Actually, the refugees should have left Dornach yesterday. Apparently, a lack of busses was the reason why a portion of those present remained at the shelter. I called to find out what was missing food wise, and made my way to the Arabian food store in my neighborhood of Pasing. There I wanted to buy instant soup and flatbread. Two days earlier, I had spoken to the store owner who promised me a 25% discount. But when I came to the till, he wanted absolutely nothing for the food.
When I arrived at Dornach, I realized the food was much better this time. The Munich soup kitchen had donated plenty of fruit and heated soup. They even promised to bring humus, flatbread, tomatoes and cucumbers for the next day. But the instant soup was well received – especially amongst the children. I stayed from 7pm till midnight. In the evening, I was able to have some talks.
A young man (dressed in summer clothes) asks me if there is anywhere to get warm clothes because he is cold. I lead him through the winding paths of the shelter to the clothes counter. Since he is (like most refugees) very slim, he has trouble finding something suitable, as the majority of donated men’s clothes turn out to be too large. He tells me that he ate very little whilst he was travelling. We strike up a conversation. He explains that he comes from Halab and had studied one semester there before he fled. He would like to stay in Germany and begin a degree course here. I ask him how it is in Halab. He says: “The city is divided into two camps. One belongs to the regime and the other to the rebels. From the outside, IS is working its way in. We lived in the area controlled by the rebels, up until the regime’s barrel bombs destroyed everything. Everything was razed to the ground. It’s a ghost town. Then we moved to the other half controlled by the regime. There was a cellar where we could hide. The destruction was slightly less bad … “. At that moment, another young man walks past us. He stops to look at us and turns around.
“What did you just say? Where is there less destruction?” he asks.
“I said that it was slightly more bearable in Halab, in the part controlled by the regime. There was less destroyed by the rebels.”
“Ha ha! Man, that’s rubbish, the destruction is everywhere.”
They chat for a while about street names, where more or less destruction prevailed, where snipers were placed and how they got to work. The second one asks if I’m Syrian.
“No, I am Tunisian, German-Tunisian.”
“Ah, greetings to you. You know, there is only destruction, it’s everywhere. We have had no electricity and no water. For two years now. Can you imagine that? A city without electricity or water?”
“But you have to drink something?”
“Yes. We dug until we reached the ground water. We threw a chlorine tablet in the water. That was what we drank. There were constant explosions. The house across the road from us was destroyed. Every one of us has lost several friends and relatives. I hardly went out. Once a gas cylinder bomb landed near me and a splinter drove in few centimeters next to me.”
“You mean a barrel bomb? Those things which are dropped from helicopters?”
“No, those are used by the regime. Gas cylinder bombs were developed by the rebels. They are still developing their weapons. They are filled with explosive material and then fired by a sort of cannon.”
“What is your take on this war finding an end?”
“You know, I belong to those people who think this war will never end.”
“That bad? Why do you think that?”
“It is an absolute chaos, there is the regime, the rebels, the IS, the Hezbollah.”
“Even the Hezbollah?”
“Yes. Even the Hezbollah consists of thousands of different groups. Everyone fighting against everybody. You know, I believe that this war will continue until doomsday.”
I am in the dining area and see a man about 40 years old filming the food. I go to him and ask why he is filming.
“I have asked for permission.”
“No, it’s not about that. I am wondering why you’re filming. What moves you to do it?”
“Oh, I’m full of admiration.”
“Yes. For these people; for the generosity of the food they provide us.”
I turn around and look at the food. There is soup, lots of fruit, bread, cheese, instant noodles, tea, drinks, doughnuts, bread and more.
“You know, we have arrived here last night and there were not that many helpers here. So I also helped. I have seen how committed the volunteers are and everything they do. And all this is voluntary.”
He tells me that he is an artist and creates sculptures using stone and bronze. That is just his hobby. He owned two factories in Syria. In total he had 30 machines that he built himself. He manufactured plastic bottles and plastic tubes. Then war broke out. He went with his money to Lebanon thinking the war would not last long. But he ran out of money and the war got worse. He returned to Syria, and tried to survive. He was invited by the regime to a national initiative for peace. However, it turned out that it was all a big lie. A propaganda show of the regime. He was arrested six times by the regime. The last time he paid $20,000 to be freed again. Then the insurgents arrested him once because he refused to fight against the regime. He is against everything that uses weapons.
