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30 Years After The Berlin Wall Came Down — Some Dividing Lines Persist In Germany


Thirty years ago tomorrow, the Berlin Wall came down, reuniting East and West Germany. And today, there are new dividing lines. Germany took in nearly a million refugees in 2015 alone, most of them from the Middle East and North Africa. Anti-immigrant groups have grown, speaking of a new us and them. A far-right party has become the biggest political opposition group in the country. And today we're going to check in with one Syrian refugee living in Berlin. Our co-host Ari Shapiro first met him four years ago on the coast of Turkey.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: His name is Ahmad Akkad, but when I met him, he asked me not to use his last name because he hadn't told his family that he was planning to board a crowded raft in Turkey to risk his life crossing the Mediterranean Sea.


AHMAD AKKAD: Tell me what's the options. Go back to Syria? OK, we're going to die. Stay here; we're going to die. So this the only option we have.

SHAPIRO: He eventually boarded that rubber boat bound for Greece. And once he arrived safely on land, he told us about the journey.


AKKAD: We tried two times. The first time, the boat sink 'cause it's so full of people - like, 55. We swim back to the beach. So we tried another time. Second time, it was OK. We reach Greece safely. No one gets hurt.

SHAPIRO: From Greece, he traveled to Hungary and eventually reached his destination, Germany. He enrolled in a graduate program and started volunteering helping other recent arrivals from Syria.


AKKAD: I'm living with a family in Furstenburg. I'm looking for the apartment.

SHAPIRO: That was back in 2015. Now Akkad is 29 years old, and he jokes that his German has gotten better, while his English has gotten worse.

Ahmad, welcome back to the program. I'm so happy to talk to you again.

AKKAD: Hi. Thank you for the nice introduction that, like, got me, like, four years back or maybe a bit longer.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, what's it like to hear your own voice describing that journey you made in 2015?

AKKAD: Oh, that got me, like, really - old memories, like - I don't know - just, like, I got, like, views in my head like that time, like, traveling, like, in Turkey, Greece - like, all the journey.

SHAPIRO: Well, tell us about your life today.

AKKAD: I already started with my master's and, like, going to finish it hopefully this year. I'm working since beginning of 2018 in an engineering company. Like, I'm working in power planets. Like, I can think, like, how the buildings...

SHAPIRO: You're working on power plants as an engineer.

AKKAD: Yes, as a civil engineer. I'm living here for four years till now, so I feel myself home.

SHAPIRO: Berlin is this cosmopolitan international city. But across Germany, especially in the former Eastern Germany, there has been a real growth of anti-immigrant sentiment, hate crimes, hostility towards refugees, including Syrians. Is that something that you see?

AKKAD: I went through some situations like that. They are not getting, like, the full image. We need to clear it for them. We need to help them to go through that by telling them more about ourself (ph). Like, they don't know us, so I think for sure we going to be a danger. Like, for humans, what they don't know, they are afraid of.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us an experience that you had?

AKKAD: I was in a shop. It was, like, copy shop. I needed, like, to do some paperwork. There was a guy. From his look, I - he didn't like me - like, the way I look, maybe - you know, like, the Middle Eastern way, like, I look. So I went out. When I done, he followed me, and he told me, like, go back to your country; go fly there and stuff like that.

SHAPIRO: What - how did you respond?

AKKAD: My respond - I was, like, telling him about the situation. Like, sorry, do you know, like, what's going on in Syria? Do you know, like, what going to happen if I go back? Hopefully he check the situation after that, and he knows more now what's going on on the other half of the war.

SHAPIRO: You know, Germany is having this debate right now over what makes a person German. How do you answer that question, given that your life is surrounded by people from all over the world in Berlin?

AKKAD: First, I would say it's not going to be a papers. It's not, like, a piece of paper going to say, like, I'm German or I'm, like, from that part of the world. It's not a piece of paper. It going to be, like, how you working for the people who's living here, how you are active in the people around you.

SHAPIRO: When the Berlin Wall fell, you were not yet born. Your family was living in Syria. And so what does tomorrow's anniversary mean for you? Will you be celebrating it? Does it have an important symbolism to you?

AKKAD: Yes, for sure. That's something I'm going to celebrate. And I hope, like, in future, all walls going to fall down, like, not even in the one country, but between all the countries. We made the walls ourselves. It's not, like, material walls. It's not, like, the cement. We have, like, more walls. And I hope this walls will fall down, and I will try, like, my best to help in that. We are humans. We are one nation. That's, like, what I believe in, and that's what I try to help to reach.

SHAPIRO: Ahmad Akkad, it is great talking with you again. Thank you. I'm glad to hear your life is going so well.

AKKAD: Thank you. Thank you, too.

CHANG: That's Ahmad Akkad, a Syrian refugee now living in Germany, talking with our co-host Ari Shapiro.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.