The Integrationswerkstatt project aims to promote intercultural exchange between old and new neighbors, and has expanded since its initial creation to include a broad range of social services and integration activities for the entire community — from recent refugees to long-standing residents with limited incomes – including language courses, translation and counseling services, and a non-denominational worship space to foster interreligious friendship and understanding.
The project itself is an effort of integration, increased economic opportunity for refugees, and combatting prejudices and radicalism in both refugee and local German communities. Refugees have an ownership and management stake in the project equal to their German neighbors, and the project provides a sustainable civil-society-led integration model for other difficult locations. In the inevitable event of a new influx of refugees (for example, when Turkey opens their western border and allows up to 2.7 million new refugees to enter the European Union), these integrated refugees will be the role models and integrators for the new refugees.
The project is not simply for refugees. Integration is a two-way street, and cannot be achieved without the work of the local population. The citizens of Unkel should see this as an opportunity to learn, for example, to repair their own bikes in the bicycle self-repair workshop from which the project takes its name, or to grow their own food in the community garden, to find a new book and enjoy a coffee or tea in the intercultural library and tea garden, and to get to know their new neighbors in each of these project elements.
Giving community members the space and the skills to repair their own bicycles starts as a boon to the individual, but is in fact a major benefit to the entire community, increasing the physical wellbeing and safety of all as refugees learn the rules of the road and become more physically active, and creating a social space for integration between refugees and locals.
- Bicycles are the ideal mode of transport for refugees and their host communities: They are cost effective, with no licensing or regulatory requirements and needing almost no language skills (whereas reading even the schedule to take a train or a bus is a major challenge to a newcomer to the German language).
- Many refugees (especially women) have never ridden a bike, and have neither the experience to ride safely nor the knowledge of how to repair minor damage on their bikes, but with the right materials, tools, and know-how, many repairs are simple, do-it-yourself jobs.
- The workshop provides a space for all residents to build a community of practice, repairing their own machines under the guidance of intercultural trained assistants.
- Fitness studios and sports in Germany can be expensive, while bicycles provide simple, healthy exercise in combination with utility.
- Safe bikers on public roads
- Professional competence (and instructional competence)
- Do-It-Yourself competence
- Personal responsibility and pride in learned skills and accomplishment
- Creating a partly-refugee-run organization to foster integration, cooperation, and partnerships between old and new residents
Benefits To Refugees and The Community
- Breaking into the workforce in Germany is incredibly difficult for foreigners. The refugees in the project who help teach others how to repair their bicycles will be trained by professional associations. In these trainings, not only will they receive vital skills, but also documentation of their training, proving experience with technical work in Germany. Additionally, those who regularly work in the workspace as monitors and assistants may receive documentation of the work as an internship, a first step to access the German job market.
- A means of social engagement not built on charity.
- For those who cannot yet safely ride a bike or have not yet mastered the German traffic/safety regulations, the workshop space can also be used to practice.For children in Kindergarten and primary school, actual traffic safety trainings have been planned and organized with local police and emergency services.
- The workshop space can be used in the Summer and Spring as a space to come together for sports, free play, and festivals, promoting the intercultural friendships mentioned in the “Background” page of this website.
Benefits To German and European Society:
- Security: Economic prosperity and social engagement are two of the top proven tools in the fight against extremism, and this project works to provide refugees with both. Additionally, already-integrated refugees will be invaluable in countering potential violent extremism in the seemingly imminent event of a second refugee influx when the Turkish border opens.
- Sustainability: The bike is the greenest mode of transit, and self-repair is sustainable.
- Savings: Every bike ride a refugee takes to an administrative meeting is a train ticket the German state doesn’t have to pay for.