. The day started off pretty mild. It was cloudy outside and raining, but it's wasn't too bad. When we hopped on the train to get to Sachsenhausen it didn't seem like the rain would be getting worse. We were wrong. By the time our train ride was over it had started pouring outside. Everyone was huddled in the train station, taking shelter from the storm brewing outside as we waited for the bus that would take us to our destination.
“Do you want to split the cost of an umbrella? I think we should get an umbrella.” Little did I know this suggestion was the best idea Sophia, another lovely UW Berliner, could have possibly made.
“Yeah let's do it.”
And then we were off. As the rain had let up a bit, and the bus seemed to be taking too long, we decided we would walk to Sachsenhausen. It wasn't too far: a 15 minute walk at the most, but as we got closed and closer the rain began to pick up again, along with some wind. At this point, I could feel my feet sloshing in my soggy converse. Those who did not have umbrellas were starting to feel the rain soak through their jackets, and yet we carried on.
It seemed very fitting that the day we toured a concentration camp would be the day the weather was the most miserable. To hear the stories of what happened in these camps is one thing, but to actually be where it happened, to see these camps in person, is another thing entirely. Add the discomfort and unpleasantness we felt from the cold and our soaked clothing and the emotions were well matched to the atmosphere of Sachsenhausen. These rooms are haunted with memories of abuses so horrific that even our guide said she could not bring herself to be an expert on everything for the sake of her own sanity.
One story stood out to me: the story of the Jewish children who were medically experimented on. They were seen as expendable, and therefore were often injected with diseases so that the doctors could later experiment with cures. I wonder how anyone can see another human being, specifically a child, and see something expendable.
By the time we had left the camp, the mood was somber: a mixture of the the nature of our trip and the miserable feeling of having your clothes soaked all the way through. As we all huddled around each other, waiting for the bus to come, the storm became harsher. We had already given up on being dry, the task now was to get out before it got worse: an idea that was shared with everyone at the camp that day. There were at least 60 people huddled at that stop, and when the bus finally arrived, we packed it so full that I truly began to understand the expression “like a can of sardines.”
The good news was that we made it on the bus. We were good to go. As we drove through the street we saw the water rise higher and higher. Cars were almost up to their windows in water, and there was a steady stream of water leaking into the bus through the cracks in the door. Then the bus stopped, the engine shut off, and the lights went out. A panicked murmur spread through the passengers, then people started getting nervous.
“Hey! Open the door! We want to get out!”
“Open the door”
Bang! Someone slammed the emergency exit button and a flood of people streamed out of the bus, right into knee drop flood water.
“Let's go!” We followed Niki’s lead and we slowly ran through the water. As cars slowly passed us, pushing the current higher.
“This way!” There was a building! A school that was open! We ran inside and took shelter. A janitor ushered us into a classroom, none to happy about us tracking in water wherever we stepped, but understanding of the situation we were in. People began to peel off their layers and wrong out their clothing in the sink. We were all soaked, cold, and not too happy about our current situation.
“The trains aren't running”
“Are we staying here tonight?”
“No way I'm gonna find a hotel nearby if we're sleeping here tonight”
“Manuela says the trains are running”
“It's gonna be fine!”
“I say we head for the train station. I'd rather get stuck closer to town then here”
And so, after an hour of waiting and discussion, we headed out. The water had gone down, but the rain and the wind were still going strong. We tracked our way to town, following some local Germans who had also taken to the school for shelter, and then, in the distance, the train station appeared. The trains were running, and before we knew it we would be back in our hostel with warm showers and dry clothing waiting to comfort us after our long day.
Katherine, Ally, and I are sitting together on a bus in comfortable silence as we watch the city melt away into a forest. The farther away from the city we get, and the thicker the trees get the closer we are to our bus stop. We are definitely, as our organizer says, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the forest. We get off at our stop and start our trek through the tall trees on a dirt path that leads to our placement. It's clean around this path, the air is fresh, although filled with a pollen that has given us all some sort of allergies. Katherine experiencing the worst of it. Birds chirp loudly here, no longer having to compete with the noises of the city. It's very green, with a few papers lying around here and there, a few pieces of fence, and a tires (which we would later roll back to camp to give the children something to play with).
After a few minutes of walking, nonchalantly swiping away the bugs, an old event hall signals our arrival. This building is a large rectangular hall, graffiti on three sides, old cracking wood lining the windows. It's an interesting contrast to the neighborhood being built right across the street. Across a cobblestone street a modern neighborhood is being built. The houses are all brand new, pricy, clean, sleek, and of course, due to their location, isolated from the city in what seem to be a “quaint countryside community.” Or at least, that seems to be what they meant the selling point for this community to be. We cut through this neighborhood to get to the housing complex: an old army barrack used in WWII but built way before.
The first time we came, we were watched carefully by the residents as we entered. We were new, they didn't trust us, they were curious: we felt the tension. Now they look on only with curiosity, as after a particularly intense questioning session we had proved harmless. The residential situation in particularly dreary. Since they are living in a historic building they need permission to do anything, meaning that no one can put anything on the walls or decorate their spaces. It also means that the old carpets, which smells like urine and must, cannot be replaced. It's feels slightly prison like, a sentiment some of the residents share as well.
