Day 17: Central Bus Station


Monday, November 9, 2015

I drove past the Central Bus Station (CBS) around 9 p.m. and spontaneously decided to have a look at the new containers of the CBS Angels. But it came as it was to come: I stayed until 1 clock in the morning. At the CBS, a lot has happened. There are three large containers with windows under the Hackerbrücke (bridge) allowing for better care and supply services to the refugees. One container is for use by „Ärzte der Welt“ (Doctors of the World) and includes a small waiting area and a treatment room with an examination table. When I arrived, a few refugees were being treated there. The second container also consists of two rooms. In the first of them, there is the food counter and in the second container, child safety seats are piled almost up to the ceiling. I was surprised at the large number of child seats, because until recently they had still been in short supply at the CBS. However, when a report on the CBS Angels appeared in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (newspaper) pointing out this deficiency, a lot of people dropped off seats.

The third container houses the used clothes distribution and was crammed with clothing, shoes, sleeping bags and camping mats. That evening, many helpers were present including several persons who could speak Arabic. A camera team from the German ZDF TV also was on site shooting footage and conducting a few interviews. That evening a few encounters came about.

Encounter 1

A Syrian woman is looking for a bag. She was not desperate, but it seemed to distress her. Other helpers and I helped her in the search, unfortunately in vain.

„Probably the bag was stolen,“ I say.

„I do not believe that. I only briefly put it on the floor beside me to try on a jacket. All around me there were only our people.“

„Where do you think has it gone? We have searched everything. It happens easily that something is stolen.“

„There was nothing in the bag that could be of value to any third party. Only papers.“

„What papers?“ I ask.

„All sorts of documents,“ she says, adding: „Our marriage certificate, for example.“

„No money?“

„No, no money, no valuables.“

Half an hour later an assistant comes up all excited – waving an ID card – and says: „I’ve found some papers. Where is the woman who lost her bag? These are certainly hers!“

In fact they were her papers, and her joy was enormous. Even her husband was quite visibly relieved. Later, the assistant who had found the papers told me that she had returned to the garbage container with the Syrian woman and that the woman had found more things belonging to her. She particularly rejoiced about two items: a teddy bear that someone had given her as a keepsake for her trip and a pregnancy test, which she had brought from Syria because she was pregnant with her first child.

Encounter 2

A relatively tall and sturdy young man from Aleppo asks for shoes in size 11 ½ (EU 46). To my surprise, I find unused and beautiful sports shoes in size 12 ½ (EU 47). When I hand them to the young man he seems to be even more surprised. He tries them on and says in disbelief: „They fit!“

„Thank God!“ I say. „It is probably difficult for you to find shoes.“

He twists his mouth askew and says: „God knows, very difficult. Do you think there’s a pair of pants in my size, too?“

We provide him with a pair of pants, a waterproof jacket and, fortunate for him, we find even a completely unused and very fashionable long-sleeved top.

Another Syrian, for whom I had previously searched in vain for shoes, asks me: „Why don’t you have anything for me?“

„You need shoes in size 9 (EU 42). Almost all the Syrians need this size and not so many shoes of that size are donated. Most Germans happen to be somewhat bigger.

I see how the burly young man keeps looking at his new shoes and say: „Today is your lucky day.“

He replies: „In no country so far were there any things that fit me. This is the first time that I get something in my size. Thank you! Thank you!“

Later on, I see him again with his mother. She is very portly and, like most women from Syria, is wearing a headscarf. Their bus is due at 0:45 a.m. While we are waiting for the bus, we talk a bit.

„Where are you headed?“ I ask the mother.

„To Denmark!“

„Why Denmark? Do you have family there?“

The woman says: „Yes, my husband is there. We are going to my husband. He has been there for over a year and already has his residence permit.“

Surprised, I ask: „But why did you go to all the trouble of making this journey? Why did he not apply for family reunification?“

She smiles and says: „He has two wives. I am the first. My son is older. He can accompany me. The second wife has young children: 10 and 11 years old. How should she travel with them?“

„And where is the second wife?“

„She’s still in Syria. The procedures are all very time-consuming.“

„So the illegal ways are much faster,“ I remark. „You also came with a boat?“

„Yes, we did,“ she answers briefly, but with a smile.

I look at her son and ask: „Can you swim?“

He looks at me as if I had said something stupid and says: „I steered the boat.“

It is already the second time that I’m talking to someone who had steered the rubber boat across the sea. Knowing what it means I ask: „Thus you paid nothing for your crossing?“

„No, I didn’t.“

„Did your mother have to pay?“

„Yes, I had to pay for her. But that’s not the reason. I would never have put my mother in a boat that I do not steer myself. I’d trust nobody for that.“

„I can understand that.“

„I even bought her three lifejackets,“ he says and laughs heartily. „And a life belt!“

I laugh, too, but I can understand him. „I probably would have bought my mother ten lifejackets,“ I say seriously.

