Day 25: Munich

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Part 1: Dornach

On Dec. 22, 101 persons came to Dornach. Apart from 13 Syrians, a very large number of black Africans were among them. We were able to converse partly in English or French. I was at the accommodation from 8 to 11 a.m. to assist during the arrival of the new guests. I had to go again afterwards because I went on a short trip for a couple of days.

On Sunday, Dec. 12, 2015, I was again in Dornach for a few hours. This time I took my two children with me.

Encounter 1

„Peace be with you, brother. How are you?“ said a Syrian with an affected Tunisian accent. „Where have you been? Since the last time we haven’t seen you here.“

„I was away for a few days. I came on that day just to receive you. But after that I had to leave immediately. I hope you are feeling well.“

„Yes, everything is alright. Except for one little thing, about which I would like to talk to you.“

„I am all ears. I hope I can help.“

„Do you know, brother, we have to wash our clothes. We wash them in a sink, because there is no other possibility. To dry them, we hang them on the radiator in an empty room. But one of the security staff people keeps exhorting us and forbids us to hang them there. He is generally very gruff with us. Some suspect that he may be a racist because he is never friendly. But to be honest, I haven’t heard anything racist from him. Another security staff member told me that he’s so gruff with everyone. We bear it, but it clearly spoils the atmosphere. “

„Hm, although I don’t know whom you’re talking about, I don’t think this is related to racism. Some may possibly just be missing sensitivity. I’m asking you to go out of the way of problems and perhaps even to intervene in a de-escalating manner if others get upset. We’ll try to solve the problem somehow.“

„Yes, of course. I try anyway to keep out of his way.“

Encounter 2

I walk along the crooked corridors of the Dornach accommodation with my two children. A young Syrian is watching me and asks me about the age of my children. We talk. He proudly shows me his kids on his cell phone. They are the same age as mine. I ask about their whereabouts:

„Damascus,“ he says, still looking at the picture of his two boys.

„Are you going to have them join you?“

„Yes, I am.“

„Do you hope for family reunification?“

„Yes, I couldn’t put them into a boat. That would be too dangerous.“

„By which way have you come here?“

„I’ve come via Libya. At first, I was in Egypt. I fled because I was to be recruited. I don’t want to fight in this war.“

When I want to say goodbye, he says: „I have one more request, if you please: We are not used to sitting around and doing nothing. I have always worked and I cannot stand doing nothing…“

„I understand you, but you won’t have any choice. It won’t be easy. You will get bored. You will have nothing to do and it will probably take several months. The only thing I can recommend warmly to you: Make the most of the time to learn German.“

As if he had known that I cannot offer him more, he nods and says: „Yes, language is the most important thing. We would be happy if there were German lessons.“

Part 2: Central Bus Station

About at 6:30 a.m. I am on my way home. Since in the evening shortly before midnight I expect someone at the central bus station, I registered for the last shift from 10 p.m. to midnight with the ZOB Angels. Upon my arrival, I admire the new waiting room first of all. Beside the already familiar containers for the distribution of clothes, of food, and for the Ärzte der Welt (Physicians of the World), this time a large double container is available as a waiting room for the refugees. There were mainly Syrian families present. Some encounters arise.

Encounter 3

Shortly after my arrival I go into the waiting room and look after the people present. In the container, some 29 people are sitting, among them women and children. The youngest child is barely one month old. As I enter, I send a greeting to the round. While most of those present reciprocate my greeting without much interest, an elderly man greets me with a particularly friendly smile lifting his right arm in salute at the same time. I go up to him. We quickly come to talk. I ask him if he travels alone.

„No,“ he says: „This is my wife, and our son is out there.“ I kneel down beside the elderly lady sitting on the floor and ask her how she’s doing and where they come from.

„Thank God, we’re fine. We are from Aleppo.“

„When have you arrived in Germany?“

„Last night. They’ve brought us into a camp. We had our fingerprints taken and then we left.“

„What was the name of the camp?“

„Er, Erang, Ering…“ she tries to remember the name.

„Erding? Do you mean Erding?“, I guess.

„Yes, exactly! That was the name of the camp,“ the old man agrees.

„And you could leave just like that?“ I ask.

„Yes, most of those who were sitting with us on the bus simply left. Nobody cares about that there.“

„How long have you been on the road?“

The old couple reflects, discusses and finally agrees that it must have been two weeks ago when they started.

„Have you come across the sea in a rubber boat?“ I continue to ask.

„No, we just came by land to Europe.“

„How is that possible?“

„Via Bulgaria.“

„Haven’t they closed the border there a long time ago?“ I am surprised, because several weeks ago I heard that the border there had been closed and that the Bulgarian border guards were anything but squeamish.

„No, the border was open, but two days after us it was closed again.“

„How is the road for getting out of Syria? I mean, from Aleppo to the Turkish border. „I am interested in this because I know some Syrians who want to have their families join them via escape routes. Fewer and fewer of them want to wait for family reunification.

