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.
“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.¨