Stickers About Refugees

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Last week I hoped to share mannequin nipples with you.  (They’re definitely a ‘thing’ over here, and I don’t recall seeing them in the States at all? Not that I look that mannequin chests all that closely? Or, perhaps I do?) I was motivated to check out grocery stores because I’ve seen some odd products and pairings here and there (think bananas and men’s shoes on the same shelf. I’ve seen that one.)

If I can figure out how to be more discreet about taking pictures of people, I’d like to show you head-to-toe matching couples, or the old women trend of pink hair, or the enigma of levitating street artists.

But, thanks to stomach flu, we didn’t do much spazieren (aka ‘walking,’ an important German pastime.) until Friday.  By then I was eager to get out and capture our little suburb in all its quirky glory.

(I do love me some quirky.)

Things seemed to be off to a decent enough start when we strolled down a street we’ve not been down before, and saw this fence:


I’ll go ahead and state the obvious–those are colored pencils.  It was worth posting a picture because, I don’t know about you, but this is the first time I’ve seen that particular medium used in fence building.

Even more impressive, and it’s hard to see from here, but up close they do appear to be legit colored pencils.

We continued on, and my camera was ready. But, for some reason–probably because I’d set out purposely to go in for the visual kill–our little suburb got its act together.  I couldn’t find one bit of quirk on that particular walk.

Instead, this sticker caught my attention.

20160525_115806It’s hard to see here, but just below the words ‘Refugees Welcome’ it says ‘bring your families, too.’

That sticker felt ironic to me, somehow–such a simple medium to reference events that are literally changing the face, infrastructure, and future of Germany.  It was like the plug on a very full bath.  Pull it off and the significant weight of water and its assorted bubbles and grease would drain out behind it.

All it took was that sticker to know that this weekly feature isn’t necessarily going to be about only the quirky things in Germany.

There’s a lot going in this adoptive country of mine at the moment.  It would be unfair to only present Deutschland’s nippled mannequins (fun as they are) or Sparkasse squirrels that look like they’ve experienced the aftermath of swimming in a wading pool overtaken by a pack of hair dryers on high heat. (You’d have to read last week’s post to get the squirrel reference.)

Anyway, as you might know, a few refugees have come to Germany over the past year.  Just a trickle.  Something to the tune of nearly a million, with 476,000 applications for asylum in 2015. Germany has become the ‘promised land’ for refugees.

According to an article I read in Time, 4.2 million Syrians have fled since 2011.  Of those, the U.S. took in 2, 290 (or 0.0005%) and it’s no secret that letting additional refugees in hasn’t exactly been a popular idea with Americans.  I’m genuinely not trying to criticize that, but just pointing out the difference between my home and adopted countries on this issue.

I wonder when this sticker was put out there.  Was it towards the beginning, when Willkommenskultur (or Germany’s “Welcome Culture”) ran deepest? When large groups of people met incoming refugees at the Munich train station and handed out chocolate or stuffed animals to children badly suffering from PTSD?

Was it Merkel who inspired the sticker? The leader who wanted Germany to be known for its humanitarian agenda, just this once? Who was determined to be Hitler’s foil? To embrace a not-so-Aryan population with faces from Kosovo, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Africa, to name a few?

Or was the sticker put up after the horrific sex attacks in Cologne over New Years? Is it an attempt to say that the actions of one group are not the crimes of all?

Maybe it’s in reaction to the recent rise in violent crimes (arson, mainly) directed at places refugees are staying? To show that fear does not have a place at this particular suburban home?

Perhaps it’s meant as a welcome committee in sticky miniature for the influx of migrants in our Heidelberg suburb?

It’s obvious that the ‘face’ of this city has changed.  There are a lot more Middle Eastern and North African people, here.  Todd and I have been referring to downtown as ‘Little Baghdad.’ The military base where my husband and I used to teach before it was shut down is now housing thousands of refugees–not much less than the number that was on debate in terms of whether or not they should be allowed into the U.S.A.

