During the first week of September, the American Council on Germany conducted a German-American Study Tour on Social Cohesion. This initiative brought together German and American experts and practitioners for a week of site visits, meetings, and discussions on how communities in both countries can work to become more inclusive. The group consisted of seven Europeans and ten Americans and visited Dresden and Nuremberg.
On September 4, the program began in Dresden with an opening dinner with Bundestag Member Torsten Herbst (FDP). He addressed some of the biggest concerns in Germany today – including the rising cost of energy, inflation, and the impact of the war in Ukraine. He noted that there are many challenges at the national level which have very local impacts.
The following day, the group visited the Parliament of the Free State of Saxony to meet with three Landtag Members who serve on the Committee for Social Affairs and Social Cohesion: Alexander Dierks (CDU), Sussane Schaper (Left Party), and Dietmar Frank Schaufel (AfD). During the meeting, the conversation focused on the lasting impact of COVID on the State of Saxony, noting that students suffered the most because of the lack of digital infrastructure and their access to meals while at school. Following the discussion, the group was invited to attend the first plenary session of the Landtag in the fall of 2022. At the center of this session was the increased need for affordable housing.
The group then met with Rabbi Akiva Weingarten for a tour of the Jüdische Kultusgemeinde Dresden (Jewish Community Dresden). Rabbi Weingarten felt compelled to help rebuild the Jewish community in Dresden as it is an aging population. He and volunteers are converting an old train station into a Yeshiva and Synagogue. Rabbi Weingarten, who grew up in the Hasidic community in New York City, seeks to help individuals who have left Hasidic Judaism adjust to life outside the Orthodox community.
In the afternoon, the group met with members of the Landesarbeitsgemeinschaft Selbsthilfe Sachsen e.V. (Self Help Working Group for Saxony) for a discussion about the needs of people with disabilities in the state. Thomas Naumann and his staff explained that people with disabilities remain the most marginalized minority group and that much work needs to be done to make the State of Saxony more accessible.
That evening, the cohort was invited to attend Dresden is(s)t bunt, an annual public event to promote an inclusive urban society – playing on the word “is” and “eats.” Some 90 organizations and government entities gathered across the Augustusbrücke for a night of shared meals, conversations, and music.
On Tuesday, September 6, the group was welcomed at Dresden’s Technical University to discuss how it is addressing the needs of its students and striving to have a more diverse and representative student body. The university launched its Office for Diversity and Inclusion in 2012. Through this office, all departments within the university are responsible for promoting equity and making the TU more inclusive.
Later in the day, the group met with members of the Cellex Stiftung and Dresden-Place to be e.V. Together these organizations implement the Dresden is(s)t bunt event, among other local initiatives. Dresden-Place to be was born out of the need to counter the rise of a far-right movement in the city.
The next morning, the cohort traveled to Nuremberg to continue meetings on equity and social cohesion. The first meeting was with Martina Mittenhuber, Director of the Human Rights Office for the City of Nuremberg. Nuremberg is the only German municipality with a human rights office. The office was created in 1992 out of the need to recognize and learn from Nuremberg’s past. Ms. Mittenhuber noted that Nuremberg has gone “…from a culture of remembrance to a culture of responsibility.” In addition to protecting basic human rights, the office has started the Allianz gegen Rechtsextremismus (Alliance against Far-Right Extremism).
The following morning, the group had a guided tour of the Nazi rally grounds in Nuremberg. The tour, which was led by Geschichte für Alle (History for All), helped participants understand the history of the city and its role in the Third Reich – and how this experience relates to contemporary politics. The group recognized there are many parallels between then and now – including inflationary trends, lack of opportunity, and xenophobia.
In the afternoon, the delegation met with Dr. Nilgun Massih-Tehrani who serves as the Head of Diversity, Participation, and Integration for the city. Nuremberg is one of the most diverse cities in the country with approximately 50% of the population having a “migration background.” Ms. Massih-Tehrani reflected on how the city has helped integrate the influx of Ukrainian refugees because it built a system for doing so after the 2015 refugee crisis.
At a discussion at the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut (DAI), the group met with Antje Rempe, Chairwoman of the Charkiw-Nuremberg Partnership. Charkiw is a city in eastern Ukraine that has been heavily bombed since the start of the war. Through her work, the Partnership has raised over $1.1 million to help those who remain in Charkiw and those who have fled to Nuremberg.
On Friday morning, the DAI welcomed the group back for a meeting with Dr. Nasser Ahmed who serves as a member of the City Council and as Chair of the SPD in Nuremberg. As the child of African refugees, he is the first person of African descent to serve on the City Council. He helped paint a picture of life in Nuremberg for a Person of Color. He said that while the city is committed to inclusion, there are still issues with racism and equitability.
The group finished their exploration of Nuremberg with a tour of the Way of Human Rights, an art exhibit that was erected in 1993. It consists of 30 pillars, each containing one article from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Over the course of the week, the group had some difficult conversations as the work of social cohesion can be difficult. Moreover, the group had inspiring conversations as each person remains committed to making society more inclusive and equitable. The delegation will reconvene in December in Charlotte, North Carolina and Cleveland, Ohio to continue these conversations.
This project is organized and administered by the American Council on Germany with generous support from the Transatlantic Program of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany through funds of the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).