Talking to each other? Yes please!

Talking to each other? Yes please!

Several hundred people talk about social cohesion at a congress in Cologne. As different as the participants are: They all agree that conversation and exchange are the most important things.

At the end Moritz Brake will get loud applause. The lieutenant captain, who was deployed at sea off Somalia and Lebanon, stands up for human dignity without distinction in front of an audience of several hundred people. Actually a matter of course, because at least on paper the dignity of all human beings is inviolable, as is well known. But in times of populism and extremism, such an avowal sometimes takes on a signal effect. "We must make our ship stronger," says Brake metaphorically, referring to the reception of migrants in Germany, for example.

Brake also emphasizes the role of mutual exchange and face-to-face encounters – something that other speakers at the "Together for Democracy in Action" congress in Cologne on Thursday also kept doing emphatically. Travel: Seeing how people are doing in other parts of the world; when you can't travel yourself: Listening to people who have been on the road.

Direct contact with refugees important

"It's important that we tell stories about each other," says the Catholic archbishop of Hamburg and refugee commissioner of the German Bishops' Conference, Stefan Hebe. He advocates projects that focus on encounters and exchange and emphasizes from his own experience: "When you hear the story of a refugee, it makes you feel very different." Normally, no one leaves his home voluntarily.

"The more direct the contact, the fewer the reservations," says Hebe, adding that it is important to experience the other as a "secret" and an enrichment. Representatives of religions and associations in the "Alliance for Cosmopolitanism," which is organizing the congress in Cologne, want to work together for more cosmopolitanism and democracy. The "Alliance" sees itself for this also as a kind of network.

The congress is under the patronage of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. It is the first major meeting of the "Alliance," whose founding members include the German Bishops' Conference, the Protestant Church in Germany, the Coordinating Council of Muslims, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the German Federation of Trade Unions and other associations.

"Democracy is fun"

According to the chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, everyone can find themselves in the sentence "Human dignity is inviolable," which is enshrined in the Basic Law. This must be carried much more strongly into society, he said. Because: "Democracy is fun," Mazyek sums up – even if it sometimes causes trouble.

Archbishop Hebe makes a similar point. "We live in a plural society in Germany, and we are part of a plural society."This is more costly than living in a "monoculture" or under a glass bell. This glass bell is broken, he said, and one has to bear the "burden of plurality".

What holds our society together? Many things that are in the Basic Law, equality between the sexes, education and culture, do not close themselves off and seek discussion, according to Hebe. A representative of the Lesbian and Gay Association has a very specific request: he would like the church to be more open to homosexuals as well.


"Start talking to people about what they are interested in," says the president of the German Nature Conservation Ring, Kai Niebert. About justice, for example, as SPD candidate for chancellor Martin Schulz is doing. This debate must be actively conducted – "then right-wing populism is a thing of the past.".

Captain Brake once again directs his attention to conditions outside Germany and speaks out in favor of projects for the exchange of "ordinary people" with Turkey, for example. "If we really believe in human dignity, this also applies to people in authoritarian states."

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Christina Cherry
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