Now this is something else than what I originally intended with my little “series” about Bremen. But I never had such a good reason to love this city before because it is literally overflowing with helpfulness for the refugees who come here.
“I love Bremen” – Part Two: How Bremen welcomes refugees
Since a few weeks – I think it may be about one month – there is hardly any other topic on the news than the arrival of refugees in Germany. Suddenly they were not in Greece or Italy anymore – they were here, on our doorsteps. They are also in my hometown Bremen.
Very early the Bremer (people of Bremen) showed an immense urge to help. Camps with huge white tents were raised at several spots in the city and hundreds came there with commodity contributions – clothes, toys for the kids, toiletries… Some people arbitrarily posted on Facebook what they thought would be needed in some camp – and people came en masse. To call things as they are: It caused a huge chaos. Even national German media reported about it. Many people had to take their stuff back home because the supply actually topped the need. But Bremer are pragmatic people. A few of them just rolled their sleeves up and created a page on Facebook named “Flüchtlingshilfe Bremen” (Help for Refugees Bremen) to coordinate the helpfulness. Every day they drove to the several camps and asked what was needed and published lists on their page. Within a few days they had more than 10.000 Likes. It was just a bunch of normal people trying to help – but their initiative became one of the most important in Bremen.
Noticing their activities only three days after the Facebook page went online, I decided that I wanted to do something myself. Having nothing to donate, I just drove to the camp at the University of Bremen and walked in, expecting nothing and everything, feeling a little awkward, with stares of strangers following me. At that point half of the camp was still empty. Now, some weeks later, it is crammed full with people, most of them from Syria, and I am part of something big. It started with me and a handful of students. We furnished a classroom and called for volunteers to organize German language courses. Today, classes take place every day of the week, and we are already facing the problem of having students who learn too fast and demand extra-lessons. Again it is Facebook we use as a communication platform, and our group for voluntary teachers already contains more than 160 people. At the moment we plan to expand our activities to other camps. My Facebook account goes wild. Everyday I receive new requests of people who want to join the group. It’s amazing!
Helping the refugees – just another hype?
Of course not all the people who follow the page “Flüchtlingshilfe Bremen” or joined our group for German lessons on Facebook actually do something. I am pretty sure many of them just lurk around and feel better because they pressed the “Like” button. This is why I normally am very sceptical about internet solidarity. The case of helping refugees definitely bears some features of a hype. It is spread via social media channels and causes extreme opinions – extreme helpfulness or extreme rejection or even hatred. And I don’t like extremes on either side. But as for Bremen I have to say: I am really impressed. Maybe it’s because we are quite a left-wing city by tradition, but the majority of the stories I hear a positive ones. Stories of real solidarity and hope.
Some are unbelievable and maybe even a little crazy, like the people who waited last night at the Central Station of Bremen with balloons, chocolate and water to welcome a special wave of refugees – the poor people who were stuck in Hungary for days and then started to walk towards Austria. Rumours about the arrival of the “Train of Hope” spread via Twitter – but the train never came. It’s almost tragically comic how desperately we want to show that we are good, helpful, open-minded and tolerant. Maybe this is too much. Maybe we should keep in mind that it’s rationally impossible for Germany to host all the masses of refugees who come to Europe. This is what my head says, but in my heart I can’t help but like this demonstration of helpfulness.
There is hope.
At least the refugees I talked to are happy and grateful because they sense good will behind every action, even if it causes a little chaos. The gestures count, I guess. Last week we showed some refugees the city center of Bremen. After that some men wanted to drink a beer at the Schlachte. So we bought some at the kiosk, where it is much cheaper than in the beer gardens, and sat down at the river side. One of the men told me his story. He showed me pictures of his wife and son on his phone, the family he wants to come over in a few weeks. He said he loved Bremen and never wanted to leave again. He was almost euphoric. He asked me: “When can I see you again?” It made me proud and very sad at the same time. I can’t be there for him. I have a full-time job and my own life. I do what I do, knowing that it will never be enough. But at least I can rely on the fact that there are others who do the same like me and more, and maybe together we can manage not to disappoint the hopes of these people.