“You’re only going to become a garbage man anyway.” Sentences like this are burned into the memories of Benji and his classmates. In the end, a film was made from it, which won first prize in the national competition “fair@school – schools against discrimination”.

It was a long way from these student experiences to the festive award ceremony under the large dome of St. Elisabeth Church last week on Invalidenstrasse. Teacher Zara Demet Altan followed this path with her students, let them tell about their experiences and made the film “Like a Forest” out of it. This film was number 1 among 58 projects from all over Germany.

Specifically, it is about a lack of appreciation, about conscious or unconscious discrimination, sometimes also about carelessly thrown comments that discourage the children and young people. “The teacher might have thought that motivates us,” Benji says afterwards, reflecting on the “garbage man” remark. But the opposite is achieved. Another child tells in the film what it was like for him when his teacher repeatedly mispronounced his Turkish name.

It was the Kurt Schumacher elementary school in Kreuzberg where these scenes took place a few years ago. It might have gone on like this at other schools, but at the Schumacher School, Zara Demet Altan, as a teacher for German, English and art, encouraged the children to first make a screenplay and then a film from their experiences. And that had an effect: “The film was shown to the entire school in the cinema, and many teachers used it as an opportunity for discussions in the classes,” reports Bernhard Franke from the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.

The second prize went to the community school on the Rütli campus for their project “More than 2 pages”: After a joint trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, a comic was created about the trip. Many of the young people involved have family ties in the region themselves, experience anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic attitudes and often experience racism and exclusion themselves. The comic is now used in many classes and schools as teaching material, partly with the introduction of the students involved in the trip, reports the anti-discrimination agency, which has been awarding the prize together with Cornelsen-Verlag since 2017.

3,000 euros went to the Kurt Schumacher School, 2,000 euros to the Rütli campus and the third prize of 1,000 euros went to the district school in Bahrenfeld/Hamburg for their project “Getting right as a fair school”. The school has been certified as a “fair school” in order to take account of the diversity of the students and staff.

The performance of the Kurt Schumacher team, which was honored with the first prize, is also of particular importance because the school has been learning in a state of emergency for almost ten years: it had to move out at the end of 2012 due to fire protection renovations. Since then, all school life has taken place in the after-school care building – from lessons to lunch to after-school care and all work groups. The film was also made under these conditions – just like Altan’s predecessor film “Spring Children”. But now – after a number of wrong decisions by the district building authority as well as company bankruptcies and poor performance – the first construction phase is finished: Some classes can move into the renovated building, and the sports hall can also be used again.

Headmaster Lutz Geburtig is happy about the success of the film, but there is no room for euphoria when it comes to the beginning of the move, because the second, more important construction phase will not be finished until 2026. Hundreds of students who have started school since 2013 have never experienced normal school life, and neither have many teachers and parents. Does the school expect an apology from the district? “No,” says Geburtig, “that would be naïve.”