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Germany welcomed more than a million migrants last year. Many of them were refugees from the Middle East. But polls show Germans are increasingly doubtful that these newcomers can be integrated. NPR's Joanna Kakissis visited one village northeast of Berlin that's struggling to figure out just what integration means.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: What are you cooking?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking German).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking German).
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking German).
KAKISSIS: Firas Awad stops by the kitchen he shares with about 60 other migrants. They live in what used to be a country inn. Awad's 25 and used to be a pharmacy student in Syria. He embraces a young Pakistani man rolling out dough for flatbread then points to a large frying pan.
FIRAS AWAD: (Speaking German)
KAKISSIS: The shelter is immaculate and quiet with a playground and a lush courtyard. Awad's favorite room is the classroom where he spends hours learning German so he can finish his training as a pharmacist.
AWAD: In one years, two years, three years - after that, I speak good Deutsch, and I get my job. The other people have to respect me because I working here. I support this country like German people.
KAKISSIS: We walked to his home, a room with a little balcony.
AWAD: (Speaking German)
KAKISSIS: His 18-year-old wife Tamam Aldrawsha answers the door and points to a wall above the refrigerator. It's covered with yellow post-it notes with German words. She tells me she wants to learn German well enough to study nursing.
TAMAM ALDRAWSHA: (Through interpreter) I want to be useful, useful for my family and useful for this country. Integration shouldn't be measured by whether I wear this headscarf. It should be measured by whether I become a useful member of the society.
KAKISSIS: Integration is the word of the year in Germany. Everyone is talking about whether the country can really absorb hundreds of thousands of newcomers from vastly different cultures and religions.
This tiny village in the forest - it's called Klosterheide, population 280 - is no different. Martin Osinski coordinates housing for asylum seekers here. He told the locals they have nothing to fear.
MARTIN OSINSKI: And we always explain there will be no rise of criminalism. There will be no problems for the neighbors maybe except for some more children crying around. And we invited people to have a look at our camps and to meet refugees and just to make our own experiences.
INGRID HUEBNER: (Speaking German)
KAKISSIS: Retirees Ingrid and Wolfram Huebner took him up on the offer. They show me newspaper clippings of migrants joining locals for picnics and beautification projects. The Huebners have befriended a Syrian-Kurdish family.
HUEBNER: (Speaking German)
KAKISSIS: "We take them on excursions that we haven't gone on for years," Ingrid says. Meeting them has really enriched our lives. But other locals are wary. The refugee shelter's deputy manager, Angela Lipowski-Wallin, recalls how a rumor spread after the migrants took swimming lessons at the public pool.
ANGELA LIPOWSKI-WALLIN: (Speaking German)
KAKISSIS: "The refugees weren't staying in their lanes, so the locals here thought they weren't following the rule," she says. That quickly morphed into rumors that the refugees were harassing other swimmers.
Michael Ast, a middle-aged carpenter, lives just around the corner from the shelter. We meet him as he's eating plums picked right off his tree. He says the migrants are kind and hardworking but doubts many will end up with real jobs. Ast explains that he hired a young asylum seeker from Chad as an apprentice.
MICHAEL AST: (Through interpreter) He was friendly, eager to help and had a good work ethic. He was always on time. When we tried to teach him, it didn't work out. We spent half a year trying to teach him what a cubic meter and a square meter were. He didn't even know that.
KAKISSIS: "We were worlds apart," he said. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Klosterheide, Germany.
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