Back in Dresden: a return to normalcy

We visited Dresden again in April and August of this year, not only to visit our friends and volunteers, but also to record refugees’ stories for a Czech audience.

Photo Michal Majzner

We came back to Dresden in April and August visit our friends Claudia, Geoffry and Steffan, who hold regular meetings of volunteers and refugees called ABC Tische (ABC Tables). We also had a second purpose: to record interviews with refugees.

What was the situation in Saxony at the time? Newly-arrived refugees were gradually being moved from camps to smaller hostels or apartments. Big tents and buildings were being emptied. The workload was piling up for the volunteers at ABC Tische. They were providing assistance to asylum seekers with a programme of language courses and social gatherings to help refugees feel like a part of the community and survival language courses as an important supplement to the official German language programs.

Almost every day they tirelessly hold meetings with 30 to 40 regular attendees from the asylum centres. Volunteers, mostly students or pensioners, participate in discussions and debates with them, mostly assisting them with the language. They also talk about and address cultural differences and practical matters about the refugees’ new life in Germany.

After our visit to ABC Tische, we met up with our friend Tina to discuss the situation on the outskirts of Dresden (a place where the Pegida movement originated). She confirmed that at the moment, there was calm. There were only two refugee families at the time, both living in one house with their children attending a local kindergarten. Another planned hostel had not been opened, maybe because it was not necessary since all the newcomers had found homes in other parts of the district. It was also the reason why large, heated meetings of “locals” (whom Tina once asked from which part of Germany they travelled to participate at them) had ceased.

We also met with Abdul, who worked for a giant software company and lived in a shared apartment. He was looking to rent his own apartment at the moment, and was certainly not worried about finding a job with his qualifications.

With Abdul we discussed everything under the sun until the late evening, mostly dwelling on the war in Syria, the prospects for further development and the situation following the EU-Turkey deal. Abdul was a skilled IT programmer with a strong command of English and working intensively to learn German. He would have no problems getting a job. But it was obvious that he was feeling homesick for Syria, where the situation remained very dangerous. He hinted to us that if offered a job in Turkey, maybe it would have been better for him because Turkey was closer to his home.

When talking about the refugee camps, Abdul told us that many people wanted to escape them. The options were difficult, via either the Mediterranean Sea or the northern way, because Russia was granting refugees three-day visas and then letting them to cross the borders into Scandinavian countries. Abdul also told us that according to recent experiences with the German evaluation process, asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Eritrea had the biggest chance of being granted asylum at the moment.

During our visit in August, we primarily approached refugees and tried to explain to them why we wanted to record their testimonies – to present them as they really were, so we and the people of the Czech Republic could better get to know them.

Interestingly, the first two refugees we approached told us that they were caught in the Czech Republic and “jailed”, as they called the stay in the detention places, for almost two months. They did not have good memories of the detention guards there. On the other hand, they also met people who helped them at a railway station in Prague. Thanks to that, they had at least some positive memories of the Czech Republic.

In August, we also visited a park where the Umweltzentrum began its cooperation with the refugees, as a refugee camp was established across the street in 2015. The camp, designed to accommodate 1000 people, was almost empty when we were there, holding only about 80 people. The park was managed by a team composed of employees, volunteers, and refugees who cut the grass and built light wooden garden sheds for small compensation.

Finally, we attended an event called “Meet New Friends” facilitated by various cultural organisations and volunteers in Dresden. Now taking place in the Erich Kästner Museum, it was actually more like a garden party. The children of the refugees and the German participants played outside, and everyone was sitting on benches, listening to live music, browsing stands of books and food, enjoying guided tours in the museum and taking short language courses.

Blogs and interviews were produced within the project “Refugee stories, to which the volunteers contribute in their free time. The core of the project is build upon the We Can organisation, cooperating with the organisation Umweltzentrum Dresden. The project is supported by the Czech-German Fund for Future in 2016.

Michal Majzner

Michal Majzner

Michal Majzner is an industrial project engineer and civic activist. He’s co-founded several projects, including Prague Maidan, "President, leave!" and Refugee Stories ("Příběhy uprchlíků"). He is a member or supporter of several civic associations including "We are looking for president – The Kroměříž´s Appeal," Podhradí and Politics and Conscience.