Bremen and its new visitors

By Ben Harlan, Director of Music, Bedales Prep, Dunhurst

This morning, in assembly, I read a letter to the children. This letter is from my good friend Alexander Baillie who played his cello for us here at Dunhurst last year, and is the Professor of Cello at Bremen’s University of the Arts. He is writing about his first hand experiences of the influx of Syrian refugees.  Here are some extracts from his letter…

“Our Legoland city has doubled in size suddenly; this is the effect of the arrival of thousands of refugees, it is really noticeably different. There is a busy throng of people everywhere, these are the newcomers.

Yes, I know…..we are all still trying to work out what to call them. Perhaps visitors, immigrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, Syrians? Let’s stick with ‘PEOPLE’ as a safe all round description of them! Remember “Je suis Charlie Hebdo?” That translates in Bremen to “I am a recently arrived Syrian“, surprise, surprise, they are just like us!

The conditions in Bremen are especially easy. There was a big university complex in the north of the city with lots of vacant rooms and easily (relatively easily adapted) facilities. Otherwise there are tent areas. These ‘tents’ are more like semi-permanent mobile homes.

Games and activities for the kids are fantastically well organised – and by kids, it is a group from aged 3-18! Toys and helpers are plenty. Food does not seem to be a problem.

The biggest issue is language. Any ideas how to make German easier to learn will be warmly appreciated? I am working on my own idea of learning it through singing. Two tasks at once, helping the words go in through musical shapes and pick up some famous tunes at the same time.

There were never crowds in downtown Bremen, but now, it looks like Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday afternoon. They are walking around in groups, a curious mixture of a little bit careful and slowly but at the same time relaxed, they stick quite closely together, and smile a lot. When one speaks to them they answer in fluent but basic English and it’s not long before one of the youngsters says “Thank you Deutschland!“ 

Well, the German government too is wondering exactly what is now promised. The basic gesture of welcoming them was a historic one and Frau Merkel (who must surely be due for a Nobel peace prize?) has opened up a side of Germany which I had not seen like this before: incredible unanimous public generosity of spirit and warmth, and there is a huge tax surplus to pay for it, so – no problem!

German bureaucratic efficiency is stretched now to the maximum, processing them all is hard work and they are short of officers to do it all up to acceptable legal standard – especially since the laws are being changed every few days, it seems.

For the moment everything is okay. The minister in charge I just heard on the radio in the ‘Interview of the Week’ and she is completely confident that the problems can all be solved. Worrying is the sound of the fences going up elsewhere in Europe.”

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