People collecting recyclable bottles on the streets of Berlin are a common sight. It’s also common knowledge that if you’re too lazy to return your bottles you don’t throw them in the trash can but put them at the side for collectors to get at them more easily. During the summer, picnickers, revellers and sunbathers often have their empty bottles ready for the inevitable person who wanders around parks and open places, carrying a big plastic bag or a trolley filled with bottles in the hope of making a few Euros for their troubles – a single bottle usually being worth between eight and 25-cents when returned. The understanding between those who have enough and those who make a living from the waste of others often strikes me as unique and without trying to romanticise the situation, can bring an element of dignity to the situation of poverty.
Welcome to Germany, foreigner! We like to call you “Ausländer”, because we find it very important to stress that you are from a country that is not ours. Our politicians create words like „Armutszuwanderung“ (poverty migration) to underline that you might be poor and needy, expecting Germany to help you. If you’re from Bulgaria or Romania, we mock your migration with expressions like „Sozialtourismus“ (social tourism) to make the nation aware that you only come here to profit from our social system. If your skin is black, we will ask you where you are really from, no matter if you were born here or if you are a war refugee. And, oh yeah, black man, be prepared for a large scale police operation on the subway if they find you without a ticket. You might be late for your meeting with the Senate.
Ursúla Guðmundsson likes to polish her nails. She says it’s important because her hands are very precious to her. We watch her carefully apply the polish on her 80-something year-old hands and we realise that she is trying to match the pink with her lipstick and her outfit. When Ursúla was a young woman, her hands bled from the manual labour she did and hurt from the washing powder she used to handwash the clothes of 13 people every week. Ursúla Guðmundsson was born Ursula Quade and emigrated from Germany to Iceland after the Second World War. She is one of six enigmatic older women that director Heike Fink portrays in a beautiful film that talks about a little known part of German migration.