“Realizing That Difference is Nothing Permanent…” – Your Story Moves I – Getting Back Together in Dortmund

Realizing that difference is nothing permanent
This is what matters in the end.

These were the closing words which the participants recited in summary of the experience gained through the exchange program ‘Your Story Moves – Encounters of Young People in Migration Societies’. After a week spent together in October 2018 in Israel, it was now the turn of the German participants to host their Israeli friends in Dortmund and add new knowledge and insights to the topic of Germany and Israel as migration societies.

After a warm-up and getting-back-together, the program started with a self-arranged walking tour in Dortmund. The participants from Germany took the group to their favorite streets, to the places where they usually hang out but also to parts of the city which are meaningful to them. In one of the stations of the tour the participants met with city councilor Mrs. Schneckenburger who picked the Reinoldi Church as a meaningful place to talk about the history of Dortmund. “Dortmund is a multicultural and multireligious city and we cannot imagine this city without its history of migration” said Mrs. Schneckenburger. “Right-wing extremists tried to squat this church a few years ago and hang neonazi paroles out of the church bells. We rang the bells loud and made them get out of here” she added.

The participants continued the day by sharing their own personal stories of migration and how this has impacted their life. How do they define themselves? How do they answer to questions related to identity? Where do they feel at home and how does this change over time? During a Living Library session where the participants acted as living books but also as readers, they shared important life stories and reconnected after the 6 months since they first met in Israel. “We have so much in common. We come from completely different backgrounds and yet we have experienced in very similar ways what it means to be different, to have something unique which accompanies you all your life”, said one of the participants.

Youth work and youth participation in Dortmund: Despite the cold weather and the rain, the group took their bikes and headed to the Nordstadt, a part of the city with a big migration population. People from 138 nations live in Nordstadt, a real kaleidoscope of the world. Along with the diversity of cultures, languages and worldviews come also challenges and strategies of inclusion and integration. Mirza Demirovic, a youth worker from Dortmund showed the group around Nordstadt and introduced them to the youth clubs and good practices of inclusion. “I feel inspired here” mentioned one of the participants who works with underprivileged youth in his Scouts ‘tribe’ in Israel. “In Germany there are much more resources but I feel like many of the ideas which I gathered here I can implement with my youth group as well” he added.

Facing and dealing with the past: An inspiring team of four young girls invited the participants to discover together the Jewish past of the city of Dortmund. As part of the Youth Council of Dortmund, these youngsters volunteer as peer educators and offer – among other activities – a tour along stumbling stones, teaching other people about the biographies of Jewish people who lived in the city, before being persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime. “The culture of memory is somehow different in Israel and in Germany. In Israel we have one day – the Yom HaShoah – when we commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and here we see a group of youngsters who do this voluntarily almost every day. At first I thought ‘What do they have to gain from this? They are biographically very little related to the topic of National Socialism.’ Now I realize we can do so much more to keep memory alive” said one of the participants from the Israeli group during a reflection session in regard to the significance of the history of the Shoah for young Germans and Israelis today. The group dealt further with the topic during a workshop on racism and antisemitism offered by educators of the partner organization Multicultural Forum Dortmund.

The religious diversity of the area couldn’t have missed being a significant part of the program. The Cologne Cathedral, the Great Mosque, the Alevi community and the synagogue of Dortmund were some of the stations which the participants visited. They learned and exchanged about customs and rituals, enjoyed the hospitality of the different communities and experienced how colorful the palette of the religious traditions is. At the same time they realized again how many similarities the three monotheistic religions bring with them and how interreligious dialogue can be integrated as a tool for a diversity-conscious education.

“We have always been a migration society. Europe cannot be understood without migration”: These were the words of Dr. Robert Fuchs, director of DOMiD (Documentation Center and Museum on Migration in Germany) while showing a picture of German workers in the USA in the beginning of the 20th century. “This could have been my Turkish grandfather in the 60s. He used to work in a cole mine”, said one of the participants, whose family migrated to Germany from Turkey. When did the migration history of Germany begin? Which population groups shaped it? How do we remember them today? Dr. Fuchs introduced the group to the important milestones of German migration history which the participants added to with their own biographical narrations. Each of them had at least one story to share. Stories of homeland, loss and hardship. But also stories of courage, journeys, learning and belonging. Stories that could have taken place in Israel or in Germany. Stories to keep with us, to share and to multiply.

“Migration here
Migration there
Haters are gonna hate everywhere
The important thing to focus on
Is just being YOU and not just anyone.

Realizing that difference is nothing permanent
This is what matters in the end”
(written by the participants of “Your Story Moves I”)