Refugees bring a taste of Syria to German Christmas market

EUROPE-MIGRANTS/GERMANY-CHRISTMAS

SCHILLINGSFUERST, Germany (Reuters) - Alongside the traditional gluehwein and sausages on offer at a Christmas market in small-town Bavaria, visitors could also try more exotic fare: falafel and kibbeh served by a family of refugees from the Syrian war.

As hostility towards immigrants has increased since a record 890,000 arrived in Germany in 2015, the participation of the Ballish family in a distinctly German tradition was welcomed by many at the market in Schillingsfuerst as a sign of integration.

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"I feel comfortable here but of course not like at home," said 20-year-old Mayar Ballish who served falafel sandwiches from a wooden hut decorated with festive fir tree garlands, red bows and white fairy lights.

"The people here are so nice and so kind, yes, the language is always difficult," she said in German.

In the baroque castle behind the market, Mayar's sister, Nawar, 21, and their father, Moneer, held an exhibition of their own paintings and drawings depicting scenes of suffering in Syria.

"I'd like people to understand the feelings we Syrians have, whether we're living in Syria now or elsewhere, and what we're going through," said 53-year-old Moneer.

They plan to use the proceeds from the 15 paintings they sold to help provide treatment for Syrian children injured in the war.

14 PHOTOS
A look around traditional German Christmas markets
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A look around traditional German Christmas markets
People visit the Christmas market near Alexanderplatz square in Berlin, Germany, November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Visitors stand in front of an illuminated object during the Christmas Garden event at botanic garden in Berlin, Germany November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos
An artist dressed as Ice Queen poses at the opening of the Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt square in Berlin, Germany November 21, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives this year's Christmas tree during a ceremony in the foyer of the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
People visit the opening of the Christmas market at Gendarmenmarkt square in Berlin, Germany November 21, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
MUNICH, GERMANY - DECEMBER 11: General impression during the FC Bayern Muenchen Christmas Market at Allianz Arena on December 11, 2016 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Bongarts/Getty Images)
A man dressed as a Krampus holds a woman during the traditional Krampus run in Munich, southern Germany, on December 11, 2016. A Krampus is a half-demon, half goat figure who punishes children who misbehaved during the Christmas season. / AFP / dpa / Andreas Gebert / Germany OUT (Photo credit should read ANDREAS GEBERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Thousands of lights illuminate a residential house festively decorated for Christmas in Mainbernheim near Wuerzburg, southern Germany, on December 9, 2016. Owners of the house took eight weeks to install the decorations that will stay until January 6, 2017. / AFP / dpa / Karl-Josef Hildenbrand / Germany OUT (Photo credit should read KARL-JOSEF HILDENBRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
MUNICH, GERMANY - DECEMBER 10: A FC Bayern Muenchen bauble is seen at the club's Christmas party at H'ugo's bar on December 10, 2016 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by A. Hassenstein/Getty Images for FC Bayern )
MUNICH, GERMANY - DECEMBER 09: Wooden Father Christmas dolls stand on display for sale at a stall at the annual Christmas Market at Marienplatz square on December 9, 2016 in Munich, Germany. Christmas markets have opened across Germany in a tradition that dates back centuries. For the remaing weeks until Christmas the markets, which are usually located on the main square of the hosting town or village, will provide holiday cheer with stalls selling mulled wine, sausages, Christmas ornaments and other delights. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
MUNICH, GERMANY - DECEMBER 09: Visitors gather under an illuminated Christmas tree at the annual Christmas Market at Marienplatz square on December 9, 2016 in Munich, Germany. Christmas markets have opened across Germany in a tradition that dates back centuries. For the remaing weeks until Christmas the markets, which are usually located on the main square of the hosting town or village, will provide holiday cheer with stalls selling mulled wine, sausages, Christmas ornaments and other delights. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
An entrance of a residential house in the small Bavarian village Eichenau near Munich, southern Germany, is decorated with Christmas lights on December 9, 2016, two weeks before Christmas. / AFP / CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Illuminated Christmas stars hang from a booth of the Christmas Market in Jena, eastern Germany, on December 5, 2016. / AFP / dpa / Martin Schutt / Germany OUT (Photo credit should read MARTIN SCHUTT/AFP/Getty Images)
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Ruth Brinkmann-Seitz, a visitor to the exhibition, said the paintings had moved her to tears.

"I'm delighted that this kind of integration is happening - just like that, without any big fuss and really great," she said.

The younger Ballish children - 10-year-old Shams and 9-year-old Sama - beamed as they sung German Christmas songs while wearing red Santa hats with their schoolmates on stage at the market.

Their mother, Shahnaz, who cooked falafel and kibbeh - a Middle Eastern speciality made of ground meat, onions and bulgur wheat - said she was proud the family had shown locals refugees could be productive.

For in-depth stories on Europe's migration crisis click here.

Related: How children cope with living in a war zone:

15 PHOTOS
Moments of childhood fun in war-torn Syria
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Moments of childhood fun in war-torn Syria
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A boy sits on a bicycle in front of damaged shops after an airstrike on the rebel held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria September 25, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
Boys play with toy guns on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Syria, July 17, 2015. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
Boys on bicycles gather in the rebel held area of Aleppo's al-Shaar district, Syria, June 27, 2016. Picture taken June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
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Students form a circle as they play during a celebration marking the end of the school year, at 'Syria, The Hope' school on the outskirts of the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town, in Idlib province, Syria June 1, 2016. The school is partially occupied and it teaches students until fourth grade. The building that is heavily damaged was used by government forces as a base before the rebel fighters took control of the area. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Children play in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh 
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Children play table football on the last day of Eid al-Adha celebrations in the rebel held besieged town of Hamouriyeh, eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria September 15, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
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