Hamburg, a city of the water

Hamburg is a beautiful city. It’s a city as much defined by the glistening Elbe and impressive architecture as its football clubs and peeling stickers. A city where you’re more likely to see the flags of local football teams St Pauli or HSV than the national flag. But it’s also a city which is a product of its own specific history.

In the first few pages of Hamburg’s 2017 Integration Concept, they outline the following quote from the city’s constitution, signed in June 1952:

“As an international port the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg has a special task, allotted by its history and location, to perform for the German people. In the spirit  of peace it wishes to be an intermediary between all continents and peoples of the world.”

This is a city of the water; a city whose history has been shaped by the flows of goods, trades and people over hundreds of years. But it’s also a city that bears the scars – both architecturally, politically and socially – of the Second World War.

So many of the people I met throughout my 10 day stay in Hamburg would remind me that whenever we think about refugees in Germany, we have to think about the history of the country. The political and social approach – both at a Federal and State level – has been shaped by Germany’s traumatic history.

It’s taken longer than I expected to process and reflect on what I saw, heard and experienced when hanging out with Zentraler Koordinierungsstab Flüchtlinge, Foerden & Wohnen, Finding Places, the BHI, and many others in Hamburg.

But as I start to think about how this city is different to others – why its approach to welcoming and integrating refugees may be different to other parts of Europe – I can’t help feeling that it may not be as simple as I first thought.

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