Hundreds of new friendships in just a few hours

Every month at Give Something Back to Berlin we organise a community event where refugees and Berliners of all kinds – Germans, recently-settled “expats” etc. – come together to meet new people. The idea is to help newly-arrived people make connections and find their feet more easily in Berlin, and our first events have seen up to 170 people attend.

The Community Team-Up event is our answer to the question: “what can we do to help new people in Berlin get to know each other, regardless of legal status?”

The events are an ideal opportunity for refugees to search for the right networks to pursue their interests and we have already seen many collaborations and friendships kick off in this way: Syrian dancers were connected with local Berlin dance groups; Iraqi journalists met local journalists and magazines found collaborators; refugee students made friends with locals studying their subjects; queer refugees found gay-friendly networks; artists with refugee and non-refugee backgrounds began doing therapeutic workshops together, and those are just a few examples.

To facilitate this connection-building while keeping the mood relaxed, we ask everyone to make a nametag on arrival, stating their name, where they are from and one or two things they are interested in doing in Berlin. That way, when they approach an unfamiliar face, they can quickly find something to talk about. The nametags can also be used to scan the room for common interests.

After presenting the concept, we challenge our guests to introduce themselves to three new people over the course of the evening. But once people get into the groove, it’s easy to meet many more.

We often have community members writing to us the day after an event to say, “last night I met this really interesting person from South Africa, and I’m going to do a freelance job with a guy from Denmark, and I’m planning to see an exhibition with my new Syrian friend, who I never would have met otherwise. It’s just so easy to make friends at your events!”

The greatest strength of our Community Team-Up events is our ability to generate hundreds of meaningful connections in just one evening. Moving away from the “us versus them” mentality of matching people based on how long they have been a Berliner, their nationality or background, we allow people to match themselves with the people that interest them – and have fun doing it.In December the Christmas edition of our monthly meet ups brought our full concept of the event to fruition.

As people painted to relax in our newly-minted Open Art Shelter, or jammed with musical instruments brought from home – we later found out we’d had a famous Syrian pianist in our midst– we were enjoying taking a moment to look back on the year and all that had been achieved.

But a cosy evening with Glühwein, art activities and live music from our refugee band Lomnava quickly became a full-blown dance party. As our guest musician, a solo guitarist from New York, invited a Syrian friend to join him on stage, the tempo was turned up a notch and the songs of our friends’ homeland called them to dance, sing and remember.

Suddenly 100 people were up on their feet learning the Syrian dances, clapping, cheering and thinking of home – wherever that is.

What a heart-warming way to end to an unforgettable year in the life of the Give Something Back to Berlin community.

To attend our next GSBTB Community Team Up, follow us on Facebook to hear about our upcoming events.

Vanessa Ellingham is the editor of the Give Something Back to Berlin blog.