Anthony and I haven’t been in touch for a number of years – about five it must be, because Philip, their delightful four year old son, was still in utero when Anthony came and visited me in England the last time, together with his two older children.
Much has changed for Anthony in the meantime – the last time we saw each other, he was just at the start of a new relationship and not sure at all where his life would turn towards. Now, he and Heike, his lovely wife, live in a typical Southern German house in a typical southern German village, creating a home for their large patchwork family with 7 children, ranging from age 4 to 27. Not all of them live in the house anymore, but there is a strong sense that it is a home for everyone.
The front garden houses at least a dozen workable bikes, plus some in various states of repair. I wonder why they might need so many bikes? As the day progresses, the reason becomes clear: Their house is also a welcome place for refugees. Apart from having ‘adopted’ a young Eritrean called Joseph and helping him to find his feet in a new culture, Anthony receives a constant stream of refugees all through the day, helping them with all sorts of things, ranging from lending a bike and buying SIM cards, to helping them understand official documents, making phone calls for housing and work, listening to their stories and their needs. The South of Germany is very conservative politically speaking, and in his village he’s probably more or less the only one who would welcome strangers, let alone help them.
Probably 30 refugees pass by on that day. When I remark on the volume of people passing through his house, he says that today was a quiet day, they only came with the most urgent requests because they tried to respect the fact that it was a holiday and not bother him. The mind boggles as to what a normal day looks like!
According to Anthony, the real hardship begins when the refugees have been granted asylum and have permission to work or study, because at that point, the financial support stops and they need to leave any shelter they’ve been offered by the state. Many have not learnt German by then and have very little prospect of finding work or a place to live.
Why don’t they use their waiting time to learn German, I wonder? That’s what I would do if I knew I would have to live in a country; I’d try and learn the language ultra-quick. Anthony asks me to remember that many of them come from regions that have been at war for a long time, for example Afghanistan, so they often have not had much schooling at all. They have not learnt how to learn, how to educate themselves. Add to that the traumatic experiences they have had, which cloud their daily lives, making many of them too depressed to have any motivation at all. The most effective way to help them come out of this situation is to integrate them, he says. Having recently inherited some money, Anthony has bought a house in Augsburg, a student city, where he wants to rent out several flats to groups of young people, part Germans and part refugees, in the hope that this will help the refugees’ transition into society.
It is a glorious sunny afternoon, so we all take a walk to the village where there’s a vintage ralley which puts Frank into 7th heaven.
On our way back, we pass by the river where Philip finds the perfect muddy spot to play in, getting completely soaked in the process.
When we come back home, we all go into the sauna that Anthony and Heike have recently installed in their house, and I’m in 7th heaven too. What a lovely day, and how nice to see Anthony happy and settled in a supportive and loving relationship.
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