Tourists, migrants share Greek island

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The Greek island of Kos has always been a hot spot for German tourists

Those tourists are now sharing the island with migrants seeking a new life in Europe

CNN  — 

A relative calm prevailed over the Greek island of Kos by the time photographer Jörg Brüggemann landed there in August.

The site of overloaded dinghies carrying migrants from the Aegean Sea became less common. Riots began dwindling. Only a few relics from the crisis remained: rows of deflated boats and scattered life vests strewn over the island’s white sand.

It was the right moment for Brüggemann, who was on assignment for a German magazine.

“The idea,” he said, “was to look at German tourists doing their holidays there, the ones who had booked in advance but instead of asking for their money back as they were entitled to, they decided to go ahead with the holiday.”

When Brüggemann arrived to Kos, “it was obvious there was something very unique going on, like a clash of civilizations,” he said.

His images were very different from the images of the migration crisis we have already seen.

Photographer Jörg Brüggemann

“There are so many sad images,” he said, “and sadly, people just don’t feel anything anymore.

“You see a strong Syrian father bringing (his) family to safety on the shore and you can say, yes, that’s a strong image. But you also know that a German family will set up their picnic right by that image. And that is what I found interesting.”

Cash-strapped Greece depends strongly on their northern visitors for tourism dollars. Germans and other northern European travelers are some of the top contributors to Greece’s gross domestic product.

That essential contribution has been threatened by the migration crisis, which triggered a wave of hotel and flight cancellations.

With this context in mind, Brüggemann adds a level of critical irony to the Kos refugee story, shadowing the ubiquitous German tourist as he tiptoes through refugee tents. Brüggemann’s photos also show scantily clothed vacationers sunbathing by modestly dressed refugees.

“It was really strange,” Brüggemann said. “Here are the Germans, working all year to have these two weeks of holidays in Greece. They work hard and they come here and they obviously feel they are in a very strange situation psychologically.¨

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    Brüggemann’s images work like a silent film, carrying a narrative of their own. His strong characters lead us through critical moments and circumstances, hinting at personal transformations as they encounter another reality.

    We meet hotel owner Reinhilde Michalakopoulos, who has given herself the colossal assignment of feeding fresh peaches to refugees and later on, entertaining German guests with dancing and Ouzo. A fair-skinned couple dozing off under the shade of the hotel’s olive trees is followed by an image of a refugee sleeping in a tent made of recycled trash and palm trees. A tourist reading about the refugee crisis on a German newspaper illustrates the truth: These cultures are physically together and – at the same time – conceptually apart.

    Wherever they turned, German tourists could not get away from the angst of one of Europe’s most challenging human dilemmas. Many, Brüggemann said, lived up to the challenge.

    “Some said, ‘I don’t want to see this,’ and others said quite the opposite: ‘We want to go there and see what’s been on TV and witness history in the making,’ ” Brüggemann said.

    He met a 20-year old from the Black Forest region who convinced his girlfriend to go out of the hotel area to see what was going on.

    On one of the couple´s first encounters with the reality outside the hotel facilities, they witnessed a British tourist giving a young Syrian girl a toy.

    “The little girl looked so happy, and that’s when his girlfriend started to cry,” Brüggemann said.

    Complete coverage on the migration crisis

    Jörg Brüggemann is a German photographer based in Berlin. You can follow him on Instagram. He is represented by Ostkreuz Agency.