“It bridges so many gaps if you just see people in everyday life and talk to them”

Max Hoßfeld is one of the newest additions to the Give Something Back To Berlin team and a new Berliner as well. After having lived in Tanzania, Oman, Jordan, Israel and Turkey he decided to settle down for a while. What better place for a globetrotter than Berlin?

Tell me a bit about yourself: who are you and what is your background?

My name is Max, I was born in Leipzig, but kept moving around all the time. I grew up in Stuttgart, in the south of Germany, and when I was twelve my parents and I moved to Tanzania. I spent three years of my life in Moshi, a small town at the bottom of Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. That experience was the first in a series of me moving somewhere new, which was part of the reason why I was so attracted to Give Something Back To Berlin. It made me understand the struggle that migrants have when they come to a new city and don’t speak the local language.

I was part of the last generation that had to do military service in Germany. I was drafted, but I didn’t want to go, so I chose to do the civil service instead. I really hated the institution of compulsory military service, but it was the kick in the butt that I needed to go out and find an amazing project to work on. So between high school and university I volunteered in a hospital in Jerusalem. The hospital was right at the border between east and west Jerusalem and the staff and the patients were completely mixed; Israeli and Palestinian. That was a very, very cool experience because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not play a role at all in the hospital, you are a just colleague or a patient and that was amazing to see.

I think it bridges so many gaps if you just see people in everyday life and talk to them. I think I took a lot from it and it also sparked my decision to study politics and Arabic at university. In order to learn Arabic, I felt that it was necessary to travel more and to speak the language as much as possible, so I lived in Beirut for a while, and in Oman and Jordan. During my last year of study I went to Turkey with my girlfriend, and we spent a good amount of time in the southeastern part of Turkey where we got to know a lot of Turkish and Kurdish people, and a lot of Syrians.

The experience of moving to new places and seeing how people from different backgrounds can live together without any problems, and my direct contact with the refugee movement and all that led me to being interested in a project like Give Something Back to Berlin.

How did you find Give Something Back To Berlin?

It was kind of funny because I wasn’t actually in Germany, let alone Berlin, when I found Give Something Back To Berlin. I was still in Turkey when I saw the job offer. I started reading up on them and I identified a lot with their perspectives. I still remember the first sentence that really, really struck me was something like, “through the community that we build we don’t make “refugee friends”, we just make friends”, and that was the moment in which I realized that those are the people I want to work with.

So I applied from Turkey and Lucy got back to me and she said, “thanks a lot for your application, it’s a bit spontaneous, but can you come for an interview tomorrow?” I was still in Turkey, but they were very patient about it and so we met on the third of March or something. I landed in Stuttgart, hugged my family and ran to an overnight bus to come to Berlin. I had the interview and then took another bus back, so it was a pretty crazy 48 hours.

What do you do at Give Something Back to Berlin?

My official title, the one I put in my e-mail signature, is that of “volunteer coordinator” and I think it is a good description of what I do. So when you go to our website, on the front page, you have two columns; on the left side you have organizations looking for volunteers, and on the right side you have volunteers offering their skills, and I basically handle the communication surrounding that page.

I also work with the projects we run ourselves, the Sprachcafé, setting up things, sitting down with people, speaking German. I co-coordinate the open music school and I work for our open football project which has kind of become my baby because we don’t have one person who is responsible for that yet.

How did you come to be in Berlin?

Berlin obviously is a magnet for many people. My girlfriend lives in Berlin so I started to come here more frequently and that’s how I kind of grew into feeling like a Berliner. And it was clear even before the job offer that we would have moved to Berlin after returning from Turkey and I am really happy that it worked out instantly by me finding Give Something Back To Berlin.

How do you find life here?

Coming straight from Turkey, Berlin is a very soft transition, especially if you move to Neukölln because there is a lot of great Turkish food here. I’ve been trying to keep my Turkish up by talking to some people in Turkish, which is quite entertaining most of the time. I feel very happy to have found a place in which I can settle down for a little while and always experience new things. Coming back from travelling and settling down in a small city or in pretty much any city other than Berlin might have felt like I was bogging down, but Berlin doesn’t feel like that. I think it’s a really good transition from life abroad to being back. And I enjoy it, being in one place again.

What’s next for you?

GSBTB is growing incredibly fast right now, so stabilizing the organization structure, getting more stable funding and increasing the range of the projects – right now I just feel very, very comfortable accompanying that process. I can learn a lot from that and grow with GSBTB.

I definitely want to do a master’s degree and I was thinking of doing it either this year or next year depending on how comfortable I felt in Berlin and with GSBTB. Turns out I felt incredibly comfortable pretty fast so I am probably going to start studying again next fall.

Francesca Visser is a Dutch-Italian journalist moving between St Petersburg and Berlin in search of interesting people.