Berlin, the capital Germany, is the epitome of kaleidoscope, comprised of diverse colorful mix of cultures. Various cultures that have been integrated well into a single system makes Berlin the capital of multiculturalism in Europe. People respect and tolerate each other, no social gap appeared in the society. Berlin is currently hosting around 2.000 Syrian, making Berlin a more colorful blend of cultures. Hence, Berlin was chosen as the study visit subject for our project which is called “Development of Capacities for Work with (I)migrants”.
Our journey in Germany started on 6th of October 2016. We started and spent our whole week in Germany mostly in Berlin. We were welcomed by the representation of the Lithauischer Jugendbund, the hosting organization of this project in Germany, named Sofja or just Sophie. She was acting as our host-guide during most of our trip. We were in awe the first time we arrived in Germany. The weather, the streets, the trees, the atmosphere, everything were new to us. The first time we stepped into the land of the Germans, the freezing breeze hit us hard right away as we went outside of the Airport. We took public transportation to get to the accommodation at Landsberger Allee, an area in the east of Berlin.
We went to eat lunch at this vegan restaurant called Veganz. It was our first ever experience to eat vegan wrap and raw vegan cheesecake. We never expected that vegan food would taste that good yet giving your body tons of benefits. In the evening we were going to search for dinner. We were guided by Aiste, our energetic and interactive host-guide from Lithauischer Jugendbund. We had our dinner at another vegan restaurant called Voner, which is selling vegan doners. After dinner, we went to Alexander Platz to see the Oktoberfest, which turned out to be nothing like the festival we expected. There were only stands mostly selling nuts, beers, and sausages, I guess this is a different cultural learning for us too.
The next day, we went to Kreuzberg to start on a walking tour seeing through the areas of east Berlin and west Berlin. We learned how a church used to be in the west was occupied by the soviets and turned into east. We went to this place called Oranien Platz, where there were Syrian refugees sheltered with poor conditions and how the government coped with that. We also learned about the problems encountered by other minority such as LGBT. We also visited a chocolatier called Sarotti, with its infamous logo “Die drei mohrens” or the three moors with three tray-carrying black people emblem. We were shown how racism is a relative term, how calling people black used to be normal for people in the Europe and how it has changed in time.
After the tour around Berlin, we went to a roundtable lunch with a refugee expert named Manu Assner. He is the president of Grenzganger Forschung & training, an organization based in Berlin which do research and offers training & seminars regarding the immigrants topics. We learned how bridging the immigrants to the locals is important.
In the evening, we had a a team building & workshop working about the push and pull factors of the Immigrants. We were using the scrabble game method in this team building. We were given a word and we should expand the word into ideas that came up when we correlate it with the immigrants. After Bosko’s presentation, we went to Litauischer Kino in Urban Spree.
Litauischer Kino is a mini theatre showing movies directed by talented Lithuanian directors. We learned about Lithuanians culture through the movie and music organised by the Lithuanians living in Berlin.
On the 8th October 2016, our third day in Berlin, took train to get to the Brandenburg Gate. The gate itself has been made since the Prussian Kingdom era. We then visited the holocaust memorials which was dedicated to the Jews in Europe who have been murdered by the Nazi. The memorial was stunning and the philosophy behind the memorial itself is intriguing. There were 2,711 concrete slabs, or what they call “Stelae”.
None of these concrete slabs has the same height as each other. Most of the tall concrete slabs are put in the middle and some on the edges. These concrete slabs were arranged to give an expression how the Jews were given false hope by the Nazi during the Olympics in Germany back then, and after the Olympics ended the Jews were oppressed. In the middle of the memorial, there was no sound of traffic and atmosphere was a bit intense and emotional. The visit really touched our heart. It made us realize even more how inhuman it was for the Nazis to slaughter six million Jewish people.
Afterwards, we visited the memorial to the homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis. The memorial was a huge concrete cuboid. There is a window on the front of the cuboid, through which we could see a picture of two men kissing. 50,000 gay people were sentenced by the Nazi and around 15,000 of them perished in the concentration camp. The next visit was the Soviet War Memorial. It is erected right in the middle of a strategic boulevard that Hitler had planned to build. This memorial was built to commemorate five thousand soviet soldiers who fell during the Battle of Berlin. We also went to the memorial of Sinti and Roma, or the gypsies. It was designed by an Israeli artist named Dani Karavan. The memorial consists of circular pool with a triangular “stelae” in the middle of it. The triangular stelae is a reference to the badges that worn by prisoners in Nazi’s concentration camp. There were around 500,000 gypsies murdered by the Nazis. The last memorial that we visited was the memorial dedicated to 300,000 disabled who were victims of the Nazis. We then walked to get to Tiergartenstrasse to see this memorial, which is a long blue-glass which erected in front of the Berlin Philharmonie building. Nazis used people with either physical and mental disabilities also chronic illnesses for the sake of medical development. It was built on top of the land where Nazi “euthanasia” program was once conducted.
