Culture + Style

Immersive Travel: Go Beyond Borders and Engage with Refugees in Berlin

Many who live in Berlin say the only constant here is change. The city is always in flux, a work in progress. This situation is driven by — and is a consequence of — an open-minded spirit, one that embraces complexity and looks to the future with optimism.

In recent years Germany famously welcomed almost one million refugees. The arrival of newcomers from across the world has invigorated the capital, making it richer and more diverse.

There are challenges, of course. The people forced to flee their homes came from all walks of life: teachers, students, doctors, scientists, artists. Their narrative is not a single one, and each individual’s identity transcends that of “refugee,” which is why their voices should not go unheard or be misrepresented.

There are plenty of opportunities to engage firsthand with these newest members of Berlin’s ever-changing community, to understand multilayered stories and to truly experience the reality of the city and its inhabitants. That’s what immersive travel is all about.

Food & Drink

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Food is a powerful way to connect with cultures other than your own. (Photo: Getty Images)

Food is the perfect conduit for intercultural exchange. Its language is subjective yet universal, with no rights or wrongs. Refugio Cafe in buzzing Neukölln is a beautiful coffeehouse and restaurant attached to Sharehaus Refugio. Founded in 2015, the apartment building is home to around 40 resident refugees who operate the café and organize a range of events.

Every weekend Levante Gourmet — a new catering company founded by members of the Sharehaus community — serves a delicious brunch of Syrian specialties in the café, which also offers excellent coffee and cakes all week long. Look out for Levante Gourmet at events across the city as their business grows; announcements can be found on their Facebook page.

Tours & Experiences

Context Travel is known globally for organizing in-depth tours led by local scholars and specialists. Recognizing the empathic value of breaking bread, a new experience in Berlin offers the chance to cook with a Syrian or Afghan refugee in the company of a historian or immigration expert.

Created in partnership with Über den Tellerrand, an organization working to integrate newcomers through food, Context’s Cooking Across Borders experience is not only about discovering delicious dishes, but also about learning on a deeper level.

For a profound primer on the Syrian situation, Refugees Voices Tours runs a weekly walk called Why We’re Here. The tour visits historical Berlin sites and uses them as a backdrop to explain what happened — and what’s still happening — in Syria.

Led by a Syrian refugee, the experience is at times difficult and at others extremely moving. It’s also utterly unique at a time when people hear so much about refugees but very rarely from them. After a two-hour stroll, the group continues to a Syrian restaurant to continue the discussion over some authentic food.

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Berlin’s art scene is bolstered by works from recent refugees in Germany. (Photo: Alamy)

Music & Art

Berlin’s art scene is a leading light in Europe and beyond, so it didn’t take long for projects and exhibitions to pop up offering platforms for creative expression and mutual understanding.

Berlin Mondiale is an ongoing initiative that connects children, adolescents and young adults who have fled their homelands with local people active in the city’s art and culture arena. Working with dozens of cultural institutions, the project aims to use creative encounters “to help break the refugees’ isolation by giving them a place in the city as full-fledged members of our society.”

From the annual International Literature Festival to popular venues like the House of World Cultures and Hebbel am Ufer, collaborations, exhibits and performances can be found all over the city. Follow the Berlin Mondiale Facebook page for updates and events.

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Hangar 1 has made it a mission to create a safe space for young, vulnerable refugees. (Photo: Getty Images)

As well as organizing hugely popular weekly playdate sessions with children living in temporary accommodations at Tempelhof Airport, Hangar 1‘s ultimate goal is to create a permanent, safe space for vulnerable young people to learn and create.

The pioneering nonprofit has begun fundraising through art auctions, and their first event featured an exhibition of art made by refugees during the playdates as well as donated works up for auction from a range of international talent. The series of events offers the opportunity to get your hands on some amazing art while putting your money to a good cause.

If music’s more your thing, the band Musiqana, fronted by a classically trained singer, plays regular gigs of Syrian Tarab music to international acclaim.

For lovers of classical, the Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra (SEPO) puts on regular events in Berlin and beyond, performing works by Syrian composers as well as other symphonic music of oriental heritage and contemporary works. Founded in Germany in 2015, the orchestra gathers Syrian musicians with the aim of resisting the cultural destruction of their homeland.

“This is what we can do at this phase,” says the SEPO website. “Unite our efforts to make a great music and something beautiful in this life.”