Gentrification. A worn out buzz word used to explain the type of economic eviction driven by the demand for housing of international creative types flocking to the comparatively cheap rent of Berlin. People unable to pay the increased rents are forced out of their own homes. Entire communities are displaced. It is easy to see how this had led to a common conception of expats as fundamentally uninterested in Berlin and its people in the long term. The “partying hipster” emerges as a self-interested, transient figure amidst the frustration and tension triggered by the loss of homes and communities.
Part of what makes Berlin great – the art, the music, the culture – is sometimes depicted as part of the ongoing problem. The musicians, writers, and gap-year students attracted to the city have driven out the very people who made the neighbourhoods attractive in the first place: the artists, the young creatives, the immigrants. But at times they are also part of the solution. Founded by a DJ and a journalist, Give Something Back to Berlin is the brainchild of two Swedish expats who moved to the city in search of new experiences and creative freedom. Over the last five and half years, Anders Ivarsson and Annamaria Olsson witnessed not only the drastic transformation of the city, but also a considerable lack of interaction and engagement between expats and Berliners. Give Something Back to Berlin is an expat integration project that strives for more. It is an invitation to contribute to the local community and an opportunity to challenge the pre-conceptions on either side. Through social media and its online portal, Give Something Back to Berlin connects both newcomers and seasoned expats with social organisations to promote volunteer work and interaction. People can donate their time and particular set of skills to help a local initiative. Whether it is teaching yoga at a homeless women’s shelter or running a creative workshop for kids, it is a chance to dismantle the notion that we are all too different to get along and a chance to share and learn from one another. This type of community engagement fosters understanding and promotes cooperation and social progress.
Give Something Back to Berlin also raises interesting questions about national identity and social responsibility. Shaped by globalisation and increased mobility within the EU, national identity and how people conceive of it has changed. For some, it is something fluid that adapts to culture and consists of a variety of habits and values picked up from living in different countries. For others, it is something fixed and unchanging that is strongly defined in opposition to other nationalities. At a time when jobs are scarce for young people and the recession is still going strong abroad, it is important to be more than just a passing tourist. Give Something Back to Berlin offers an opportunity to get socially involved while also allowing the city and its inhabitants to benefit from its diversity.