Student Blog: Europe can learn from Berlin’s acceptance of its past

Thousands of protesters march on a refugee protest in Berlin
Thousands of protesters march on a refugee protest in Berlin

The EU remains gripped by one of the worst refugee crisis in its history. Experiencing Berlin first hand allowed Matt Davies to see the city with a different perspective and has shown him how Britain can adopt the city’s stance on refugees.

Visit modern day Berlin and you’ll experience a city like no other. Soaked in rich history, it retains a respectful look at some of terrible moments in its past, whilst simultaneously building a vibrant, multi-cultural and progressive future.

But it was not always like that.

During this very week, a little over a quarter of a century ago, the city witnessed the beginning of a long (some would say still on-going) journey towards German reunification.

Berlin citizens began to knock down the barrier that was originally designed to prevent people leaving the Eastern Bloc.

And those from the East passed through checkpoints for the first time in nearly 30 years – to be embraced by their Western counterparts, both sides having fought for Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev to end the city’s separation.

The fall of the Berlin wall marked the end of decades of division and propaganda for East Berliners – who were now free to enjoy the prosperity of the West.

And the need for border fences across most of Europe has been rubbished ever since. Until now.

Whilst East Germany’s leaders once saw fit to build a wall to keep people in – Europe’s politicians are now building walls to keep people out.

In fact, the continent will soon host more physical borders than it has seen since the end of the Cold War – with Britain even joining the party this summer when it sent its own fences to Calais.

Slovenia is the latest in a string of countries looking to ‘reinforce their borders’, with the army drafted in to lay over 400 miles of barbed wire and fencing – in scenes reminiscent of the early years of Berlin’s iron curtain.


Snapped on a lamppost in Berlin. Credit Amy Howes
Snapped on a lamppost in Berlin. Credit Amy Howes

Such moves are, supposedly, in order to ensure that refugees, who have been forced to travel through the country after Hungary sealed its own southern borders, enter at the ‘correct checkpoints.’

But in reality it seems to be yet another tactic to simply move the problem on to another country – something the EU appears to be all too keen to encourage.

So it is left for the people of Europe to lend a real helping hand to those desperately fleeing war and persecution.

Incidentally it is Berliners who are welcoming thousands of refugees with open arms.

Some have opened up their homes, whilst others have donated food, clothing and other essential items to drop-off points around the city. Their beloved Templehof airport is now a temporary shelter, and ‘Refugees Welcome’ stickers, banners and posters line the streets and cover lampposts.

During the summer they lined train station platforms, greeting international services packed with those hoping to start a new life in the country, and collectively rose up to drown out a small number of anti-refugee protests.

Much like their parents did 26 years ago.

So whilst the German government battles with itself over refugees, the people of its capital continue their reputation of being an open and accommodating bunch.

The answer to Europe’s refugee ‘crisis’ will not come from Governments who continue to build walls – it will come from normal people willing to tear them down.

And Berlin is leading the way. It has experience, after all.


Matt Davies