They came by plane and by train and by foot, a dozen and a half of them, carrying bundles and suitcases and keepsakes, looking tired but relieved to have arrived in Berlin. No, these are not refugees, they are UM Journalism students, 18 of them, here on a study-abroad trip for the next three weeks. The disorientation many of them feel will be helpful as they begin to meet and study the challenges facing thousands upon thousands of refugees who made their way to Germany. The refugees’ goal is to escape war and find peace. The students’ task, a bit simpler, is to produce a series of articles about how the refugees adjust to their new situation.
The students are staying in a neighborhood called Kreuzberg, which has long been a crossroads for immigrants to this country. For decades, it was home to the Turks who came here during a big labor shortage in the 1960’s and 70’s, and helped Germany recover from war and become Europe’s strongest economy. Once Kreuzberg was a ghetto, but it has turned into a multicultural experiment, a mixing bowl where no one stands out as an outsider. As students are learning, many new refugees are finding their way back to this neighborhood. Kreuzberg has resisted the commercialization that has seized much of Berlin since the reunification of Germany in 1990.
Since the refugee crisis spiked last year, things have calmed down quite a bit, and the number of new arrivals has dropped dramatically. But as one pro-refugee activist told students today, refugees face months or years of adjustment as they come to grips with their new lives in Germany, and learn whether or not they can stay and prosper. Our students will begin to chronicle that adjustment, with articles appearing in this space and elsewhere in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
By Larry Abramson