6th Berlin-WG: The common good as a vision

For many, Berlin is the city of freedom and self-realization - but how do we manage to ensure that we don't all live past each other? That the socially weaker ones are also integrated? And that as many people as possible volunteer in and for Berlin? This was the topic of the sixth Berlin WG on 27 February 2020, when the WG went "on tour" this time - and discussed at the "Over the Edge" initiative's blackboard in Berlin-Schöneberg.

Who was there on 27 February?

No fewer than nine participants - more than ever before - joined in lively discussions at the WG table this time: 

  • Helena, 59, from Friedenau, is a member of the board of the Citizens' Foundation Berlin. "We want to strengthen the coexistence of people in the capital with targeted projects." Voluntary physics sponsors conduct experiments with primary school children, environmental sponsors take families on Sunday excursions into nature.
  • Gerd, 63, from Kreuzberg, clerk at BVG and former vice president of the Berlin Football Association for qualification and social affairs. There he is committed to the prevention of violence and racism in football. "I have been a volunteer for 50 years."
  • Ina, 30, from Wedding, is on the board of the association "Über den Tellerrand", in which refugees cook with Berliners. "We need spaces where people can meet and exchange ideas at eye level."
  • Isabella, 65, from Kreuzberg, is in charge of the "Lange Tafel" project. Neighbourhood residents of different generations come together at a 200-metre long board. She is convinced: "Volunteering must be oriented towards the concrete interests and needs of people - and needs fun as motivation."
  • Petra, 64, from Charlottenburg, runs the Heerstraße Nord association in Staaken: "Many people still have major social problems. We must not look at the common good and voluntary work only from the perspective of the educated citizens."
  • Veit, 62, does community work in the neighborhood house Urbanstraße in Kreuzberg. He sees the common good as urgent work for Berlin: "Our neighbourhood is one of many in Berlin that are undergoing massive change." Gentrification is difficult for a functioning community.
  • Lisa, 18, from Steglitz, is doing her federal voluntary service at the Prenzlauer Berg sports and youth center. "Young people in particular need places to meet."
  • Friederike, 29, from Kreuzberg, works in the association "Die Gemeinschaft e.V.". This association networks food producers, restaurateurs and chefs from the region. "In this way we not only want to promote cooperation, but also contribute to an appreciative food culture."
  • Karola, 59, from Reinickendorf, is a project manager for the reading sponsors. "The common good needs voluntary work - and volunteers need clear offers so that they can get involved in society."


Is there enough commitment for the common good in Berlin?

More than every third Berliner volunteers in their free time - and thus contributes to the common good. But 70 percent of Berliners also complain that the public welfare in the capital is too weak. How do the high level of commitment and the great dissatisfaction with an intact public welfare fit together? A question that was central to the discussion, and which the moderator Joab Nist - creator of the blog "Notes of Berlin" - threw into the round right at the beginning.

"We have many volunteers in this city, but the common good is not one hundred percent intact across the board," says Petra. Anyone who can barely pay their rent and is dependent on social benefits would have a hard time volunteering. Even if they want to. Gerd adds: "Today we have different working hours than before. People can shop until late in the evening and on weekends - this also takes away the time of volunteering". Nevertheless, Gerd is convinced: "Berlin has enormous potential for the common good - the refugee crisis has shown that.

How can we inspire people in Berlin for more public welfare??

For Karola from the "Lesepaten", the answer is obvious: "Anyone who is committed to the common good, for example with us as a reading godfather, gets a lot of gratitude back. That's priceless. She has been involved in the association for 15 years and knows that volunteers need clear organisational structures. "Volunteers must feel needed and involved." Otherwise, the willingness to get involved would fizzle out. "Commitment, however, does not only need professional facilities," adds Veit from the neighborhood house Urbanstraße. Everyone has the opportunity to "leave their mark on this city" within the framework of their limited time resources.

Does the common good always need professional organization?

For Veit, the common good starts right at his front door - as an attentive neighbour in the neighbourhood and as an active participant in daily life, who gets up for others in the tram, helps carry the pram or empties the overflowing letterbox for neighbours. However, Veit observes with concern the economic drifting apart of the resident structure in his neighborhood. This creates tension for living together. And that is precisely why common meeting places in the neighbourhood are important. "In our neighborhood, we all pay a lot of attention to each other," says Karola from Reinickendorf. "That's very important to us." Whether it's barbecues, accepting packages for each other, watering flowers or emptying the overflowing mailbox - this is already a commitment to the common good and does not require professional structures.

[Translate to English:] 6. Berlin-WG: Lisa, Veit, Petra

Are the common good and voluntary work failing due to lack of time in Berlin?

Associations in Berlin complain that it is not easy to find new volunteers. Volunteering competes with various leisure activities in the city. However, the participants from the social clubs at the table find that it is not a time problem. "Rather, we have to appreciate voluntary work even more", Petra says. "Then people get involved in a topic and stand up for voluntary work."

Friederike from the Community Association adds that not only does it need a higher appreciation, but also lower hurdles to get involved. "Not everyone can write a complex grant proposal for their social project."

A third point as motivation for contributing to the common good also became clear: people want to see how their commitment bears fruit. Ina from the "Over the Counter" association cites as an example that students built the interior of the shop on a voluntary basis. Shelves, a cooking counter, table and chairs. "The students wanted to build not just a cardboard model for a university seminar, but something that would actually be used."

[Translate to English:] 6. Berlin-WG: Ina, Gerd, Helena

And last but not least: Is the smartphone a threat to volunteering?

One click is all it takes to donate, one fingertip is all it takes to lick the volunteer project - won't anybody help if they already licked? Does no one help with the pram anymore when everyone is staring at their smartphone? "Getting to know each other doesn't need an app," Friederike thinks, "but if you have little or no time, you can already do some good with a smartphone donation. But I know from experience that someone with a small time budget won't become a volunteer either." Ultimately, however, more networking is good for the common good and voluntary work.

"It's much too anonymous how we partly live in our neighbourhoods", Gerd says. "But we all do the same thing: We work, come home and live our lives." So whether it's a smartphone or a pinboard: we need to network with each other for the greater common good. Because everyone benefits from better cooperation, Helena concludes. "In the end, we all need each other. It's easier together."

[Translate to English:] 6. Berlin-WG: Herzlich willkommen!

Anyone who would also like to get involved in Berlin will find an overview of volunteer projects in the volunteer agencies of the Berlin districts - and can get advice on choosing the right volunteer position right away. You can find an overview HERE (in German language)

[Translate to English:] 6. Berlin-Runde: Diskussionsrunde mit Kameramann

We thank all participants and our moderator for the lively and inspiring exchange. 

Would you also like to join one of our WG? Then apply HERE now!


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Photos: (c) Berlin Partner GmbH/Gralapp