The past months have shown us the importance of re-thinking and re-evaluating the way we engage with each other and what roles our individual lives play on a broader scale. As we are built around community, we’ve introduced a new project titled ‘Insights’. In an on-going interview series, we sit down with our members, give them a platform to speak, and listen to their stories.
As we understand this project not only as an interview series, but a dialogue with the Berlin sports community (and beyond), the importance of listening to one another and keeping the conversation going is a process that we intend to deal with in a transparent manner. So far this new journey has not only enabled us to double-check certain dynamics within our microcosm but also strengthened our belief that the stories we tell as a community are a summary of all of the individual stories that we are made of.
While our goal has always been to bring people together, we feel like it is overdue to also address how our community lives different experiences based on their subjective histories. ‘Insights’ is a first step towards embracing these different life-realities and highlighting how they collectively form the Braves. This is the sixth round of members that we have sat down with to listen to them.
Who are you?
Thabo: I am Thabo, 23 years old and I grew up in Berlin. My dad is from South Africa, my mom is from Berlin. I just started my Master’s in Media Studies and I play basketball.
Friederike: I’m Friederike, 32 years old. I was raised in Brandenburg and since my early 20s have been living in Berlin.
Simon: I am Simon, 27 years old. I grew up in Austria and came to Berlin eight years ago to see a little more of the world. To break out of my bubble, to meet people and to be creative. I’ve been running with the Braves for two years now.
What is Berlin for you? Hometown? The City of Choice?
Friederike: Berlin is my home because I can’t identify with Brandenburg. I’ve lived in Cape Town for five years and returned to Berlin 1,5 years ago. For a long time, I wasn’t sure whether Berlin would become my city of choice again. But I think it will. Living in Cape Town was a challenge and it has shaped my understanding of the world in many ways. During my time there, I witnessed a water crisis. I learned that electricity is not accessible to everyone and that the amount of safety we enjoy in Germany is a luxury.
Simon: City of choice and home at the same time. When I show people pictures of Austria, they often ask me how I could possibly have left its breathtaking nature and tranquility for Berlin. To me, Berlin is the missing piece of the puzzle in my life. In this sense, it complements the surroundings in which I grew up. Berlin translates to excitement, adventure, good friends, good food, good conversations and thus the more exciting side of life.
Thabo: Berlin is my hometown and my city of choice. I grew up here and have never lived anywhere else for a longer period of time. As my friends and family are here, I understand Berlin as my base.
How has living in Berlin impacted your self-understanding?
Simon: I have become more courageous. I stand up for myself more and understand that life has a lot to offer. A defining moment that describes in what ways Berlin has taught me to be courageous is that I joined my first queer protest here. Taking to the streets and standing up for my beliefs and values was incredibly liberating.
Berlin taught me that I have to fight and work to achieve my goals. The city showed me who I am. My life here has sharpened my sensitivity to various issues. Access to my community – the LGBTQ community – is something, for example, that I didn’t have in Austria. Through the LGBTQ community I’ve learned a lot about myself, but also about the realities of many others. I have learned to respect and love people in all their variations, shapes and colors and to be open to new things. To broaden my own horizon.
Friederike: Berlin is a place that has allowed me to get in touch with different people and cultures. It’s a city where I could to a certain extent escape the German narrow-mindedness. I think it’s very important to have a group of friends that comes from mixed backgrounds. In order to be more open to the world, you have to be able to exchange ideas. Especially with people who have a different life-reality than you do. Therefore, living here has given me the opportunity to be more open. I think that in Berlin there is more space to try things out as an individual.
I still struggle with Berlin at times though. The city is big, anonymous. People tend to be rude and always in a rush. These are aspects that have become very apparent to me since I returned from Cape Town. I also notice differences when it comes to running. In Cape Town everyone greets each other while running. Here, people just stare at you. It’s actually really nice to say hello, but that is somehow not part of the German mentality.
Thabo: One thing that has played a big part is the fact that I am Afro-German. I feel like growing up in an international city has allowed me to feel relatively comfortable, which is a privilege. In this sense, my self-image is shaped by the fact that I never felt like I didn’t belong here. My parents made sure that I was surrounded by other Afro-German kids from my early childhood on. I think that contributed a lot to the fact that I always felt that I belonged. I was always surrounded by people I could identify with.
