Refugees and locals living door to door and sharing their daily routines: The Hoffnungshaus in Leonberg in southern Germany is a model of integration that may soon be adopted by other cities in Germany.
The Hoffnungshaus ('house of hope') in Leonberg was the first of its kind in Germany; refugees and locals lived under the same roof with this program for the first time in 2016. What started out as a big gamble turned into a massive success.
"I can always rest easy here and feel at home," 22-year-old Kinan, a Syrian refugee told epd in fluent German. He lived at the house for two years.
The house brings the local community and the refugees together. They do not just physically share the same space, they also work on the garden together and meet in common rooms in the building. It's an integrative co-habitation model that puts the focus on shared activities, exchange and dialogue. For refugees, there's trauma counseling available on site as well as counseling regarding work and employment.
How it works
The Hoffnungshaus is a part of the Christian Hoffnungsträger foundation, which has been operating since 2013. The foundation not only creates these shared living arrangements, but also sponsors children whose parents are imprisoned in four countries: India, Cambodia, Zambia and Colombia. The organization also promotes resocialization and reconciliation of prisoners (some of whom were forced into a life of crime) and victims of crime in the aforementioned countries.
Hoffnungsträger has several partners that work with them on their projects in Germany and beyond, including companies, artists and non-profit organizations.
The Hoffnungshaus will offer four guided tours of their Leonberg building this year. They take place every three months starting in March.
'We would not have worried so much'
The 36 people who live in the house in Leonberg have relationships with one another. Karin Link, along with her husband and two daughters, were among the first to live in the building with refugees.
"My little ones go to the neighbors and plays, which gives me some time to clean up," she told epd with a laugh.
Getting used to the new living conditions did require time and patience, however. "It's not as eays as when you meet another Swabian," said Link.
Agelika Röhm and her family also had reservations about living in the building, but she was soon at ease. "If we'd known this was going to go so well, we would not have worried so much at the time," she told epd.
Continuing to grow
The project has expanded to other cities in south-western Germany, including Esslingen, Bad Liebenzell and Sinsheim. There are currently 300 people taking part in these projects. The Schwäbisch Gmünd house will be completed by the end of the year, according to the organization. The original Hoffnungshaus will be expanded to include the neighboring building, which will allow for more people to live and take part in the project.
But the program organizers are not looking to stay solely in south-western Germany. Plans are being drafted for nationwide expansion.
As for Kinan, he feels like a regular part of German society now. He has lived in Vaihingen since October, studying information design. While he plans to move to Berlin or Leipzig in the future, he will never forget his time at the Hoffnungshaus.
Curved to fit
One of the defining elements of the Hoffnungshaus buildings are the curved balconies. The structures in Esslingen feature not just curved balconies (made of wood) but wooden ceilings. According to the construction company, it saved 250 tons of carbon dioxide when compared to conventional construction methods.
The design is not just memorable to passers-by. The design for the Hoffnungshauses in Esslingen was the 2018 Iconic Award Winner for innovative material, and a 2019 German Design Award nominee.