The experience I want to share didn’t teach me about Germany today or in this year or since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It gave me a glimpse into the future.
One of the young boys who come to our bicycle workshop became closer to me over several weeks and assists me when I needed help translating. Naures is a Syrian-born Kurd who came to Germany about a year ago after a long trip navigating to Europe with his mother and two sisters. Due to his past and his journey he speaks roughly five languages: Kurdish, Arabic, English, Turkish and now German. He is bright and smiles often. He addresses me with Sie and I constantly remind him he can just say du.
One day he invites me to his home for lunch and tea. This is a shared room inside a shared two-bedroom apartment within a refugee settlement. He politely insisted despite my hesitation, because I didn’t want to take what little he had. In the end I went with him out of respect. The 14-year-old cooked us four fried eggs, and made two small glasses of black tea. We had Arabic flatbread to dunk into the eggs as he showed me how he and his family normally do it.
While sitting in the bedroom that served as a dining room, he explained to me more details about his escape from Syria. How he first traveled through Turkey and then over to Greece on one of the now most infamous routes in the world. Then they managed to get a flight to Spain and moved slowly through the continent toward their goal: Germany.
He explained how horrible the ISIS militants were that came into his town north of Damascus, and how everyone he knows hates them and their brutal ways. He says they wrongly bend the pillars of Islam into weapons. His nostrils flared as he tried to convince me that they – the good guys – need more guns and then the Syrians themselves could defend their cities from jihadists. I told him guns were not the answer, but he refused to fully accept that. He understood my argument was fair and moral. Yet, he could not sense morality in his enemy. He was young and feverish. He cared.
We had these discussions while eating, then over a second cup of tea. It was a surprisingly warm early spring afternoon. We had the window open to air the room and he looked out beyond the glass often. Naures saw more than a foreign country. He saw his new home. I asked him if he wants to stay in Germany. Absolutely. Naures knows there was no going back to Syria – it would not be like before and it would not be safe for years to come.
This whole time, we communicated only in German. He had learned quite a lot for a young man who had lived in the country for 12 months. And as we discussed his future, his family and their eventual life outside of these four cluttered white walls, in a residence of their own after months of waiting, it became clear. Naures – his kindness, smile and intelligence – will become the new face of Germany. He will do great things. He will give thanks and give back. The country should be lucky to have him.