It’s sad how little I know about the daily life of those tucked away on the old base.  And, it’s just down the road.  Occasionally our Stars and Stripes newspaper publishes pictures of the people there, milling around what used to be the military dentist office or the Village Pavillion where all-you-can-eat pancake Sundays and prom were held.  Other than that, it’s like they’re as distant as the countries they risked everything to leave.  I assume they are doing a lot of waiting.  But, waiting for what? What’s next for them?

It’s quite a situation.  My feelings about it are, like most everyone else’s I’m sure, complicated.

Without a doubt I’m proud to live in the country that has most extended itself to these people.  I also think that last word–people–is something that gets overlooked in the discussion.  My impression is that they’re continuously referred to as ‘refugees’ or ‘migrants’ and viewed as a collective, problematic whole.

But, let’s be clear–they’re people.

I think we hear the word ‘refugee’ and go to this default image of someone with a dirty face, wearing rags and holding out their hands, begging for freebies.  I can see why that’s unattractive.  Unwanted.  But most of these people had lives.  Careers.  Homes.  Neighbors.  Bubble jackets.  (I’ve seen a few wearing them in newspaper pictures.)

These people look like the Muslim woman I shared a laugh with at the playground, this morning, because Laken made a beeline for her purse.  (What are bee lines, by the way? Why do we say that?) Regardless, she crawled fast.  She was just about tripping over herself trying to get to the zipper and main pockets before I could catch her.  The lady smiled at me and said ‘we’ve got to watch out for that one!’ in German.

Or, they look like the man who ran out to help me last week when a semi truck crashed into our parked van. I was so discombobulated (love that word) that he wrote down the phone number of the police for me because I couldn’t keep it straight in my head.  And, he stood by to give his eyewitness account when they finally arrived.  We now say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ if we see each other out.

My life is filled with first world problems.  The other day I couldn’t get The Bachelor to load on iTunes. I lost one of our house keys.  Our toilet has this weird habit of flushing down everything but one white flag of toilet paper.

That being said–I simply can’t imagine living in fear of Scud missile attacks, or watching my village be burned down.

If there was any question of Laken possibly being struck by a missile and killed, you can bet I’d want to ante up and get the flock out of dodge! But, what if we couldn’t? What if no one would help us and insisted we stay put?

That’s what I keep thinking about.

Are there problems? Sure.

Was Merkel too much of an idealist? Should we blame her vacation in Sued Tirol? Is the German ‘Willkommenskultur’ going to deteriorate with help from right-wing fear instigators?

We’ll find out.

According to an article I read in the New York Times, Germany “continues to struggle with the challenges of transforming itself into a republic of shared ideals rather than shared blood.”

It will surely be interesting to see what the future holds, and what type of impact that thumbs up to refugees has on German society.

