By Samantha Simmons | March 28, 2022
Over spring break, I spent the week in Berlin, Germany. Before the trip, friends and family were worried considering the ongoing war in Ukraine with Russia. I did not think much of the situation, just that I was excited to be exploring a new country for the week. Retrospectively, this behavior was quite naive of me.
During a panel UAlbany held this past Wednesday, I asked how dangerous it was for surrounding countries to be accepting refugees. At this point, I was home safe so this was purely out of curiosity. The panelists explained that the Russian military is severely lacking in basic supplies, like food for their troops, so the likelihood that they would retaliate against those trying to help is low.
Photo Credit: Samantha Simmons
I arrived at 7 a.m. in Berlin on Sunday and had the day to explore before I checked into the hostel. While walking and sightseeing I happened upon a peaceful protest for the war. This ended up being a daily occurrence at Brandenburger Gate. This location is a European unity and peace symbol.
When I arrived at my hostel, I only had one roommate from Uruguay. That night another young woman, 30, named Mira, arrived. She was in Berlin on work with Parliament. We exchanged greetings. Later in the evening, she asked me about my view of the war. I don’t know much about current or past world affairs but shared what little knowledge I did have. She got feisty with me telling me her views. She said that the war is President Biden's fault, that he wants other countries to fight the war for him. This came as quite a shock to me because I had not heard this stance on the war before. The conversation, thankfully, quickly ended. I was not looking for confrontation.
My other roommate, Melanie, was also around 30-years-old and thought Mira’s point of view was a little extreme, especially to be sharing with someone she just met from another country. Thankfully Mira was only staying for the night and no more confrontational conversations were had.
Most of the demonstrations I ran into were mixed crowds of people from different backgrounds and ages. There were surprisingly a large number of children carrying signs with yellow and blue face paint.
The people of Germany seem to be overwhelmingly against the war.
A few nights into my stay at the hostel, a young woman joined my small room lined with a couple of bunkbeds. She was quiet and did not want to hold a conversation. After a couple of days, she warmed up to Ari, another new roommate, and I. We learned that she is from East Ukraine, she’s 24-years-old, and is here alone as a refugee. I don’t believe she ever told us her name. She only shared minor details with us. It wasn’t until this point in the week that I realized there were a lot of refugees in the surrounding city.
When on the subway, I saw many people with reflective vests on, with the languages they spoke written on a piece of tape stuck to their vest. I learned from Ari that they were guides for incoming refugees on where they were to go and how to get around.
At Hauptbahnhof, the central station in Berlin, there was a whole platform shutdown for incoming refugees. It was an interesting sight to see and I had never seen anything like that. I did not get any photos of that so as to not dehumanize them more. I'm sure they already are facing that being in a new country with people who don’t speak their language and no idea of when they can return home.
I wish I had gotten to talk with the Ukrainian girl more, but I understand where she is coming from on not wanting to talk. At night, my other roommates and I would talk about what we did that day. We always asked her but her response was “it was a typical day,” which we were unsure exactly what that meant. We also tried to get her to go out with us some nights but she was unwilling.
It was refreshing to see how accepting the Germans of Berlin seemed to be and helpful to those coming in. My heart hurts for these people. I was unfortunately unable to talk to any other refugees that I saw coming through the station(s). They were often being shuttled away too quickly for them to realize they were even off the trains. Overall, in Berlin, those protesting the war were saddened with what is going on in Ukraine and are sending a lot of prayers and supplies their way.