In retrospect, I consider this upbringing a privilege. Therefore, I don’t think that it’s the city itself that gave me a sense of belonging, but the conscious decisions my parents made. I was in a playgroup that was specifically dedicated to parents of Black children. That’s why it was completely normal for me to always be surrounded by other Afro-German children. I took it for granted for a long time, but now I’ve realized how deeply it affected my sense of self.
Do you perceive yourself differently in varying locations? If so, how?
Simon: How I act depends on my environment. I am much calmer around my parents, which is a natural consequence, as I also seek peace of mind when I visit Austria. It’s where I charge my batteries. In Berlin I am very outgoing and agile. My persona becomes bubblier the more comfortable with the people around me. Around people that make me feel safe, I dare to speak up. Within groups I am very observant at first – I try to grasp the dynamics. I really enjoy moving in safe spaces where I know that I’m liked, accepted and valued.
Thabo: I actually always feel most comfortable in Berlin because it is the place I know best. I lived in South Africa for three months and noticed that people perceived me differently than here. In Germany, people assign me to the Black or Afro-German community. That’s not the case in South Africa due to the social structure and the historical impact of apartheid. In a German context I would call myself Black because I have shared experiences with dark-skinned people in Germany. That’s why I usually refer to myself as Black and not Afro-German. In South Africa on the other hand, I’m not considered Black, but categorized as “colored”. How people identify you is very different over there.
In the beginning it was difficult for me to comprehend that I am not read as Black in South Africa. Your self-image definitely changes if you are read as Black all your life and all of a sudden this identification is almost stripped from you. You start to question your own identity. It is quite common to encounter the dilemma of belonging as a child of parents who come from different parts of the world. I try to not see it as an obstacle, but as an asset. I can define myself for myself based on the circumstances that I find myself in.
Friederike: In Cape Town I was more outgoing and open to people than here. I would engage in conversations with strangers on the street more, for example. I am almost like a chameleon that adapts to the respective environment and situation. How I perceive myself has a lot to do with the people I surround myself with.
Regardless of the place, I notice that I am very shy in the beginning. But as soon as I feel comfortable and secure, I become more outgoing. The aspect of safety played a huge role for me in SA. It served as a limitation to how I was able to move around. In Cape Town, I would never have gone for a run on my own – especially not as a woman. It’s a different feeling to know that you have to stay in a group and can’t be with just one other person for safety reasons. In Berlin, I don’t necessarily feel completely safe on the street or on public transport at night. But it’s not comparable to South Africa.
What‘s your definition of community? What’s the power of CommunitY?
Thabo: When I speak of community, I mean a group of people who have a shared mindset. A similar way of viewing the world, which connects individuals and enables them to strengthen each other. Within a community you make a specific set of experiences that you would not make with another community. These shared experiences allow you to bond with each other. Community shapes you.
The power of community is that it provides you with a sense of assurance and belonging. Within a group you will meet people who share your opinions. This allows you to understand that you are not the only one, but that there are more people who might think and feel alike.
Friederike: I was lacking a real sense of community for a long time. I think that has to do with the fact that I was socialized in a very German manner. I have the impression that notions of community and collectivity are not as prevalent in German society as in other societies. Ever since I’ve joined the Braves, I started to understand what a community is. How it benefits you as an individual. As always, there are good times and bad ones. But for me it has become a very important part of my life. Community is a place where I feel comfortable and where I can be myself.
Solidarity is the power of community. It gives you a feeling of belonging and lets you understand that you are part of something bigger.
Simon: Community sharpens your mind – it teaches you things. Community is a life teacher because if you listen closely to the stories that people tell about what they love about life and what moves them, you expand your mind. You learn and you see the broader spectrum of life.
Community also means being there for each other. It means achieving something collectively and supporting each other. My credo in life is: treat other people with kindness – be nice to those around you. That’s something my mother used to say and there were times when I couldn’t really relate to the saying. I now actively and consciously incorporate this ethos into the way I approach people. I want to be kind to my fellow human beings and I think that this way of dealing with others is essential within a community. You have to take care of each other and radiate positivity.
