material culture, migration and everyday life

Tag: Germany

Interview with Tiago Pais: «The Portuguese immigration in Berlin is much younger and much more qualified, but much less united»

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 … »


Letters from the field – Berlin, week 1

12 April 2019

It has become common place to say that the ethnographer’s self is very much a part of ethnography and ethnographic writing. I argue that this statement is truer for the ethnographer who has to move from her country into a new country and city in order to do research, here about migrants… specially if those migrants have moved from that same country and into that same new city, albeit for different reasons.
The ethnographer in question is me. I was born and raised in Portugal and moved to Berlin last week in order to do ethnography with Portuguese families living in Berlin. If we exclude the personal variables of motivations, objectives and, off course, length of stay, I, as an ethnographer am following the steps of the migrants who will participate in the research.
Furthermore, when your intention as an ethnographer is to understand material culture and consumption, a dimension of your subjects’ life which is probably present in a similar way in your own life, putting yourself in your subject’s shoes becomes a fairly easy exercise. Just like the migrants I am about to meet, I too had to pack; I had to select what I wanted to take and, upon my arrival I had to find the things that I cannot envisage myself living without on my everyday life.
Thus, for the purpose of this blog post, I am going to write about myself and the choices I have made regarding my traveling to and settling in Berlin.


Upon arrival at Tegel airport, I took the TXL bus. Direction: Alexander Platz. The destination: my neighborhood, Moabit. As I approached the end of my ride, the bus entered Turmstraße, a very densely commercial street, filled with burger, pizza and doner kebab restaurants, Turkish coffee shops, small supermarkets with fresh vegetable street stands. I could also spot some organic/natural/biologic trendy supermarkets.

Turmstraße, a main street in Moabit.

A quick online search had already taught me that Moabit is a neighborhood of Mitte, located in the west side of the central district, bordering Charlotteburg district, and was adjacent to the former Berlin Wall. For this reason, Moabit has always had a peripheral status, whether because it was where unified Central Berlin ends or West Berlin ended. The internet also told me that Moabit has historical working-class roots, which combined with its peripheral yet central location makes it affordable and attractive for newcomers. Statistically, Moabit is Berlin’s neighborhood with the largest first and second generation migrant population.
As I hopped off the bus and followed the path suggested to me by google maps to get to my new home, I entered an area in Moabit known as Westfälisches Viertel (or Westphalian district), a more bourgeois residential area, south of Turmstraße, bordering the Spree river and Tiergarten. Shops became more scarce and more expensive: bistros and bakeries mostly.

A view over the Spree river to Westfälisches Viertel in south Moabit.

I arrived at my destination and met my landlady in whose elegant house I will be renting a large and very comfortable bedroom for an affordable price. “I know how researchers struggle” my landlady points out. Indeed.

My things

In my bag, I had packed, of course, some clothes, shoes and personal hygiene and beauty products, but I decided to buy some hygiene and beauty products in Germany because I was told that they are cheaper here. For example, I had packed some rose water, which I can get for a cheap price at home and I wasn’t sure whether I was going to find some here. However, I discovered they are a very common item in Turkish shops. I also brought many packs of carob-porridge, which I was sure I wasn’t going to find here. Although this porridge is sold under an international brand, the production and selling are exclusive to Portugal. I also packed a bottle of wine to present to my landlady. With wine being a usually appreciated national product, I felt I couldn’t go wrong. I chose from my own collection of favorite wines a bottle from the region of Alentejo, a region known for its please-all wines. I didn’t pack olive oil, which I wanted to do but wasn’t sure about the correct way to store it to avoid spillage. I wish I had dedicated the time to find a way because olive oil (good quality like the one that is produced where I live) is much more expensive here!

Bags of carob porridge, rose water and a bottle of wine.

The day I arrived, my landlady was kind enough to take me around her favorite places to shop in Turmstraße. So on that first outing I bought the essential hygiene products I had purposely not brought: toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner and night cream. I bought them in a DM shop, which is a chain with many shops across Berlim that sell hygiene and beauty products, household items, healthcare items, healthy food and so on… Then, in a Turkish shop which my landlady recommended for their fresh vegetables and fruit street stand, I shopped for food essentials: eggs, milk and flat bread. I also looked for instant coffee, which I later found out is as scarce product, specially in a Turkish shop, since Turkey is known for their particular method of coffee preparation. I instantly regretted not packing some instant coffee as well.

Fruit and vegetable street stand of a “turkish supermarket”.

Despite these minor glitches in my anticipation of the type of products available and their pricing, I was happy to be returning home from my first outing with enough products to have a shower and cook some eggs for breakfast on my first morning in Berlin.

A bar of soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and face cream.

Eggs and milk.



My next priority for my days in Berlin: mobility. I had done some online scouting for information about public transport in Berlin and had been told about how efficient it was, with its integrated system of U-bahn, S-bahn, trams and buses. However I couldn’t help but notice the amount of bikes circulating at all times, as well as how cycling infrastructure seems to be a priority in the city. There are bike lanes and bike-parking places everywhere I look; my own building has a bike garage! Bikes are allowed inside public transport without charge, and meters away from my door are two shops that sell new and second hand bikes, and also do bike maintenance.

Bicycle parking.

A bicycle “garage” of an apartment building.

On my first days in Berlin, the weather was almost20ºC. There was an atmosphere of spring celebration in the air, the trees blooming in small pink and white cherry blossom flowers, kids playing in the parks and adults simply sitting down on benches or on the grass, enjoying the sun. I walked around my district, and went further to adjoining districts. When the time came to using public transport to reach more distant areas, I found myself wondering why so many people cycle in Berlin. I spoke with my landlady about it, and she said that using a bike is easy in Berlin, since the city is flat. Furthermore, I could observe that even on weekdays and peak hours, cars are at a minimum, which could only make cycling in Berlin safe. On considering that I would need to move around the city to get to know it and to meet participants in the research with more distant districts being at least a twenty-minute ride away, I decided to enter one of the shops near my house to investigate the price range for bikes. On my second visit, I was happy to leave the shop with a second-hand bike in mint condition for the price of 3 months of the BVG monthly pass. Hopefully the bike will make it easier to get to know this huge city.
Until next time,

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