Berlin’s central railway station the trains arriving from the east come carrying thousands of refugees every day – men, women and children fleeing Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Those who want to head onwards get free train tickets to anywhere in Europe. Those who don’t, or don’t know where they should go, get ushered down to a cavernous hall.
What they find is a huge operation to welcome them. Food and drink is handed out along with sim cards for phones, and there medical teams, translators, volunteers and organisers to help.
And there’s a crowd, hundreds strong, of German families standing there too, offering places in their homes to the refugees. They hold up homemade signs: “Can host two people! Short or long-term,” says one. “Big room. One-three people. Children welcome too! For as long as you want,” says another.
There’s a round of applause as a man with a megaphone asks if anyone can take 13 people – and someone steps forward. A mother is here with her daughter, who can’t be more than 12 years old, and holding a sign saying: “One mama, two kids, four-six weeks.” Next to her is Margot Baldauf, who is in her 70s, with a blue and yellow board offering: “One room for mother and child.”
For me it somehow feels like what Putin does is what Hitler did before.
“I am more or less a child of a refugee,” Margot tells me, explaining that her mother – who is still alive and now 97 – had to flee Hitler’s Nazis to find sanctuary. “So I feel obliged to do something for refugees. It’s not Hitler this time, but for me it somehow feels like what Putin does is what Hitler did before.”
Despite the numbers of refugees arriving, it seems there are more than enough German families to take them in.
In a suburb of Berlin, Matina Wardakas and her husband Timmo Kohlery have opened up their home. They have two teenage daughters of their own, and they’ve just taken in four Ukrainians.