Since two weeks, I have visited a very unusual village in Berlin. It’s made completely out of containers. Its habitants have come to Germany as undocumented migrants. Many of them have risked their lives to make the journey here from Libya, Syria, Kosovo, Albania and other countries to German soil.
Last year, 202 000 people applied for asylum in Germany, according to statistics provided by the German migration office. At the same time, 138 000 got a reply to their application. Many wait for an answer months, if not a whole year.
The containers provide a space for a new start into a new life, both foreign and not wished for, yet necessary for survival. Whole families inhabit these containers. They meet social workers who help them with the paper work. They go to German classes, some of which are taught by volunteers from the village. Children go to school, to afternoon activities, they play football and make friends across cultures. Women meet each other in the kitchen where they cook and bake and chat in whatever language they have in common. Sometimes this is German, the language they are only beginning to grasp the basics on.
Not everyone here has come with family. Five young men, highly educated, left Syria together. Two ended up here, the rest in an industrial German city. Their family members are still in the middle of one of the bloodiest civil wars of our time. Keeping in contact is hard – radio masts have been torn down all over Syria, which makes it hard to get a mobile phone signal. Internet connections are better. The uncertainty and fear can never really be shaken off.
The long, dangerous road has left its marks on the people too.
When they get here, they can breathe a bit more freely. They can feel safe. Although they miss home and they worry about their kin, the metal walls of the containers provide them the space to breathe for a while.
Once they get asylum, the harder part starts.
You need to learn German to apply for a job.
You need a job in order to get an apartment.
You want out of the container village, but that’s easier said than done.
And how many employers feel as much solidarity as to employ that refugee from Syria who doesn’t command the language well?
How to start a life in a strange culture with another language?
How to survive in this country that is not their own?