By Zenobia Homan
This is my view, every (other) week, when I travel down to Würzburg. A lot of the time the train is very busy, and very delayed; but I suppose, since it is summer now, many people are on holiday, and today the train is quiet. Very quiet. (And still delayed.)
A summary: on the 18th of July 5 people were wounded on a train to Würzburg. On the 22nd of July, 9 people were killed and 35 wounded in München. On the 24th of July, 15 people were wounded in Ansbach. Media are of course are quick to make connections, and jump to conclusions.
So, I thought I would write out my story of meeting an Afghan boy on a Bavarian train. Last weekend I was travelling to a friend in Thüringen, and on the train from Nürnberg to Hof I found myself sitting at a little table with three children (their family scattered throughout the rest of the carriage). The children were playing and running around, but one boy stayed. I was working on my laptop, on a map of the Middle East, and he pointed out where he was from. He explained he liked my eyes, and he asked if we could be in a photo together. Cue smartphone photoshoot with the family. I think his level of German was roughly the same as mine. Normally I can make a good impression with some words of Arabic, or even Turkish, and nowadays Kurdish, but I guess I have another language to add to my repertoire now. Anyway, to spell out the obvious, I hope that this little Afghan boy will not suffer from any prejudices inflicted by the actions of another Afghan boy.
All in all, I have not noticed any direct consequences of this week’s events so far. Of course I have spent most my time in small villages and not central München, but these little villages are exactly the places no one reports from, and no one hears much about. In fact, the S-Bahn stop in my village has been the source of many interesting conversations this year. I once overheard someone talking about setting up a meeting place for refugees; and now I volunteer there. It is at one of the three (!) local churches, and they managed to start a coffee and cake afternoon in the first week of Ramadan. From my experience in the Bavarian countryside, I can only say this is typical! However, the volunteers easily switched to organising Iftar dinners instead. Integration and understanding are not a one-way street after all.
This morning at the S-Bahn stop, I met a lady working with the circus that is currently visiting the town. She was talking to a man, maybe her colleague:
“Did you hear what happened last night?”
“Yes, it is awful isn’t it. I can’t understand someone taking their own life, let alone taking others with them.”
“People like that need more help.”
“Yes, I am a little afraid to walk amongst large crowds now.”
This is my own terrible translation from German, but it stood out to me that a) they no longer feel safe here and b) they did not discuss the man’s refugee status, nor did they mention IS.
When I just arrived to Bavaria, I encountered a few issues with regard to the refugee crisis. Mainly linguistic issues, actually. Firstly, I was not allowed to volunteer anywhere, because my German was not fluent. This was apparently not only a problem because German must at all times be spoken to foreigners… but also to Germans. My suggestion that we try to mix in some Arabic or maybe even English was met with general confusion and frustration. Second, despite my best efforts, very (very) many people have stressed that I should improve my German, speak better German, that foreigners should learn German, and that foreigners should really only speak German (and so forth). I was starting to get the feeling the situation here was pretty much as hostile as described by the media – language just being synonymous with culture, ethnicity and religion.
However, I have not noticed any other hostility, so far; not in my little village anyway. Clearly the people on the platform this morning did not feel the need to declare war on the Muslim world, and later in Würzburg I saw someone wearing a ‘refugees welcome’ T-shirt. It can never be forgotten how much the media love to exaggerate, and how hard they try to find, or make, an exciting story. Yes, I am a little wary too; but that is not unusual, it is just sensible.
So I sit on my quiet train, waiting to see what will happen next.