As a child and as a teenager, I was the competitive athlete who always got along well with girls. I think it was obvious to many people that I was into guys. The other kids bullied me and I never fit the role of the “the cool guy”. I always wanted to be one of those cool guys in school – the one with the newest watch and the newest shoes. But I never was. Unfortunately, being kind was never cool. Being gentle and good-natured are qualities that are still often perceived as weaknesses – especially among young people. I always thought that was a shame. Although these qualities might not get you anywhere in the short run, the current state of the world shows us that it would be pretty helpful if being kind were cool. Treat people the way you would like to be treated yourself. It’s that simple.
The power of community is that it can grant you the space to be weak at times. Society exposes you to a manifoldness of expectations these days – you’re expected to have a solid circle of friends, to take care of your family, to perform at work, to look good on Instagram – you should know where the best restaurant is, you should advocate for social equality, pay attention to climate change – the list goes on. The power of community is that it can empower you to be yourself – that you can be weak, happy, or sad.
How do you perceive your role within the Berlin Sports community?
Thabo: I cannot define a specific role for myself. I don’t think roles matter that much, because everyone contributes their part to the community. Of course, there are people who are more vocal. But those who are not as vocal give a different form of input, which is just as valuable. I see myself as a part of the community who tries to give something to the community in every way. Although there are certain roles that I take on in different communities, these roles are also constantly changing.
Friederike: I am someone who is there for others, listens, and supports. You can always rely on me and expect me to help others.
I noticed that I’m not overly comfortable with being a leader within a community while I was leading a running group in Cape Town. I find it difficult to guide people because I prefer to get in line and be part of the bigger picture. A friend of mine initiated a project called “Women for change” which circulates around gender-based violence. This is a big issue in South Africa. In August she asked me if I could see myself organizing a run in Berlin. Although I wouldn’t have come up with the idea myself, I organized an event with her help. If someone gives me the tools to do a task, I’m happy to take charge.
Simon: I’m the one who talks a lot. I like to bring people together and to connect the dots. It took me quite some time to find a context in Berlin in which I could both do sports and be who I am as a homosexual man. I have found this space with the Braves and I haven’t found it anywhere else.
I’ve been told that my role with the Braves is marked by the fact that I make people feel good. I think keeping good energy and ensuring that we all feel good when we get together is very important. It sounds so simple, but it is very crucial. I try to be there for people and make them laugh. I find it really exciting to hear about the personal stories of the Braves: Why are you here? What do you do? What moves you? We are a conglomerate of people who come from many different places and running connects us all. Everyone has an opinion and everyone has a lot to say, and I can learn so much and understand so much by surrounding myself with these people.
What kind of people would you like to surround yourself with?
Thabo: I appreciate fun people with a positive attitude – the ones who don’t take themselves too seriously. I am not good at dealing with negative people and enjoy being around people who have a good sense of empathy and social skills. I find it important to be able to understand and to take into account the feelings of others. You have to be able to put yourself into the shoes of another person.
Simon: Let me put it this way: I try not to surround myself with people who don’t wish me well. I used to be really invested in pleasing everyone. But that’s impossible, and a lot of times people take advantage of you. All my life I’ve been taken advantage of. At school, I always shared my food with the others. Then, in the end, there was nothing left for me. At some point, I started to surround myself with people who are good for me. Those who make me laugh and who I have a good time with. I like positive people who have something to say; people who actively engage with the world, those that are not afraid to have deep conversations.
I keep a diary. There is a sentence on the first page that I read every morning. My rule number 1, so to speak: “Show up for yourself”. I want to be there for myself and take care of myself. If I’m fine, then I can also be there for a community.
That might sound selfish, but I think it’s pretty healthy. I haven’t looked out for myself for a long time and put myself and my needs aside. I thought that others were more important than me, which caused me to lose track of making sure I was well. You can’t only be there for others, but you also have to be there for yourself. I think it’s a very valid question to ask: where does self-preservation end and where does egoism begin? I think you have to find a balance – with yourself and with the people around you.