The old man raises his eyebrows and says apprehensively: „Oh, the road for getting out of Syria, it’s a terrible one. Bad things are happening there. Things about which one doesn’t even dare to talk.“

He seemed not to want to talk about details. Nevertheless, I ask him a cautious question: „Has the road on the way recently been bombed by the Russians?“

„Oh yes, and not just by them. Also by the Iranians and others.“

As we are talking, his son comes into the container. He makes a confused impression and behaves strangely. The old man notices my looks and says to me:

„My son is mentally confused…“

„Our son isn’t crazy,“ interrupts the old woman.

„Well, let’s say he has a mental disease,“ the old man corrects himself.

„Ah, I understand.“

„He was tortured,“ the old man adds.

„By whom?“

„The regime arrested him. At that time, three years ago, when the demos started.“

„Did he demonstrate against the regime?“

„No, not even that. He actually just went to fetch some bread. But then he was stopped by a control and they accused him of having demonstrated against the regime. For a month, they imprisoned him and tortured him with electricity. Since then, he has no longer been the same as before. Since then he has been…“ He hesitates and then says finally: „confused.“

In the eyes of the old man I see profound bitterness. The look behind the thick glasses seems to be moist. I think of my son and cannot bear the idea. At the same time, I admire the strength of the old man.

Then he says: „But he survived.“

Encounter 4

While I am talking with the old couple, a young man joins us. He is also from Aleppo. He asks me if I can show him the platform to his bus.

„When does your bus arrive?“ I ask.

„At 22:30.“

I look at the clock and realize that it is 22:25. Startled, I jump up and say: „Be quick, otherwise you’ll miss your bus. You have to hurry.“

We rush from the waiting room toward the buses. On the way, I ask him to show me his ticket. When he hands it to me, I see that the bus has left already at 22:15.

„Your bus has already left. Why haven’t you looked at the ticket?“ Nevertheless, we continue running, hoping that the bus is late. However, it has already left and the bus platform is empty.

I explain to the young man that his ticket is forfeited and he has to buy a new ticket. Angry about his misfortune, however, relatively composed, he goes to the Flix bus office to buy a new ticket. His destination had been Eisenhüttenstadt, south of Frankfurt/Oder, because there allegedly asylum applications were processed faster. The ticket price had been 48 euros.

„Then I’ll go to Saarbrücken,“ he says suddenly.

„You do realize that Saarbrücken lies in the opposite direction, don’t you?“ I ask him perplexed.

„Yes, but both cities have been suggested to me by various people. I tried it with the first destination and it was not meant to be. So, I’ll go to the other city. I wasn’t really convinced anyhow.“

„Why not?“

„You know, because of the far-rights and stuff.“

He buys the ticket to Saarbrücken and tells me about his crossing to Greece.

„The traffickers loaded us into a rubber boat and let us out in Farmakonisi. To be sure, we knew that Farmakonisi is a military area, but they told us that they would take us further on from there. “

„Is that a Greek island?“

„Yes, a Greek island opposite the Turkish Didim. We were there five days in the cold. In containers. Without food. All they gave us were old expired cookies. 450 people. The army told us that we were not allowed to stay there. But they did nothing to help us. There were children and women in the cold in the containers.“ As he speaks, he still seems to be very upset by the experience.

„Do you mean containers like this one?“ I ask him, pointing at the accommodation container of the ZOB Angels.

„No, this is luxury in comparison. We were like animals there. It was cold, wet and everything was leaking. The people slept on the floor. There were hardly any blankets. And no one cared. We called the Red Cross and other aid organizations, but nothing happened until we uploaded videos of the situation on YouTube.“

„What happened then?“ I ask.

„Then came the British navy and picked us up. They brought us to the Greek mainland.“

Encounter 5

I go back to the accommodation container and check the departure times of the remaining refugees to prevent more of them missing their busses. Later, I accompany a large family consisting of five adults and four children. The only man is about 35 years old and sitting in a wheelchair. Upon our arrival at the bus, I offer to carry him in. Two of the women accompanying him politely decline and carry him to his seat.

When everyone is seated on the bus, the bus driver asks:

„Are these refugees? Are they allowed to travel?“

To me, they had said that they had passports, I did not know further details and did not want to know either in order to avoid lengthy discussions.

„I only ask because there are roadside inspections. To Münchberg, we don’t even go any more.“

„Do you normally rest there?“ I ask the driver.

„Yes, that’s it. And there are always the police. Recently, they have taken 15 of our passengers. Therefore, we rest elsewhere now.“

Addendum

When the last refugee is sitting on the bus and we want to slowly get on our way home, a helper comes and says: „A family has just arrived, they also want to travel on still tonight.“

The family wants to go to Bergisch Gladbach (‚m not quite sure any longer with respect to the city), but there are hardly any busses at this time. A volunteer looks it up on his cell phone and says: „The last bus in this direction has just left – five minutes ago.“

„Are you sure? Let’s have a look. Perhaps the bus is late and they’re lucky,“ I suggest.

As many times before that night, I am rushing through the central bus station. To my surprise, the bus actually is delayed. The driver confirms that there is still room for a couple with four children, and adds: „But they must come at once, we should actually already be on the road. A second helper runs off and gets some cookies, fruit and water for the kids.

When the green bus drives away, it’s just after one o’clock. We still stand in a circle for a while and are glad that this night no refugee has to stay at the central bus station.

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