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By Andrew Lee, Human Resources Intern
July 15, 2015
Last summer, I had the incredible opportunity of studying abroad in one of the most international, multicultural European cities, Berlin. Having taken a year of German previously, my language skills were proficient; I could ask for directions, order food at restaurants, and, in general, hold a conversation. However, my proficiency in German was not necessary in Berlin. Many of my friends on the program had never spoken a word of German before landing at Berlin’s Tegel Airport. The city is filled with people from various walks of life from Australian immigrants living in Neuköln and the large Turkish population settled in Kreuzberg, to the native Berliners living in Wittenbergplatz or the now-gentrified Prenzlauer Berg. Berlin is home to a wide range of people, which is what makes it such a culturally rich and welcoming city.
This is not to say that these cultural differences do not cause problems. The Turkish Berliners, for example, have been looked as lower-class citizens for some time. They are going through an identity crisis because although the younger generation is technically German, others do not see the Turkish Berliners that way. Even though they have made strong cultural impacts on the city, including the popularity of Döner, a Turkish street food, “Germans” fail to fully embrace their fellow citizens of Turkish descent. Similarly, many Berliners are upset with Australian immigrants who seem to refuse to learn German. For example, many of the Australian “Berliners” don’t even speak German; some restaurants in the Neuköln neighborhood do not offer German menus or servers. Obviously these issues are not being perpetrated by the majority of people in Berlin, but they are issues, nevertheless, that are problematic to the social cohesion of the city.
My personal experience in Berlin was one without any issues in terms of my race, religion, or background. I am sure that I am in the majority. The issues that were brought to my attention, I believe, simply support the notion that we really do live in a global society. I used to think that the United States was the most diverse “melting pot” the world had to offer. I now understand that cultural divisions and differences exist all over the world. This is why I think Niagara Foundation’s mission is relevant and imperative today. Conversations about interfaith and living in a global society ultimately need to start on a micro level in order to have an impact on a macro level.