That doesn’t mean that I always put myself first, but that I want to make sure I’m doing well mentally. There are a few things that are so simple: you can eat healthily, you can work out, get enough sleep and you can be there for yourself. Treat yourself. These are things you will never regret. For me, these are the pillars that I try to live by. When I’m fine and having a good day, those around me notice that too. This positive energy surrounds you. It’s infectious to others. Time for yourself is so essential. There has to be space to say that you can’t see anyone at the moment, that you need a break from everything. Only if I have time for myself and am able to recharge my energies, I can take care of others, too.
Friederike: I like to surround myself with positive people. I express myself through emotions and I like it when people have a similar way of expression. I like warm people and find it difficult to deal with those who are condescending and hardheaded. Whose opinions are unchangeable.
How can your role in a community be improved? How can you create self-improvement through community?
Friederike: I could be more vocal. I’m a good listener, but I sometimes find it difficult to voice my opinion when all eyes are on me. I don’t like being the center of attention. When it comes to controversial topics, I would like to learn to express my opinion.
I could learn to communicate better – I have to speak up more. Through community, I am learning to be myself. With the Braves I feel like I don’t have to pretend to be someone that I am not. I can be myself.
Thabo: I think it’s good when communities don’t just revolve around themselves, but also work on actively drawing certain values from other communities. When I moved out, I got to know different social circles through my roommates, with whom I would otherwise not have come into contact. I try to grasp what my roommates have learned from their communities and then incorporate it within the communities of which I am part of. It is less about connecting communities with one another, but rather about transferring the aspects that one likes to other communities. I try to supplement what I am missing in a community by constantly taking into consideration what I like about other communities.
There are various ways to achieve self-improvement within a community. You can share thoughts and opinions within a community that you may not be able to share on a societal level. I think I can improve certain aspects about myself by embracing the safety net that the community provides me with. What I mean is that the Afro-German community, for example, gives me the space to address certain issues that concern me specifically because of my background. It makes me feel safe, because it is made up of people who are likely to have made very similar experiences as my own. Therefore I can express myself differently within that framework compared to how I could on a societal level where I am confronted with people who do not share my set of experiences.
Simon: I can see myself taking more responsibility, as I want to focus more on the ideas that are already in the community, but have not materialized yet. I would like to create a platform for those amongst us that are on a quest for balance by offering sessions that circulate around healthy routines.
I’ve just learned that even though I love spending time with everyone, I have to say “no” sometimes. It’s good to not see everyone all the time and to not be in the community all the time. I’m trying to establish a habit, where I also do activities outside of the community, because I tend to lose myself in the community. It’s a question of capacities really. Through community I am learning the value of me-time.
What needs to change in our community? How can you bring about change in the berlin sports community?
Thabo: What is nice about this interview series, for example, is that we collectively speak about social and political issues. I find it important to position yourself politically and to take a stance as a community. Although the Braves primarily define themselves through sports, it is good to bring in other components. We are all part of society and therefore also have the duty to advocate for the changes that we want to see happening. As a young and diverse community in particular, it is time to create something that is sustainable on a socio-political level.
It is up to each and every one of the community to give something to strengthen it. I can’t name anything specific, but I want to share my experiences and what I’ve learned. I aspire to constantly support and promote the community. We are made up of a combination of different backgrounds, which is why it is crucial to share individual experiences so that we can grow collectively.
Simon: We have to speak more, open up more about the issues that affect us personally, demand more action and be more vocal. Our initial point of connection is running, and at one point you start really liking the people you’re running with, and then you stay because of the people. In the end, however, we all have certain values and belief systems that we want to stand up for, but often we don’t know how to do so collectively. That has to change. We need to be more vocal and more active instead of just stating our opinion within the safe spaces of our internal conversations. I think we can communicate our values more transparently in order to inspire people outside the community to do the same.
As with everything, everyone has their own agenda. I am dedicated to appreciating the beautiful things in life. There are countless terrible things happening in the world every day – I have a radio alarm clock and every day when I wake up the news is on, informing me of yet another tragedy and I often think to myself: “Can’t you just say today is a great day?”. Corona, Donald Trump, wildfires, climate crisis – there is so much darkness and negativity, but within darkness is also light and that’s what I want to focus on. I want us to focus on this as a community and say “Yes, life is a mess sometimes, but…”. It would empower us internally to reflect on this together as a group.
