Since I started in August 2015 to welcome refugees in Munich, 2016 in Idomeni camp and from 2017 on in Thessaloniki I have been writing texts to inform about the situation.
Sometimes also as a kind of therapy for myself.
I have been invited to read from my texts, speak about my experiences and give seminars.
In the years 2018-2021 I got €33.427,89 donations from friends and people in solidarity from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, France, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Spain, Romania.
In 2022 I got already €1369,50
That's amazing! That's solidarity!! Das ist großartig! Das ist Solidarität!
Thank you! Danke! Ευχαριστώ! Ευχαριστούμε!
Zwar kann ich keine Spendenquittungen ausgeben, dafür kommt jeder Cent zuverlässig bei der Hilfe für geflüchtete und bedürftige Menschen an - jeder noch so kleine Betrag ist hilfreich. DANKE dafür!!
IBAN: DE14701500000903121812 / BIC: SSKMDEMM
Ελληνικός λογαριασμός: GR8602602060000100201430994 / BIC: ERBKGRAA
Please sign the petition we were co-signing
- Protection for all and access to asylum for all.
- European solidarity and relocation.
- Dignified reception conditions.
- Power to the cities.
- Safe and legal routes.
This day… 17.5.2016… I came to Greece in order to help in the situation with the refugees. I had the phone number of one person who - friends in Munich said - speaks German. I did not know if I really could be useful somewhere. Greece hasn’t been on my map then. Idomeni only a name from the news. All the people and organisations unknown. The language Greek to me…
17.5.2016. The day that changed literally my life and brought me to a new city, a new country, a new language, a new life.
Yesterday I have been asked if I never had regrets after my decision I made in 2017. And as always I could say „Especially the first year was so rough and nothing is easy. But not even a single second I had regrets!“
It began 6 years ago, although I didn’t know it. I don’t have many specific memories about that first two-weeks-long stay, but I remember the feeling.
I am thankful for everyone who was part of my way from that day on when I arrived the first time in Thessaloniki
It is challenging to live with Afghan refugees. My friends and their community close to the Swiss borders are trying their best to integrate the family with four children and the single woman who came from Kabul as „local staff“ after the taliban took over the country again.
It is challenging as no one speaks German, neither german well enough. Because the children are not supervised and are running outside and the other parents take care then if they want or not. Because they have their story, their traumas, their difficulties…
I realised how much I am used to have these children in my daily life, to speak „campish“ with them, to play and to encourage them. We played, we watered the flowers together, we practised respect…
It is challenging and to be honest I am glad that I can close the door to my apartment and can lock out that challenge from time to time.
This is what war is about: people have to flee.
Over 7.1 million people internally displaced, over 4.1 million people in other countries.
This is Ukraine.
But there are many wars we don’t have the focus on.
No one wants to be a refugee!
We are always laughing when people from abroad are asking us "How do the refugees know that they can come to you?"
We are laughing because the problem isn't to inform people, the problem is how to handle all the people (who learn from each other that we are there).
Yesterday we did not go to the market because we did not have enough (greek speaking) volunteers. Luckily. Because from an early hour on people came, behaved like going to a supermarket, complained what we did not have - and after some hours we gave away so many rice and beans and tomato sauce and pasta that our shelves are almost empty again.
They know very quickly where to go, and they have not very much to do during the day. We are wondering how we can continue to manage our working life, our personal life AND this life that means many hours of organisation in order to put the foodstuff as well as the jam etc. that we are making ourselves on the table from which they grab what they can get.
Why does it touch me so much?
Everyone who knows me a little better knows that I cannot really cry. One of the aims of my current psychotherapy is to express finally sadness, hopelessness, despair with tears to get rid of it.
So it was even more strange to me that I began yesterday to cry when I met a young woman from Ukraine. In an open space. Where I was working. With many people around me, people that I know and many that I don’t know.
Yana is the cousin of a friend, she came one week ago from Kyiv to Thessaloniki to stay in the empty apartment of his mother, her aunt.
Her husband and her father stayed in Ukraine, she decided to leave with her 6yo daughter and her mother. So they became from one day to the next refugees. With an unclear future.
I am working since almost 7 years with refugees. I hear these stories every day. I see the videos they show me from the boat in which they made it from Turkey to Greece. Pictures from the bombed houses in Syria, dead friends or relatives shot by Taliban.
