Guest commentary by Anitra Kitts
We were on our way to a scenic bike ride south of Munich last Sunday when something unusual started to happen at our suburban train stop. A group of volunteers in purple and yellow vests came down to the platform along with a couple of police officers. The volunteers lined themselves along the length of one side, clearly in anticipation of an unscheduled arrival.
Donnersbergerbrüke is two stops out from the main train station in Munich, Germany. It is a place where a major road crosses the train tracks to the main station. West of the ramp is a business building’s green lawn that had sprouted 10 or so large white tents overnight. For two weeks, refuge-seekers had been pouring out of Syria – first into Budapest, then Vienna and now into Munich. Munich promised to find a bed and a roof for everyone who arrived. On Saturday alone, over 13,000 people arrived to take that offer, and after two weeks of similar daily numbers, Munich was running out of room. Thus the tents in a field and the men sleeping in the windows of the train station. One of the men had a five-year-old boy sitting on his legs, playing with a toy car.
The volunteers along this platform and back at the main station make this story different from old stories about how Germany treated the stranger. When the first trains came, the Munich police tweeted for help and hundreds of Germans ran shopping carts overflowing with baby diapers and food straight into the station. Within hours the police were again on Twitter saying, “Enough, thank you, we have enough now.” A side hall on the main station quickly evolved with the help of volunteers and donated goods from being a holding pen to an orderly welcoming and processing center. In the previous mid-century, order in a German train station was not a good thing but now it appears centered in a passionate outpouring of hospitality for these long-traveling refuge seekers.
The volunteers lined up along the S-bahn platform wear purple vests. Some are European in appearance and others look like the people arriving. Some have hand-written masking tape on their vests with the phrase, “Arabic” on one side and Arabic lettering on the other that I can only presume says, “You can talk to me, I speak your language.” We all stand and fidget and think about how the world is changing when the unscheduled suburban train arrives. The volunteers help to open the doors and the flow of human beings begins. Men, women, children. Babies in arms, an old man walking alone. Some are families walking together and many more are people who have been on their own for a long time. Some are skinny in the near-starvation kind of way, and others are just barely able to keep putting one exhausted foot in front of the other as they move toward the escalator and the stairs. We watch silently, respectfully as we wait for our own transportation.
I’m aware of the quiet whispering of friends. They are worried. Who all is coming in this now overwhelming flow? My friends quietly ask, “Where will all these people live? Where will they find work?” My friends worry about who is arriving in this great stream of humanity. Thieves? Drug addicts? Rapists? Terrorists and terrorist recruiters? But this is what Munich knows: If we want to stop picking the bodies of babies up out of the surf, then we have to offer hospitality to everyone who comes. The time for sorting will come later.
Another friend told me a story about his parents. They themselves were refugees, part of the great displacement of people following World War II. He said his mother experienced horrific events when she was still a young girl. He said, “This is why all of Munich is for the refugee. We all have this story.”
These days, Munich is more secular then religious. Even so this city has dared to throw open the great welcoming table of God. But Munich’s welcome is not enough. We all need to make more room.
ANITRA KITTS is an ordained PC(USA) teaching elder now living and writing in Munich, Germany. She occasionally preaches in an English-speaking Methodist congregation that has an active ministry with African migrants and asylum seekers.