Identity & Belonging

Interview: Three Dimensions of Integration

It's easy (and admittedly amusing) to reduce expats to stereotypes, as if we all neatly fall into one or the other category based on which country we hail from, what we do for a living, or where we party and eat brunch. Reality is always more nuanced and multi-dimensional. Dare we even say, interesting?... [Read More!]

Viet in Berlin: Images from Dong Xuan Center Lichtenberg

Lichtenberg's Dong Xuan Center consists of 6 hangars, stocked tightly with all the things one might come to miss living far away from a place, where a broth of cardamom and ginger is paired with any meat imaginable and the most delicate of noodles; where a certain kind of manufacturing can turn out plastic and fabric wares for all sizes and ages in bulk; where sweet things might come packaged in banana leaves, wrapped around sticky mango rice like presents. Or this is the impression one might get of Vietnam, when visiting Dong Xuan - a Mecca in the middle of former East Berlin, little Hanoi amidst not so little Plattenbauten... [Read More!]

Beyond Berlin: Difference on the Blessed Isle

For about three weeks this holiday season, I explored the small tear-shaped island of Sri Lanka with a close friend from Berlin. Though Sri Lanka and the South Asia region were new terrain for us both, this wasn't our first backpacking rodeo. We were experienced enough travelers to expect the ups and downs that a trip of this magnitude would throw our way. We reveled in the highs - a school of fish gracefully drifting past us 12m deep into the Indian Ocean, the exquisitely pungent scents and colors of turmeric and homemade roasted curry powder... [Read More!]

Beyond Berlin: Difference in the Wet Country

For nearly a month this holiday season, I explored the social fabric surrounding my US origins with a German national, who had never before been to the land of plenty. Through the fresh eyes of 'the foreigner', I saw my part of America unfold under a curious and critical lens. America is a country that defines itself by historical narratives of migration and manifest destiny. What one encounters on the road in its northwestern corner, however, is a bit more mundane. At closer glance, emptiness and the prosaic everyday give food for thought, in regards to locating and valuing difference wherever it bubbles up... [Read More!]

Interview: Hamid, Stardom, and the Difference Threshold

It's November of last year and Kelly and I are visiting relatives of mine in Soest, a small town of under 50,000 in Northwestern Germany. We're hanging out in the kitchen, chatting over a cup of coffee, when one of my cousin's friends walks in. He pauses with one arm holding open the door, staring at us like a deer in headlights. Before we have the chance to say Hallo he's turned and raced up the stairs to my cousin's room. Teenage boys, we initially chuckled... [Read More!]

Roma in Berlin: Bureaucracy in Lichtenberg

On the first Tuesday of every month, the Migrantenrat Lichtenberg (immigrants' plenary) meets to address issues of migration affecting the district and its neighborhoods. The gospel of November's session: The Roma are coming! 2014 will be a year of change for Roma in Berlin, primarily for those who have come from Bulgaria and Romania. They will have access to the social welfare system, the situation will change dramatically. But this is about families, not simply numbers... [Read More!]

Lens: With Wings, Roots, and Sweaty Hands

"Punctual. Exact. Productive. Closed off. Careful. Inflexible. Humorless." And some "Goethe" and "Einstein" thrown in for good measure. Was this really all a group of seemingly well-educated professionals had to say about German identity? No wonder the facilitator had started to draw sad faces on the list... [Read More!]

Happy Weekend: Will the True Berliners Please Stand Up

English Theatre Berlin's new piece by Daniel Brunet asks the hot question, 'Who is a real Berliner?'. 'Echter Berliner!!! Ihr nicht fuck you' is a documentary theater production which addresses the curious tension between expats and immigrants, as if these categories were ever clear or even exclusive. Putting the product of 60 interviews on stage is brilliant, hanging prejudices out to dry when the last place we need them is in the camp of the outsiders... [Read More!]

Multiculturalism, Diversity, and the Big City

With my back to them at the street-side café I felt like a judge on "The Voice", straining my neck for any hint of where they were from or what they looked like, resisting the urge to swirl around and start dancing on my chair. Truth be told my ears had perked up as soon as the trio plopped down at the table behind me, switching between topics like gentrification in Kreuzberg and the cultural difference between Kaffee and "coffee" as quickly as they were switching between German and English... [Read More!]
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