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'La Deutsche Vita'

Interview: Lavinia PituApril 8, 2014

When you're an underachiever at home, you can move to Berlin and be an underachiever there. That's the narrative of "La Deutsche Vita," a documentary about being Italian in the German capital.

Still from the film "La Deutsche Vita," Copyright: Alessandro Cassigoli
Image: Alessandro Cassigoli

Italian directors Tania Masi and Alessandro Cassigoli live in Berlin. For both of them, producing the film "La Deutsche Vita" was a kind of therapy against the inevitable identity crises many immigrants face. And it worked.

DW: Your film is a documentary that turned into a subtle tragicomedy. Despite its shortcomings, Berlin is like a magnet for immigrants, as you say. Was it the right decision for you to come to Berlin in the end?

Tania Masi: It was definitely the right decision. Like we also say at the end of the movie, it's also good to make mistakes. So even though we might regret it later, we're happy now. If you're a foreigner, you have to make mistakes. If everything is going to be perfect, it's not challenging enough. The stories in the movie are real. We spent a lot of time with those people. They forgot the camera and became very natural. They got used to us and got to trust us.

Could you generally say that immigration is a continuous struggle to survive?

Yes, on the one hand it's a struggle because you have to adapt. And adapting implies having to learn the language, learn the rhythm of life there, and so on. On the other hand, of course there's a plus you get, something you don't have in your country. It's actually a continuous balance between the rewards and the struggle.

Cameraman William Chicarelli Filho with directors Alessandro Cassigoli and Tania Masi, Copyright: Alessandro Cassigoli
Cameraman William Chicarelli Filho with directors Alessandro Cassigoli and Tania MasiImage: Emanuele Lami

You're constantly emphasizing this balance between good Berlin and bad Berlin. And your protagonists keep describing Berlin as the best place to indulge in doing "nothing."

I compare it to Italy. It's very hard to be an artist there because you have to work hard to pay your rent and other things. And if you have a job in a restaurant, you can't really concentrate on your art. Here, you can survive with what you get for little jobs and at the same time you can be an artist and make serious progress with your art. In other countries, you just don't have the time.

But Berlin is also changing a lot. It's become so difficult to find a room. We feature this in the movie, too. One of our protagonists is looking for a room. There are so many things you have to do when you're moving out of the country and the first problem you have is looking for a room.

When I moved here 15 years ago it was much easier. You could find so many different apartments. If you didn't like one, you could just take your time to look at others and think about it and would still find it empty after a few months. It was so easy and the rent would cost like 150 German marks [Eds. Around 75 euros or $100 today] for the whole apartment.

Is it true that people are strongly advertising Berlin in Italy at the moment? Would you describe this phenomenon as some sort of revival of the immigration wave of the 1960s and 70s?

The idea of Berlin was very different in Italy 15 years ago. People didn't even know where Berlin was. If you said you were going to Berlin they would reply, "Why are you going there? It's so far and so cold."

Now, if you say you're going to Berlin, they say, "Oh, you're so lucky!" It's unbelievable. There are TV programs, news, radio reports - every time you open a magazine you'll find something cool about Berlin. There is a general propaganda. Berlin is the coolest place, the most fashionable place; it's all about moda.

Of course Paris or London are so passé. And now the cool thing to talk about is Berlin. The Italians really think it's the coolest place in Europe. We get emails from people asking us how to get a job here, how to learn the language, etc. Mass media influence the masses. I've even met older people who told me, "Oh yes, Berlin. I heard it's great there."

Your protagonists alternatively speak Italian and German in the film. Are you going to subtitle it for other markets?

For now, we just have English subtitles. We can definitely do others as well: Spanish, Portuguese. It depends on the countries that will be interested in the movie.

At some stage in the film, an Italian woman says that "Berlin is the only place in Europe where one can still achieve something," considering the euro crises. How would you describe Berlin in general?

Relaxed, open - also concerning the space. It's open for the eyes and for the heart. Sometimes also grey.

The Germans in a few words?

Like we said in the movie, we respect the Germans. There are also some kinds of people that I will never be able to be, although I've tried. I will never be able to be a German. They are open and correct. Sometimes they don't let themselves go.

Was it easy to finance "La Deutsche Vita"? Would you subscribe to the idea that Berlin is the place where you can achieve your goals?

Still from the film "La Deutsche Vita," Copyright: Alessandro Cassigoli
Food from home can be an important part of the expat lifeImage: Emanuele Lami

We took the decision to finance it ourselves. Both of us had other jobs, too. Everybody who worked with us got paid. For the post production we actually started a crowd funding campaign and we managed to collect a bit over 8,000 euros. We have a Facebook page, where we would post little making-of videos and create a community of Italians and Italy-lovers who were actually following our project. Without them it would have never been possible. So we owe the film to all the friends who helped us.

Did you indeed overcome your identity crises after producing this movie? You described the project at the beginning as "therapy." Did it work?

Definitely. We actually found a new family due to this movie. We have built relationships with all these people that we met. From that point on I always have my hair cut at Giovanni's hairdresser, we always have pizza at Gino's, everybody calls us at Christmas.