Schönefeld, December 20th, 2015

Some people are waiting for the Messiah. At Schönefeld, I spent the last two months waiting for the WiFi to be installed. I had contacted Freifunk Berlin, a group of volunteers installing WiFi for refugees in the shelters around town. It took a couple of weeks to manage to find the right contact person. Then another couple of weeks passed as they were checking what was doable on their side. They’re volunteers like us, so they can’t sort things out in a matter of hours, however easy it may seem on the paper. The volunteer who helped us arranged everything on the technical side, from the appropriate material, to the talks with the Deutsche Bahn, which manages the building, while I was getting the authorization from our head of operations at the train arrivals. The Freifunker came to assess the situation, see where the routers could be installed, and so on. Two months later, it’s 6:00 am and although I had planned on not getting up anytime before 8:00 am on this Sunday morning, I can’t but get up and make my way to Schönefeld an hour later.

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When I arrive, the volunteer is already at it, sorting some cables and setting up the two routers. He manages to install it, just in time for the first refugees to use the system. There is another head of operations in charge today, but he’s equally happy to let us install the WiFi.

Today, the atmosphere is both quieter, in terms of decibels, and more tiring, in terms of helping. I distribute the food with two friends, and somehow we can’t coordinate ourselves, but we’re in good spirits so we laugh about the confusion. Sadly, people seem more worried than usual, they don’t trust us to answer their questions honestly. Those who don’t want to stay in Berlin don’t dare to mention it. As I go at the back to fetch some Berlin maps, I stumble upon a file of other maps that Sabina, another volunteer, printed out. She organized that as a real tour operator. Maps of Europe, maps of Germany, maps of Berlin… People finally get to know where exactly they landed, and see it in the broader picture. Understandably, it reassures them. I don’t have much time to think of it right now but I pass next to a box of razors for men, which I find very useful, since the supplies in pretty much everything tends to be low in the shelters. A man asks me whether I think he should stay in Germany or try and reach Switzerland. I was asked similar questions in the past, I don’t know how to answer that. I can’t take the responsibility for him. I tell him what I know about Germany, what I know about the situation in Switzerland. He asks me how difficult it is to cross the border. I answer: “Well, it shouldn’t be the same as Macedonia”. Then again, how should I know? My passport always allowed me to cross any borders I wanted from the comfort of a train or plane seat. I advice him the best I can, but can’t say anything for certain and tell him so as well. He appreciates that.

Later on, as I talk with a group of people, Sabina walks around with maps in one hand and razors in the other. I can’t help but laugh. Not everyone wants to openly take a razor, so I tell her to let a man do that bit of the distribution. Once I’m finished with the advising part, I’m on teddy bears duty again. I take a half-dozen in my arms and make as many new little friends when back in the hall. But as soon as the teddies are gone, a dozen other kids look at those who received something with envy. Of course I can’t let them like that, and we have enough teddies for everyone, so I’m off to the storage rooms again, fetching other soft bears for the children. I almost fall a couple of times on the safety cordon placed really low today. I blame it on clumsiness.

Another couple of trips – and all kids are provided with something to cuddle. From the smallest ones to young teenagers, they all seem happy and somehow relieved to have something they can hold in their arms. One Syrian man and his three children is a bit behind, he’ll get on the last bus. As I give the teddies away, he asks one of his daughters to say “Thank you” in English. She’s very shy, but he really wants her to be polite. We volunteers don’t expect praises and thanks, we’re happy to provide happiness. Of course, the nice conversation that often follows is gratifying, but it’s secondary compared to having made someone happy. And no one expects someone who has been through so much already to be fit enough to chitchat upon their arrival. Still, the man is happy to talk to us, so Sabina and I ask him about his story.

It’s time to wrap it up again. The volunteers leave, one by one. The Freifunker is still here, shows me his installations before we leave. Today is a sunny day, it’s quiet again in Schönefeld. All the tables were cleaned and set up for tomorrow’s train by the army. Only three of us are left. As we’re about to leave, a friend of mine trips on the same safety cord I stumbled upon earlier on. We don’t know it yet but she broke her arm; that’s our team short of a good element for the months to come. We still need support.

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The hall, ready to welcome another train, December 20th, 2015 © E. Chaze

 

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