Sport and refugees in Berlin: Hangar 1 is a place where sport is made for all
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a young woman jumps with a basketball
An unused aircraft hangar at Berlin's Tempelhof airport has been converted to a space where refugees and and others come together to exchange and connect, and where services are offered in the areas of sports, culture, education and counselling.

BERLIN - Tempelhof airport.
Walking beside this colossal structure and sensing the history behind these walls, I cannot help but feel what represented for some a ticket to freedom, and for others evoked fear. I finally arrived in front of the hangar I was looking for - Hangar 1. I am here to meet Hangar 1’s Communications and Partner Manager, Leonie Schäfer.

Entering the space, I am greeted with warm smiles and I am struck by the liveliness; from afar, I can see people playing football on the left and a basketball game taking place on the right. I am welcomed by Leonie. She takes me around the hangar, giving me an opportunity to learn more about Hangar 1. In Leonie’s words, “Hangar 1 stands to bring a safe place for people to gather, exchange and connect. Every day, open and free services are offered in the areas of sports, culture, education and counselling. These services are provided by organizations, associations and individual volunteers. Whether young or old, refugee or neighbour, alone or with the whole family - everyone is welcome. The offers are designed to promote social participation and make social connections a normal part of life.” 

Hangar 1 aims to provide a place where every individual can feel at home. It is a space that fosters inclusion through community development, by putting sports at the core. Leonie tells me that “between 2015 and 2017, up to 3,000 refugees were accommodated in emergency shelters in the hangars of the former Tempelhof Airport. During this time, a wide range of activities and support for refugees was created in Hangar 1. More than 80 partners, with up to 500 active employees and volunteers, helped the refugees as they arrived in Germany. The success of the project soon led to serious considerations as to how this unique civil society commitment could be maintained and made accessible to the general public, even after the hangar was closed. The result is Hangar 1 - a place where everyone is welcome in the middle of Berlin”. 

Hangar 1 uses sport as their principal vector to enforce social inclusion, social cohesion and psychological wellbeing among refugees. Leonie says that “the main target group at Hangar 1 is young people between 14-27 years. Youth are supervised by local social workers, trainers and coordinators. The focus is to enable and promote social participation, by giving the opportunity to explore their interests independently or as a group.”
Leonie further explains that “in Hangar 1, visitors are involved in the processes and design of activities, and they also have the opportunity to become volunteers. For instance: Hangar 1-Café, was built by, with, and is run by volunteers.” Being a volunteer is, for some, the best way to integrate into a new social and cultural environment. Whether it happens through sport, social or cultural activities, volunteering bridges the gap between exclusion and inclusion.  

As we stop in front of the brand new inside tennis court, I asked Leonie how Hangar 1 intends to develop this sport-refugee relationship, and she explains that “the main goal of Hangar 1 is to establish more services, especially for girls and women,” as “ sport connects and creates an access to each other, transcends language barriers, ethnicities and stigmas. Sport creates a level on which the most diverse people can meet and come together as a team.”

It is clear that Hangar 1 has a strong grasp on the refugees’ situation in Berlin and has mobilized all its resources towards their integration and inclusion into German society. However, refugees are still endangered across the globe. Nations across Europe have to increase welcoming infrastructures, to develop further inclusion and integration programmes, and to recognise the impact that sport for development can bring to displaced communities by enforcing sport programmes across its structures, whether schools, universities, public organisations, sports clubs.

Niels Lengrand has a passion for sport for development, and is currently working on the creation of a phone app which collates information about various sport for development associations in Berlin. The aim of the app is to be enhance people’s awareness about the sport for development, and to push forward the discussions on sport for development. 

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]


All Sports
Sustainable Development Goals
16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Target Group
Displaced Persons

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