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Aleppo solidarity march gets set to leave Berlin

Agnieszka Hreczuk Berlin
December 23, 2016

Wanting to show their solidarity with the people of Syria, a group of Europeans are to walk to Aleppo from Berlin after Christmas. The 'Civil March for Aleppo' is the initiative of a Pole living in the German capital.

Weihnachten in Berlin - Marsz Berlin-Aleppo
Image: DW/A. Hrecuk

The march, which will start on December 26 from Berlin's Tempelhof airport, is being organized by Anna Alboth (photo), a 32-year old Polish journalist living in Berlin, and a group of mainly Polish organizers.

Galvanized by the plight of the people of the Syrian city of Aleppo, the march will see up to 3,000 people from several European countries walk the 3,000 km-trip on foot. The first stage will see people walk through the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia.

"It's just like the refugees came but in the opposite direction, with the exception of Hungary or Bulgaria, but instead via Macedonia and Greece, mainly because the latter two countries had a large number of volunteers," Alboth told DW.

"The day and the site are not accidental - Tempelhof is the largest refugee camp in Germany and December 26 is a symbolic holy day. But it's also for practical reasons," Alboth said, given that many people can only join the march for a few days between Christmas and New Year.

A war without end?

The Syrian army said on Thursday it had retaken full control of Aleppo, Syria's second city, in President Bashar al-Assad's biggest victory against opposition forces since the civil war started in 2011.

The operation was the climax of a a battle that lasted nearly four and a half years and made the city a worldwide symbol of bloodshed and devastation.

It is estimated that about 300,000 people have died in the fighting and the city, once the country's financial center, has been devastated.

The trigger

"I saw photos of premature babies who had to be taken out of the incubator by nurses because the hospital in Aleppo had been hit by a bomb. I saw my own children. Not somebody's, mine," Alboth said.

Her own children had been born premature and she asked: "What if their hospital had at the time been bombed? I couldn't bear to think," Alboth wrote on her blog. "Maybe if a group of Europeans were to go there, then maybe something could change? Will you go with me?"

Deutschland Protest in Berlin gegen die Eroberung Aleppos
People demonstrate in front of the Russian Embassy in Berlin against the bombing of civilians in AleppoImage: Imago/C. Mang

Crazy idea?

Alboth, a blogger, journalist and adventurer lives in Berlin with her German husband and their two children.

A year earlier she had invited two Syrians to her home and organized a nationwide collection of sleeping bags from Poland for refugees in Berlin. Several thousand arrived, she said.

"If it hadn't been for this campaign, I probably wouldn't have believed that we would by now be able to manage, that someone had taken me seriously," she said.

Syrien Aleppo Vorher-Nachher: Eingang zum Al-Zarab-Markt - nachher (2016)
Damage to the entrance to al-Zarab souk in the Old city of AleppoImage: Reuters/O. Sanadiki

Replies to her questions started to flood in straight away. "We're coming," "when do we leave, "I'm in," wrote Anna Saraste from Berlin in response to Alboth's appeal. 

"It's do-able," Alboth said. Not "maybe" or "its possible," but "we can do it!" And furthermore, "we have to do it."

Within the first hour of sending out her call, Alboth had received 50 answers and more followed from Poland, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland and Greece. Some people wanted to join, others offered accommodation, others hot soup. Ordinary people, entire families, refugees themselves, also some well-known people called in offering support.

Local groups of activists are being set up in the transit countries and also in Switzerland and Poland.

"The project has a lot of support in Austria, although the most reserved seem to be the Germans," Alboth said. "They ask why a blogger, why now, why Syria, given wars are also going on elsewhere."

Some 3,000 people have signed up for the march, with almost 1,500 prepared to walk for at least part of the trip.

A logistical mountain

Alboth and four others form the march's logistics hub, plotting the route, checking infrastructure, organizing permits and the like.

The march is a little pilgrimage-like, says Ewa, who herself came to Germany as a political refugee from Poland during the 1980s period of the trade union and social movement Solidarity.