Warning: This blog post isn’t so much about the adventures I have been up to, rather something that struck a few friends and myself during our stay in Munich (which by the way is an amazing place that everybody should visit)
It is common knowledge that thanks to the current Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, Germany has recently been in the spotlight for adopting an “open door” attitude towards refugees. Merkel has been instrumental in Germany’s acceptance and willingness to integrate refugees into society, coining the term “wir schaffen das”/”we can do this”. In the last year Germany has accepted over one million refugees and although some Germans struggle to adapt to a new setting, many have approached the situation optimistically.
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit Munich with a couple of friends, Ellie and Elliot (yeah I was the odd one out with the whole name thing). We had opted to book an Airbnb, and upon arrival were greeted by our host, Reas. Reas was overwhelmingly accommodating and we immediately noticed how much he enjoyed speaking to us in English as he was in the course of taking a German course which was proving difficult. After exploring Munich on our first night, we headed home at roughly 10pm (being the absolute party animals that we are) and we were HUNGRY. We made our way into the kitchen to make some toast, soon to be joined by Reas who immediately posed the question;
“So what are we cooking tonight?”
Confused and unable to escape the typical “British politeness”, we immediately said we were ok with our toast. But Reas had other plans and insisted on making the largest bowl of spaghetti I have ever seen, asking me to DJ on his crazy sound system and of course getting a group photo.
We then learnt about Reas’ story. He had lived in Munich for just over a year after seeking refuge from Damascus, Syria. In Damascus he was a car salesman, but this was no longer possible after his showroom had been destroyed by noms, or “gifts from the sky” as he called them. Reas then spoke of the family members he missed, and that he now teaches children to swim. He told us that the first time a parent of one of his swimmers stopped the car next to him to offer a lift, his first reaction was to duck, expecting it to be a drive-by shooting. Germany’s willingness to open a door to him allowed him to open his door to us and I am so glad he did. There may have been some strange moments and the ten minutes of selfie taking was a bit odd, but it was honestly one of the most wonderful nights I’ve spent in Germany.
As I stated in the opening of this blog post, some Germans are not exactly on board with Merkel’s policies, as we learnt the following day in Munich. As we strolled towards St Michael’s church we were coldly confronted by a Pegida demonstration. What is Pegida? I must admit I knew next to nothing at the time but in short Pegida is basically a German replica of the EDL. It stands for “patriotic Europeans against Islamisation of the West” (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes). This is highly ironic as the demonstration we witnessed seem to promote this exact behaviour. As we watched the group advocating its extreme right-wing views it really felt like time was going backwards. With the presence of ISIS I understand the threat of terrorism feared by so many, I do not however believe that the solution is to stand on the streets of Munich hatefully protesting against a religion that so many find important and practice in an non-hateful manner. This is not a solution.
As you can probably tell, I experienced two very contrasting, yet telling sides regarding Germany’s stance on refugees. One side opened its door to strangers, the other slammed it shut.