The Problem of the “Problematik”

“Berlin Notebook: Where Are the Refugees?” is a straightforward journal transcription of my experiences in Berlin during October 2015, a time when the influx of refugees in Germany and the rest of Europe was peaking. I have tried to be as faithful as possible in my reporting of interviews. I have not tried to verify the facts that people presented (when they told them to me); I have tried, rather, to convey the experience of talking with them, what it was like to be there, and to listen, to ask. The form of the interviews may seem to move like the “streaming” metaphor one finds everywhere in use to describe the movement of people across national borders.

This journal transcript will appear here in daily installments. It begins each day with the new installment; to read from the beginning, go to the “Berlin Notebook” archive and scroll down to find the first entry.  An ebook version of the complete transcript will be made available soon.


Wednesday, 7 October

Die Flüchtlinge = the refugees. You see and hear the word everywhere. (You can hear it at the beginning of the new opening montage for the fifth season of Homeland). The Flüchtlingekrise (crisis) has created a stage for the virtuosity of the German language to invent compound-nouns, new substantives that one keeps stumbling over in German newspapers and magazines.

We are involved in this new Flüchtlingswerk (work), to provide Flüchtlingshilfe (help) to those Flüchtlings making their way on the divergent Flüchtlingsroute, at least when they don’t run up against a Flüchtlingssackgasse (impass). The Flüchtlings have created a Flüchtlingsproblematik, by virtue of the Flüchtlingsandrangs (crush), the Flüchtlingssturm (onslaught).

Both Flüchtlings fleeing existential threat and what they call the Wirtschaftsflüchtlingen (economic refugees, those from the Balkans seeking better wages and working conditions) are living in Flüchtlingsunterkunft (camps). The new situation in Germany is driven by Flüchtlingspolitik, and is leading to what they’re calling the Flüchtlingsfrage (question).

This last neologism is the most troubling in light of German history, the great problem of the problematik, and it echoes down the worst of the nation’s tragic corridors. For prior to the current Flüchtlingsfrage, there was, and still is, in Germany, the Ausländerfrage (the outsider question), and before that, the more pointed Judenfrage (the Jewish question). The Jewish question, which had been floating through European anti-Semitism (and its corresponding Zionism) since the 18th century — what to do with Jews, what to do to them, and to what degree they belonged to any nation — culminated in a solution to the question, the Final Solution of the Wansee Conference in 1942.

The see (pronounced zay) in Wansee means “lake.” Into it flowed the question, which resulted in an abyss we call the 20th century, home of Leviathan, the monster of our methods. Is it any wonder that now we face what we’ve become, a Flüchtlingsströmen (ceaseless streaming). 60 million displaced, globally, and growing . . .