Interview: Give Something Back to Berlin
by James Glazebrook
Who are you and how did you come up with the idea for Give Something Back To Berlin?
We are Anders and Annamaria, two quite typical new-Berliners. We came here five years ago to take part in the city’s brilliant vibe with music, culture and interesting history… Anders worked as a freelance translator and ran a record label, while Annamaria studied and wrote.
As a DJ and a journalist we were in many ways at the epicentre of Berlin culture and expat life. From this viewpoint, we saw the city going through a lot of rapid changes and noticed some challenges in both expat and ”normal” Berlin life. Having lived in Kreuzberg and Neukölln it was obvious that a lot of different groups are ”struggling” within the city.
What kind of challenges and struggles do you mean?
The related issues of gentrification and increasing rents have obvious consequences for poor Berliners with limited opportunities. The mix of those two social questions leads to a lot of frustration and tension. Some people have the feeling that a lot of expats are not getting ”integrated” but just consuming/using the city as their own playground while other people get pushed out or get nowhere.
This discussion has been very polemic, at times xenophobic, and has avoided seeing the big picture or creating any good ideas for how to deal with this new situation. People seem to look more for people to blame than actual solutions, which is both sad and counterproductive. Because it doesn’t matter how much Angela Merkel says that the idea of ”multiculti is dead”, or racist and nationalist parties say that they want no immigrants – migration is a hard fact for the whole world, be it Muslims or creative freelancers. Expats and other groups are in Berlin to stay, so they need to find ways of living and working together, not against each other.
Most expats love this city and want to contribute in different ways. With Give Something Back To Berlin we wanted to create a good alternative, somewhere where new- and Alt-Berliners can meet, get to know each other and the city in a broader sense, and at the same time contribute to society and make this city better for everyone. Whether you are German, an expat or any kind of Berliner, we believe that you should share not only with your own kind, and that broad views are the key to understanding and progress.
What is the project and how does it work?
The idea is very simple – the initative helps expats and new Berliners get socially involved. Through our online portal and social media channels people can easily sign up to donate their skills and a couple of hours to a local initiative that is helping to improving other Berliners’ lives. Maybe a soup kitchen for homeless people needs some extra help, a kids’ centre wants to offer extra English lessons or a girl’s club wants some cool women to talk about different kinds of career possibilities. Our partner organisations tell us their needs, we post them, you sign up and get involved!
Why is it only for expats?
It’s not ”only” for expats, but because we are doing everything on a volunteer basis with no funding, we thought this would be a good place to start. If someone were to give us a lot of money, of course we will open up Give Something Back to Berlin! There are already existing infrastructures for native Germans to get involved in, and we will work with them, but for many expats it might seem too daunting for them to get involved directly.
What kind of projects will you work with?
We met a lot of different organizations over the last months and they are excited to work with us! They include Humanistischer Verband Deutschlands, with their huge network of 1,000 employees and 750 volunteers, Kulturwerkstatt Neukölln, The Roma Theatre Café, St. Richard Gemeinde with its night café and soup kitchen for the homeless, Youth Club Bildog at Richardschule, the AIDS-home and café The Orangerie, Schilleria Mädchen Café in Neukölln, Nachbarschaftshaus Centrum, Kreuzberg… to mention just a few.
What’s happening next?
Give Something Back To Berlin will officially launch in April when we will start posting the ”givings”. Until then we are busy contacting the partner organizations, organising the project, searching for funding, building websites and planning events where expats and social organizations can meet, mingle and talk about possibile collaborations. If you (expat or German) feel like helping us building the project – holla right back to us! We are always in need of skilled people! Our GSBTBerliner Luke Atcheson is setting up a pilot project offering English lessons to local social organisations right now, so if you are interested in contributing you can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also like us and Facebook and help us spread the Give Something Back to Berlin idea so we will have a lot of possible ”givers” when it all kicks off.