A friendship bigger than their studio flat
Uta (44) hosts Hamid, from Afghanistan, in a small studio apartment in Berlin Marzahn, a sprawling estate of high-rise blocks in east Berlin. Built in the late seventies and early eighties to provide modern housing to residents of the city’s older and (at the time) neglected central boroughs, the estate became characterised in the nineties by strong anti-migrant sentiment and support for far-right groups.
Uta has two children of her own. A son (17) who lives with her ex-husband and a daughter (22), who is studying in Hamburg.
After being off work with ill-health for two years Uta returned to Berlin in the summer of 2015, to attend a physical rehab centre in Potsdam and live near her mother. She also started a new job at a home for young refugees run by the German Red Cross, where she met Hamid.
They talked about music. He plays the flute and the piano and wants to learn more instruments. Uta plays the piano and the guitar. They had found a shared passion.
Uta now teaches Hamid the keyboard and encourages him to play her guitar. Hamid wants to study classical guitar and become a professional musician one day, but he feels short on confidence. He also likes rap and pop music “because you can talk about social problems.”
I had to end friendships with people who didn’t accept what I was doing.
“My neighbours have not been the most welcoming,” Uta tells us. Whenever Uta added Hamid’s name to the letterbox it was quickly removed. Instead of numbers, letterboxes throughout Germany carry the name of the legally registered tenant on them, which means that it’s hard to receive post if a name is missing. One of her neighbours told Uta “we don’t want foreigners here” but Uta says she fights this kind of behaviour. “He’s my son,” she replied, “you just have to get used to it.”
For Uta it was a real challenge. “I had to end friendships with people who didn’t accept what I was doing. It was a shock to see how mean and small minded towards others people can be. It’s exhausting. You really hit the edges of your energy and patience.”
But on the positive side, Uta says, “I’ve never learned so much in my life since having Hamid here, about religion, food, and other cultures.”
Hamid goes to two different German classes most days. He loves to play football and on Wednesdays he plays with other young people and refugees at an integration project. A social worker at the project noticed Hamid’s helpful manner and was impressed by his communication with other new arrivals from Afghanistan. He helped Hamid to secure a place in the German government volunteering service. From February 2016 Hamid will work part-time at the integration project and have the chance to learn football coaching. “I really like to feel useful,” Hamid says.
Portrait by Aubrey Wade
Assisted by Stjepan Sedlar
Text by Sarah Böttcher
This story is part of the No Stranger Place series, which tells stories of refugees and locals living together in Europe. The project was initiated by Aubrey Wade, Sarah Böttcher and Stjepan Sedlar, and developed in partnership with UNHCR and Nadine Alfa.