To launch the C4i Communication für Vielfalt (Communication for Diversity) campaign, the city of Erlangen built a banquet table over 180 meters in length and hosted a giant picnic along the main street of the city. About 1,000 native Erlangers and asylum seekers directly communicated and exchanged with each other, and took away with them information about rumours and how to counter them. In their C4i campaign, Erlangen puts a particular emphasis on asylum seekers, as prejudices about them gained new political relevance further to a request by the government to accommodate 300 new asylum seekers.
Along with the city’s longest picnic table, a ‘Living Library’ offered open conversations with asylum seekers, to encourage exchange in a deep and sincere manner, and not just symbolically share a large table. Thus, along the table people were explicitly invited to ask 10 asylum seekers – or ‘Living Books’ –about their life, talents, skills, experiences and dreams. The aim was to pose questions one would not normally dare to, thus revising assumptions and overcoming rumours. Banquet participants met people with extraordinary résumés with exceptional stories to tell; learned about unexpected talents of people living next door – asylum seekers in Erlangen.
As another tool to encourage exchange, common rumours and facts to debunk them were presented on placemats. Distributed along the banquet, these placemats were intended to spark conversations about rumours and to enable reflection on them. In addition, on the back of the placemats guidelines and advice on how to effectively debunk rumours were printed* , to give conversational guidance on how to argue against the rumours.
The positive ambience - live music, flower bouquets, white table cloths and 400 balloons released in a symbolic act of diversity and togetherness - was key to conveying a positive feeling, in addition to the ‘knowledge of facts’ that refugees are not ‘a threat’ but can be an enriching source for the city. The banquet was a highly cross-departmental action, including various public institutions such as the public library (for the Living Library), the public safety unit (for the large event), the public refuse collection unit, the press and PR department, the Mayor`s office, etc.
The level of media coverage of the banquet was very high and treated in some depth, including traditional media such as Radio, TV and newspapers and local magazines and Social Media like Facebook. Strikingly, the media coverage was positive throughout, showcasing Erlangen as good example of engaging in discourse about refugees, during a time where the arrival of large numbers of refugees to German cities was largely portrayed in a negative light and seen as a “problematic situation” rather than “asset”.