Berlin, Görlitzer Park


A woman is sitting on the porch of a dormitory in the middle of Görlitzer Park in Berlin. Every time the pedestrians in the park stop to photograph the scene, she jumps up and drives away the intruders. Two children race around on little bikes. The woman monitors them. I sit down with her, I introduce myself. She looks at me and smiles. Unfortunately, she understands very little German and I cannot speak Romanian. I had brought along two bars of chocolate. The woman laughs, calls out: "Cioccolata, Cioccolata!" to the children.

"Thanks for the chocolate!" the children say as they pass me the next day as I am nearing the camp. I ask the people what they need, if I could do something to help. Roxana wants a roasted chicken. I begin making my way with two women and two children. In broken French, she explained her situation. They had been thrown out of the apartment. I know the story. The families booted to the streets from an overpriced, ramshackle house by a dubious 'charity'. Since then, they have been residing in the park in central Berlin, and nobody wants to take care of them. The districts push the responsibility off on each other, and the press makes the mood hateful; after all, the mayoral elections are taking place in Berlin.

French Fries and Diapers

As we are heading to the chicken stand, the little girl nudges me several times and makes a heartbreaking face, pointing her finger in her mouth, which likely means she is hungry. The children are instructed by the mother not to do so. There is a long line of people waiting at the stand. We stand at the back of the line. As we speak French, surrounding tourists engage in conversation with us and want to know how to order "half a chicken" in German and what "fries" means. 1l Cola, 1 chicken and fries to go. I pay €8.25 and we go back.

Maria explains that she has two small children and no money to buy milk and diapers. I have the money for the necessities. Could I trade it for a stay with them? Sure I could stay here! They all profess that I could sleep with them on their mattresses. The money and the necessities are forgotten. The fact that I wish to live with them is interesting yet incomprehensible.

We are the others

I am now part of the group that is being watched by the others. “I wonder what they do in the winter," or, "It probably isn't very fun when it rains," murmur the passers-by.

Many of the 15 Romas who live here speak French, others Spanish, and the elders are conversing in Romanian and Romany. A blend of warm hospitality, interest in the unknown and a serious interest in the discovery of survival strategies and a new perspective permeates.

"Do you have a wife? Don't you want to marry?" A great lack of understanding causes my declination. "She has no husband," say a few as they point to Roxana. She comes from the vicinity of Bucharest. That I have been to Bucharest and have friends there was already well known. Roxana wants to go to Bucharest to visit a sick relative in the hospital. "When are you going to Romania? We could go there together. "- We exchange phone numbers.

A grill is set up on the lawn in front of the stairs. A plastic bottle is lit and placed on the coals. The acrid smoke fills me with doubt, but the cook does not seem worried. The Grill is for the Maccarons. At some point the bottle astonishingly created embers and a pot of pasta in a white liquid was placed over it.

"Come sit with me. It is clean, look!" exclaimed Alex. He speaks German. "We are gypsies, that's what they say here. For the last year I have been going to elementary school in Wedding. The teacher speaks only German, but in our class there are Romanians, Bulgarians, Arabs, and a Pole - not a single German. Sometimes, when it's dark outside, the Arabs attack us here in the park and throw bottles at us.”

I get a plate. Noodles in a sweetened milk-water mixture; tastes delicious and reminiscent of the rice pudding I poured mountains of sugar over as a child. Pieces of meat are now being grilled on the embers. It smells delicious.

After eating, we stroll through the park. A man is biking towards us. "Probably a dealer", whispers Alex. The encounter is rude and ends with us feeling threatened and insulted. Back with the others a little boy wants to play with my phone. He gesticulates, hints at a car race. I have no such game on my phone, and for chess, he is far too young. Finally, I find a "Connect Four" game. He immediately begins and does not get tired of filling the columns with red and yellow disks.

Shimmer of Hope

Röllö, Maria's husband, is 21. "How much do you earn?" -"That depends. Sometimes I earn something, sometimes I don't. I create Art-projects, exhibits." - "What kind of projects? In Museums? Using pictures from 300 years ago?" - "More with newer mediums; participative projects using the Internet." -"Ah, Internet! Do you understand the Internet? Come on, let's go to Romania together. I have a friend there, he is great with the Internet. We will make a few things, and the three of us together will earn a lot of money. We three will earn a lot of money..." Suddenly his euphoria fades. "Did you see the two small children? They are mine. I have nothing to offer them. This isn't a way to live. I have nothing."

Around twelve I go to sleep.  My mat lies between the children's wagon and the dormitory. Immediately another pillow is slid under my head. Sometimes I can hear voices, discussions. Loose change clings. Someone is counting.

Midnight. A birthday gathering somewhere in the park counts the seconds until the bell rings. They applaud, sing Happy Birthday. Alex tells me that he turned 14 a week ago. He did not have a birthday party. He has no friends in Germany.

Around half-past midnight, two men come over and lie down. One is playing music through his cell phone and is singing a melancholy hit over and over again, until someone yells at him. I fall asleep.

A cell-phone alarm clock rings at dawn. The alarm clock is set to snooze, rings again; grumble. It begins again from the beginning. Today is Monday, the first day of school in Berlin. Alex's brother stands up, puts on fresh jeans and a white T-shirt with a silver print, combs his hair and slings a black back pack over his shoulders. A completely normal teenager. He says goodbye.

A fire is made in the grill using branches from the park, and a pot of coffee is being made. A cup is brought to me in bed. Alex's little sister is combing her long hair. She has a light blue satchel. Their mother takes them to the subway. A completely normal school day.

At night, just before falling asleep, I saw a shooting star through a hole in the clouds. It must have been bright; otherwise I would have hardly noticed in the middle of the illuminated city. I made a wish. Sometimes a ray of hope reaches even this place.

Visit the HOTEL GELEM in the Görlitzer Park in Berlin >>