I cannot say that I get used to it, but I have some kind of “callus” on my soul.
Why does it touch me so much?
Many reasons, I guess, not only one.
First of all I am tired. I am tired from the world’s horror and wars. I am tired to see people who have to leave their country and who don’t know how to continue their lives. Tired from their unfulfilled hope, their hope and desperation.
Maybe I am overwhelmed by these “new” refugees from Ukraine because they come to Greece with the purpose to come to Greece. I mean, no refugee ever wanted to come to and to stay in Greece. Literally everyone wanted to go to Germany or some of them to a couple of other countries. Greece is the first state in Europe where they arrive, but it is not their goal to live here. Now there are coming people who come intentionally to our city and are trying to continue somehow a part of their life here. Still unsure how it will continue, how long this war will last.
And then there is my personal background: My grandparents – who I did not really met – came from Ukraine and Russia. I don’t know many things about them and their lives, my mother broke up with them and so I only know a few things. My grandmother came as a young girl as a forced labourer during the Nazi regime from Western Ukraine to Germany and stayed. My grandfather deserted the Russian Red Army to the British Army and also stayed after the liberation in Germany. That’s how they met there and stayed in the country in which I was born and in which I grew up with the knowledge and related thereto with the feeling that I am not a “german German”. I am grown up 12 km away from the French borders, I learned French from the first year of school and I could see that the houses, the trees, the people looked exactly the same as I knew it from the other side of the borders. I always thought of myself as “a European” and never really as “a German”. I always knew that I could have grown up either in France or in Ukraine or Russia.
Now I am a German in Greece with grandparents from Ukraine and Russia. Russian began a war towards Ukraine.
Is it why it touches me so much?
2014 when the peaceful revolution in Kiyv at the Maydan, the main square began, my church in Munich began peace prayers for Ukraine. Munich is the partner city of Kiyv and also my church has been in close contact for years with the Lutheran German church there. The pastor and his family are friends of some church members and so we have been somehow very close to the events.
Afterwards I stayed in touch with the pastor when he moved back to Germany and could read a couple of years ago from my texts about refugees in Greece in his new church.
Now I am still reading what they are writing on Facebook about their friends in Kiev.
Now I see how the Ukraine people become refugees.
Now they also came to Greece. To Thessaloniki.
It seems to be a circle.
A strange one.
And it touches me so much.
I will meet Yana the next days. Will find some beds for friends of them who have luckily a place to stay but no furniture.
I will see many refugees also this week from everywhere, also from Ukraine. I will stand their sadness, their hopelessness and despair.
It will need generations to heal what get hurt right now there.
And I will maybe learn how to cry and I will maybe also heal my own traumata that have a lot to do with these countries that are at war.
Published on www.rootandbranches.org 22.03.2022
I could be a refugee…
A day full of work. But also with music and dance and friends and food.
And a woman, the cousin of a friend, from Ukraine, with her 6yo daughter and her mother. The husband and the father there in the war. After two weeks in shelter they decided to go to relatives in Greece.
„It must be strange to see how people here continue their lives while yours fell apart“, I said. „I don’t know how it will continue.“
„It will take years and generations to recover from that. To rebuild the country but also to rebuild all the souls.“ I thought out loud. - and began to cry. And was ashamed in front of that strong woman. Both with tears in our eyes we did not find any words anymore but understood each other. „I am so sorry“ I said and tried to hold myself together.
I don’t know why it touches me so. I met so many people on the flee. Maybe it is because I always knew that I could have been born in Ukraine. Or in Russia. Maybe I am wondering how my mother feels who broke up with her Ukrainian mother and never could reconciliate with her or the language or her roots. Maybe because her mother looks very similar to mine. Maybe because I am very tired these days. Or… I don’t know.
All I know is: today we sang and danced and had a good time and tomorrow we could be refugees.
Since more than two weeks we are standing every afternoon for an hour at the main square in Thessaloniki. We replace then the Ukrainian community that stands there one hour before us and walks then to the Russian embassy. We are not shouting, we are just standing still with our banner, some candles and sometimes some peace signs. Some people take pictures, others get in touch with us.
We are so few people, it is so difficult to mobilise more.
