The young Iranian refugees excitedly show me footage on their mobile phones of the accommodation they have got used to since arriving in Germany.
With barely a word of English, let alone German, between them they show me a large hall, bedecked with tents, mats and blankets. People shuffle possessions about, men and women share the mixed facility and it’s hard not to escape the impression that these are typical young people on an exciting camping trip. But this is no holiday adventure. This is Berlin, at the chilly beginning of November. The winter may be drawing in, but still they come: from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and north Africa. A seemingly ceasless tide of humanity, washed up by conflict at Europe’s door.
Now their homes are in the cavernous expanses of former hangars at the now-defunct Tempelhof Airport in the heart of the German capital. The famous airfield, constructed in 1923, then expanded and renovated by the Nazis and subsequently used for a million-strong rally, came to prominence after World War II as the site of the American airlift during the Soviet siege of Berlin.
Now partially occupied by a private university and a venue for various cultural events, the city’s administration has begun converting the empty hangars into tented shelter for almost 1000 new arrivals. And it won’t stop there: plans are already afoot to expand capacity at the airfield.
The accommodation is off-limits to the prying eyes of the media. I was given my marching orders by several hefty security guards, but I will return, permission slip in hand and look at the role played by a legion of German volunteers who are keeping the whole refugee situation under control at present.
In the meantime, I spent the day roaming the outskirts of Tempelhof, looking for the signs that the refugee crisis is still very much with us here in Berlin.