Goodbye Berlin!

The final part of my project was interviewing someone who actually received a bike from Rückenwind. Strangely, this was the hardest part of reporting. All of the people that mechanics suggested we talk to wouldn’t respond. So, we went in one last time, and were lucky enough to meet a Syrian woman and her husband. They had just started working on repairing their bikes, so we stuck around and documented the entire process. The woman spoke perfect English, and was very outgoing and willing to talk with us. After she fixed her brand new bike, we found a quiet hallway and sat across from each other, knees touching, to talk about why she thought having a bike in Berlin was so important. I purposely avoided the normal questions you hear asked of refugees: Why did you leave? How did you get here? What will you do next?

I find these questions to be pitying. I wanted to know how this woman was doing in her knew home, why she liked bicycles, and let her decide what she wanted to tell me about her past. She eventually did tell me about her reasons for leaving and how she traveled to Germany, information I won’t disclose on the internet per her request. What I can say, is that I never thought I would have the opportunity to sit across from a woman, my age,  who had fled from terrible living conditions and talk to her about her brand new blue bike…. (go to the website to hear more!).

 

The last week of the program I edited my stories. It was a long, long week. We were all tired, getting only a few hours of sleep a night, as we worked up to the deadline. It was a relief to mixdown my project and turn it over to the website crew. But, it also meant that it was time to say goodbye to Berlin. That farewell was difficult. It was such a blessing to spend three weeks exploring a complete new part of the world, not as a tourist, but as a student and a journalist. The trip helped me improve my language skills, my confidence in recording and producing audio-stories, and my ability to jump outside of my comfort zone. I’m back in Germany now for the next year and am planning on visiting Berlin, our translators, and the woman I got to interview about her bike.

 

Check out our stories here:

 

https://missoulatoberlin.atavist.com/missoula-to-berlin

 

Thanks for reading! Tschüss! (Ba-bye!)

International Reporting in Berlin

The last part of the Missoula to Berlin project was focused on reporting and producing stories. Alicia Legget and I reported together on an organization called Rückenwind. Meaning “Tailwind” in English, Rückenwind is a non-profit bike shop that started up in 2015. Refugees can contact the organization and request a bicycle. Once it is their turn, refugees come into the shop and pick out a bike, repair it with a volunteer, and then get to ride away at the end of the day with their very own bicycle.

 

Alicia found the organization before we arrived in Berlin, but we hadn’t been in much contact with the students who run the shop… They are all engineering students and were a bit too busy to return emails. Showing up at the shop was a bit nerve wracking, this was my very first international reporting trip. I hadn’t ever had to reach out to sources in a different language, let alone show up on their doorstep and ask if I could follow them around with a recorder for the next two weeks. But, my nerves quickly dwindled. Walking into the shop for the first time, it was clear that the atmosphere was casual and friendly. All of the mechanics were happy to speak with us in English. This was somewhat of a relief because I wanted to do all of my radio stories in English, without too many voice-overs. We spent a few days in the shop getting to know the different mechanics, watching how they interacted with the refugees, and hearing an interesting mix of languages.

 

Eventually we sat down with a few of the founders and had one-on-one interviews with them about how the shop started and why they donate so much time to the cause.

 

https://missoulatoberlin.atavist.com/missoula-to-berlin

 

Hallo Berlin!

Berlin welcomed us with a rainy, summer embrace. After stuffing our suitcases under our beds, Shane, a graduate of UM and our tour guide/fixer/professor/fairy god father of the trip gave us a tour of our new neighborhood of Neuköln. Berlin is split up into different “neighborhoods,” each having it’s own feeling. Neuköln’s streets are lined with kebab shops, Späti’s (convenience stores that stay open late), hipster burger joints, and a bars.

We spent the first two weeks of the program touring refugee camps and different governmental/nonprofit organizations that play a role in aiding refugees seeking asylum in Germany. We were lectured by different experts of every field, doctors, economists, journalists. Each gave us their perspective of the refugee crisis, allowing us to understand it in a new context.

In return for their help as translators, three men from Afghanistan and one from Syria joined us on these visits and lectures. Talking with them and hearing their feedback about the information that we were hearing from the previous mentioned experts was enlightening, and sometimes uncomfortable. It is one thing to hear about the suffering of others from a lawyer specializing in asylum law, and a completely different thing to hear it from the lips of a man who fled his home in fear of his life.

Tragedy, however, was not the only topic of conversation with these men. I had many long conversations with Anmar, the 35 year old from Syria.  Anmar has bright-red long hair and a white scruffy beard. He loves hard metal, beer, sweets, and is one of the most insightful, gentle, straightforward people I have ever met. His English is near perfect, and is working hard on improving his German as quickly as he can. During our breaks we would sit together with a few other students from the program. As he rolled one cigarette after another, we would discuss religion, love, justice, sex, morality, and of course, American pop culture. Anmar is a refugee, a victim of religious persecution. But, Anmar is also a human being… a guy who likes painting houses, watching movies, discussing philosophical concepts over a beer or two. Talking with him helped me realize just how important this reporting trip was. The Missoula to Berlin project’s main aim is to give a human face to the refugee crisis. Read more in the next blog entry to find out what other amazing people I met who did just that.

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Above: Visiting a refugee shelter.

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Above: Visiting a school where many young refugees take German courses.