“GSBTB is an example of how big & beautiful a simple idea can become”

Ricarda Bochat runs the GSBTB Open Kitchen, best known for its Refugee Cooking Group. When Ricarda isn’t organizing volunteers to shop for foreign ingredients and cook up international feasts, she’s plotting the Open Kitchen’s new streetfood market venture. Christina Homburg interviewed her about her work.

So Ricarda, tell me about yourself. You have recently moved back to Berlin, is that right?

Yes, I moved back to Berlin in December. Originally, I am from a not-so-small city near Cologne but I have moved around. I actually lived in Scotland for seven years, which was a great experience, although the weather eventually drove me back home!

I moved back to Germany over three years ago, however I spent the majority of last year in Nepal, helping with relief work during and after the earthquake and in India, teaching English to Tibetan monks. It was actually whilst I was working with the Tibetan monks that I watched the news about the refugee crisis here and felt compelled to come home and get involved. I had been to a few GSBTB events when I lived in Berlin before, and this time rejoined the cooking group, hoping to become more involved and build on the connections I had made already.

And for people who are not familiar with the GSBTB Cooking Group, can you tell about what the group is and how it started?

The GSBTB Refugee Cooking Group actually started as part of the Refugee Rights movement on Oranienplatz several years ago and was seen as a non-political act to support the refugees who were living there under really difficult circumstances. In its simplest form, it is a weekly cooking group bringing groups of people together, from all over the world. And for me, it is the highlight of my week, as it is for many others. However it is much than just cooking. The group is a way to build friendships and give a little bit more support where needed.

As a new member of the GSBTB team, what is your role within the group?

Well my involvement has actually evolvedin a short space of time. At first I was just an attendee at the weekly GSBTB Refugee Cooking Group, however the lead coordinator had an opportunity to go abroad, so I took over. As part of the role, I am looking at how we can expand the cooking group into something commercial that makes money, creates jobs and provides opportunities for the refugees who are here.

Sounds exciting. Do you have a first event planned and what is your long-term vision for this project?

Yes we actually have our first event on June 10. We will be collaborating with Bite Club, a street food market in Berlin, which approached us about working together on an event. The event is still coming together but we will have a stall, led by Anour, one of our most active GSBTB members. Anour is from Sudan and has been involved in the Refugee Rights movement in Germany for over three years. He will be cooking Sudanese food and we expect over 400 people will attend the event. [Ed’s note: photos of the first event are now included in this story.]

If this event is successful, then we would of course want to do many more collaborations. Our vision for the cooking group is ultimately to create something sustainable that utilises the GSBTB network, creates jobs, opportunities and helps people get a start in Berlin. We have already been approached by other local businesses about collaboration opportunities, so this is an exciting time and we will see what happens.

You also work for Obdachslosenhilfe here in Berlin. Can you tell us a little more about the work you do there?

Yes I do. The work we do is quite simple. We have a great team of volunteers who provide help and support for homeless people, in three locations across the city, by bringing clothes, food and anything else that may be needed. At the moment we are discussing how we can expand the role of this group, so there will definitely be new projects in the future. What is nice to see is that although interest has shifted from existing problems such as this, to refugees, there is still an incredible amount of support for this cause.

Do you have tips, advice, recommendations for anyone who wants to become involved with GSBTB or volunteer with refugees?

Yes, keep it simple. Think about what you like to do, what you enjoy, even what you are good at. That might be dancing, cooking, socialising, literally anything you can think of. Have a look and see what other groups are doing and simply get involved. It is important that you are comfortable with what you are doing, enjoy yourself and you will find that by doing the things you already like, you will encounter like-minded people.

Can you sum up in one or two sentences what GSBTB means to you?

GSBTB is an example of how big and beautiful a simple idea can become.

Christina Homburg is a finance manager and photographer from London, currently on a career break and studying in Berlin. Photos by Merlin Jobst. Black-and-white photo above by Emilie Scholten.