The first refugees from Ukraine also reached our organisation. We try to help with housing, the main problem, although it is nearly impossible for us. We can give clothes, we can give foodstuff. Still we can. More people in need in Europe, in our country, in our city.
Not many people who want to spend their time for others - demonstration or with practical help. Not many people here can help with any kind of financial support. 8 years of a rough situation with refugees in Greece beside the economic crisis and the pandemic left their mark.
„People should go where they have relatives“. No Dublin III for Ukrainian refugees.
That is great!
Please, this is what we demand since 2003!
People should go where they already have family! Every refugee!
There are no “real” and “unreal” refugees!
Pity and fear – the classic base for a catharsis.
Ukrainians are closer to us than the people in Syria, Afghanistan or other countries from where people have to flee. Pity.
A war in Europe is closer to us than the climate crisis that until now affects us not enough every day of our life, nuclear weapons in stand by: fear.
Writing, posting, speaking about Ukraine: interesting.
Doing the same about refugees in Greece, in Libya, in Belarus, the Talban in Afghanistan, all the homeless and hungry people, the impacts of the climate crises, floods in Australia…: no pity, no fear, no catharsis, no interest.
I know we cannot check everything all the time.
For the people there is no difference. For them we are one of the organisations where they take what they can get. They don’t see how tired we are. That we are not payed for that. That we are struggling so much to manage all these things (donations, volunteers, tasks, topics). There are vegetables, brought with a lot of work, but the question is “is there no bread today?”. There is cooked food, cooked by a cook who brought from his own money some supplies in the morning and the answer is “is there no rice?”…
Anyhow. It is just going on and on and on and there is no end.
And we are struggling beside these solidarity activities with the climate change, with human rights, gender issues, peace work and… I forgot what else. I am very tired today.
I am glad that people at the borders to Ukraine host the newest war refugees there.
But what about the war refugees from Syria, Afghanistan… who got stuck at the borders the last months and are dying in the cold of the forests?
It has been, it is, it will be about colour of skin and about religion if you get help or not…
"Come", she said. "I want to tell you"...
Her son (14 yrs) cried today so much because of me and the place. She got her passport today and soon they will go to Germany, so he faced today the upcoming goodbye. The son speaks Greek, is going since 3 years to school and doesn't want to leave. "I told him Germany is a good country", she said. "Please don't leave without saying goodbye", I said.
„So you have siblings in England and in Germany and you are here in Greece”, I said to the 14-year old guy I know since a couple of years. “Mmmm…”, he replied. “When you are an adult you can write your story.” I proposed. He did not really react. I continued: “So that everyone can see how brave you are.”
He began to cry.
Distribution of food and clothes.
I tried to keep a distance to the people. Asked them to cover the nose with the mask.
One came very close. I went a step back. He showed me a paper on his phone. I cannot see without glasses but I understood when he said „three times vaccination, no worries“.
I am really too tired of it and I don’t speak Kurdish so I did not even try to explain him that he still can get infected and also can pass it by to someone - to me in that case.
Is it really so difficult to take care of the others a bit?
Inspiring and encouraging
We are living in difficult times. That’s what everybody says. But maybe we are living in very normal times if I think that every time has its difficulties and that there are always crisis in the world.
In Greece we are still in the economic crises, although people in other European countries think it’s over. It isn’t, and with the covid-19 pandemic it is getting even worse.
People use the word “refugee crisis” that I don’t use. If it is a “crisis” and not a situation it is a humanitarian or a solidarity crisis in Europe. But anyhow, there are refugees in Greece. Many refugees and since a long time.
Now, begin 2022, I am living since a little more than 4 years in Thessaloniki, in the North of Greece. Since Spring 2016 I was coming for a couple of weeks or months before I moved. So since almost 6 years I am now involved in the refugee issue. I went almost 2 years into a camp, I was distributing food and clothes in the streets and in different organisations as a volunteer. I met so many refugees of whom some of them became friends. They left the country, because Greece is never the country where refugees want to stay, it is only the first European country on which they put their feet after coming from Turkey across the Mediterranean Sea by boat or crossing Evros river on the land borders. According to the Dublin III law they have to apply for asylum here, but try to leave as soon as they can. Legally or illegally.
I see refugees almost every day, as I am organising with two other people a place in which they are coming for clothes, food, meals, furniture or whatever they need and we could have.
