Sunday, October 23, 2011

Big Red Box

For the past month, I've noticed what appears to be a large red cargo container located near the U-Bahn Hallesches Tor with the words "Route der Migration" (Route of Migration) printed on its side. This bright red box is a Gedächtnisbox (Memory Box). There are four of these red boxes located throughout Berlin (Ostbahnhof, am Oranienplatz, Hallesches Tor, und Tempelhofer Damm). 


These boxes are part of a small exhibition concerning immigration to Berlin. Each container tells a specific story. For example, at the Ostbahnhof (Eastern Train Station), early 20th century Jewish immigration is chronicled. There are exhibits and stories of people fleeing Tsarist Russia and coming to Berlin where they faced the hurdles of integration. Likewise, at the Hallesches Tor location, Yugoslav civil war refugees from the 1990s recount the problems they faced in dealing with German bureaucracy and discrimination. 


The "container" was selected as the medium to tell these stories partly because it symbolizes globalization, and partly because it plays an important role in illegal immigration worldwide as people squeeze into boxes and containers seeking a better life. The exhibition is part of a national effort at understanding the complexities of migration and the consequences of legal and illegal immigration.  


Immigration is a hot topic in Germany with opinions coming from those seeing it as a necessity for a robust economy to those seeing it as harmful to cultural identity. However, unlike the USA, where migration is viewed negatively, and where the discussion is punitive in nature, Germany sees migration as a multifaceted subject with no simple answers. When I read how the U.S. State of Alabama is seeking to deny basic education to its migrant children, I wonder if the Statute of Liberty is located in the right country.

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