Despite over a million refugees arriving in Germany over the past two years, most residents have never actually had a conversation with their new Syrian, Iraqi or Afghani neighbours.
Many aren’t even really aware of their presence.
“It was all over the media, every day on the talk shows you had people talking about the refugee crisis. I had never seen a refugee,” says Lasse Landt, a startup consultant in Berlin. “I just wanted to find out if it was real.”
Recognizing that face-to-face conversations are an essential part of the integration process that Germany’s technocratic approach often overlooks, Landt created a dating site together with Alaswad Khaled, a 25-year-old Syrian he met at a computer coding class, to help locals and refugees meet – minus the expectation of romance.
“If the refugees never talk face to face with a local person, they will never know anything about the culture here,” said Khaled. “There is just such a big difference between our culture and the German culture.”
The goal of Let’s Integrate! is very simple: those interested register as either a local or refugee on the website, pick a date and time of availability, and are then booked for a meeting.
The service is currently only available in Berlin but hopes to spread to other German cities soon, especially those where refugees have received a less-than-welcome reception in some cases.
“We all fear what we don’t know,” says Paul Spieker, who also contributed to the website.
“The refugees are worried about us and we are worried about the refugees. When you meet, you realize that they are people like us and there is no need to be worried.”