United World Project


#daretocare Families in Germany

2 March 2021   |   , ,

The Dörpinghaus couple live in Solingen, Germany, where they are involved in the “dare to take care” of their city and its citizens, through a constant effort for dialogue, democracy and social cohesion. Their efforts have earned them the city’s Silbernen Schuh (Silver Shoes) Award created by the “Bündnis für Toleranz und Zivilcourage (Alliance for tolerance and moral courage).

Solingen is a city in North Rhine-Westphalia with about 160,000 inhabitants of 140 different origins. Here, on the night between May 28 and 29, 1993, four young skinheads set fire to the home of a large migrant family from Turkey, causing five fatalities and many injuries. The act left a strong mark on the history of the city.

In 2004, Solingen instituted the Silbernen Schuh Award, created by the city’s Bündnis für Toleranz und Zivilcourage, in recognition of those who have distinguished themselves for their courageous stance against xenophobia and discrimination.

On December 15, 2020 the award was assigned to a couple, Ursula and Hermann-Josef Dörpinghaus. The dedication reads: “Ursula and Hermann-Josef Dörpinghaus are courageously committed to a tolerant and peaceful urban society. The commitment to human rights, a lively culture of dialogue and social cohesion hav always been of particular interest to them”. Solingen Mayor Tim Kurzbach, emphasized in his laudation speech: “They are committed beyond every imaginable measure to peaceful cohesion in Solingen, in Germany, in Europe and in the world. [. . .] Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where goodness and love prevail, there God is ever found. This is perhaps one of the slogans that companies and inspires them”.

Ursula and Hermann-Josef have lived in Solingen since 1984. I reach them via Zoom, as is the custom during this Covid time, as Hermann-Josef jokingly calls it. Ursula has just turned 80, Hermann-Josef is 79. They don’t show their age and speak very good Italian. Their motto is “now it’s my turn to do something”, which means: don’t complain but take part, take an interest, take responsibility. “We see the problems of society and we try to find answers together with the others” Ursula explains, as if wanting to direct the attention away from themselves.

After the 1993 fire, the Dörpinghaus couple took part in the creation of Cafè International. “For me it was enriching to learn about other countries, other religions and cultures”, says Herman Josef.  “Every year we have an intercultural celebration where all the different international groups can present themselves”. In response to the conditions of poverty in which some families of the city live, Josef founded with other friends the Tischlein Deck Dich (Set the Table) Association, which allowed many elementary school children from low-income families to receive free lunches every day.

Ursula also feels the urgency of being committed to the society and the future generations: “We all experience more and more disrespect, aggression and the use of brutal language in civil society. This has made us women restless. And so we launched the Women of Solingen For Respect and Democracy initiative,” she explains. “It is important for us women not to remain silent, but to encourage many people to take a stand, to oppose extremism and to be involved as citizens, to defend democracy, which has become very fragile”. Ursula, and her friends Barbar and Ull, lived through the Second World War as children: “We don’t want our children and grandchildren to ask us, as we asked our parents: why didn’t you say anything, why didn’t you do anything? Thus driven by this concern for democracy, we are very attentive to language, to respect for other as a person, a human being endowed with dignity. We are also interested in politics. Last year, before the election of the European Parliament we tried to encourage people to go and vote, and so the number of voters has grown”.

The Dörpinghaus spouses are also at the forefront of the commitment to peace. Shocked by the images arriving from Syria, in December 2016, they organized a large street demonstration, which ended with a silent prayer vigil. Before the pandemic they met every first Thursday of the month in the Neumarkt town square. “Sometimes migrants or refugees stop and thank us and tell us: ‘Thank you, because you don’t forget our people. Some take photos and send them to their respective countries. If I identify with those passers-by, I think it must feel very good to them, to discover that someone foreign cares about their country, for their people so exhausted by wars”.

Despite the pandemic, their commitment to peace has continued on the web and has spread to other countries and other situations: the condition of refugees in the Balkans, the war in Yemen, and so on.

“There is no peace in Syria as of yet and, according to the United Nations, there is great destruction and many deaths in 13 other countries. The number of refugees in the world has risen to 80 million! We still have to give a voice to peace, every month”, they said during the award ceremony.

But the list could continue: they take part in the Dialogues in German for migrants and refugees at the Solingen Library; they are committed to the spread of fair trade; they are involved in the Christian-Islamic discussion group. In 2015, they welcomed a dozen unaccompanied children to Focolare’s Zentrum Frieden (Peace Center) in Solingen, which is their second home. Here, Ursula facilitated the integration of these young people, teaching them German and… how to cook!

During the award ceremony they explained that their actions are rooted in the thought and spirituality of Chiara Lubich which give them the strength they need to carry on the numerous projects they are involved in, despite the difficulties. In the end, they invited their fellow citizens to do the same for democracy, respect and cohesion in the city: “Together we can make the difference!”.