In Görlitzer Park

When I first moved to Berlin, a summer’s evening in Görlitzer Park was a joyful, wondrous scene. Hazy sunshine, layers of thick smoke, fields bursting with children, women and men either chasing after footballs or shuttlecocks, and others, more elderly, perched on camping stools, tending the barbeque or engaged in animated conversation. It was a family affair, Turkish or Arabic, and it gave Berlin a brilliant Mediterranean aspect.

In the meantime restrictions on barbequeing in parks have been introduced: objections were made to the rubbish left behind and the dense fatty smoke’s billowing into the Berlin air. Barbeques are now only permitted in designated areas (not Görlitzer Park).

Yesterday evening I returned to Görlitzer Park, now differently dominated by smoke and immigrants: The fields sparse, but pathways lined, more or less, by young African men who, under baseball caps and hoods, possessing rather mad and intimidating gazes, were selling and/or consuming drugs. It intimidated me.

Later, I thought about what these immigrants may have experienced on the way to Görlitzer Park. I recalled how as a teacher in Berlin, I had a student who, having seen his parents murdered, fled Guinea. He too had “mad” eyes – but he was an amazingly gentle, dignified and courteous person. His support worker told me that once 18 there would be little further support for him. It was a race against time for him to leave school with decent German, some qualifications and an apprenticeship placement.

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