Breaking Borders, Breaking Bread: Berlin’s Culinary Exchange

In a world with mounting tension against refugees, 'Give Something Back to Berlin' creates real bonds between Berliners and immigrants through weekly cooking sessions.

Give Something Back to Berlin is an organisation that, despite all the resistance to incoming refugees, reminds us that we are all neighbors, both in Germany and on this planet. The platform encourages frequent meet ups between German citizens and those aspiring for citizenship. The members exchange their culture through art, language lessons, sports, and cooking. In this article we interviewed some of the staff and members of this club that eagerly welcomes traditional dishes from Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan and Somalia.

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Ricarda

Can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?

I’m Ricarda, I’m 32, and I grew up in Germany. Originally, I was a fashion business graduate, but now I’m working in the kitchen of a refugee shelter in Berlin and also in the GSBTB Open Kitchen.

Can you talk a bit about the cooking group and how it works?

We meet regularly in our kitchen, when the weather is cold or rainy, or alternatively in the park for a Barbecue. Everyone is welcome. We cook together, eat together, and clean up together. Recently we were invited to cook for more exciting events at Markthalle Neun, called United Street food, and at the Bite Club Street Food Markets. One or two chefs from our refugee community come with a recipe, and then all together we start washing, chopping and cooking. If we are cooking at catering events, the money we make goes toward our refugee chefs, and back into the project to invest in much-needed professional equipment and ingredients for the next Open Kitchen session.

How long have you been involved and why ?

I started coming to the cooking sessions a while ago but I had to take a break when I travelled to India in 2015. When I was there, I watched the news, and saw how the confusion grew all around the world and especially in Berlin. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I returned. But one thing I knew for sure was that I would find a way to get involved. And that’s how the cooking group came back into the picture. I was a regular member and when Lorna, the original founder of the project, became more and more busy with her other project «Refugee Voicer Tours», she asked me to manage the cooking group.

What do you get out of this group personally? And what about those who are a part of it?

For many of us, not only the refugees, the cooking group has become like a family. We see each other often, eat together and share stories. It sounds simple but it creates serious bounds between people. We go out together after the cooking, we go to concerts, or we simply help each other. Helping one find a flat, for example, when in Berlin it’s more of a hunt than a search. With the catering events we are also giving valuable and professional experience to the members which increases their chances of finding a job. I know at least one person who has found a job afterwards.

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Aggi

Can you introduce yourself briefly?

My name’s Aggi Cantrill, I’m a journalist based in Berlin who has been volunteering for Give Something Back To Berlin since 2014.

how do you see that this group helps refugees?

Since refugees are the ones choosing the recipes and guiding the other people in cooking, it allows them to show people parts of their own culture. Then it quickly becomes a way for people to make long lasting friendships with people who, while living in the same city, may never have met under other circumstances. Instead of “helping” refugees in a tangible sense, the project is intended to help both refugees and other residents to meet and understand each other better.

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Amjad

Can you introduce yourself quickly please?

My name is Amjad, I am 25 years old and I’m from Damascus in Syria. I have been in Berlin for and year and a half now. I graduated in 2015 in Business and Economy from Damascus University. I used to play basketball in the Syrian league from 2004 to 2015, and I’m now playing in Germany with the Pfefferwerk sport team.

How long have you been in the cooking group and why?

I’ve been in the cooking group for more than a year now. It allows me to meet new friends and create a new family. It also helps me improve my English and my German, and meet people from other countries, and cultures.

What do you expect from this group? For you, and for those who are a part of it?

I want to be part of more projects and share ideas with people who have similar interests. I’m interested in the languages and new cultures, and talking with people from different places helps me. I have invited friends into the group to come and share their experiences and I think it helped them find a sense of belonging.

Do you think that being part of a community like this helps you integrate yourself in Germany?

Being a part of the cooking group, and more generally to the GSBTB association, is very important for me. It helps me do positive things, and be a positive person in Germany. Through this group I can also make some good relationship in this new country. I also hope I can finish my studies in Germany and get my masters here.

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Bahjat

Can you introduce yourself quickly please?

My name is Bahjat, I’m 33 and from Syria. I have been living in Germany since October 2015. The cooking group was the first place for me outside of immigration buildings and waiting camps that made me feel like I belonged. It was the first place outside of a humiliating system built by State institutions and civil society that made me feel like myself again.

Can you talk a bit about the cooking group?

The cooking group is a place where you can go back to being the person you were before here. It was a very creative experience and it had a positive impact on my life at that time. I got to know so many people who turned out to be friends even after the end of that experience/project.

What do you expect from this group ?

It is simply a place to talk easily with anyone who attends, to laugh, speak your mind and to leave with very deep comfort. That experience helped a lot in giving me a local taste of Berlin. I would have a much different perception of Berlin without that nice and clever event organized by Lorna.

Do you think that being part of a community like that would help you integrate yourself in Germany ?

As someone who is forced to be here, integration isn’t very important for me, but what I do care about is building a new life as another foreigner and the cooking group has helped me a lot, more than official immigration employees.

Adlan Mansri is a young Berlin based photographer. Through his lenses, he brings his sight of the world and the humans he meets with a reporter's eye.
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