In Europe, summer 2015 will always be remembered as the time of the “refugee crisis.” As European politics tried to take control of the situation, a wave of solidarity and willingness to help swept through society, including Sennheiser. Employees worldwide took vacations to bring refugees to safety from beaches and ports across Europe and to collect clothing. It was thanks to an initiative of the Sennheiser family and the motivation of the workforce that the production site in Burgdorf, which was located not far from the headquarters and was no longer in use, became an emergency shelter.
Dr. Petra Hildebrandt was also collecting donations. She couldn’t believe that the auditorium at the headquarters was filled to the brim with items that had been donated, including clothing, toys and much more besides. Since she had spent many years working in Burgdorf, she was very curious how this had come about. What did it look like now? She asked if she could drop in and see what she could do to help. “I was told that the children were particularly happy when someone came to spend a few hours with them. And so, my husband and I gathered some paper and pens together. Drawing, that’s what we could do with them.”
Petra remembers the pictures well. “They showed destroyed houses, planes, fires. Each picture told the personal story of a child. But some children also painted their new home, the Sennheiser plant in Burgdorf. They presented us with their pictures. I still have them, and they make me very emotional when I look at them.” Petra was guided through the plant by Orhan, a member of the Workers’ Samaritan Association. He described the conversions and told me stories. The former chemical warehouse was now used to store food—such a small space to ensure ongoing supplies. Washing machines were housed in the basement. The plant that Petra once knew inside out now fulfilled an entirely different function.
Later, Petra asked her dedicated colleague Maximiliane Willenborg if she was still in contact with the refugees. Maximiliane remembered one of the interpreters who had already spent five semesters studying chemical engineering in Jordan and was now trying to continue her studies in Germany. Petra got in touch with the German Federation of Engineers, made contacts, took her with her to the Hannover Messe trade fair and provided an opportunity for her to escape her situation. It all took time because the cultural exchange had to be handled with great sensitivity. It was important to consider the family of the young woman who may have different ideas, limitations and fears. Unfortunately, her school leaving certificate is not yet recognized in Germany. However, her life has changed in many ways. As well as becoming more independent and improving her German language skills, the former interpreter became the proud mother of a son a few months ago. Of course, there is still a long way to go but this initial success proves that borders can be transcended and that we can all help in some small way. Sometimes all it takes is a few pens and some pieces of paper.