Personally, I tend to be too self-conscious, I make myself small. I know what matters to me, but often I am not self-confident enough to share my thoughts. I don’t dare to ask people to get on board because I tend to be afraid that people dislike my ideas. That’s all in my head though. It stems from the fact that I was bullied. That insecurity is still within me. I want to try to talk more about my ideas and at the same time take action, create a framework. Be it that you meditate together or initiate other things that help you to feel good. It’s different for everyone – for me, it’s my morning meditation and breakfast, for someone else it’s a pilates class in the evening.
I would like to focus more on these feel-good strategies and create space in the community for them. I would like to offer and organize something in this regard. Taking this step of contributing something yourself is not that easy, especially when there are many people who have been around for a longer period of time than you have. You got to find your own way. I think it is crucial to dedicate space to your thoughts. Life is so fast-paced. We’re used to over-consuming everything, from social media to food and clothing.
At the same time, what we need to stay alive is actually so basic, but it takes guts and a lot of awareness to break out of this fast-paced environment. May it be not checking your phone for 15 minutes, sitting down to meditate – just re-learning to do nothing and just be. That’s the space that I am often looking for and I think there is room within a community to build these spaces.
You can find yourself within a community. It might sound paradoxical, but a community can give you the space to listen to your own voice and your own needs.
Friederike: As a community, we should have reacted faster to the Black Lives Matter movement. As I said, I’m very shy, so I didn’t bring it up, although I had a lot of ideas in my head. I think it’s important that we become more active – by hosting charity events, for example.
I think we have to collectively find out what kind of community we are. Although our main focus is running, I think that the composition of people, in particular, has a lot of potential to draw attention to a wide range of social and political issues. I also think that we owe this to one another because we are all affected by different forms of marginalization and must therefore empower one another.
As a community, we should actively support all people who understand themselves as BiPoC, LGBTQI +, or women. The structural disadvantages that these groups are exposed to have become particularly evident and visible within the past months. As a community, we have opportunities to draw attention to these injustices. It often shocks people to hear about forms of margin. But they find it difficult to translate their outrage into action. Having conversations and raising awareness is a good approach in my opinion.
What would you like to be recognized for?
Friederike: I am very self-critical and find it difficult to detach myself from the desire to be liked and seen. Like everyone else, I need recognition. People often perceive me differently than I expect them to. I am happy when I am looked at as an open and fun person. I want people to know that they can always approach me and that I am willing to listen to their stories, sorrows and aspirations. When I think about what I want to be recognized for, it somehow leads to the question: What’s your purpose in life? I haven’t found an answer to the question yet.
Thabo: I want want to be recognized for my qualities, not my appearance. I don’t want to be seen as the basketball player or the saxophonist. I am happy when people tell me that I bring them joy and want to be seen as someone who makes others happy.
Simon: I want people to feel safe with me and I also want people to say that they feel good when I’m around. I want to be someone with whom people can relax and slow down. I want them to say: “He has a kind heart”. It doesn’t sound fancy, but I think it’s often the simple things in life that matter.
How would you like to use your voice?
Thabo: I want to campaign for equality. There are many different areas in which I would like to use my voice, be it anti-racism, feminism or anti-capitalism – in the broadest sense it’s about advocating for equality. I cannot limit myself to one issue. One day my roommate tells me that she sprinted the last 500 meters to our front door because she’s afraid something would happen to her; the next day a Black friend tells me that he’s racially insulted by the audience during an away game – there are so many issues that concern and matter to me. Basically, I want to use my voice to stop people from suffering in whatever way that may be. While it may be an unrealistic goal, it makes sense to work towards it.
Simon: To connect people, to give back to people. Speaking is a talent. It took me a long time to realize that. I’ve always been the one who talked too much and will continue to do so. It will annoy people, but that’s okay. I also believe that I literally want to try to inspire people with my voice – and use it to make people laugh.
