I was asked this very question by a girl as we both queued for the toilets in the infamous club, Berghein. Now this question has been frequently directed at me by both blacks and Caucasians since I moved to Berlin, and it is what inspired me to write this article; my blog is called My Fashion S/ash L-I-F-E after all!
I have to stress here that my below facts and findings are based on my personal experiences, so if you want to read an article where I come to my conclusions based on research and statistics; this is not the article for you and I urge you to click your ‘escape’ button. Now.
Moving on, when people ask me this question they often follow it with an apology and use the racist, historical facts of Germany and how they know one black person who is finding it hard to live in Berlin due to the colour of his/her skin.
Personally, I think the following facts about myself made my transition to Berlin run smoothly (well, as smoothly as moving to a foreign city can allow), despite the colour of my skin-
- At the age of 11, I attended an English boarding school, where I was the first black person to attend. So I grew up in an environment where there were not a lot of ‘me’s’ around and I always remember a Nigerian mentor I had telling me- ‘You have to not only go to your school, but let your school go through you’. This motto has stayed with me from my teens till now, and I use it to take active measures to integrate into a society where I am the minority.
- Education is a powerful weapon. I came to Berlin having attended the best law schools in the United Kingdom, and although I don’t work in the legal profession now- the experiences I went through have made me go through life for the most parts with a certain confidence and knowledge that makes me feel a lot more than being ‘black’.
- As a black person, I have had more positive experiences and acceptance of who I am (both in colour and character) from Germans in Berlin, than I have had in my own native country, Nigeria and from many of my ‘fellow Nigerians’.
I would say that the following tips have helped me survive as a ‘black girl in Berlin’, and I think some of what I say can apply to non-blacks who decide to move to Berlin–
1) In the words of the infamous Michael Jackson, ‘Black or White’ rap,
Don’t ‘Spend Your Life Being A Colour’
For the most parts, I don’t go through Berlin feeling like a ‘black girl in Berlin’, I go through Berlin feeling like Biki John- and that makes a huge difference in the energy I radiate and the response I get back.
2) Be Very Careful Who You Surround Yourself With
Personally, I find that two particular facts about Berlin make it both a curse and a blessing- firstly, the fact that it is a ‘party around the clock’ city and secondly, living expenses are relatively cheaper when compared to other cosmopolitan cities like London. These two facts have ensured that I have never met so many lost souls/drifters who over indulge in the Ennui lifestyle, in my short period of being here.
Amongst the talented and successful, hard working creatives in Berlin, I find that there is a whirlpool full of wannabe and failed artists who in the infamous words of TLC, are ‘always talking about what they want and just sit on their broke ass’. Initially when I moved to Berlin, it was bewildering for me to meet people in their thirties who still avoided paying for their travel fares, and to meet thirty-somethings who lived in shared accommodation with 5 or more people. I also quickly found that for some, that supposed ‘carefree and bohemian spirit’ often came laced with deeper and darker undertones like clinical depression which presented itself randomly in forms of jealousy and childish attention-seeking acts.
Case in point, I used to be acquainted with a thirty-something old woman who considered herself a ‘freespirit’, and to drive the point home, she would often regale me with tales of her fondness of stealing from shops and practice of unsafe sex. On top of this uneducated, destructive and irresponsible behaviour came the fact that in the short time I knew this woman I saw how she came to Berlin with big career plans, and in just a few months, those goals were washed away as she settled for the seductive Ennui Berlin Lifestyle, which changed both her physical appearance and behaviour for the worse.
One day I was sitting with the woman in a group and I realised that if I wasn’t careful, I was going to be sucked into a vortex of nothing and I did not want to associate frequently with people whose opinions and lifestyles I did not respect and certainly didn’t want to emulate. And so little by little, I distanced myself from the woman, as I did not want to live a life where I was on a constant fairground ride because the dizzying lights and constant swaying motion would make me sick- in more ways than one.
I personally think that in Berlin, as a freelancer and foreigner to boot, it is very easy for one to get ‘lost’ in the (deeper sense of the word) and I would advise all freelancers who come to Berlin to find ways to ensure that by the end of each week, they are one step closer to their goals. For me, I try to do this by writing a To-Do work list every day and writing monthly targets. I have also made a conscious effort to befriend people in Berlin who have steady jobs and a regular income to make sure I am surrounded by a good balance of influences and lifestyles.
3) Make An Effort To Befriend Berliners
Following on from that, I will state that what has really helped my stay so far in Berlin are the extra efforts I have made to befriend the Berliners/Germans here. Not only does befriending Germans come with its obvious benefits like getting a real insight into the language and culture; property is increasing hard to find here due to the surge of expatriates that have charged into the city. The two flats I have lived in since moving here where both found with the help of Berliners, and I can safely say that I would never have got such a good deal on my own.
Also if you live alone, as I currently do befriending German speakers/Berliners will definitely come in handy. I recently went through an episode involving some workers in my flat who didn’t speak a word of English, and I would never have got through this stressful period without my German friends who took the time to explain how things work here, what my rights were and even went as far as calling the company of the workers to speak to them on my behalf. And now I am happy to report that everything has been solved in that respect!
4) Do Your Research On The Safest Districts To Live In
One of the things I love about Berlin is how safe I feel in comparison to a much more multi-cultural city like London. When I told someone that, they told me it was because I live and socialise in the Prenzlaur Berg, Neukölln, Kreuzberg, Mitte bubble. And it is in this bubble I intend to stay until I leave Berlin.
5) Use Your Search Engine To The Fullest
Admittedly, as a black girl, there are two things that I have struggled to try to find in Berlin- good hair salons and hip-hop classes. With the former and latter these are being tackled by Google searches and trial & error. If you read my blog, you will know that I have already found a good, clean and professional salon (Ebony & Ivory) which tends to natural and relaxed hair. Also I am currently sporting cornrows, which have been receiving rave reviews and I had this style done at Afro Lydia’s Hair Salon.
Regarding dance classes, by doing a lot of online research, I recently found a dance studio near me and had a throughly non-inspiring ‘MTV Dance Class’ last week. But I will try my luck again when I am back in Berlin with a different dance class.
6) Bring Nigeria (insert your own country of origin) To Berlin
And finally, as a ‘black girl in Berlin’ what I do and began doing a few years ago was to ensure that I take measures to stay connected to my ‘Motherland’. So for e.g. in this blog, I have an ‘African section’ which has allowed me to connect with Nigerians and other Africans and I also do freelance creative writing for a Nigerian School, and have just ante’d that up to doing freelance Public Relations work as well.
In conclusion, where there is a will AND DISCIPLINE, there is a way in Berlin. With this article I am not claiming to be a ‘Black Berlin Expert’ or even a ‘Berlin Expert’; I am still learning my way around here, and on the way I have tripped, fallen and got up again. I hope one of my tips/experiences helps someone- black or non black- moving to Berlin.