Today, this emotionally supercharged atmosphere has changed, as has German politics, and not really in a beneficial way. But it is time to pay attention to substantial facts and arguments, to look behind prejudices and the omnipresent diffuse angst that populist parties from the right in many European countries know how to pro t from. It’s time to think about opportunities and dangers and to look for the best strategies of integration. In fact it was easy to welcome refugees, but then you have to make it work, to build accommodation and provide environments where immigrants of different ethnicities can find a perspective for the future.
To start with, General Commissioner Peter Cachola Schmal and curator Oliver Elser, together with project coordinator Anna Scheuermann, have created a growing Refugee Housing database on the internet, gathering examples from many places. The recently-built and planned refugee accommodation in Eu- rope, as well as the first-admittance facilities, lend an insight into the mediocre reality. There are apartments for refugees and the homeless, and ad hoc containers and modular structures or light-frame construction halls for emergency programmes like those in Munich. Twenty of the readymade halls, housing around 200 people each in an area of nine square metres per person, are under construction in various parts of the city. Immigrants of different ethnicities and ages live in those barracks-style halls, which are mostly on the outskirts of the city in zones where nobody normally lives. Many of the entries in the database, some of which are shown in the exhibition at the German Pavilion, are evidence of the sobering circumstances in the first-admittance facilities. Hence, it could have been benficial to curate the database projects, mark the outstanding facilities, and cast a critical eye on the architectural quality of the projects, which varies considerably.
Then there is the second level of meaning in Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country. Structured into eight main arguments worked out in close collaboration with Doug Saunders, Canadian journalist and author of the book Arrival City (2010), the exhibition layout (by Berlin-based architecture office Something Fantastic) is minimalistic and con- sequently follows the predetermined rules of charm- ing understatement. The pragmatic and improvised character typical of arrival cities is transferred to the design of the space: reduced posters with photographs, statistics, and short texts, printed on ordinary copy-shop paper and fixed over the corners of the walls. They visualise different arguments on the nature of arrival cities, as a city within a city, an affordable environment, or an area close to business. Some of those observations, such as the informality of the arrival city, seem hardly to exist in Germany, except for instance the Dong Yuan Centre in Berlin, which is showcased here. Conversely, others are very much present in today’s urban environments and were set up many years ago. A series of shops in Berlin-Neuköln, for instance, where many migrants have opened their own businesses, testifies to the importance of available small-scale, ground floor spaces in creating new neighbourhoods. The exhibition floats from different arguments and pictures to figures and glances of daily life in Offenbach (near Frankfurt), the city with the largest population of immigrants in Germany. The individual case studies, documenting moments in the life of café owners, janitors, and families, are among the best photographs in the exhibition, as they draw a picture that is not at all ghetto-like but just different from other cities.