Accepted paper:

Migrants in the mountains: experiencing difference in a German refugee shelter


Jan Bock (Cumberland Lodge)

Paper short abstract:

German communities support refugees, but many towns and villages also struggle with demographic decline. Newcomers are thus at once an opportunity to grow and a threat to perceived homogeneity. I explore encounters with diversity and new meanings of active citizenship in a small mountain village.

Paper long abstract:

The refugee crisis has not only affected large German cities, but also thousands of towns and villages. One of them is Sankt Andreasberg. A former mining community, the scenic village in the Harz Mountains has been in economic and demographic decline since the 1980s, with tourist numbers dwindling. In 2007, the Rehberg physiotherapy clinic - the largest employer - was closed. 120 people became unemployed. An investor promised to convert the building into a luxury hotel, but locals remained sceptical. Instead, in October 2015, the clinic reopened as an emergency refugee shelter. Housing 1,500 people, in the main from Syria, the local population doubled literally overnight. This paper analyses refugees' experiences in the mountains as well as the shelter's impact on Sankt Andreasbergers, fragmented into supporters, opponents, volunteers, and the undecided. I document what happens when seemingly remote conflicts and poverty are abruptly transposed onto a small community, struggling with its own troubles. Villagers are forced into a situation where they can no longer ignore social change and migration, long confined to cities. I show how local residents, faced with what appears as an unprecedented integration challenge, reflect on local culture, identity, and political agency. I document aspirations and struggles to create Willkommenskultur - welcome culture - as well as disappointments and hopes among the refugees, who had expected Germany to be unlike this mountain village. I show that village life offers opportunities to engage with one another, reflect on difference, and practice new forms of active citizenship - for both residents and newcomers.

panel P127
Migrants in the provinces: the adaptive potential of the province compared to the megapolis