Migration has left its mark on the small town of Geretsried. After the Second World War, German refugees from Eastern Europe made their homes in the barracks of the former armaments factory in the district of Stein (German for “stone”). Later, immigrant workers from Greece came, and after German reunification, resettled East Germans. In recent years, Bulgaria and Romanian migrants have arrived, as well as asylum-seekers and refugees from the Middle East.
“The “refugee crisis” that is often spoken of in Germany today has actually been a feature of life in Stein for decades.”
Despite a dynamic and growing population, Stein has never managed to establish its own identity – particularly because a central space was lacking. Stein lacks gathering spaces like a public square or church, and it has remained physically isolated from such facilities in the city center. People have nowhere to be together in public.
Team Geretsried’s biggest challenge was to foster intercultural understanding in a district with groups from so many different backgrounds, and which lacks the usual spaces and structures for interaction and communication. Their goal: to build community engagement in anticipation of the opening of the first community center in Stein.
Many migrants associate membership in a residents’ association with bureaucratic work; they don’t see this as a way of taking part in the community. So the team had to find other ways to introduce this central aspect of social life in Germany that are more compatible with other cultures and with the wants and needs of the residents.
Team Geretsried conducted numerous interviews in different languages to learn about what the residents actually wanted and needed. Based on the responses, they began to offer language courses, coffee meetups, counseling for new migrants and children’s playgroups.
The gathering of residents’ personal stories also proved to be a powerful end in itself. From their collected conversations, residents and the team created a mobile exhibition that presented events from world history and their impact on the district’s development and on residents’ lives. By showing archive photos from the city alongside family pictures and stories, the team countered the stigmatization of the district with relatable, personal narratives.
Recognizing the connections and similarities between their fates helped to reduce prejudices towards newcomers – and each other.
Only those who get to know one another can break down prejudices,” -Andreas Porer, Team member, Deputy Head of Building Department, City of Geretsried