Our first days in Passau, Refugees, Migration, Cultural Exchange, and Gilmore Girls

6/22, on a bus somewhere in Bavaria

I was hoping to keep up with this much better than I have, but here we are, four days in, and only one blog post written. We’re currently on the bus from Passau to a little town in Bavaria called Neumarkt where we’ll visit an all-girls school. So far, adding photos from a memory card to my iPad seems nearly impossible, so pictures will have to come later, unless I can remember to take a couple on my phone at every stop. For the three of you who are still reading these, I’ll work hard to do that, as the photos really do improve the quality of the posts. 😉 [edit: clearly I didn’t find a sufficient solution to this problem, so here were are, three weeks after the fact.]

Passau, in lower Bavaria, was a lovely, quaint little town, with a large university, a bustling city center, and a large river cruising presence. It’s a very different place when the river cruise ships are present–as most of the people who come off the boats are non-Germans of a certain age, it definitely temporarily changes the demographics of the city, and certainly makes it a bit harder to move around freely. As with any city, I much prefer to stay until the most touristy of tourists head out of town. It’ll be one of my many travel tips, whenever that post comes to fruition. So many of these cities have completely different personalities when they’re more locals than not. Assisi in Umbria, Italy is the best example of this I’ve encountered. It is most definitely worth buying a train ticket, getting there yourself, and staying a night or two rather than cramming on a bus with 50 other tourists for a three hour tour of the city.

Our first afternoon in Germany, we took a boat tour of the Danube, the Ilz, and the Inn rivers, which converge in Passau. The city has dealt  with some serious flooding in the recent past, but the rivers have become an important part of the identity of this city.

The Inn River (left) and the Danube River (right) converging on a city park



The next morning, we took a walking tour of the city, which was just about the perfect thing for a group of 16 jet lagged Americans to do. Starting at Dom St. Stephan, we walked through the city, learning its history, ranging from medieval walls to World War II Allied outposts. We also had a very important cultural experience on our last night in Passau; the Euro Cup is happening, and we had the chance to watch the German National Team play Northern Ireland from a biergarten in Passau. Die Mannschaft, or the Machine, as the team is called, is a pretty big deal, and one of the things EVERYONE in Germany can get behind. I’m sure this won’t be our last experience with futbol while we’re here.

While in Passau, we met with several people who are directly involved in dealing with the refugee situation in Germany. As a border town, Passau has experienced a significant influx of immigrants since 2013. At one point, they had as many as 10,000 refugees coming into this little city of 20,000 every day. One of the people we met with was a lawyer who specializes in refugee and immigration law. She mentioned that in Passau alone, there are over 200 social service organization in the city alone that are working to help refugees assimilate and integrate into German society. I was really interested in what organizations apart from the governments of Bavaria and Germany sought to do to deal with the considerable (and hopefully temporary) strain this puts on resources, education, economic production, and infrastructure of places where immigrants come in large numbers. Many Germans see this as not only a complication, but also as an opportunity, as Germany has an aging population that needs more people to replace workers who are retiring. They also know first-hand the problems and perceptions that can sometimes accompany a diverse and non-integrated immigrant population. The Turkish guest worker programs of the 1960s-1980s gave Germany a bit of experience with integrating a largely non-Christian population into mainstream society, but it has some very clear differences as well. Certainly though, the Syrian push-factors change the way the Germans need to deal with this influx. The most incredible thing I heard while we were talking with her was this:

“We need to help these people because they need help.”

As a strong proponent of, you know, being human, I thought the responsibility some Germans feel for their fellow human was so affirming. Good people exist everywhere, and the idea that if we can help, and there are people who need help, help should be provided, is not revolutionary, but it’s just one that we need to keep working on living out. The Germans are facing a seriously unfair portion of the immigration situation, but it seems that in our first visit with people who work directly with refugees, human-heartedness is the overwhelming sentiment.

After that, we had the chance to meet with locals to talk about life in Passau. We happened to meet with two teachers, Sonya and Eva. They work at two different schools in Passau, but are both high school teachers who are well-traveled, interesting, and unafraid to engage in deep and meaningful conversations with Americans they had just met. We talked politics, terrorism, immigration, education, and of course American TV shows. It surprised me how interested they were in American TV, but Gilmore Girls seems to be an international favorite! It was the perfect beginning of our experience to meet locals who were as genuinely interested in learning about us as we were about them, and definitely reinforced the importance of exchange: ideas, languages, people, culture, TV shows…it all helps us better understand people outside of ourselves. What a good message to leave Passau with!

MC Lean

Me, Derek, our host Sonya, Candace, and Downing on our first full day in Germany

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