The Welcomers© Joakim Eskildsen
Germans open their homes to refugees
Text By Naina Bajekal for TIME
Of course the Germans have a word for it: Willkommenskultur. It translates to “welcome culture,” and though it was originally coined a few years ago by politicians who wanted to encourage highly skilled immigrants to move to Germany, it’s come to represent German generosity in the face of the refugee wave. While other European governments tightened border controls, Germany—having recorded 200,000 migrant arrivals in all of 2014—opened its arms to some 270,000 asylum seekers in September alone. At train stations, crowds of well-wishers greeted refugees with applause. The refugees returned the cheers after sinking boats and barbed-wire fences, they had finally found their refuge.
But the promised land isn’t perfect, and German generosity doesn’t always extend to German bureaucracy. Long lines and weekend closures at registration centers leave many migrants sleeping on the streets until they can register, and it will be months before they get the papers that provide access to state-run German classes.
If Germany is to successfully absorb the 1 million asylum seekers it expects to see this year alone, it will require more than just good cheer. But while the official response to refugees has been slow, charities and volunteer groups have stepped into the breach, proud to be part of a grassroots movement keeping the welcome machine running. Driven by a sense of moral duty, ordinary Germans have opened their homes to strangers fleeing violence far beyond Europe’s borders. “It may seem like this crisis is ripping the continent apart,” says Tim Florian Horn, a Berliner who took in an Afghan family this summer. “But giving shelter to people who need help— that’s the true meaning of a united Europe.” A refugee crisis that has brought out ugliness in other parts of Europe is so far revealing the best of Germany.
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