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Saturday, July 8, 2017

First days in Berlin - Wikipedia for Peace project

Germany wiki blog

This is my fourth day in Berlin. On Tuesday the group arrived from various parts of the world to our house in the city. It is a Mennonite Peace House, with a small congregation who we will meet later in the week. There are dorm accomodations, a large kitchen, library/living room, and a beautiful garden, where I am now sitting, awaiting our lunch which today’s team is preparing.  There is a family who lives here as caretakers. We did meet the pastor a couple of days ago.  He gave us a brief history of the Mennonites.  He was a member of the congregation, was asked 20 or more years ago, when the previous pastor left, if he’d take over. He thought of it as a temporary thing, but he is still here.  It will be very interesting to meet members of the congregation, and we will attend a service at some point too. The congregation members are mostly around my age, and are dwindling, as not many younger people join.

In my volunteer group, I am by far the oldest, as usual.  But when I started doing these projects, about 15 years ago, I was not as much older!  Then, I was close to some of their parents’ age. Now, more than once, I’ve been told that I remind them of their grandmother!  Yesterday, Khan said exactly that, and that his grandmother was 80 and couldn’t walk well anymore!  Thanks, Khan. (who prefers to be called Brian, a name he gave himself, I guess because he thought Khan was too difficult.) He’s a sweet and funny kid. He’s already invited me to visit him in Vietnam.  I’m lobbying for him to cook us some Vietnamese food.

The group is quite diverse. Only two women are from the same country, Russia, aside from the two German group leaders.   The rest hail from Latvia, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Turkey, the Czech Republic, South Sudan, Australia,  Mexico, Ukraine…

The next oldest person to me is exactly half my age, 33. (we did an ice breaking game where we had to organize ourselves in order of age, that’s how I know.) Most of the group, as usual, are in their 20’s, a few 18 and 19. Most are students, some just finished, some in the working world. One guy is a gynecologist.

Yesterday we went to the Wikimedia offices and spent most of the day there. We had a tour of the facilities, were introduced to many of the teams and the various parts of Wikipedia. I believe there are 21 different branches of the overall organization.  And then there are group of Wikipedians, groups like Wiki loves cocktails. Really. They write entries about different cocktails, and have meet ups where they make and drink them. There’s one here in a few days. I have a feeling we may be attending.

A couple, both in their 70s at least, had joined us for the office tour.  We learned that the man has been a Wikipedian for many years, and was available to help us learn to use the system. He wore a badge that said Wiki loves Music.

After lunch, at a nice restaurant, joined by Maria from the Wiki offices, (and, I believe, treated to lunch by Wiki)  we went back to the office to learn how to actually use Wikipedia, the techniques and rules about writing and editing. We took a tutorial, which is available to anyone who wants to join and become a “wikipedian.”  And then, we began to write. Some people started translating articles from English into their own language.  Jakob, our co-leader, has done a lot with wiki already. He worked on a variety of articles, updating and editing. 

Saskia had a list of people who had been awarded a UN prize for work with refugees, and who didn’t yet have wiki entries. I chose one named Joannes Klas. I bet you can figure out why. There’s relatively little info I could find out about her.  And being able to cite sources is a very important requirement for an entry.  So I am not sure yet if I will be able to use her for an entry or not.  This is what I know. She’s an American nun, from Wisconsin, who began working with Guatemalan refugees in Honduras in the 1980’s.  She continued to work with them when they were repatriated to Guatemala, and continues still. I found info on her home parish publication in Wisconsin, including  a short autobiography.  And there’s a letter of congratulation to her from the UN president, which highlights some of her contributions, upon her being awarded the prize in 1997.

While waiting to find out if I have enough objective information about Sister Joannes, also known as Sister Jo, and Sr. Juanita!!  I have found another topic to write about.
This morning we visited an organization that provides a variety of services to refugees. It began when a group of activists decided to cook and bring meals to refugees, and has grown into a large organization that provides more services and program. It’s called Uber den Tellerand,  and they focus on activities that bring refugees and other people in the community together. Many focus on food, but they have expanded beyond that.Uber den Tellerand is a German expression that translates literally to looking over the edge of the Plate, and means roughly to look beyond one's horizons.

There are cooking classes run by refugees, the only program that charges, as a way to raise funds. But there are also free community dinners (we’ll go to one later in the week.) berry picking excursions, calligraphy lessons,  beekeeping classes, gardening,  football (soccer) games, etc. all run by volunteers, all open to anyone interested. 

The organization also sponsors a program called Shipping on the Run. It’s a shipping container converted into a moveable kitchen, that travels and sets up for six week stints in different places, bringing long term residents and newcomers together. Last year they toured parts of Europe. This year they’ve focused on Germany, particularly places where there have been difficulties integrating refugees into communities.

The Berlin program is the largest, and the only one with an office,but they have a number of satellite programs, including one in Columbus, Ohio!  Which the woman referred to as Columbo.  Turns out a woman from there had been visiting, and attended one of their food nights, where everyone is invited to bring a recipe with a particular ingredient.  That night’s had been zucchini, and she was excited to cook a recipe from home. She was taken enough with the program to establish one in Columbus. I am going to try and track her down.

