Wendland, Germany


Photographer: Chris Grodotzki

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

In Wendland, a district in northern Germany, residents refuse to follow the rise of xenophobia taking place across much of Europe. Instead, they welcome the arrival of refugees with open arms. Here, people organise welcome celebrations, offer free language courses and other workshops, share their sports clubs and put on shows in theatres and community centres for the newcomers to their district. Some people host refugees in their own homes, others engage in cultural exchange projects where they introduce the new arrivals to the culture and customs of their country life. Twice a week, local teachers offer free German lessons and tutoring for refugee children. Wendland is not a well-off place. With a population that is declining, its economy is stagnating. But rather than seeing this as a reason to shut its doors to outsiders, villagers hope new arrivals can help them revive the local area. Refuge Wendland, a group set up to support migrants, is demanding the resettlement of 10,001 refugees to the district of 49,000. It plans to set up a new multicultural village. While Germany and most other European countries debate ways of restricting refugee arrivals, the people of Wendland want to turn today’s refugees into tomorrow’s neighbours. Not only are they teaching their new residents German, they are also teaching the rest of Germany and Europe a lesson in how to welcome and treat people.