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Culture

At Home in Berlin?

A photo exhibition by eight young immigrants to Berlin zooms in on various facets of the city’s rich multicultural fabric and makes the visitor wonder who the real foreigners are in Berlin.

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They're called Adelina, Suna or Kiet and go to school in Berlin

An oriental shrine in a Vietnamese fast food bar, Arab men smoking hookah at a street café, an East European street musician strumming his guitar, German and Turkish women sweeping a pavement – the snapshots exhibited at the Museum of European Cultures in Berlin encapsulate the bewildering variety of cultures and peoples thriving in the city.

The exhibition called "Heimat Berlin?" or "Home Berlin?" attempts to explore the cultural melting pot that is Berlin. It's also part of a European Union project on "Migration, Work and Identity" which involves museums in six European countries.

Migrants attracted to Berlin for ages

The German capital has been a cultural patchwork for centuries, strongly influenced by immigrants from neighbouring countries and further afar.

Today more than 200 ethnic and religious minorities live in Berlin, accounting for about 13 percent of the city’s population.

Many of them, predominantly from Turkey, arrived in the 1960s as so-called guest workers, and stayed on. Their children, who have grown up in Berlin, are no longer immigrants, but citizens of Germany.

The eight young photographers in the exhibition share part of that history. They all live in the German capital but are still connected with the culture of their land of origin - from Korea to Argentina, Turkey to Costa Rica.

So is Berlin really their home? The photographs invite the visitor to reflect on this question as they linger over impressions of public and private life. Steering clear of multicultural kitsch and clichés, the predominantly black and white photographs are soberly documentary in tone.

Buddha and Berliner Pilsner

Berlin is unthinkable without its breathtaking palette of multicultural cuisine. From Indian to American to Thai and Vietnamese food - the city is littered with restaurants, bars, cafès and fast food counters dishing up delicacies from just about every corner of the world.

Little wonder then that Argentinean-born photographer Cristina Piza has zoomed in on corn bread and pretzels, bagels, sesame rolls, pide and bathura in her documentation. Her food photo series are meant to symbolise the communal spirit that bread tends to evoke.

Even Dong-Ha Choe, of Vietnamese origin and a second-generation foreigner, traces his cultural roots to the several Vietnamese bars in the city.

One of his photographs shows a few bottles of Berlin’s popular beer, Berliner Pilsner, heaped together under an altar in the "Little Hanoi" fast food bar.

"The signs and traces of migrants in our surroundings are perceived in different ways", he says. "They are visible even without the presence of a person. The way one’s workplace is furnished and the atmosphere of a room hint of a different culture".

Colourful Kreuzberg

The Kreuzberg district in Berlin has the highest number of foreigners in the city. It's Berlin's best-known multicultural image, and one that the city tends to strut as proof of its open-mindedness.

Rukiye Hanim is familiar with the routine of the Kreuzberg district for the past 31 years. Captured on lens by photographer Metin Yilmaz, Hanim proudly clutches a portrait of herself from 1971 when she came to Germany as a long-haired, doe-eyed beauty.

Kreuzberg, says the the 57-year-old retired seamstress, has actually become home to her.

Metin Yilmaz

In May this year, she swept the streets of her district together with women of different nationalities: "We’ll keep Kreuzberg clean" is the logo in German, Turkish and Greek on their t-shirts (photo)".

Multicultural Berlin difficult at times

Deborah G. Moses-Sanks, who emigrated from New York to Berlin, is not quite so benevolent in her work.

On one of her snapshots, the black psychologist Grada covers her face protectively with her hands. She describes an instance where she herself was the victim of a sniper.

Moses-Sanks’ pictures show how skin colour has much to do with one’s identity. She sees her photographs as tools of self-assertion.

Frank Löhmer

Sober reality pervades the pictures of Berlin students taken by Nihad-Nino Pusijas or the East European street musicians (photo) captured on film by Frank Löhmer, the only photographer in the exhibition who was born in Germany.

To photographer Alejandro Dhers, multicultural life in Berlin is perhaps the most developed in the whole of Germany, but it's not perfect, he says. "It includes all the problems pertaining to the integration or non-integration of immigrants".

Whether it becomes home or remains just a place to live, Berlin's ability to draw foreigners seems here to stay.

The exhibition "Heimat Berlin? Photographic Impressions" is on till November 11, 2002 at the Museum of European Cultures in Berlin-Dahlem

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  • Date 03.09.2002
  • Author Christine Gruler
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2boL
  • Date 03.09.2002
  • Author Christine Gruler
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2boL