“You know, I even founded an initiative called ‘Together for cease-fire’. We could even enforce this in some areas, but it just got worse. So we fled.”
He tells me more about his journey and then says: “You know, I don’t want to live out of other people’s pockets. I don’t want money from the state; these funds belong to the Germans. They have more right to it. I want to work and if I am not allowed to work, then I want to help prepare my compatriots to live in this country.”
A man from Idlib in Syria tells me that he lived and worked in Lebanon for 15 years. When war broke out and the Lebanese Hezbollah entered the Syrian war, life for Syrians in Lebanon became difficult. After several threats he was only left the one choice which was to leave. He returned to Syria and lost his passport. When he applied for a new passport, he was imprisoned and tortured for a month.
“Why did they torture you? You only wanted a new passport.”
“They thought I had sold my passport.”
He was travelling with his wife and child.
I am watching a young man as he prepares two cups of tea. Into each cup he puts in three heaped spoonfuls of sugar. I am amazed. That was three tablespoons. I think to myself: “When life is bitter, then add more sugar”. What a thought!
I am called to the medics to translate. A young Kurd is sitting on the couch with an injured knee. He only speaks Kurdish. His friend beside him speaks Kurdish and Arabic. So the friend translates from Kurdish to Arabic then I translate for the medic. I ask:
“How did this happen?”
“From the long journey. In the forest and on stony ground.”
“Were you travelling for long?”
“Yes, for 7 days.”
“All in one go?”
“No, we walked for 3 hours, and rested a quarter of an hour. Then another 3 hours, and that for 7 days. We only had food for 4 days, after that we didn’t have anything to eat.”
“Where was that?”
“Between Turkey and Bulgaria. In Bulgaria we were imprisoned for 14 days.”
“14 days? In a camp or a prison?”
“In a prison. There they took our money and mobile phones off us.”
“Who took them off you?”
“The police. There were seven of us. Each with his own mobile phone. They took everything – except for one mobile phone. We had broken the screen to make them think it was worthless.”
“And the money? How much was that?”
“They took €1,500 off me. Between the seven of us, we had a total of €9,000. Had I known how exhausting this would be, I’d never have left.”
“But now you’re in Germany. Here, laws are respected.”
“Yes, and here people are respectable. You know, I love Germany, I have been fan for a long time. Since the World Cup. I love Oliver Kahn. Do you know him? The goalkeeper.”
I laugh and he grins.
I take 5 young men to their sleeping area. On the way, one asks me:
“Do you speak Turkish?”
“No, I only speak Arabic, French, English and German.”
“I speak Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish and English.”
“Oh, so you’re a Kurd.”
“Yes, from Iraq. Do you know Peshmerga? (He smiles broadly) Where are you from?”
“I am German-Tunisian.”
„Ah, Tunisian, Issam Chawali [a well-known Tunisian football commentator] … we love him. If a football match is on, we always watch the station he is commentating on.”
I have to laugh
I go back to the dining area and see a helper talking with the man who previously filmed the food. I go to them and listen in.
“It took them 36 hours to reach Tadmur (Palmyra). Where were the Americans, the British and all the others with their satellites? They could see all the vehicles and they were all forewarned. Why did they let this happen?”
“Why did they let what happen?”
“Why did they allow the destruction of Tadmur? When IS made their way from Deir Ezzor, their goal was known and they needed as much as 36 hours. The army of the regime occupied the place. The rebels contacted the regime. They offered to protect it. But the regime would not budge. Shortly before the IS arrived, the army withdrew and left the place to IS. When the IS destroyed the temples, they also destroyed the heart of all Syrians at the same time.”
The beginning of brutalization
On the way home, crowds of drunken Oktoberfest revelers passed me by. My mind went through the stories of the people. I remembered someone telling me during the evening that half of his fellow travelers died. Drowned at sea. But I could no longer place it. I had not listed this fact. I could not remember who had told me this. I asked myself how it’s possible to forget something like that. Is this the beginning of brutalization?
Supplement to situation 2 and 7
On 21 November 2015, I spoke to the father again. He told me that his family and he now have a residence permit and share a flat with five other families. He is especially happy about the fact that his children go to school. And he is learning German from a book.
Translated by Laurie Häusler