In a serendipitous turn of events since my recent decision to (perhaps) do work involving the refugee crisis in Germany, I was informed in my German class this week of a talk that was going to be given by a recent OU Grad who was granted a Fulbright and ended up spending his time observing refugees and their squatter’s rights in Berlin. The event was being offered as an option for fulfilling the cultural component of my German class, but I had already fulfilled the component and simply went to learn more about what I might potentially be doing a few years from now.
At first when I heard that Taylor McKenzie had already studied what seemed to be exactly what I wanted to study, I was worried that my idea for a research project– or whatever I eventually decided to do–would be in vain. Attending his lecture and attempting to grasp his experiences this Thursday proved me incredibly wrong.
Taylor did not really talk about his Fulbright Grant status other than the fact that he was forced to scrap his original plan on focusing on Squatter’s Rights in the 1970s when he arrived in Berlin and found that “anything and everything that could have been said on the topic had been said” long before he arrived.
Thus, for a period of about three months he was at a total loss for what he could do, until he learned that a refugee march was being held from South Germany all the way to Berlin, in a region called Kreuzberg which McKenzie described as “Brooklyn-like.” The march was organized after a refugee committed suicide in his house of asylum, reportedly because without a job to support himself or others, he had nothing to do, and no other choice. The march lasted about three months, and when everyone arrived, a square in Kreuzberg with tents and food had been set up for them to bide their time until they were granted the rights of citizens they desperately wanted. However, many of the marchers, and many refugees in Europe today, are paperless, and it is very difficult for them to be granted any sort of rights.
Eventually, the refugees set up camp in an abandoned school near the square, where they created a large and robust community in which different floors were organized based on different needs. Their organized community lasted for a few months, until hundreds of German Polizei removed the squatters, all but for a small group that escaped to the roof. Known as the “Roofugees,” they refused to evacuate the building, saying that they would rather jump than be forced to return to either asylum homes or their home countries.
As Taylor told his story, and the story of the thousands of refugees he witnessed struggling to survive, I could tell he was still trying to wrap his brain around everything he had experienced, even though he was trying to give a lecture on his Fulbright year. Though he has been back in the US for months, he still was working to fully comprehend his stay. The way he talked about what he saw in Berlin reminded me of everything I saw in Tanzania and how it is still difficult for me to express my trip in words. Taylor’s feelings were better expressed on broad concepts, like good versus evil, instead of black-and-white steps on what could be done.
Although I wish Taylor had talked more about the process of his Fulbright, of what exactly he had studied and completed in order to fulfill the requirements of his grant instead of simply telling us the story of what he documented, I was still satisfied from his presentation. His unorganized PowerPoint slides were somehow perfectly complimentary to his scattered thoughts, and although I think the wall-to-wall attendees might have been a bit underwhelmed by the talk, everyone in the room learned a lot.
We learned that even though countries that would seem to be very well-equipped for such humanitarian issues encounter countless unforeseen problems. In fact, Germany is struggling with refugees just like Taylor struggled to present a main idea and a thesis for his lecture. Both are very well-equipped; Germany has an economy and a system of government of which to be boastful, and Taylor has an intellect and the experience that make him an expert thinker on the topic.
Although I was fearful that Taylor’s talk would perhaps change my mind on tackling refugee issues in Germany, it only strengthened my resolve to make a difference. Of all the things he saw and documented, there are hundreds of thousands of refugees facing the same as well as their own unique problems. His focus group ended up being in a single town square that contained an abandoned school. A few years from now, I’m sure new challenges will spread all over the country. The refugee issues in Germany are far and wide, and they are far from over. They are something I plan on following, and potentially will be participating in, for a long time.