History of Be an Angel - from 2015 until 2022.
In September 2015, we saw a crisis unfolding and rolled up our sleeves to help. We never rolled them down again. What has changed since then? We have become better. Now, we have daily office hours; a full-time staff; a network of refugee initiatives in the government, in other EU countries and also in the refugees’ home countries.
2022: Ukraine war
On March 4th, Be an Angel board member Andreas Tölke set off for Moldova, just for a few days. He was going to evacuate buses with people who fled from the war to the neighboring country. He has been there ever since....
We have now built a strong team. We have great partner organizations on the ground and regular evacuation busses from Ukraine to Chișinău, Moldova and from there, on to EU countries.
The Berlin team is busy organizing adequate accommodations and board member Ulrike Lessig coordinates the activities in Germany, including donation administration. The team in the Berlin office is also busy with refugees from other countries. We work with permits, asylum applications, and provide assistance for people from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and African countries. In the U.S., Anya Verkhovskaya coordinates in-kind donations. She has organized donations of many tons of medicines, medical equipment, water purification supplies and more, gets transportation to delivery those donations, often free of charge, and distributes to the front lines all the way in Ukraine.
The restaurant Kreuzberger Himmel is starting up again after Corona lockdown. A highlight? Catering for the Federal Chancellery.
Our main mission is in Ukraine!
2020/21: And now Corona too...
The first people from the Moria, Greece refugee camp on Lesbos arrive in Germany. In February we are on the ground in the refugee camp in Moria, by far one of the most terrible things we have ever seen. On site, at first we felt completely helpless. Then we met people— people who had the right to join their families. Since then, we have been fighting for their rights on both the Greek and German sides.
We were also able to raise money with the Stern Foundation. That allowed us to finance emergency surgeries for very ill children. Our restaurant "Kreuzberger Himmel" collapsed as a source of funding, due to Corona. Nevertheless, we cooked over 80,000 meals for Berlin's homeless, partly financed by the Berlin Senate’s so-called “Cold Aid.”
2019: We did not like it.
In Germany, the rights for the refugees are being dismantled more and more. Apparently, the Geneva Convention has disappeared somewhere in the drawers. Integration only works when initiatives like ours open doors and support people in need. Asylum seekers are usually under general suspicion by the authorities. No matter where the people come from, it is first assumed that they want to deceive us somehow. This is upsetting even to us, the aid workers.
2018: We are self-funded.
We no longer solely depended on donations. We founded the "Kreuzberger Himmel" restaurant. Of course, Be an Angel strictly adhered to the requirements for non-profit status! And with pleasure, we continued to receive earmarked donations. On January 4th, 2018 we opened the door of the restaurant. We had space for 110 guests, a team of 13 employees from "only" six countries, all with a history of flight, and only two with any restaurant experience.
It became a success story! The restaurant supports Be an Angel financially. We continue to take actions against unfair asylum decisions, we save people from deportation, we help find jobs, we coach employers in intercultural issues to avoid misunderstandings, and we advise businesses who employ refugees on available subsidies. In addition, we attend lengthy meetings with the local administrations and politicians. Politicians are surprisingly often full of good intentions. In 2018, thanks to District Mayor Monika Herrmann, for a small fee, we were able to move to the foyer of the Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain’s district office.
2017: Across the borders.
Refugees were no longer popular, donations were down, but our team kept running and so did the expenses. Together with Christies, we organized an auction of contemporary art. Around 55,000€ was raised in the process. With that we moved into our first office, provided a hot meal a day over three months for 1,200 people who were living completely without food in half-ruined former warehouses. We hired our first employee, held the first open office hours, and we worked. And worked. We continued to assist refugees through the the asylum procedures.
2016: Things did not get any better, only different.
Many of the refugees had to leave Berlin, they were redistributed. We have kept in touch. In Saxony, Brandenburg, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia. Those who were forced to move eventually found new friends. We built up a network in the Germany to support the people on the ground. The asylum procedures were a joke, and still often are. In 2016, the first decisions on "subsidiary protection" for Syrian refugees were made. That meant that despite fleeing the war, they had no right to have family to come to Germany for reunification. Almost two thirds of the decisions were overturned by the courts. It was still difficult to get permission for family reunification. In the meantime, we had developed into a kind of property management team with 17 apartments and temporary rental contracts. In some cases, we fronted the costs for years until the applications were finally processed. One room per night in a four-bedroom apartment costs up to 28€ per person. In 2016 we were knee-deep in absurd asylum procedures, organized language courses, helped to send children to school, and assisted with legal matters.
2015: Just do it.
It started quite "harmlessly." In September 2015, we opened our apartments to people who did not have a roof over their heads. We waited in line with people from three in the morning to get them registered. We went to courts to pressure the authorities with urgent applications to give the people what they were entitled to -- food, access to medicine, and a bed to sleep in. We distributed clothing, found doctors who would treat people without health insurance cards, and, at some point, we rented some 17 apartments.