National Geographic : 2016 Oct
106 national geographic • october 2016 objecting, especially on Facebook. Grunwald rattled off ways in which refugees run afoul of the German sense of order. They leave trash in the park; they ride bikes on the sidewalks. And then there is the fraught matter of toi- let hygiene: Many refugees, used to Asian-style holes in the floor, don’t like to sit. Grunwald climbed onto his chair and squatted to help me visualize the problem. At a refugee center in Hamburg I met a couple of maintenance work- ers carrying toilet seats, who complained that the seats are constantly breaking. At the Roten- burg base, where I saw a bored refugee volun- tarily sweeping the sidewalk, all bathrooms are cleaned by German contractors—to make sure it’s done right, Baader said. I watched one crew zip themselves into disposable body suits, with hoods and masks, to clean the kindergarten. In bathrooms and beyond, Germans and refugees face off across a cultural gulf that for now is usually unbridged by a common lan- guage. “The understanding for the emotions and thoughts of the other—we’re just at the be- ginning,” Grunwald said. “If we could have a better exchange on that, then I’m convinced we can achieve something historic.” He wasn’t a big fan of Merkel’s before, he said, and didn’t choose this problem. Now he’s all in. With a few glaring exceptions, the German civil service has responded as expected to the crisis, which is to say, well. What’s been more surprising is how many Germans have chosen to invest personally in helping the refugees. In the Lower Saxon town of Duderstadt, I met a graphic artist and sometime DJ, Olaf Knauft, who last year took in two teenage Eri- trean boys. One day, he explained, he happened to meet a woman from the local youth agency who told him about the great need for sponsors and homes for all the unaccompanied minors. Knauft is 51, and his own two children, whom he raised alone once they were teenagers, have left the nest. He was nervous about living with a foreigner—and about how it would look for a single man to take in a boy—but he decided to take a chance on an 18-year-old Eritrean named Desbele, a Coptic Christian. The two got on well—so well that three weeks after Desbele arrived in May, he confided to Knauft that he had a 16-year-old brother, Yoisef, who was stuck in Libya. Desbele was in touch with the smugglers. It would take 2,500 euros to get Yoisef to Germany. Knauft gave Des- bele the money. In July he and Desbele managed to find Yoisef along a highway outside Mu- nich, where the smugglers had dumped him. Now Knauft has two new teenagers. And though he sometimes has to fuss about turning out lights, washing dishes, and who’s boss, he has no regrets. He calls Desbele and Yoisef “my children.” A few days before I met him, it had emerged that Yoisef had a twin, in prison in Eritrea. Knauft had paid 1,500 euros to get him out of jail and into Sudan, where he was waiting to cross the Sahara. This was defi- nitely the last brother, Knauft said. He and I were sitting with Karin Schulte, a retired teacher who tutors Desbele and Yoisef in German three times a week, pro bono. The boys attend vocational school, in a special class for immigrants, and after school they come sit in Schulte’s kitchen. She gives them coffee and cookies—because afternoon coffee is part of be- ing German too. One day, after hesitating for a long time, she told the boys that in Germany it isn’t customary to slurp your coffee loudly. Yoisef admitted that according to his grandmother What’s been most surprising is how many Germans have chosen to invest personally in helping the refugees.