I see one shop after the next closing because the pandemic was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
I hear from friends who have to move back to their parents because they cannot find work or are badly payed so that they cannot afford their own apartment.
I hear from former volunteers that they cannot come to help because… well, they don’t say it, but I can hear the “because I need my energy for myself”.
I am afraid of covid as I have a lung disease and as I live alone.
How to keep optimistic? How not to lose hope and the energy we need for our daily life in job, with the beloved ones and for the voluntary work with and for the people on the flee?
How to be inspiring and encouraging for the people who are coming to us to seek for help and for the friends, the people around me that need it?
I guess I am an optimistic person by myself (that’s at least how I explain that I moved from Germany to Greece and not the opposite as so many Greeks are doing). Maybe also because I learned very early in my life that optimism and hope is the only thing that can save you. I always can find a little something that is good in a very dark situation. Well, not always, but often.
And I see all these people (refugees, locals, friends, unknown people) who need encouragement. Who need to be inspired.
This is maybe what inspires me: To see people who need to be inspired and to find somewhere inside me something that can inspire them. As long as I feel only a little bit of courage and optimism, as long as I can encourage someone only for the next hour, I will try to do it.
Yes, I am a believer. And my help doesn’t come by my own. My help does come “from the maker of heaven and earth” (Ps.121,1). And whenever I forget that my help comes from Him, I have luckily people who remind me to fall on my knees and to pray for help.
Sometimes thit is not enough. Sometimes I just want a human being beside me that can give me a hug – impossible in times of the pandemic we are in.
Also I am struggling a lot these weeks and months.
Also I have personal crisis.
But every time something inspiring is coming to me. May be a text. A message from a friend. A word by someone. A bible verse. Having a coffee with a friend and we are speaking only about beautiful things. Realising that after four years I am living my life completely in Greek and in Greece. Listening to someone who tells me that he/she has been inspired by something I said or did….
Maybe it sounds now a little bit like a fairytale or a trashy novel or a telenovela.
But maybe that’s the reason why I wanted to write that text: To encourage myself to have the energy again to inspire and encourage others.
In the economic crisis in Greece. In the pandemic. In a situation with thousands upon thousands of people on the flee in my country and in so many other countries of the world.
In a – looking back in history – very normal time with difficulties and normal people who try to cope with it and who need each other.
No, she cannot come to learn English, she said, the baby, the babies… well not she said it, the children translated. Two of them spoke quite well Greek, the older girl I guess doesn’t go to school, maybe she had to take care of the younger siblings.
The mother did not even look at me, she expected from her children to translate in both directions.
Her only argument why she could not learn to communicate: baby, babies.
The children have been full of fear and full of many bad experiences in their small life, I could see and feel it.
They took teddy bears. The three of them took teddy bears. More than one. Huge ones. They needed them I guess.
I put him a chocolate in his pocket and he did not let this pocket for the next half an hour while his father chose clothes and vegetables. He could not believe that he could take two toys but most of the fun we had with a paper bag he put on his head. I remember that I read once on a poster “children need love, chocolate and books”. This child needed chocolate, toys and some attention to be happy. And happy he left. With his hand on his pocket of course. Hardly believing his luck.
He is listening all the time to music or social media on his phone- with the speaker not with earphones. He is all the time at the phone. In his language. With the speaker not with earphones.
A child was playing with some of the toys we have. I just saw him taking the child (literally) and push it to its mother. „Why?“ I asked him. „The noise“ he said…
Tolerance isn’t an easy thing. For no one.
Sometimes it is so easy to make a little boy happy. Sometimes there is that blessed moment when there is time - and there are some little cars. And from a shy not-looking-at-me we made it to shouts of pure joy. Sometimes it is so easy to make a refugee just a little boy.
We are wondering these days - these very cold days - why only a few families are coming to take clothes. We are sure that there are people in town and in the camps around who need warm stuff.
It is so difficult to coordinate all the time supply and demand.
We are supporting them since two years maybe. The son is the only one allowed to hug me in that time in which I am staying away even from my closest friends. But this 14 years old guy is just so thankful that we support him and his mother and doesn’t know how easy they make it for us because they are so beautiful people.
The mother spoke today the first time Greek. The first time the son repeated in Kurdish what I said „speak by yourself, you can do it.“ What she wanted to say - and I am so happy that she did it in Greek - was that they got asylum now.
