A small arrivals hall at Munich’s central train station became the scene of a huge improvised relief effort as more than 2,000 migrants arrived in the Bavarian capital in a single day. Ben Knight reports.
Police at Munich railway station were forced to seal off an area in front of the station and eventually had to stop more volunteers and donations being delivered as the hall filled up with crates of food, diapers, clothes and other supplies.
Outside, as the hot day turned into a rainy evening, Dixi toilets were installed, while the disaster relief organization MHW set up four tents in which refugees received medical attention. Meanwhile the fire brigade was on hand to provide water distributors and set up camp beds in a nearby high school.
“When I got here last night, there was nothing here – not one loaf of bread, not one bar of chocolate, not one bottle of water,” volunteer Teresa, told DW. “There were about 600 refugees, and about ten volunteers. We just bought them food out of our own money.”
Throughout Tuesday piles of food began to arrive, and between the police, fire brigade, the volunteer organizations, and the general public – without anyone apparently in overall authority – the city of Munich managed to cope. “The organization works – somehow – it works,” said Teresa, who had not slept since the drive to Munich the evening before. “There are a few people coordinating things from different refugee organizations, but nothing was planned.”
Teresa said that trains had been arriving all day at irregular intervals, bringing a few hundred new arrivals each time. “Last night four trains arrived within three or four hours – that was of course a lot more work,” she said.
Humanity first, politics second
Munich police spokesman Carsten Neubert, milling around among the exhausted volunteers and refugees in an incongruously smart suit, explained that since none of the migrants were being registered on site, it was impossible to be sure of nationalities, or the reasons for travelling here.
“For us the humanitarian aspect was important for now,” Neubert told DW. “The refugees get food, clothing, and a medical examination. Then they get driven to the reception centers. Only then can we start talking about nationalities.
Most of them appeared to come from Syria or Afghanistan, including Muhammad Atif Amini, who said it had taken him 24 days to get here from Afghanistan. “I wanted to get away from the bombing,” Amini said in broken English. “I saw one person dying between the border of Iran and Turkey. He was thirsty, and no one bring him a drink.”
“You could see that the refugees have been traveling several days, especially the children,” said fire brigade spokesman Stefan Kiesskalt.
The events in Munich mirrored a new popular feeling in the past few days in Germany, as humanitarian concern has appeared to overwhelm the usual political debates about mass-migration. Chancellor Angela Merkel won widespread praise for her appeal to the German people during her summer press conference on Monday, when she called on the people to show “flexibility” and drew parallels between the new migration crisis and the challenges that faced the country following reunification.
Equally, the popular “Bild” newspaper, often accused of stirring sentiment against Germany’s migrant community in the past, surprised many left-wing observers with its whole-hearted appeal to help refugees.
The paper, like virtually every political leader, condemned the far-right violence in the small town of Heidenau, Saxony, ten days ago, but there were still traces of the anti-immigrant sentiment in Munich on Tuesday morning.
Another volunteer, Pia, who had been sorting and distributing food at the station since 7:30 a.m. said this was one of the main reasons why she had appeared. “I think it’s really important that you turn up here,” she said. “Especially if far-right radicals are here too, then you have to show a presence.”
“We had a small number of right-wing influenced people – I can’t say if they were radical,” said police spokesman Neubert. “But they weren’t violent; they just called out and jeered their disapproval.”