Tiago Pais is a name that quickly becomes familiar to anyone coming to Berlin today and looking for a Portuguese presence in the city. President of the association Berlinda and director of the only Portuguese-language newspaper in the country, the Portugal Post, Tiago agreed to sit down with me and talk about his migratory experience and to share his impressions of Berlin and the Portuguese community.
The engagement with the community was not an end in itself. With a young but consolidated career in public sector management, Tiago Pais decided to move from Lisbon to Berlin in 2010 to pursue postgraduate studies in his field.
«In the first year of the Masters, I had no contact with Portuguese people and I think this is very much the experience of the Portuguese who come to Berlin, there is no contact with other Portuguese. […] Berlin, in contrast to the rest of Germany, did not have a Portuguese immigration wave in the 60s and 70s, because it was a divided city and had no great job opportunities. It was a city with poor economic development, which attracted only a handful of Portuguese for essentially ideological reasons. In this sense, Portuguese immigration in Berlin is much younger and much more qualified, but much less united because there was no need to create mutual support systems like the ones needed in the first and second generations, which came at times when contact was more difficult because of the language barrier, because making ties was more difficult, leaving the country was more difficult, and because the worldview was narrower. […] Still, Berlin had some Portuguese association in the 70’s and 80’s, and a soccer team, but it was short-lived. Today there are two, more modern, associations: Berlinda and 2314, which organize projects more around culture, not so much about socialization and conviviality »
Tiago also considers that the dispersion of the Portuguese in Berlin is somehow related to the geography of the city.
The city is geographically very dispersed. There is not a” city center “, as in smaller towns and villages, where there is a different centrality.»
Tiago’s first major exposure to the Portuguese community was through his employment at Caixa Geral de Depósitos’ representation office. At the Portuguese bank, he worked with Portuguese clients who resided not just in Berlin, but throughout Germany, and who were mostly from these early generations.
In the meantime, he became involved in Berlinda’s activities, and through the association, he began to contact those who, like him, had recently come to Berlin. Due to Berlinda’s more focused orientation towards cultural dissemination, the public was made of artists, designers, musicians… the kind of occupations that Tiago considers are still dominant among those who arrive in the city.
«As a city, Berlin has an athmosphere and a philosophy that is very appealing to more alternative and creative folks. It is a space for experimentation.»
When, in 2016, Berlinda’s founder and first president left to return to Portugal, Tiago took over the presidency of the association. Shortly thereafter, he would also take over the Portugal Post, founded in 1993 in Dortmund. According to Tiago, although they appeal to different sections of the Portuguese immigration, there is a complementarity in the work of the two organizations.
«Berlinda is not just about the Portuguese community, but about culture in the Portuguese language. Therefore, it blurs borders between Portugal, Brazil, and the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Berlinda has an online magazine with mostly cultural content, and that is where I saw a synergy between Berlinda and Portugal Post. If we think about the transversality of the projects today, I end up having a much broader contact with the Portuguese community than I had before, because the newspaper is much more aligned with the Portuguese community I was contacting with at CGD and which is much more traditional and scattered immigration across the country, a much larger audience outside Berlin, which is the newspaper’s subscribing audience»
Portugal Post is distributed by post to its approximately one thousand subscribers, and it is sold at three hundred outlets located all over Germany, mainly at train station kiosks. The newspaper is also distributed to consulates.
«The newspaper has a role as a company element, especially in relation to older immigration in Germany, to whom it is a point of contact with the language. The newspaper has undergone a major editorial change from the moment I took over and is it is perhaps a little more demanding than previously both in the content and language used. But even so, people have not abandoned reading. One thing that is also highly valued in the newspaper is the fact that there is a social information section, where information about life in Germany is explained, such as pension systems, support for disease … very practical things that people like to read for information. Access to this type of information is often difficult because it is accessible only in German through official channels. In this sense, the newspaper is a very relevant point of information.Berlinda also has a practical information section – how to live in Berlin, how to look for a home, a list of Portuguese-speaking doctors, Portuguese-speaking accountants … Then there’s a promotion of Portuguese culture that I think attracts people who like to see good things being done in Portuguese. There are interviews with painters, musicians, sculptors … »
The wine business
Prior to Berlinda and the Portugal Post, Tiago Pais is interested in Portuguese wine. He owns 7 Mares, a shop and wine bar located in the cosmopolitan district of Kreuzberg, where this interview took place. Although most of the clients are German, Tiago also sees the business as a way of getting Portuguese immigrants – who do not fit into an “old Portuguese community” – to make themselves known and share their culture in the more international environment within which they move.
«My first venture is the wine business. This has to do with a Portuguese sociocultural tradition, clearly, and I think there is a lack of knowledge about Portuguese wine, so I think it is a mission to increase the notoriety of Portuguese wine. The wine business attracts the younger, more qualified, more interested and more independent sections of the community. The interest of this audience is to show off their culture to their friends who may be German, Chinese, Italian… to make Portuguese wine known, because we also have wine tasting and cultural events. »
Berlin and the return to Lisbon
As an entrepreneur with work and business experience both in Portugal and Germany, Tiago feels that it is easier to manage a business in Portugal, where it is possible to make many contacts with the public administration through email or online forms and applications. He tells me this is an important factor in his long-term future prospects and in considering a return to Portugal, which is however not yet scheduled. However, Tiago is quick to list what makes Berlin a good city to live in:
«In Berlin the transport system is well designed, and the green spaces are brutal and everywhere, by the way, I think the visitor is always perplexed because they think Germany is gray, but Berlin is much greener than most Portuguese cities: there are trees on almost every street, there are parks everywhere and people enjoy the street more, they “live” the street more than in Portugal. There is also an important neighborhood life, however this also has to do with how the city grew – it was by annexation, it was not by organic growth, so the areas that were annexed were already central and that centrality remains until today, as there was no convergence to a single center. This leads people to live more in their neighbourhood, to shop more locally and there is less consumerism in terms of going to a big shopping centre and make big purchases for the month; you buy more on a daily or weekly basis at the corner store when you return from work. This turns out to be nicer. »
«Lisbon has great things, is nearer the coast, has a brighter light … and Portugal has an extraordinary cuisine. I have these things here in another form: it is much more enjoyable to ride a bike, there are lakes that allow swimming, there is a different Nature experience. But for those born in Portugal there is another affinity with the beach and the cuisine, there is no way around it … »