12 thoughts on “Stickers About Refugees

  1. It sounds like a tragic joke that Germany is setting a better example and doing more to help refugees than the United States, especially given how much Americans pride themselves on their generosity and kindness. I’m reminded of the phrase “Southern hospitality” which, for some of us, means, “We have a nice place here and would be delighted if y’all would like to share it”. Unfortunately for too many people, for reasons that have nothing to do with the content of their characters, “Southern hospitality” is an oxymoron.
    And not only is bringing more refugees to the U.S. an unpopular idea but the very tiny number already here is a matter of sometimes frighteningly vitriolic debate. It is, in part. U.S. policies that have displaced many people. Can’t we at least offer them a place?
    That’s how things look to me from this side of the globe anyway. It helps that I used to work with a woman whose family was forced to flee their country or die a few decades ago. Her family was able to build a new life here and I believe they enriched the community, but they suffered terribly too. I can’t imagine what they went through–and that’s the important thing. There hasn’t been a war on U.S. soil in more than 150 years. Many of us can’t imagine what war is like, especially with all the improvements in technology that have made weapons so much more effective. Europe at least still has part of a generation that remembers the devastation of war.
    And I wonder how many of us would stop to consider the possibility that a fence built of giant colored pencils might have been made by someone who came here seeking refuge who’s since built a life.
    Or maybe we should just stop to consider how much better life is in many colors.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What an awesome comment, Chris–I always look forward to your posts and your comments! Great points about U.S. policies displacing people and how vitriolic (great word) the arguments are. I couldn’t believe things I saw people posting on Facebook…all I could think was, people are making THIS big a deal about a number of refugees coming over that is literally as many as are in our little mountain town? It’s the whole culture of fear thing, I think. Americans are taught to be afraid, and so they are. Maybe I’m naive, but I am not afraid of terrorists potentially being in Heidelberg now that we have all these refugees. If you just watch the news, it seems to me that extremists are absolutely everywhere and of all religions. We’re never completely ‘safe.’ And the way these people are vetted…what a process! Have you seen John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight episode on the refugee situation? It’s brilliant. Anyway, I hope I’m making sense–Laken had her first birthday this weekend and I’m exhausted. It’s what she gets having an older mother. 🙂 BTW I love your hypothesis on the people behind that colored pencil fence. It can only indicate something positive about people who construct their house out of something that creates art, lends the world color, etc. Like them, I prefer a world of colors.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “But let’s be clear..they’re people” Hear Hear. It’s sad that one HAS to say that in these times but it’s very important to remember. A refugee camp is an interesting use for an old Army base. Also, because I am only writing non sequiturs for some reason, did you read the Dalai Lama’s comments about the “refugee situation” in Germany? Quite interesting and quite opposite of becoming a culture of shared ideals versus shared blood. I think it will be a very difficult road (though, frankly necessary) road to get to that point though. I can only imagine what the conversation about refugees is like now. I left in 2010 and the conversation about the Turkish immigrants then was always always shocking to me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sorry for my super delayed reply! My daughter’s first birthday was this weekend and we’ve been in full birthday mode. I’m exhausted! Anyway, I haven’t read the Dalai Lama’s comments, yet, but will most certainly do so! As for the Turkish immigrants–you’re so right. The ‘anti-Turkish’ feeling has always felt very strong here. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I think I read that the Turkish immigrants now look down on the new incoming people. (Not sure if that’s the truth, though.) I’m glad they are using the base for something good. It’s a HUGE compound. I still can’t believe it shut down…this base was a really nice one. I keep thinking they’re going to change their minds and reopen it. 🙂 Mostly we just miss all our friends who moved away.


  3. Great post. Quite frankly, I think that if more leaders were like Merkel, the burden of the refugee crisis would be massively alleviated. More importantly, if other countries were as welcoming to people in such circumstances, we could all stop wasting our energies on where to place them and start thinking about how to best integrate them into whichever society they chose to be a part of. I think the cultural baggage that the refugees carry can lead to lasting positive effects in many a societies. It is a drive for equality, diversity, and acceptance. Yet, I think refugees may need a hand before they can make the most of they heritage under the context in which they’ve inserted themselves into. In that sense, I think the world needs more idealists like Merkel. Changing subjects, I hope you get to write more about your quirky neighbourhood in the future. The pencil fence (a fencil?) was pretty epic.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much for your awesome comments and sorry for my delayed reply! My daughter celebrated her first birthday this weekend, so we had lots of preparations to do. 🙂 Anyway, I totally agree with you. If the help could be spread out just a bit more it would benefit all. I like that in Germany they’re making language and culture classes a priority so that these people can better integrate/find work/etc. It will be very interesting to see what the lasting effect in German society is! As for my quirky neighborhood, I already have enough fodder after one walk to write a post. Something’s in the water of this little suburb! :-))

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sort of pissed at pfabgirl, because I was all like, “I’ll come on here, and for my very first comment, I’ll wow Sarah with my knowledge of what a bee line is.” But noooOOOOOooo. She had to come and say so first.
    I’M DONE!
    DONE, I say!!!


      • You are too funny/awesome! I’m sorry that pfabgirl got to me first when it comes to bee-lining! I promise you there are many other expressions I’m intrigued by and will ask about on my blog. 🙂 Next time I’ll even give you a pre-publish heads up so that you can get to it first! Thanks for the comment, and I’m headed to your page right now to comment on your latest incredible post. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • The feeling is mutual! Let’s run off into the sunset together, or at the very least grab a beer if/when you come to Germany! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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