In Berlin, we speak the Berlin language. As a student, a migrant, and a curious explorer this was my first lesson stepping into the city; in Berlin, we speak the Berlin language—we learn it, we share it, and we add to it. If it doesn’t shift us, if we don’t shift it, we must be doing something wrong.
I had admired an image of Berlin that I had created in my head for years. Based on what I had read, seen, and heard, it was inevitable; history was on my side too.
In the late 1920s, Walter Benjamin, German philosopher and cultural critic, had written about the Berlin Dialect:
“Berlinish is a language that comes from work. It developed not from writers or scholars, but rather from the locker room and the card table, on the bus and at the pawn shop, at sporting arenas and in factories. Berlinish is a language of people who have no time, who often must communicate by using only the slightest hint, glance or half-word… Special ways of speaking always arise among such people, which you yourselves have a perfect example of in the classroom… Berlinish today is one of the most beautiful and most precise expressions of this frenzied pace of life.”
When I think about integration, as a critical concept of our time, I think about how much of an overrated term it is when it comes to Berlin. Here, just like any classic painter, you need a foundation; you learn the culture, you paint a simple but fantastic picture, an astounding landscape, just then, painting people in their unique cool outfits, you mix it with all the colours of your culture, and those you have learned. When you have the foundation, just like an impressionist painter, with a new brush, in bold colours, you add new patterns, new movements, new lines, new shapes. You see the reality through your own imagination—you create countercultures.
In a way, it’s all about people. It’s about thousand and one stories waiting to be heard, thousand and one stories waiting to be lived by you. ‘Am I romanticising my experience of encountering Berlin?’ I ask myself. I don’t mean there aren’t challenges to overcome, hoops to go through and hurdles to jump over.
Berlin hosts a huge number of migrants–from workers and students to travellers, expatriate communities, and of course, I have to mention hipsters, not only from different parts of Europe but also across the globe. Sometimes we tend to make the comfortable choice of staying isolated within our own community. To be able to create a dialogue among migrants and locals, let me say among Berliners, breaking down language barriers is absolutely vital. However, that’s not the whole story.
In 2015 alone, Germany accepted more than one million refugees fleeing war and persecution, predominantly from the Middle East, a region that I happen to be from originally. My knowledge and experience of cultures and languages of those countries give me the passion, but more importantly, the responsibility to facilitate the path for refugees to feel welcome, find their voice in the city, and be a force for good. I, too, like so many others, see migration as a global movement against discrimination and exploitation.
With this understanding of the importance of language and culture exchange in a democratised and inclusive environment, I joined the SPEAK community.
SPEAK is a crowdsourcing language and cultural exchange project through which everybody can teach or learn a language using a new creative method, and help building communities by organizing cultural events by their choice. It started in Lisbon, Portugal, that mesmerising city of poetry, colourful tiles, and long conversations over wine; it’s now taking its first steps in Berlin.
Engaging with people of this community for about two months now, I feel like SPEAK somehow already speak the Berlin language. However, for them to be an asset to the existing conversation when it comes to the process of ‘integration’, easing it and democratising it, taking it to the next level, is only possible if Berliners come onboard with it. I do hope Berlin and SPEAK accept each other and enjoy exchanging their language and culture. It’s all about sharing our world anyway!