Student Takeover -- Berlin
Hello out there! We have been having great fun here in Berlin. Today, we allowed a student to write the blog post. Have a look into one of our activities from an inside view! Thanks a lot for reading. -Robyn
Here is Ben with friends! (far left)
Hello! Guten tag! My name is Benjamin Filio III, and I’m a global navigator currently in Session 2 of Global Entrepreneurship in Berlin.
So far, it’s been a great experience balancing between learning about the definition of an entrepreneur and also being a tourist in Berlin (albeit constant texts from unsatisfied family members back in the US demanding constant updates). From the Brandenburg Gate to the Mall of Berlin and even to the border between Germany and Poland, I’ve managed to check off several things on my bucket list.
Monday, July 17, 2017, after an intense morning of presentations for Bonial, we went off on a tour revolving around the condition of Syrian refugees in Berlin. Unfortunately, the U-Bahn (the subway system) broke down, so we had to take taxis and walk to the location, taking off precious time. Prior to this tour, I’ve only read about the Syrian refugee crisis, but today I met a Syrian refugee face-to-face.
Our tour guide used to be a businessman in addition to managing a factory in Damascus. During the Arab Spring in 2010, he decided to stay in Damascus, but after 5 years of living in the midst of the Syrian Civil War, watching his business and factory decompose, and losing everything, he finally decided to escape the country as a refugee.
Once he left Syria, there was no going back. Smugglers would kill anyone who attempted turn back because they were witnesses to their illegal smuggling. The refugees had no choice but to press on the perilous route. When they reached the coast, the smuggler crammed 47 people into a small raft made for 20 people, and set them off on their own without any guidance whatsoever. He was one of the lucky people that managed to reach the shores of Greece, but others did not have much luck. At this point, I thought about how similar this was to the Vietnam War, where masses of people were leaving the country. I remembered one of my friend’s mom reminiscing about how she knew countless families that did not survive the journey out of Vietnam. In this conflict, we see several news articles about rafts containing refugees sinking, leading to the deaths of thousands of people attempting to escape their country, one notable example being the young Syrian toddler who washed upon the shores of Greece.
The tour guide then asked us to describe a refugee in one word. Hope. Desperation. Terrorist. We realized that there were so many negative connotations with the word refugee, that we pin so much hatred toward people who are just looking for a better life, who are just trying to escape persecution and death, who have physically and emotionally lost everything. They had only two choices: to take flight or take death.
As we moved along the tour, we started to learn about how Syrian refugees live once they reach Berlin. Until they receive residence from the German government, they are placed in refugee camps throughout Berlin. In my tour guide’s case, he was sent to the camp in Tempelhof, which was known as a “bad camp.” He stayed there in horrible conditions for 5 months before receiving residence, when he was finally allowed to get a job and buy food outside of the facility. When many people claim that refugees are only dead weight, let it be known that they do not choose to be unproductive. The government prevents them from making a living.
After that, he handed us some cards written with Arabic words, and we were led to Sonnenallee also known as “Arabic Street” where we were asked to identify store names. My particular card could be romanized as “Foto Farid,” but the only way we could identify it was to compare the store name against the card. The activity was intended to help us realize how hard it was to adjust to a new setting, having to familiarize yourself with a new language let alone a new writing system, and just how lost one can feel.
Despite this, our tour guide offered us words of hope. The Arabic street in Berlin existed as a result of many Arabs coming together to feel a sense of home, to act as a familiar meeting place for some and a place of comfort for others that are away from home. If anything, it bears resemblance to Chinatowns, Little Tokyos, Little Athens, and other places where people can experience home away from home.
Our last stop on the tour was a refugee café, where both refugees and local Germans come to communicate and coexist with each other. The tour guide left us with one final note: that people create discrimination and separation with their own minds. It is up to us to erase those prejudices, to break those pre-existing barriers that prevent us from peace.
When the tour concluded, my group decided to go back to Arabic street for one last stop: a restaurant called Yasmin Alsham for some Syrian food. While Yasmin is just a name to differentiate the restaurant, the tour guide told us earlier that Alsham was another name for Damascus, which insinuated that this restaurant was designed to cater to both those missing the tastes of their homeland and for those wishing to try Syrian food. A few of us decided to get Schawarma, a toasted chicken wrap with sour cream and other vegetables. Based on my tastes, I would definitely go back to the restaurant and eat it again. Just not too much, Syrian food has a way of getting you full quickly.
With satisfied stomachs, we found our way back to G-27, just in time for curfew.
Albeit the earlier inconvenience (the U-Bahn breaking down), this tour was a complete change of pace from the usual day of scurrying around trying to do as many touristy things as possible. This refugee tour further opened my eyes to the crisis that is ongoing not only in Syria, but in other parts of the world where people are fleeing persecution en masse to conditions which may oppress them even further. Although my voice is not yet loud enough to reach everyone, I implore everyone reading this post to not condone refugees just because of their status. Because before they were forced to move, they were regular people living regular lives. Just like you and me.
I’ll end this blog post with a famous quotation.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” - Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird
Danke schön, and find me later photobombing posts from the Global Navigators Program! Tschuss!
- Benjamin Filio III
(P.S. Shoutout to my friends that are either going to or have went on CIEE programs! Ivana is currently in Portugal studying Aquatic Ecosystems & Sustainability in Portugal, and Alexis is learning Spanish Language & Peruvian Culture in Pisac! Adelyne was in Session I of Japanese Language & Culture in Tokyo, and Ivanna was in Session I of Spanish Language & Culture in Spain! Catch them on other blog posts, and thank you for making it this far! :P)