Next week they are doing an event about recipes with berries. I may have to go.

We returned home for lunch. Each day we have four teams – cooking, cleaning, dishwashing, and recording the day’s events in the project diary (part of our group Wikipedia page.) We have tons of food, all donated by a group that collects surplus food from supermarkets.  We have more bread than we can possibly eat, a huge box of carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, other vegetables, grapes, apricots, apples, and I believe, 10 cheesecakes.  It may have been a dozen. We’ve worked our way through about half of them, eating cheesecake at pretty much every meal. So our meals have been pretty good. It’s also interesting to see what different combinations each cooking team comes up with, and also how each person eats them. Today for lunch, for instance, we had garlicky pasta, and salad with a dressing. I noticed many folks mixing it all together. 

This afternoon, we headed back out for a tour of an area that has traditionally been home for many immigrants, but now has evolved into a pretty hip environment, which on the surface, at least, seems pretty integrated.  I walked by cafes with men sitting at tables with hookahs, selling fidget spinners.

We were taken on a tour by Achmed,  a young man from Syria, who had come here several years ago as a refugee. He told us about his own trip from Syria at 18, after his university had been bombed, and all the steps thru many countries to reach Germany.  He gave us insights into his own life, and also pointed out various cafes,  shelters, etc. that related to immigrant life. And he had us play a game, giving us all phrases in Arabic to try to identify on neighborhood signs.

We ended up at a place called Refugio. It is a building that provides cooperative housing for a combination of refugees and local Germans.  It was founded by a couple a few years ago. Each of the three floors houses ten individuals or families in a room with private bathroom, and a kitchen for the floor. Other floors are rented out to businesses, one of them the tour company Achmed works for. (they have tours conducted by homeless people as well as refugees.)

The street level is a cafĂ©, and the top level has a great room with cushions and carpets and a Middle Eastern feel, as well as a rooftop deck with a foosball table as well as a large number of plantings, including flowers and a variety of berries. The Russian and Latvian girls, Polina and Larissa, were able to identify most of the berries for me, and we ate a good number of them.  The only one I was at all familiar with were currants, and I was reminded of eating currant tarts at the Russian Tea House in NYC with my mother, the one week they were available each summer.  Hope nibbling on the berries came with the rental of the space. I don’t think we depleted the supply too much, they were prolific and weren’t going to last more than a day or two if they didn’t get eaten.

This indoor/outdoor space serves as a living room for the  community, and they also rent it out for meetings and gatherings like ours. They don’t charge very much, and the money goes into the community, and it was a great place to hang out for a while, and also to wait out a dramatic thunderstorm.

We headed back home, arriving about 9pm, and are now awaiting supper provided by the cooking team. I can hear them avidly discussing the menu, and whether potato salad is German salad, or, as Jakob declared, isn’t “german” salad, but just salad. Makes me think of the Denver boot.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

Well that brings me up to date for today. Think I’ll try to backtrack a bit to fill in about the first couple of days.
Day one – we all arrived at various times up until 4 pm. I was one of the first to arrive, after 12 hours travel from home, and took a nap until just before 4. Most of the group was already in the garden, eating cheesecake and fresh strawberries. We all introduced ourselves and played some games.
Dinner, then bed.

Next day, Wednesday. We met with the pastor and learned a bit about the religion and the congregation.  We’d planned to go on a free city tour starting at the Brandenburg Gate. But our signals got confused, the last tour was at 4pm and we were waiting for one last participant to arrive. We were ready at 4:10 but were told they were finished for the day.  Instead, we split up and went different places, walking around the city. Many of us went to the Holocaust Memorial and Museum. Although I’ve been to several Holocaust Museums, Auschwitz, Dachau, the Krakov ghetto, etc. each experience is powerful. I don’t think anyone in the group had ever been to a Holocaust Museum before, and all were visibly moved. Throughout the museum, it was almost silent, aside from the recorded testimonies. In the end, it was probably a much more valuable experience than the walking tour would have been.

Tomorrow, Saturday, will be entirely devoted to writing. We’ll be working from home. And Sunday is a free day. I am hoping to meet up with Ola, from Poland, who lives here now and works as a translator. I know her from my three weeks in Ukraine about eight years ago, where we worked together on the Jewish cemetery project. I’ve remained in touch with a number of people from that project, but hadn’t been with Ola, because she isn’t on fb. But I got her email from Lukas, who knew her before and joined us on the project. That was recently, but before I knew she was living in Berlin or that I was going to be there. It would be great to see her. I hope it works out.
That’s it for now. I’ll be back when there’s more to report. I will take a small part of this to use for our group diary. And I’ll be posting photos to fb, today or tomorrow. Perhaps before you see this.
Let me know if you read this. It’s nice to have feedback

1 comment:

Carolina Merrow said...

Sounds like a busy trip so far and very interesting! I can't wait to see your pictures. So happy you can have this experience. Love and miss you! Will stay updated with your posts! Xoxo
-Carolina