Waiting for Refugee Status, Thousands Live in Limbo
I had never been to Germany before. My parents were born there. I had always imagined it was a liberal, peaceful country full of people who dressed in black and listened to classical music. It seemed the type of place where freedom of speech was protected, where people could choose whom they want to associate with and where they want to live.
This, of course, is all lies. I’ve since learned that Germany is one of the least free countries in the world.
I arrived in Munich on the last day of July. The trip took me through Cologne, Heidelberg and Frankfurt. I visited the old town while traveling by train. Everything looked so cosmopolitan. This is, after all, the birthplace of the World Trade Center and the site of the first major terrorist attack in Germany. It has a population just under 10 million, two-thirds of whom are foreigners.
At the time of my visit, Germany was in a period of political unrest. There was talk of a “march of the living dead,” of riots in the streets and, of course, the threat of terrorism. And Germany, which was already one of the most oppressive countries in Europe, was on the verge of electing its first far-right chancellor, who was known as a “racist” and called President Obama a “clown.” I decided to make a pilgrimage to Germany and to see its reality for myself.
On June 30, 2010, I traveled with two friends from Egypt. We arrived in Düsseldorf the next day. The city was built by the Romans and then destroyed by the German Nazis during World War II. Düsseldorf is famous for its opera house, which was the first to be built in Germany after the war. Like every other German city, it is heavily polluted. On our street there was a park with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and a fountain that gave the impression that a Greek god had just been dumped in the middle of the city.
Our friends, like myself, wore jeans and sneakers, but they also carried backpacks. We walked down the main street of the city, carrying nothing more than a water bottle, a bottle of water and my laptop. We made our way to the train station, where my friend bought a ticket to Cologne. I bought one to Düsseld