Thanks to everyone who supported this Deep Travel project! This experience is no longer available.
Berlin prides itself on its diversity. In the last few years it has taken in tens of thousands of refugees, only adding to the city’s multi-cultural identity. But in today’s divisive global political climate, unfamiliar cultures and people are too often treated with mistrust and fear. Many of us have read about the “refugee crisis” in the news, but then wonder who are these people, and how much of a crisis is this?
In this 3-hour cooking and experience, we will use a universal gesture—the sharing of a meal—to help bridge this gap. Together with a local historian or immigration expert, we’ll join a recent refugee from Afghanistan or Syria who will share their rich culinary traditions and their story as a new Berliner. As we cook together, we’ll build a personal connection beyond labels and categories. And in turn, we’ll experience a small part of Berlin’s amazing cultural mosaic, which has been enhanced by new communities. Along the way our docent will contextualize our interaction with information about the refugee issue in Europe.
I Am a Berliner
With our docent, a historian or expert on refugee issues, we’ll convene in the Schöneberg neighborhood. This culturally diverse district is brimming with stories. From the steps of nearby Schöneberg City Hall, JFK famously declared himself not a foreigner (or a jelly donut), but a Berliner. It’s with this spirit that the non-profit organization Über den Tellerrand works to integrate refugees and Berlin newcomers into the fabric of the community. Together, we’ll walk to their kitchen space to meet our cooking instructor for the evening, a refugee recently arrived in Germany. Over dinner, we’ll learn a different side of the complex story of refugees.
In response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Germany has experienced a sharp increase in its number of refugees. But "refugee" is only one part of a person's identity—and it’s a temporary one. Beyond that label, they are a mother, son or a sister; a caretaker, artist, cook or professional; an athlete, scientist or a singer. And although someone may be a refugee now, that person may end up providing shelter to others when geopolitical circumstances change. A chance to meet with someone personally who arrived in Berlin as a refugee is also a chance to discover our shared humanity. It is also an opportunity to dig beneath the headlines.
Note: A portion of the fee for this tour is a donation to the Context Foundation for Sustainable Travel
, a 501c3 non profit, which in turn supports local refugee programs in Berlin. You will receive a tax letter as part of your confirmation.
A Kitchen Refuge
At the kitchen, we’ll dive into the preparation of our meal. Under the direction of the chef and with translation help from our docent, we’ll grind spices and slice vegetables. As we do, we’ll learn more about the traditions and cuisine of our chef’s home country in the Middle East. What is the importance of certain dishes to culture and family life? What ingredients are typical? How do dishes from various regions differ?
If our chef is from Afghanistan, we’ll prepare typical foods like zereshk polo, an elegant rice dish with saffron, or khoresht larang, a type of stew. Our dishes will gradually come together and we’ll experience the attention to detail and design that elevates this simple style of cooking to an art form.
In between the stirring and slicing, our chef will share some of their story. Especially coming from countries like Afghanistan or Syria, which have been recently devastated by war, the process of arriving in Berlin and making a new life here is not an easy one. We’ll touch on the German humanitarian response to the influx of asylum-seekers from Syria in 2015 and the realities of life beyond the headlines. Over dinner, our discussion will include our chef’s experience and impressions of Berlin - what has German life been like for them? How has war and instability changed their cuisine and their relationship to it? We’ll learn the difference between a ‘refugee’ and a ‘migrant’, but we’ll also go beyond the terminology and focus on the real people.
As we cook and eat, our docent will discuss the history of immigration in Berlin, which stretches back over 800 years from its origins as a tiny Slavic fishing village to its current status as a major metropolis. We'll look at how at the end of the 17th century, French Hugenots fled persecution by the Catholic government and arrived in Berlin. These réfugiés (religious fugitives) were Protestants victimized by the division in Europe at that time and they proceeded to make enormous contributions to the linguistic and cultural landscape of Berlin. This is just the first major example in a long tradition of Berliners welcoming those seeking a new life: arriving from Bohemia and Poland, Greece and Turkey, Ireland and the United States.
We'll also look beyond borders and consider the wider, global context of migration and refugees. We'll consider the case of Syria, once a stable, wealthy country with a strong middle-class, which took in refugees from Palestine and other neighbors in crisis. It was a favorite Middle Eastern travel destination until just a few years ago. Or, we'll think back to the 1960s and ‘70s when traveling to Afghanistan for vacation was fun, cheap and safe, while Eastern Europe was completely off-limits to those from the West. Germany, and specifically Berlin, is a perfect example of this flux and shift. Tempelhof Airport was rebuilt as a symbol of Nazi power and is today a refugee shelter—not to mention the Wall that once defined the city’s geography and way of life.
With immigration a topic in the daily news cycle, this cooking class is our opportunity to make a personal connection with someone who has experienced the journey firsthand. Although these issues are not unique to Berlin, the multicultural makeup of this city is the perfect backdrop for discussion. Our goal for this experience is to highlight the power of human relationships and interactions through respectful travel experiences. We believe that this is vital to overcome today’s trends of divisiveness and xenophobia. Armed with a few new recipes and a deeper cultural understanding, we’ll return to our own communities with a stronger sense of what it means to be a global citizen.
Note: This is a Context Deep Travel Foundation Project. The funding provided by the Context Foundation has been specifically designated for a bi-weekly cooking group held at Über den Tellerrand and attended by Afghan and German women. After your experience, should you wish to make a further charitable donation to Über den Tellerrand, let us know and we can arrange this.
I have specific dietary restrictions, can I still participate? Please let us know these in advance in your trip notes and we'll double check with the docent, though most dietary restrictions can be taken into consideration.