Thursday, 24 November 2016

Eating with Syrian refugees in Berlin

During a month in Berlin, I met a young couple who had fled the conflict in Syria, their home and jobs destroyed. Some of the one million refugees that Germany has let into the country, they spoke no English and little German, and had a young child - a lively addition to Berlin's multi-cultural mix. My Berlin friend, Barbara, was teaching them German, as many Berliners have volunteered to do, and in return they took us to eat in Sonnenallee; 'the street of the Arabs', a bustling thoroughfare with a fascinating history (it was once bisected by the Berlin wall), and where only Arabic can be heard in the shops.

Sonnnenallee, -  Arabic brio
We ate on the sidewalk ... a delicious, heavily spiced Syrian meal, hummus, green chillis, olives ... which our host perilously retrieved from a food shop thronged with battling diners. Although Syrian refugees have been targeted by Far-Right groups in Germany, there was none of that on Sonnenallee, where the vivacity and brio of the street was a sign of Berliners' legendary tolerance of outsiders. Or perhaps it's just indifference - Berliners are notoriously oblivious to others.

Along Sonnenallee, the average pedestrian seemed about thirty; it's mainly the young who have been able to flee from war-torn Syria in significant numbers. Specialist shops vending coffee and spices echo with voices from farther afield ... Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Turkey, while shops sell fine silks and the tortured metal-work of ornamental hookahs.

Hookah shop
With the West turning against refugees in the wake of the US Presidential elections, Angela ('the Angel') Merkel continues to show moral leadership and compassion at the risk of her own political career. It was heartening to see such a vibrant enclave of Arabic culture at the heart of Germany's spiritual capital.

In a strange reversal of history, from Trump Tower, New York, a city once renowned as a haven for the oppressed and racially persecuted of Europe, comes the ugly voice of racial bigotry; while in the former home of Nazism, the doors have been flung open to desperate refugees and their children.

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