Berlin

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The first time I visited Berlin I didn’t like it as much as expected. But I left determined to give the city another chance at some point.

Thanks to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund I was able to go back for four weeks, in order to attend a law course on ‘Refugee Protection and Forced Migration’. I chose this course because my volunteering work at a first aid centre for refugees last summer increased my interest in the theoretical and legal aspects of forced migration, and because I’m considering an academic and professional career in the area of humanitarian work.

This time, I experienced Berlin as a successfully multicultural city, which despite many defeats and hardships over the last decades, re-established itself as an educational, economic and cultural centre with a worldwide reputation. It’s impossible to walk around Berlin and not to learn – about history, art, architecture, politics, literature – and about forced migration.

As someone with no background in law studies, it’s needless to say that I know a lot more about the legal definition of a forced migrant and the concept of asylum now than I did before.

However, in this blogpost my aim is to share how studying in Berlin made the topic of forced migration more tangible.

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In August, the Berlin Cathedral was hosting a touching exhibition of paintings by refugee kids in a room off the Belle Époque scenery. The example above presents a truth that should be obvious: that refugees are people like us, with the same hopes and fears, and one main wish – Frieden (peace).

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This installation I saw every day walking to class. It’s part of an exhibition of contemporary Polish artists. Nowe Zycie means new life, and I could not help but think of the sixty million people around the world who leave everything behind driven by the wish for exactly that – a new and better life for themselves and their loved ones.

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The Kindertransport memorial commemorates recent forced migration in Europe. Friedrichstraße station was one of the main assembly points for Jewish children whose lives were saved because neighbouring countries granted them asylum.

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These are memorials for GDR refugees who died or were killed during their flight attempts. While most refugees nowadays are flee to Europe, it’s crucial to remember that we all are potential refugees; everyone could find themselves outside their country, because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on their nationality, race, religion, social group or political opinion. The six crosses made me think of the masses of people who died anonymously during their flight in recent years.

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This East Side Gallery graffiti reminded me of pictures of refugees crossing the sea often under the most horrifying conditions. Thanks to a brilliant project called Let’s integrate I got to meet Noyen, a 23 year old Afghan refugee. Although I had volunteered with refugees before I felt a bit nervous about talking about such an emotional and political topic with a stranger. Luckily, Noyen was more than willing to share his story with me, shocking details included. Inspite of what he had to endure he is a cheerful young man, fluent in German and just started traineeship. Let’s integrate is a great way of bringing refugees and locals together, although its scope could and should be widened, to avoid that only people who already have a positive opinion about refugees get involved. If more ‘ordinary people got to know refugees personally, prejudices could be proven wrong, irrational fears could be eroded and integration could flourish.

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