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Hospitality sector rallies for Ukraine's refugees

Martin Koch
March 28, 2022

For Ukrainian refugees reaching Germany, finding a place to stay represents a daunting challenge. A businessman in Berlin has set up the accommodation platform everybedhelps.com to address this issue.

People stand in the lobby of a hotel
The initiative everybedhelps.com provides accommodation for Ukrainian refugeesImage: Florian Wichelsmann

Berlin-based businessman Florian Wichelmann runs Nena Appartments, a company that rents out serviced apartments throughout the German capital. Moved by the developments in Ukraine, Wichelmann decided to launch a platform to help refugees find a place to stay in Germany.

DW: You set up a platform called everybedhelps.com that allows Ukrainian refugees to find accommodation. Tell us about the project.

Florian Wichelmann: On the Sunday after the invasion of Ukraine, my wife and I heard on the radio that Russia had put its nuclear forces on high alert. We were shocked. My wife asked me whether we would take in Ukrainian refugees, and I said we would.

What inspired you to launch everybedhelps.com?

We took in refugees in 2015, though not on today's scale. I thought to myself: We could put up refugees in my rental apartments.

Last Sunday evening, I shared my idea on LinkedIn, asking for anyone in contact with refugees to reach out. By Monday, my post had been read some 25,000 times, and hundreds of messages were waiting in my inbox.

I contacted all rental agencies I knew and we established this platform. One day later, everybedhelps.com went online.

The word spread quickly via Facebook, German public broadcaster ZDF came by to shoot a report, and I was invited on to the Markus Lanz television chat show. Our project garnered considerable media attention.

That, in turn, inspired many more agencies to join our platform. So far, 95 German rental agencies have signed up. So far, we were able to find a home for some 1,200 refugees.

A sign shows the logo everybedhelps.com, a bed in the colors of Ukraine's flag
Almost 100 rental agencies have joined everybedhelps.comImage: Florian Wichelsmann

What's next?

That is a good question. It will not be enough to quickly find a place to stay for these people, and let the project fizzle out. That is why we founded a nonprofit company so we can collect donations and put them to use. This way we will subsidize long-term housing for refugees.

All rental agencies involved have said they will put up refugees for free in March. But right now, there are entire families staying in small hotel rooms. It would make far more sense to move them to regular apartments. But that will cost rent. We are now calling for donations to help cover this cost.

You are very dedicated to the project, putting considerable energy into it. What motivates you?

As a businessman, I'm in a fortunate situation that allows me to provide help, and organizational assistance. When I receive an accommodation request at 4 p.m. in the afternoon and need to arrange something by 6 p.m., finding a solution takes priority — rather than trying to make money.

Seeing the platform become a success has been a joy. Yet witnessing firsthand the suffering these people experience is very sobering.

Florian Wichelmann
Florian Wichelmann set up everybedhelps.comImage: Lotte Ostermann

Which encounters do you remember specifically?

I recall one encounter in particular, it moved me deeply. There was a mother with two daughters who spoke only a little English and German. We overheard her calling her loved ones in Ukraine, as her husband and sisters were still in the country. She was talking to them on speakerphone and we heard her sister screaming down the line: "The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming, they are shooting!" The mother shouted back: "You need to get out, get to safety!" Then, the line went dead.

Later, we found ourselves in the lobby with the mother, and an employee of mine, when her phone rang. She learned that her family had managed to flee their house and get into their car, but were killed when the vehicle ran over a mine. Everyone died.

Witnessing firsthand when someone loses loved ones moves you to tears. It puts everything into perspective: have a great marketing logo, setting up an online initiative, getting your expenses reimbursed — none of this matters when people are dying.

What do regular hotel guests think of the refugees who have moved in?

We have received no feedback, which is a good sign. I've seen ordinary hotel guests passing through the lobby, which is packed with humanitarian aid, without batting an eyelid.

The vast majority of the people here are keen to welcome these new arrivals, provide donations and help. It's a vocal, rather dim-witted minority that rejects refugees; unfortunately they have received far too much attention.

People standing at the reception of a apartment-hotel lobby
The staff at Nena Appartments have been working tirelessly to put up those in needImage: Florian Wichelsmann

How will this situation develop? After all, housing is in short supply.

Yes, the housing situation is a big problem. But we are also seeing more and more people join various platforms, offering apartments. I am not worried that we will be unable to find a place for everyone in the short term.

But if German Foreign Minister Baerbock is correct that 8 million refugees are on the move, the German state must find a long-term housing solution, for example by setting up temporary shelters.

I am confident we will cope in the short term. None of the arrivals are planning to make a new life in Germany. Many have grandparents, parents, siblings back in Ukraine, so they will be eager to return as soon as the war is over.

The interview was conducted in German by Martin Koch.

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