It’s hard to imagine what’s going on in Germany today. But try this: imagine you live in a country that has the opportunity to accomplish two earth-shattering, history-making achievements in the space of one generation. First, you are able to reunite a country divided completely by the Cold War, and you manage to do this while actually improving your status as the most powerful economy in a united Europe. Second, you have the chance to change your reputation as a creator of refugees (during World War II) to one known for its “Willkommenskultur,” and you attract about a million refugees from all over the planet. And rather than taking on this challenge with a sense of resignation or obligation, you do this with a sense of joy and optimism. It is that sense of hope that is greeting the 18 students from UM’s Journalism School, as they get to know Berlin and seek to understand the refugee crisis.
In the press, many of the stories about the refugee crisis focus on potential problems. And like good journalists, these are the kinds of issues our students are asking about: what if the growing number of Muslim families insist on expressing their culture by demanding accommodations in school? What happens if all these refugees stay, and if more arrive? What if the right wing resistance to immigration grows more powerful? These are the important issues students are probing as they visit refugee camps, immigrant neighborhoods, NGO’s and other groups who have been affected by the new arrivals.
Many immigrants of course are still unsure about whether this can be a permanent home, or whether they will want to stay. But we have already met dozens of Germans who seem convinced that immigration is their chance to do something good, perhaps even great. Young people in particular are seizing this chance to help immigrants and figure out solutions with a sense of creativity and fun that is hard to describe. But we will try to do that in a series of articles, videos, radio pieces and social media posts in the coming weeks.
By Larry Abramson