The older son (and maybe also the father) are in England, but there they cannot go due to the Brexit. To Germany they will go when they have their passport. Another couple of people who will get stuck there in the Dublin III procedure. Who have to begin again anew.
I hope he will find there again people he can hug.
„Who left the baby there?“ he asked and I was laughing. Of course the mother was still around the corner to take - as she is doing from time to time since almost a year - clothes and foodstuff.
She is carrying the newborn wrapped in a blanket in front of her through the city.
I don’t speak dari, she doesn’t speak none of my languages, but she knows that she can let the baby with me and I know that she is deeply thankful for our support and we smile at each other in the same language.
The baby was screaming
It is always nice when she is coming. We prepared for her a package with foodstuff and wrote her name. She asked me what to do with the paper and I said „take it if you want.“
She took a pen and drew a heart for us.
She is so lovable.
We had a huge donation from a supermarket. So we informed some of our families that they can come and take some foodstuff. As we don’t go at the market due to thousands of covid infections in Thessaloniki it is great that we can do this.
„You supported us already so many years“, she wrote. „Give it this time to other families who are also in need“.
This touched me.
This doesn’t happen very often.
It is not always „each for him/her/itself“.
Wow, what an opening for me after so many days in which I had put myself in quarantine:
First a woman who was angry that she could not come a second time to take clothes because someone else was inside and then threw us the content of her bag in front of the door, then the guy who told me „the donations are for us and not for you“ when we could not give them again sleeping bags etc (as they already took the last two times). Insisting and insisting on taking more and more I told him that he and his mother have to leave and while leaving the place he told me that it is my job to help him and that I don’t have the right to make decisions here and what my name is.
…we are still laughing who of us few people who are running equally and voluntarily unpaid the place could be interested in learning my name by him to tell me that I am fired.
She has been volunteering a couple of times with the organisation of clothes. Today she told me that only to see us she realised that we are all the time in a situation that is not easy to cope with. „Of course“ I said, because I am aware of it, but she meant something specific: „You never see a result, you never see that something is getting better, you always see only the needs. Again and again. And this must be psychological stress.“
Hmmmmmm…. Yes. She nailed it.
In Greece at Epiphany the "blessing of the waters" takes place. The orthodox priest does this by casting a cross into the water and some men try to recover the cross. The person who gets the cross first swims back and returns it to the priest, who then delivers a special blessing to the swimmer and their household.
This year pictures of men getting refugee children out of the water or of sinking boats in the Mediterranean get viral with subtitles like "Humans who caught the cross".
No blessing for them in Greece. Actually they are facing prison for trafficking.
As God doesn't know about religion and the many times weird traditions, I know they are blessed. Pictures: unknown sources
„It is so difficult”, she said. She is responsible for the coordination of the support in her organisation in which refugee women can get support. “We had to stop our Greek and English lessons. We don’t have coupons anymore to support the women financially and so also some colleagues lost their jobs”.
She just wanted to ask if we can support a woman - since more than one year we are cooperating and I know that she appreciates our work and even more because it is voluntary. We also spoke a bit how we feel and what happened in our lives the last couple of months. “I don’t get involved anymore emotionally. I think it is good and also bad.”. - “You protect yourself”, I replied. “Yes”, she said from the deep of her heart. She has to. We have to.
I wish you all a happy and a blessed year 2022!
With health, love, friends, colors and light, with wonderful moments and the power to cope with the difficult moments.
I took a break the last days, I am afraid of the extremely arising infections in Greece and did not want to be with people.
And after the decision I realized that I needed that break after that year, after all these years. As a friend from Oikopolis told me: "Try to relax as we don't have many things to do at the moment, before we will be busy again."
It was difficult for me to know that the two other people have to do my work, but it is true: Many activities don't take place at the moment and it was fine that I did only the "back office" the last days.
I feel kind of ready to get in touch with all the needs again.
I feel kind of ready to continue with what we are doing since years.
I feel kind of ready to face our helplessness and our tiredness. Feel that I want to and can accept it.
Thank you everyone for the emotional and financial support during 2021, I have do admit that we are counting on it also in 2022. Alone we cannot make it.
Happy New Year! Καλή Χρονιά!