Anna and Martina are two women living in the same area in Berlin who came together through chance, and have gone on to create an incredible community with local Germans and refugees in Moabit.
“Living in Moabit, passing by the LaGeSo each day, seeing refugees who thought they had finally arrived and would be welcomed warmly but stranded living in playgrounds and parks without official help, it was not really hard to find out where our help was needed the most.
“Supported by a community organizer who was also interested in motivating our church to be more active we found a group of likeminded people, exchanged our hopes and ideas, found more support from the church side than expected and we could right away start to renovate a room which became soon after our Begegnungscafé,” says Martina when asked about their motivations to start a community initative.
The Begegnungscafé is held every Wednesday from 4-6pm in a room in St Johannis Church. Just as the room was ready a new emergency accommodation with 200 beds for refugees in a sports hall was opened just 800 meters way.
With the aim of helping the refugees be a bit happier the group of volunteers got sewing machines, chess games, clothes, and more together. “We wanted to repair bicycles, dance together, cook together. But as soon as the first refugees arrived the most important thing was: just come together. And to treat everyone as very welcome guests who are absolutely on a par with you,” Martina explains.
On average 25 refugees and 10 local people attend the Begegnungscafé. The refugees are mainly from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, with a few from Pakistan and Moldova. The local people are people from the church community, as well as local people who want to help out.
The Begegnungscafé in St Johannis Church, Moabit started in November 2015. The team of volunteers running it learnt a lot of lessons from the start. Initially the team distributed posters about the Begegnungscafé, but, as Martina explains, they soon realised they needed to get out of their comfort zones if they really wanted to help: “We felt insecure to enter the camp directly. After sitting the first two weeks alone in our Begegnungscafé we knew we had to.” Once they talked to the refugees, invited them and made them feel welcome they have found more and more people coming to the weekly sessions, and often ‘old’ guests will bring new ones.
Now, just over 6 months after the weekly gathering started, the early days seem like a distant memory. Many of the locals now help one or two of the refugees with other things outside of the weekly group get together, such as taking them to courses, helping with interview preparations, teaching them how to ride a bike in Berlin, and going on trips to the zoo. The group have gone from being strangers to good neighbours.
The Begegnungscafé will continue running on Wednesdays from 4-6pm, come what may. There are official plans for the sports hall to be used as a basketball field again from July, meaning the refugees will be moved on to somewhere else. Whatever happens, Martina, Anna and the group of locals will continue welcoming newcomers at the Begegnungscafé. “We hope that we will keep in touch with them and go on meeting. Our door will stay open on Wednesdays, 4-6 p.m.”
If you would like to get involved with the Begegnungscafé you are more than welcome to! You do not need to commit to attend each week, you just need to arrive ready to chat and help on Wednesday from 4pm at St Johannis Church, Alt Moabit 24, 10557 Berlin.