„Yes, better safe than sorry.“

Encounter 3

At the used clothes distribution, a German homeless man comes in and asks for a blanket. He smells of alcohol. An assistant asks: „What do we do? Shall we give him one, too? He is not a refugee, but it’s cold.“ Without further hesitation, we decide to give him a blanket.
The man accepts it gratefully and hobbles away.

Encounter 4

A group of five Syrians from Aleppo tell me that relatives of them sent money via Western Union. Due to a typo in the name of the receiver, the money could not be paid out to them. Now they were sitting at the CBS, waiting for the next morning.

„You come from the border?“ I ask them.

„No, we have already stayed here in a camp. Somewhere outside Munich. In the middle of nowhere. The armed forces are there and an airfield.“

I suppose this to be the airbase in Erding and ask: „You could leave just like that?“

„Yes, we could. They almost showed us the way and held the door open for us.“

The group consists of an elderly couple with their son, about 20 years old. The mother was sitting in a wheelchair. The man walked on crutches. The three of them were accompanied by two other young men. They came from Aleppo and were on their way to Denmark, except for one who wanted to go to Sweden. The latter said: „Actually, my plan was to go to Sweden. But now I prefer Germany.“ I ask him what has changed his mind.

„Many of my friends have gone to Sweden and are disappointed by the conditions there.“

„What do you like about Germany?“ I ask him.

„Germany is simply pleasant. People are relaxed and unagitated. I will first go to Sweden and spend a few days there. If I really do not like it there, I’ll come back to Germany.“ He grins and adds: „A few days of tourism. That’s certainly good for me.“

While he is talking, I am watching the old woman sitting in her wheelchair and eating a sandwich. Or rather: Eating the cucumber and cheese from out of the sandwich. Her son tells me that she barely has any teeth left and therefore cannot eat the bread.

„Oh Hajjah (respectful address for older women), how are you? It was an exhausting journey, I suppose.“

„Oh yes, very exhausting. We are weary.“

„I wonder how you made it here with your wheelchair.“

She lifts a finger to the sky and says: „Oh, Allah has paved the way for us. Praise be to Allah.“

Her son tells me that she is a paraplegic. I ask if it is an injury.

„No, it is the anger and the sorrow,“ says the old woman. „So much destruction and death. My sister’s house was destroyed by the regime by a barrel bomb. Three floors collapsed onto each other. She just narrowly escaped death with her three children. One day I woke up paralyzed. It is the grief.“

Encounter 5

A full-bearded Syrian comes to the clothes distribution. He is redheaded and massive. He looks like a Viking and has a rough voice. His hands are tattooed, and more tattoos run around his neck. He asks for a jacket. Unfortunately, I find no suitable jacket for him. He still seems to be in a good mood. Over his sweater he is wearing a t-shirt with a German flag and it says „Germany“. In addition, he is wearing a scarf in the colors of Germany. He looks more like a football fan and not like a refugee. He says: „I love Germany. I’ve always been a big fan of Germany.“

Encounter 6

Before we go, I walk one last time through the CBS together with another helper to see whether more refugees have arrived. At the end of our round, we notice a German couple with a child of about five years. They are discussing with a bus driver. It turns out that they have no seat for the child and therefore are not allowed to get on the bus. We immediately decide to fetch a child safety seat. After all, a child is a child, no matter where it comes from. While the other helper is fetching the seat from the container, I ask the couple where they come from.

„We’re going to Berlin and from there back to Cottbus,“ says the woman.

When the helper comes back with the seat, they thank us just briefly. Thereupon he says: „Take it, but perhaps donate something for a few refugees. Because actually these are donations for refugees.“

They give us an angry look and get on the bus.

Encounter 7

I accompany a family (consisting of eight adults and four children) to a bus. They come from Deir-Ezzor. They have been invaded by Daech (ISIL). One of the men asks me where I come from.

„I’m Tunisian.“

„Tunisian! You’re to blame for everything!“ he says jokingly.

„Why are we to blame?“ I ask.

„Because the one has set himself on fire over there. Then it proliferated until it came to us.“

„You mean Mohamed Bouazizi!“

„Yes, exactly. With you, it went fast. Your regime was weak. I wonder why you did not revolt earlier on. Our one (he meant Bashar al-Assad) is ruling with an iron hand.“

„We also thought all those years that Ben Ali (escaped dictator of Tunisia) had everything under control. It is the fear that gags a nation. But we have probably taken him by surprise.“

„We knew that Bashar is merciless. We had already tried it.“

„Do you mean Hamah, where 20,000 were massacred?“ I ask.

„No, that was his father. No, not Hamah. Later, when he was already president.“ He mentions the name of a city that I do not know and where protesters were massacred even before the war.

Before they get on the bus, they ask me whether there is Wi-Fi there. When I ask the driver, he answers: „What do they need Wi-Fi for? They ought to sleep.“


When I leave, seven Afghans and five Syrians are sleeping at the CBS waiting for the next day. Among the Syrians, there was also the woman on her wheelchair and her elderly husband with the crutches.

Translated by Manuela Hoffmann-Maleki

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