The Mohammadi family traveled from Afghanistan to Germany in 2015. Moschka, 11, is on the right.

Through Germany's open door: What life is really like for refugees

Updated 12:00 AM ET, Mon September 4, 2017

Berlin (CNN)A couple of years ago, Moschka Mohammadi was unable to read or write. Now, at 11, the young Afghan refugee is fluent in German, seamlessly translating between German and Dari with her parents at their dinner table as she arranges a visit to the orthodontist and the delivery of a new bed for her two siblings.

Back in Afghanistan, Mohammadi had attended just one day of school -- in a room hidden from the Taliban -- when fighting broke out in their village.
Her family first fled to Kabul before embarking on the long trek to Germany, with a hand-painted Quran her only physical reminder of home.
Mohammadi's family is one of just under a million refugees that have taken refuge in Germany since 2015 under German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door migration policy.
During the Mohammadi's journey, they lost almost all their belongings in the sea. The only thing they could save was a small bag that held their family Quran. "It's the most important belonging we have," Moschka said.
As unprecedented numbers of migrants began to pour into Europe, Merkel asked each German state to accept a quota of asylum seekers.
Since that call, many cities and towns have taken in more refugees than required, with varying degrees of success.
Two years on, CNN visited Altena and Bautzen -- two German towns that took in more than the required quota of refugees to see how Merkel's policy has fared.

'A win-win situation'

Altena, an industrial west German town, was facing an economic downturn after its ironworks closed. Jobs were lost, businesses shut down, and families abandoned their homes. The population dropped by more than 10%.
The mayor was looking for a way to give the town a boost when Merkel made her appeal in 2015.
"First, we wanted to help. There was a human reason to take them," Altena's mayor Andreas Hollstein explained.
"But the second reason was a win-win situation. We thought, 'Okay, we need new people in Altena. We need new neighbors. And this will help us invest in the future.'"
Since September 2015, Altena has welcomed 400 refugees: 50% from Syria, 30% from Iraq and 15% from Afghanistan.
The town took in in 400 refugees, and set up a program to match them with volunteer mentors that would help navigate German culture and its notoriously bureaucratic paperwork.
Hollstein recalls the initial response of local residents.
"The far-right was hysterical. They called it a 'crisis,'" he laughed. "On the far left, they threw their arms out and said: let everyone in and be happy."
"But neither is helpful. It's just hard work."
That work was especially challenging at the beginning, when Hollstein had hoped to fast track refugees to jobs at the steel mills. While some were quick to adapt and learn German, others couldn't read and had to start from scratch.
Ellnas Momand, 10, says she misses her home in Afghanistan but  has "really good friends here in Germany and I like school."
Some local residents resented the new arrivals.
While the town was deciding whether or not to accept an additional 100 people, a young man hurled a firebomb into a Syrian family's home, sending them to the hospital for smoke inhalation and damaging the dwelling.
The man was arrested and sentenced to four years in jail.
Hollstein said the isolated incident only strengthened the town's resolve to make integration work.
"It became easy to convince people to accept new refugees. We wanted to show we would welcome them," he said.
Bernadette Koopmann is one of the welcoming. She mentors Moschka Mohammadi's family along with another family from Afghanistan.
Mentor Bernadette Koopmann, 45, at her home in Altena.
"I have such a perfect life. I have healthy children, we live in a country that has not experienced war in a long time. Others are not so lucky," she said.
"They experience war, devastation, and poverty. I believe it's not too much to ask for our help."
Koopmann's role as a mentor to the family has evolved into a bond of friendship.
She visits them at least once a week teaching German to the parents, was with them when their youngest daughter was born and more recently, cried with them upon learning that their refugee status was rejected.
She's now assisting them with their appeal.
"... if that gets rejected ... it would be too difficult to bear. Bu