I had a two-hour wait in the Münich Hauptbahnhoff. It’s been a crazy place the last while, I hear. Yesterday 10,000 refugees arrived by train. The numbers are incomprehensible and staggering to me.
I sat down on a nondescript bench by myself and got lost in my own thoughts. And then a group of middle eastern refugees sauntered up and sat down on the benches opposite me. But there wasn’t enough room so they filled up my bench and sat next to me. Not that I minded, but I considered moving instantly. Not because I dislike refugees. But because of the smell. It was not the smell of unwashed bodies, but the distinctly unpleasant aroma of someone who didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. Well, that’s putting it mildly. Let’s assume this happened, but of course there is no other set of clothes so we just make do.
But I couldn’t move. I mean, what would that say to these poor people who have lost everything. You sit down beside someone and they get up and leave. In reality there is probably not that much pride left, but still it has to sting. So I stayed. And even engaged in some conversation. Not that either one of us understood anything.
Sitting on this bench with a group of brown-skinned young men was really interesting. Several trains arrived and passengers disembarked. Hundreds and hundreds of people walked past us and I got to watch their reactions. Some people walked by, gazing straight ahead. Old ladies especially, would walk very slowly and almost stop, offering giant smiles. It warmed my heart. But nearly everyone watched us out of the corner of their eye as they walked past, careful not to make eye contact. The look was not resentment or mistrust. It was simply curiosity. Who are these people? Where are they from? What have they experienced?
You see, I was sitting in this group of people. I felt like it was an honor. I am a bit dark skinned myself, and with my black hair I melted right in. I heard people say flüchlinge [refugee] when they walked past. As far as they were concerned, I was just another refugee in this crowd. After all, I was not dressed sharply. In fact, I was actually quite grungy looking. I thought it was a really nice morning. Granted, it was a bit chilly. But these young guys were shivering violently, being unaccustomed to such weather.
It was a really deep moment for me to identify with these people. To be treated by society as if I was homeless. I looked into the eyes of these young men. Eyes wide with fascination at this strange world. But also eyes that were deeply haunted by the pain, death and suffering they experienced. When I left the group for my train ride to Budapest, I felt embarrassed. I had everything. I could just leave. They couldn’t.
A train pulled in from Budapest. It was quite a long train. And the entire train was filled with refugees. Dozens and dozens of police formed a human wall. News reporters stood on ladders behind them, trying to get pictures. The corridor teemed with volunteers in neon green and orange vests. Some of them were crying. Others had glazed eyes, and calloused faces. It just didn’t matter any more. I talked with a policeman and he let me through the line. I walked the length of the train studying these faces. It was so touching. Tears welled up in my eyes. But then I had to leave. Budapest was calling.
Somehow this made a deep impression on me. I realize Muenchen is a far cry from the pain and suffering in Syria. But still…I hear so much about these situations and read so much about them. To see it first hand and mingle with these people was an incredible experience. I hope I never forget this feeling.
But then arriving in Budapest there was so much more. Unlike what the media portrays, I was not faced with a million angry people. But there were hundreds and hundreds of people camped in tents and sleeping bags in the train/metro halls. Really it was too much for words. So I won’t try.