I have to admit (and correct me if I’m wrong) when I think about you, readers of this blog, I imagine at least some of you as being “expats”. You know, English speaking (native or not), you came to Berlin to study, to work or to make art. You fell in love with the city maybe for the mix of people, the beer, the raves or the drifting. Or something totally different. However, since a little while the term “expat” (and I am not talking tourist!) got this weird connotation. You know what I mean? Since a little while it gets connected to gentrification, noise and carelessness behavior. And that is really starting to bug me. Because I assume that most expats want to be a part of the community where they live. It is all about access. Take the homeless veggie dinner. A wonderful invention. It is always packed with international volunteers. So many people willing to help. I have seen so much energy and so many skills among them. And I have always asked myself why this energy is not being used while it is there, right here, running through the neighborhoods every day. For people to be more aware and sensitive towards the unique conditions of every Kiez in Berlin demands a certain kind of knowledge of who lives and who struggles there. And in my opinion this knowledge can only come from people in the neighborhood. In my opinion, another big part certainly is the very institutionalized understanding of “civil society participation”, which is now part of almost every social organization. And with it comes a lot of paper work, the need for professional guidance, the necessity to speak German etc.
Well, all my questions and frustration got suddenly blown away when I heard about Give Something Back to Berlin. A concept so simple and yet the only one of its kind in Berlin.
Co-Founder Annamaria Olsson told me more about it…
People that come to Berlin, love Berlin! And they are curious and open. Many people want to do something good, not just hang out. And drink beer. And until we founded Give Something Back To Berlin there was no such a project, to do something with the expats. There was only the segregation between us and them and the talk of gentrification. We wanted to do something against this separation and also do something productive with this energy and will that was already there! People that apply to us, we just had over 270 applications, they are so good! They are creative, have done projects in London or educational project in Capetown or they work for Human Rights Watch. Skills that we could use so well here.
So, what is the idea behind Give Something Back To Berlin?
We are working together with many projects in whole Berlin, the idea is that people can get involved locally. We want to show the expats a different side of the city as well as showing the city another side of the expats. So we work with different organizations and initiatives and they offer placements in different projects. But we also started our small projects for example with the refugees in the former Gerhard Hauptmann School in Kreuzberg. We also get a lot of request to work together with people and enterprises in the creative sector. For example we’ve been planning a big educational project with a ”problem school” in Neukölln and everyone is ”total begeistert” – but to be able to kick off such things there needs to be at least basic funding. The idea there, and with our work in general is to combine different scenes from the city: the creative scene, art, music and the IT-sector with local and social organization to develop new projects and connections. Making worlds meet. Now we for instance work together with a homeless dinner in Friedrichshain, have a weekly english teaching, internet and cooking group in the former Gerhard Hauptmann School, recreational activities for kids in Kreuzberg, have people working in a girls social center in Neukölln and is doing music workshops at Noisy Room Academy and is kicking off yoga for kids at a social center to mention some.
How did you get started?
Two years ago I wrote a Facebook text, it was a bit provocative. It was about the skills that we bring to Berlin and to share those with the rest of the city and neighborhoods. To maybe show a different side of gentrification. Not only new galleries and cafes, but that people can share their skills as a way of integration. But that from many different angles. Not only we as foreigners have to integrate but people have to know us and understand us, too. So I wrote this text and it was meant for my friends. But the text went viral and people were thinking that there was already an existing project for people to get involved in. People wanted to sign up like crazy! I got a bit overwhelmed and thought if there are so many people that would like to get involved, someone should really do it. The actual project was properly launched in June 2013. We we’re then three people. And now we are around five people working, three of us more or less full time without money. Considering how big the interest and potential is it’s crazy that we didn’t get any funding yet. Everybody is talking about this topic but very few are actually doing anything.
How do people for the neighborhood accept the volunteers? Have relationships changed?
Yes, definitely on a small scale and hopefully some also on the bigger. For example in the work with the refugees from the former Gerhard Hauptmann School, we just went there and talked to the people. We asked them what they needed and what they were excited about. And they wanted to learn English and do some music projects. And so we started to build a project around it. Now, new synergies have been developed and new friendships have emerged. Making different worlds meet is just a start!
Give Something Back To Berlin
Lausitzer Straße 10, 10999 Berlin