How the grassroots creation of contact points counters xenophobic tendencies in Germany

Most news reports about the refugee crisis in Europe and especially Germany these days focus on negative developments. Refugees who assault German women, people who set fire to shelters for asylum seekers, politicians who try to profit from people’s fears about the negative impact of an ethnically changing society. We as consumers of these news can easily get the impression that the negative far outweigh the positive events that happen in our country at the moment. But that is an erroneous belief,  which I was made aware of these days when I visited a charity event in Heringen, a small town in the east of Hesse, Germany.


Children of all ethnic backgrounds enjoyed the event. (Photo: Wagner)

The Kali Fighting Group, a division of the sports club TSV Woelfershausen, hosted a public training course and donated the proceeds to a local charity benefiting children of refugees. Besides the approximately twenty participants of the course, whose fee went directly into the donation box, everyone was invited and could attend the event, which had been planned for over six months in advance.

Upon entering the gymnasium, I immediately felt the welcoming atmosphere surrounding the volunteer helpers, who were mostly either members of the sports club or other active members within the local community. Selfmade cakes, muffins and fresh coffee were offered for free, a volunteer donation was welcomed but not mandatory. I was told that “it’s all halal and mostly gluten-free”. A dedicated woman informed me about another local club which has been formed to collect clothes and other much needed goods and distribute them to refugee families as well as people receiving unemployment benefits, the Initiative Neuankoemmlinge. (Its facebook group might be a good place to visit, if you want to help.)

The training room itself was filled with refugees watching the trainers and participants during their learning process. Little children ran around and ate cookies and cake with visible pleasure. Most of them have probably never tasted pastries or have not been able to enjoy them for a long time. I observed German men and women talking to refugees, entertain young children and try to erase fears of contact. When I took pictures as part of my job as a freelance journalist, numerous excited children asked me to photograph them. I was glad for the opportunity, as children are always a great motive, but it also gave me a lot of pleasure to see their happy faces when I showed them the pictures of themselves on my little camera screen.

What can we learn from such observations? Certainly that the amount of people who organize and campaign against refugee immigration, partly with unbelievable brutality and ruthless behavior, are far outnumbered by people countering these efforts with courage, humanity and openness. The footage we get to see on television, in print media and on online platforms conveys an image not representative of society in its entirety. The truth of the matter is that positive stories simply do not sell as good as negative ones.

Dedicated organizers like the responsible people at Kali Fighting Group are a great example of how grassroots action can fight the expansion of xenophobic tendencies. If somebody creates contact points between people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, we can learn from each other and realize that we have more in common than we think. We all want to be loved and live a good life in peace. Cultural understanding can only be established by breaking down the boundaries of anonymity. Thankfully, there are people who do this job for others who lack the courage or the will.