In the evening we had the Intercultural Evening. Each country partners which participated in this program prepared a corner of the country that they represented. We, as the representative of Indonesia opened a stand which we decorated in a way to bring the atmosphere of Indonesia. Reza, Leni & Aini were wearing called-so winter Batik costume and Atthur was wearing traditional Bali clothing complete with its traditional hat (called udeng). We also erected our Indonesian flag, like any other country does too. Our stand offered traditional snacks like banana chips, cassava chips and the traditional herbal drink from indonesia. There were also Macedonia’s and Bulgaria’s stands. The Macedonians had this strong liquor named Rakia, which burned our belly and the Bulgarian had this unique delicacy which is basically a jerky made of reindeer meat. During the Intercultural Evening we also had to show a presentation about our country. It was such a good evening, everybody had a good time. We ended the night by taking pictures together.
The next day, 9th October 2016, was a beautiful sunday morning and we visited to this open ‘flea’ market in Berlin, where the Berliners buy and sell mostly their local products. There was so much variety of the products, from new products to second hand product, from clothes to food or even antiques goods is available on this market.
We continued our day with a guided walking tour in Neukolln district with the perspective of some Syrian refugees who were the guide. They took us to several places that were important for them as a newcomers, the walk is so interesting and always full of information and discussion, started with a questions on what Migrants would be in our mind when we hear this word, to the story on how they reach Berlin, Germany crossing several borders and countries in Balkans route, which are part of our country partners territory. This walk was about 3 hours, and we had an intense discussion with other participant which is a local Berliner, also some people from United States of America, Lebanon, Malaysia. The walk also become a medium used by this newcomers as a way to introduce their culture to the people in Berlin.
The next day on 10 October 2016, we visited several historical and important places in Berlin such as East Side Gallery, Bellevue Palace. East Side Gallery is actually a former Berlin walls in the eastern part of Berlin, that are still preserved to reminds the Berliners on their history, nowadays after the destruction of this wall, some of the walls are painted, dedicated as a creative space for the local artists, and there also could be found written strong aspiration from the citizen and resident of Berlin, after walks around this area we also visited Englisch Garten, Tiergarten to see how the society in Germany is trying to balance the urban life with the open space like this for their residents.
On the last day of program, 11 Oct 2016, we had two official visits to Bundestag and to the Red Cross. Bundestag is one of historical buildings which used to be located in the east side of the Berlin Wall. Since 1999, it is function as a meeting place of the German Parliament. To enter this building, we had to pass the security building where our bags had to pass the scan machine. Then, we were led to the main building. We were amazed by the huge old looking building from outside, because this building was actually built the first time on 1884. However, after a lot of damages from the WWII and also the fire during the Nazi’s time, Germany started to renovate the whole building on 1990 with a help from an architect from England, Norman Foster.
We got the opportunity to listen to this story from our guide inside the meeting room. We were sitting with other groups inside the meeting room, admiring the internal designs and decorations while listening to the story about how the chairs function for the parliament members etc.
After we listened to the general story about bundestag, we went to the glass dome area where we can oversee Berlin from there.
The next visit was to the Red Cross. It is actually a Hotel that was rented to be a shelter home for the refugees. This shelter home is managed by Red Cross where the funding is from Berlin government since December 2015. We met the coordinator of the Shelter and got some explanation about how the Shelter works to help the refugees. The hotel was planned to be an emergency shelter which according to the government policies, can only accommodate each family for 6 months. However, it has been 9 months now so it’s pretty much starting to be a more permanent residential for the asylum seekers/refugees.
There are 400 families living in the building who are seeking for Asylum in Germany. There are about 300 families who has got positive answer from government and the rest are still waiting. Most of the asylum seekers/refugees are from Iran, Iraq and Syria. Most of them were entering Europe from some European border countries such as: Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Italy or even Spain. All the residents in this shelter get some facilities such as: rooms, bathrooms, clothes, food and pocket money. The building also has canteen catered all the residents to eat 3 times a day and a class for little children to learn and to play.
The bigger children who got positive answer are going to schools in the area, while the adults are obligated to learn German Language. The purpose is that they can integrate with the local people when they start to live and working in Berlin. From this visit, we were amazed by how great Germany’s system to manage and help asylum seeker/refugees who really need a safe place to live.
After all, we really do learned a lot from this study visit. We learned a great deal about Germany, their government, the culture, the history, the policies, the minority and the people who came from different backgrounds and different countries.