Friederike: I want to have more conversations with people whose opinions I don’t share. Specifically conversations about everyday racism. It’s 2020 – racism needs to stop. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to problems just because they don’t affect you. I can’t even count the times I’ve heard people claim: “Racism does not exist in Germany.”
The future gives me fear, especially when I consider the shift towards right-extremist political parties in this country. I want to use my voice more because I feel that it’s my duty as a person who enjoys the privilege of being a white woman. It is important to stand up for my friends and maybe relieve them of feeling like it’s their duty to have these conversations, because they are affected by racism. I want to speak to others about their choice of words and designations for other people. People tend to say you are sensitive when you make them aware of a racially charged term. I want to draw my own conclusions when people cannot understand the necessity of changing their vocabulary and behavior when it comes to racism – sometimes you just have to go separate ways.
As a white person in particular, it is important to sensitize yourself and others to racially charged terms. I keep hearing these questions from white people: How can we help? What can we do better? One variant is to have these unpleasant conversations and to draw attention to racist structures.
How are you planning to use your voice to bring about change and empower others and yourself?
Thabo: I plan to use my voice more – that’s step one. I don’t have any specific plans, but I want to be more active. I think it is important to show solidarity with everyone who is disadvantaged and to support these people. Nevertheless, I cannot fully embody the narrative of the oppressed person because I enjoy too many privileges for that. When I look at what my father has experienced, his experiences with structural and social disadvantages stand in no relation to the experiences I have made.
Friederike: I want to have these unpleasant conversations. In the past I have often avoided confrontations because I am not very good at debating. In the future, I want to educate myself more and gather facts so that I can back up my opinion more. I really want to confront people when their behavior or vocabulary is not okay.
Simon: Be more vocal. I sometimes catch myself not actively disagreeing on certain topics, even though the opinion that is being expressed is not aligned with my own. I want to be more vocal and address certain ways of seeing the world that is not okay – both when it comes to my community and other issues. Black Lives Matter definitely woke me up and sensitized me to the urgency to speak up.
My birthday was at the end of June, right when everybody was talking about the persistence of racist structures on a global level. Usually, I’m not the kind of person that throws a big birthday party, but this year I hosted a pride run because I want to make a statement. I initiated it on Tempelhofer Feld because I wanted people to see it. I think it’s crucial to actively and transparently stand up for your belief systems. When considering the framework of our everyday lives, it tends to be easier to avoid confrontations, but at the end of the day, it’s not about directly changing another person’s opinion, but rather about initiating them to re-think it. Structural injustices won’t be resolved overnight, but the more often you address them and the more people do so, the more certain it is that things will change at some point.
There needs to be room for the full circle of opinions in the sense of: have respect for every person. Everyone is operating at their own pace. It also took me a long time to find my voice, to understand what I want to stand and fight for. It’s a process and you should keep asking yourself these questions.
Life is a journey – we are not done at a certain point. You have to develop this understanding for others as well. You have to say: “Maybe this person does not share my opinion, maybe this person is not aligned with my belief system, but still I can be kind. Still I can treat people with respect”. Even if you don’t treat me with respect, I will still try to be kind. It’s cheesy, but I’ll quote Michelle Obama: “When people go low, we go high”. That’s so important. These are my cornerstones in life. You have to have an understanding and love for one another. We can choose to do it every day. Good versus evil. It’s so easy to focus on the negative, but it remains a decision that you are able to make every day. I’m choosing positivity.
Whom/what community would you like to uplift?
Thabo: I think everybody who doesn’t happen to be a white able-bodied cis man could use some upliftings. I don’t want to deny that white men don’t have individual struggles, but they don’t have to deal with certain disadvantages that exist simply because they were born the way they were born.
Simon: I want to uplift the running community, my friends, and my family. I wanna be there for these groups of people. I obviously also want to empower the LGBTQ community and do what I can to talk about issues and raise awareness for injustices.
Friederike: A few years ago I didn’t even think about such topics and today I often ask myself why I didn’t deal with questions of empowerment earlier. I want to support women. To this day, women are not given equal rights and are often oppressed. Black women probably have the hardest time here. If you look at companies, most of the CEOs are white men. That’s why I think it’s important to empower women.