Berlin and beyond: The floral scent of weight gain | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 26.05.2017
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Berlin and beyond: The floral scent of weight gain

In this city of cultural diversity, one often unsung group is the Vietnamese. Their traditions are bright and rich, and as Tamsin Walker found out, sometimes take some getting used to.

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WorldLink: Behind the flower shop counter

Word is, I'm getting fat. How do I know? Not because I can no longer squeeze into my jeans of yesteryear, or because an app (and no, I don't have one) tells me so, but because I love flowers. Yep, I have it direct from the source: my local florist.

The first time she hit me with this observation, I thought I had misheard her. But she read my stunned silence as an invitation to redeliver her audacious verdict. I opened my shirt - and yes, I was wearing a vest underneath - to argue my case with the help of a close-up. She just smiled.

The next time I crossed her threshold, I sucked in my stomach and my cheeks as far as I could. All to no avail. Her pronouncement remained unchanged. This time though, she assured me a few extra pounds were a good thing, insisting that in Vietnam, weight gain is generally seen to be the result of health and happiness.

Deutschland Berlin Florist (DW/T. Walker)

My voice of reason

That made me realize how little I know about the traditions and indeed history of Berlin's 12,000 strong Vietnamese community. Or communities. For theirs is a tale of two halves.

In the late 1970's, some 40,000 Vietnamese people fleeing repression and economic hardship were granted asylum in the former West Germany. Some ended up in the capital, where they were given residency, language classes, schooling, training and access to the social welfare system.

On the other side of the Wall, things played out differently. In the nine years preceding the collapse of East Germany, the socialist state recruited 60,000 Vietnamese contract workers on the basis that they would not become integrated, but would work hard and return home after five years.

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But when the Wall came down in November 1989, other opportunities hovered on the horizon. Around half the workers who had come by invitation decided not to go back to Vietnam, but sought ways to stay - including applying for asylum. It was a long process but gradually those who had stuck out the uncertainty secured the right to live and work in the reunited Germany. Many set up on their own, selling fruit and vegetables, Asian specialties, clothing, or indeed colorful blooms.

DW WorldLink, Blumenladen (DW/T. Walker)

Blumen und Pflanzen

Back in the store where said colorful blooms come wrapped in colorful opinions, and which like many Vietnamese flower shops is quite simply called Blumen und Pflanzen, the florist told me she likes the simplicity of the name because it's obvious to potential customers that they are selling plants and flowers. In other words, she says things like they are. As she spoke, she took out her phone to show me photos of her beautiful daughters.

As I looked, she zoomed in on one of them wearing a skimpy swimming costume, and instructed me, with an evident sense of pride, to look at her figure. Let's just say it was impossible not to. I wandered home, dahlias in hand, drawing comfort from the fact that I am, at least, visibly healthy and happy.

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