It's been quite so far since we've started going. It was the end of Ramadan, meaning that not many activities were going on as energy levels were low. Still, some of the children who were participating ran around the barrak. “They get bored easily.” We are informed later. One of the children, three years old, took a bike from one of the kids in the neighborhood. It was sitting outside the house unlocked, and the child was looking for something new to play with. This, of course, causes issue with the neighbors. There is a weird tension between these two sides that is visible. There is a separation, they don't intermingle much that I have seen so far. They go to school together, and town festivals together, but never intermingle in if groups. Those living in the new neighborhood are not too happy about these people being here. There are fears they have associated with migrants, prejudices. In order to combat this they try to take part in the community when they can, and in those situations the townsfolk approach with caution, more open to the children than to the adults, starring as the group walks by. In a mostly homogenous community, this group stands out.
I think for me, the reading and resources that will be most helpful will be the news outlets as well as the immigration policy website and articles found through UW libraries about political rhetoric. In order to get a good grasp on the stories of migrants being told by Germany I need to come from all angles meaning political speeches, news articles, scholarly journals, etc.
1. Self-reflection on the lens you view the world through is crucial
The article "Identity and Social Action: The Role of Self-Examination in Systemic Change" the author speaks about the experience of her students in service learning, and how she teaches them t acknowledge the lens they look through due to their upbringing and lifestyle. One must be aware of the way their experience and beliefs colors their perception of the world if they ever want to be able to objectively approach and issue to find the systematic issue. Once we stop blaming individuals we find the system that is the true problem
2. There are three different types of citizens: personally responsible,
participatory, and justice oriented.
The type of citizen you try to foster may effect the the of volunteers and change makers they become. Personally responsible citizens try to be good citizen by having good values and character, and by abiding by the laws. Participatory citizens actively participate and take leadership positions within established systems in order to better society. Justice oriented citizens question and change established systems especially when they feel they perpetuate injustice. All these citizens have their pros and cons. For example, fostering participatory citizens may not help increase voter participation in young children. While raising a justice oriented citizen =does not guarantee their success in participation and changing systems. There are varying views within these different views of citizenship that effect its outcomes.
3. By not discussing the many different, and somewhat uncomfortable
factors of service we run this risk of perpetuating bad service.
There can be an inherent equality in service. Those who are served can be made to feel inferior while those who serve are made to feel good and saintly. People may participate in service to feel as though they are good people while ignoring the potentially harmful effects their service may have or their attitudes about service may have. This goes back to the article we read last week about being conscious of your motives and the situation you find yourself in. You must educate yourself not only on the service you are about to do but on your on motives and the potential outcomes on your actions the motives can have.
I do want to address the topic of this blog post, but first I have to link to the speech we read by Ivan Illich entitled "To Hell With Good Intentions." This article has had a pretty significant impact on me. Having just finished reading it, I don't think i have fully absorbed Illich's words, but they have struck a chord. I think it's exposed not only the mindset of summer do-gooders, but of the US in general. We believe we can change other countries, make them better, when we have so may problems of our own. It's almost comical how we ignore our own problems in favor of trying to fix the problems of a country we don't understand. He speaks a lot of the havoc that these summer do-gooders do, that they cause problem within a community that they cannot understand because they cannot communicate with the ones who truly suffers; that Americans come and "sacrifice" their time and their comfort, and go home with these grand stories of the change they have made. I don't want to be that person, and yet at the same time I can't help but feel that I am. I do not know the language, and have no real way of truly communicating with the residents there. I am offering my services to a cause I cannot completely understand and although I am trying to learn, I cannot possibly know all the intricacies as the residents do. Illicc's speech should make us all uncomfortable. It should make us look at how we plan to engage during our trip. We cannot fix the situation. We cannot help. We can offer our time, but we should expect only to learn, not to change.
This connects to gentrification as it speaks to foreign forces that come in to "help" the neighborhood. Expansion and improvement of housing sounds like a good thing on the surface. This should be what neighborhoods strive for, to become better, but for many who live in these areas this progress comes as an ill omen of disaster to come: rents rising, neighborhood vibes changing, safe spaces disappearing, and the eclectic culture being pushed out. Gentrification seems to be most horrendous in artistic neighborhoods, as not only are rent prices rising, but the people who make the neighborhood the way it is are being pushed out, and that neighborhood beings to lose what makes it great. This stand for both Capital Hill in Seattle and Heinrichplatz in Berlin. This idea of trying to help, to make things better, has been toxic for these artistic neighbors in a similar way as the summer volunteerism has been harmful to Mexican villages. Both are fueled by narratives of development, of moving forward into the future. Volunteers in Mexico are propelled by the idea that they are helping villages catch up to the rest of the world, neighborhood gentrification is propelled by the idea of development as an inevitable push towards betterment that all neighborhoods must accept. I noticed quite a few times in the Seattle article, this language of defeatism, that this is going to happen whether we like it or not, whereas the German article seemed more hopeful that the grassroots movements would accomplish something, and I can't help to wonder why that is.
Regardless, this begs the question of how we can engage Ethically in Germany. As I mentioned before and as Illich said, we must come to learn but not to help, yet we are engaging in partnerships with nonprofits. While we will learn a lot our intention seems to be to provide some service, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The question is how to we engage in this service from a more humble, less colonial and patronizing perspective. Although I'm not really sure where to start when it comes to asking how we can engage in ethical community engagement with displaced people, I do have a few questions about our engagement relating to the article.
Laurette Hanna will be a sophomore at the University of Washington with intended majors in psychology and political science. She is hoping to pursue a career in law with a focus in social justice and civil litigation, with goals to work for the ACLU.