Behind the shot: Kids being kids, even after the horrors of war

Commentary: CNET's Andrew Hoyle was struck by the resilience of children uprooted by war, now living in makeshift shelters in Germany.

Andrew Lanxon Editor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Expertise Smartphones | Photography | iOS | Android | Gaming | Outdoor pursuits Credentials
  • Shortlisted for British Photography Awards 2022, Commended in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2022
Andrew Lanxon
2 min read

This is part of our Road Trip 2016 summer series "Life, Disrupted," about how technology is helping with the global refugee crisis -- if at all.

The refugees I met in Germany told me unfathomable tales of horror. I heard of family and friends killed in bombings, of being tortured by militants and of boats capsizing in pitch-dark seas.

I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to live through all that, or how such experiences could change someone. That's why I was struck by the resilience of the children -- the ones I'd expected to be the most vulnerable.

I was on assignment with reporters Shara Tibken and Katie Collins to see how -- or even if -- technology could help Germany cope with the 1 million migrants who arrived there last year. Our reporting took us to refugee centers across the country, where families live while waiting for asylum and decent housing.

And everywhere we went I saw kids being, well, kids.


Young refugees in Berlin's Lichtenberg refugee center follow Caroline Leony Santos' instructions to reach and stretch in dance class.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Our arrival at the ASB Wilmersdorf refugee center in southwest Berlin, for example, immediately caught the attention of a group of children. They came straight to us, all smiling, all laughing and pulling faces as I took their pictures -- and laughed again when they saw themselves on my camera's LCD display.

They inevitably lost interest as we talked to adults, and so resumed the important task of the day: playing. Laughter echoed across the central courtyard, as boys and girls -- arms wide for balance -- walked along the tops of low walls. Inside the beige, five-story building we saw children engrossed in a game they were playing on an Android tablet, just like the kids I see back home in London.

The refugee shelter in Berlin's Lichtenberg neighborhood was once the headquarters of the Stasi secret police. It now houses people who escaped from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

This brown, nondescript monument to Communist architecture isn't much to look at. But it's here I watched charity blu:boks host a dance class for young girls. Instructor Caroline Leony Santos turned on the music, and for the next hour 10 girls held hands, spun and waved their arms to the music's rhythm.

I snapped photos as I dodged between running, jumping girls twirling ribbons. I doubt any of them noticed me -- they were having so much fun.

But I couldn't help but wonder how these uprooted children -- who have seen and known horrors few of us could imagine -- could still be kids. Their smiles were real, and their laughter was contagious. I watched the girls pile into a giant group hug with Santos at the end of class, and was deeply impressed by their resilience.

I still am.