It's a big red bus that's impossible to miss. Every town it stopped in was talking about it. Which is good, as that was the goal of the project. The "bus of encounters" is a project that joins several organisations, who have collectively decided to stimulate democratic dialogue right in the middle of Germany's election season.
What are Germans thinking and feeling? What are their hopes, their fears? To get them talking, Shai, Julia and Tilmann offer a cup of coffee and some snacks to passers-by. Intruiged, they sit down around a table set for the occasion or peek inside the double-decker bus that has its own kitchen and living room.
All opinions are welcome, as well as all subjects. Those that are spoken about the most, however, are coexistence and racism. Many passers-by are retired people on their way to the market who stop and allow themselves to be drawn in by the conversation. They bring up retirement, the fact that they feel downgraded, their fear of seeing the country change now that refugees are coming in. In the very same day, people from an immigrant background will talk about the challenges they face when it comes to integration.
From the 4th to the 17th of September, the team consisting of about 15 members – mostly young volunteers – met over 500 people in the 13 different locations. Their actions are also shared on social media, and they have a video journal that describes the different encounters and events they have had.
The last stop is Berlin, and the volunteers have gathered the "complaints" and categroised them into three main themes: the city, the country and hopes for the future. "What problems are people facing and what can we do to respond to these problems?" Julia Hübner explains, who is a participant. "After, we will try to hand a report over to our politicians."
The project is supported by citizen organisations such as Offene Gesellschaft ("Open Society") and foundations such as the Robert-Bosch-Stiftung. It gets its funding through crowdfunding and public grants from the Ministry of Families.
Whether its through music or cooking, through small improvised concerts or even the 'eye-contact experiment' (where you stare a stranger in the eyes for a minute), the team sees each moment as an opportunity for dialogue.
It's also a way for participative organisations to enrich their activities and their knowledge of the field. The Social Impact Lab of Berlin, the "Get engaged" network, the Salaam Shalom Initiative, Kleiner Fünf and chefs at d’über den Tellerrand all took part in the bus tour.
At the end of their tour in 13 different places, we put together a video to get an impression of what it was like on the big red bus: