We are Berliners – Street Portraits

In spring 2017, I strolled through the streets of Wedding, Kreuzberg and Charlottenburg and approached, interviewed and portrayed strangers. I asked them who they are, where they come from and what they think about Berlin.

Heinz (57)
I like the madness in Berlin Wedding, that everyone is a bit crazy like I myself am a bit crazy. I don’t like it when it’s all slow and so on. Here I can get my beer day and night. What I also like is that people here are honest. And when – let me say it as it is – you get into a fight then the next morning it is alright again. And I’m not from here, I was born in Uckermünde.

Philip (27)
I have lived in Berlin for two months now and you actually catch me while moving house. My whole life is in this suitcase. I came for work because I’m looking for co-producers for a new film and I know about the creative scene here. And Berlin is so free! I’m gay and in Belgium there are certain hetero-norms. Here I can be completely free.

Diana (23)
Originally I come from Stuttgart. I came here for a six-months internship and got completely caught up here. Now I study cultural studies. The tolerance and openness are great here. Nightlife as well. What I’m worried about is gentrification and that a lot of corners get taken over by café and restaurant chains these days.

Ursula (60)
I come from Southern Germany and right now I’m heading to my course that I have been giving to women for the past 17 years. I love the diversity and the interim solutions here. Because Berlin is constantly evolving there are so many temporary spaces, like for example when some old broken place gets taken over by young people with ideas. Think about Prinzessinnengarten – isn’t that incredible? It used to be an abandoned piece of land and was turned into an enchanted garden where, after half an hour, you feel like you’re in the middle of the countryside. But you’re at Moritzplatz right in the centre of Berlin! This is what I like about Berlin: bars in ruins that exist for a year and then close again, this type of improvisation.
As someone from Southern Germany I’ve always liked Berlin because there were still bullet holes from WWII. You could see history! In Heidelberg, where I am from, I only heard “Let’s make our village more beautiful.” Everything always had to be spick and span.
Berlin is wonderful. Sometimes it’s annoying but really it is wonderful.

Mohamed (34) + Stella (47)
Mohamed: I am from Syria and came to Germany five years ago. First I lived in Prenzlauer Berg but I prefer Wedding. I don’t feel so foreign here.
Stella: Originally I come from the Ruhr area, but I have lived here for 27 years. So I’m not a real Berliner yet – you only are after three generations… I particularly like Wedding because people here are so diverse.

Fanni (25)
I come from Hungary and have lived in Berlin for a year, most of the time in Wedding. The reason why I live here is that this is where I found an apartment. I like it here and it’s getting better every day. There are many prejudices about Wedding, it’s supposedly dirty and ghetto-like. But I don’t think that’s true.

Pierpaolo (52)
Originally I’m from Italy and I live nearby. I’m married and commute between Berlin and Sardinia. The week after next I’m heading back to the warmth. I like cycling in Berlin.

Erika (75)
I have lived in Wedding for 55 years. Originally I was born in Czechoslovakia. I’m a pediatric nurse and have studied home economic with diploma. I have raised four kids. If I enjoy my freedom at this age… well, naturally I still do a lot for my kids. Forever mother.
I like that it’s so green here, Rehberge and Schillerpark for example. And when I find myself in a different part of Berlin I’m always excited for the bus that takes me back to Wedding, my home. I don’t want to be anywhere else. Wedding is Wedding.

Haki (70)
I have lived here since 1972. I like everything about Berlin. Here in my neighbourhood in Kreuzberg I can go out any time of the day to get food or go shopping. It’s so lively in the streets. We also have the park nearby. But it isn’t like it used to be. Lately it’s full of addicts. And I don’t like this. I have grandchildren and from time to time we go there. The kids are very young and they collect everything they find. How can I be sure that they don’t pick up syringes? That scares me.

Mathieu (31)
I live right next door. I like that I can reach everything by foot and that our neighbourhood here in Kreuzberg is so lively. There are so many restaurants and cafés that I can eat nearby and always discover something new. People are really friendly and there is a family-like atmosphere without it being a village-atmosphere. People don’t spy on each other and don’t necessarily know what the other person does. But you can still meet a lot of people.
I’m an actor and my profession brought me to Berlin. I was in Barcelona when I heard about Germany: about how great it is here and how much many is invested into culture. Of course I didn’t assume that so many others had heard and thought the same. After a few unhappy years it finally worked out and now I can live of acting and don’t have to work as a waiter anymore.
A piece of advice I would give young actors? Figure out what you want to do. Don’t wait for the city to present it to you. It might happen but if you don’t have an idea it’s easy to get lost.

Julia (29)
I come from Brandenburg and have lived in Wedding for almost nine years. I like that it’s so multicultural. I’ve got a lot of friends here and appreciate that people are so relaxed. Honest and uncontrived.

Cihan (32)
I come from Reinickendorf. I like about Berlin that it’s multicultural. The way people deal with problems is funny. They see things rather relaxed and treat problems in a more laid-back way.

Elisabeth (65)
I have lived in Wedding for 40 years and I live alone just over there in the green house. I find Wedding interesting and it’s exciting to see how the area has changed. I think about how over there used to be a vegetable store, there a cinema, there a Turkish prayer room, then a drug store and now there is a physiotherapist. Over at this corner a place for assisted living for adolescents and single mothers has opened recently. I like it. I like the change. It’s interesting. And once a week I volunteer at the church down the road.

Nico (8)
I was reborn. I am now eight. Wedding is super. It’s not dangerous here, everything is great. You get back what you give to the world. That’s how it works.

Esther (27)
I am from Cologne and have lived here for three years. I like the diversity in Berlin and that everyone can be completely themselves. And you don’t need to be afraid of anything.
Why I came to Berlin? Because of Berlin. Well, I wanted to move somewhere to study and was accepted into university in several cities. Except for Berlin. I came anyway and in the end it worked out and now I study art history.
I think every part of Berlin has its own charm. In this area there are definitely lots of tourists. But I like that you so many faces as soon as you go out on the street.

Mohamed (28)
I came to Berlin in 2012. I don’t like it so much in Wedding, I like Neukölln more. That’s where I lived for three years and where I’ve got a lot of friends. Around here I don’t know anyone and it’s always very loud here.
I had to leave my apartment, went to my uncle’s place in Hamburg for three months. Then I came back to Berlin, stayed with my sister and have been looking for an apartment ever since. I have been looking for six months already but unfortunately haven’t found one. You have to pay so much to real estate agents, they want 3000 or 4000€. It’s not a deposit, they want cash. They tell me: give me the money and I’ll get a place for you. Now I have a place to stay through the Jobcenter and share a 6qm-room with someone else.

Kapil (25) & Chaitali (25)
We have been living and studying in Berlin for six months. We are from India. We like Berlin a lot but it’s so cold here. What we miss the most are our families.

Wael (38)
I’ve been here in Wedding for eight years, I was born in Kreuzberg, lived in Cologne and London. I’ve had the shop here for six and a half years. Wedding is a multi-cultural neighbourhood. There’s always something new. The negative thing is that rents are getting extremely expensive. But it’s nice that more and more artists are coming to the neighbourhood and that the area is becoming more lively. But I’m noticing extreme change. People with little money in particular are having problems with the rising rents and some are having to move out. There are pros and cons.

Claudina (31), Lilly & Rosa (4)
The outfit… well that’s our routine right now. At the moment it’s carnival every day.

Helga (76)
How to describe Berlin…anyway, I was born in 1940, was trapped twice in collapsed buildings as a toddler. Well, let’s say Berliners as such are open-minded. But some get more and more bitchy and you get more careful because you get robbed often. My friend, she’s 62, was mugged at Kaiserdamm in the underground station.
It’s not getting easier – you always have to be careful. They also stole my handbag once on the escalators. Honestly, it’s not funny anymore – there have never been so many thieves.
The other day on the escalators I saw a guy trying to grab the wallet from someone else’s pocket. And I shouted: ‘Thieves, thieves! Stop, stop!’ And then they turned around and ran away. But I mean they could have also… you never know… but I saw it even though I’m short.
Apart from that, I have always been able to make my own way.

Anastasija (22)
I am from Moscow. This might be a cliché but Berlin really is the city of freedom for me – in many different ways. Here you can look the way you want. You can do whatever you want and express your opinion freely. That’s different to Moscow at the moment.

Emily (52)
Berlin is a beautiful city. I’ve lived here for thirty years and I love this place. It’s a bit chaotic but that’s ok. You can’t compare Berlin with other cities. Originally I come from Cameroon, so I’m a half-Berliner.

Naveed (39)
I come from Pakistan and live near Munich in a small village. Last week I came to Berlin because I had to go to the embassy. At the train station I fell asleep for a moment because I was tired after the long journey. When I woke up my money, my return ticket and my passport were gone. I went to the police. I don’t have money to buy a ticket back to Munich so I just went on a train but the inspector threw me out and gave me a fine. In four days I can pick up my new passport. I need it to be able to get money from the bank. At the moment I don’t sleep. I sit on a bench the whole time like now. Maybe I find a nice Pakistani who can help me. My family is still in Pakistan because I only have a permission to stay but no visa. And only with a visa can I get my family and work. I used to have a business in Pakistan but fled in 2013 because someone thought I had blown the whistle on him. That is not true at all but his clan wants to kill me. The region where I’m from is full of terrorists. I can prove everything but they don’t give me a visa. I also went to Denmark and Holland already but they sent me back to Germany because I’m registered here. I ask myself: what am I doing here? Maybe I will go back this year. But I can’t. I feel alone, my wife and kids are far away. They went back to her family when I had to flee. The only chance for them to come is as refugees via land and the ocean. But that costs at least 20-30.000$. And I don’t want it after what I experienced. I left Pakistan and went through Iran to Turkey. We had to cross a mountain range with very dangerous paths. I have never seen so many dead bodies. People that just slipped and died. From Turkey we went to Greece in a small boat. I was so scared. This journey cost me 10.000$ and took me five months.

© Tilman Vogler Fotografie 2024

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