February 17 2017: Helping refugees in Berlin – it’s no joke, but a Scots comedian is doing his bit

Positively Scottish, February 17 2017

For tens of thousands of refugees who have fled war-torn countries, settling into life in a European city like Berlin is not easy.

But Scottish comedian and former DJ Neil Numb is hoping to give them something to laugh about.

The 43-year-old from Edinburgh has teamed up with charity arts project Mosaic, based in the German capital, in a bid to bring comedy workshops to city refugee camps.

Neil is also organising an English language comedy gig, which will take place at Belushi’s bar in the Mitte area of Berlin, tonight to raise money for Mosaic and is collecting clothes to be donated to refugees.

His efforts have been welcomed by charity workers, who say volunteers are working tirelessly to integrate refugees in Germany.

Neil, who has been living in Berlin for around six years, said he was motivated to do something because the issue could not be ignored.

Chancellor Angela Merkel made headlines across the world when she announced Germany was to open its doors to refugees – known as “fluchtlinge” – in 2015 at the height of the refugee crisis. The decision brought in hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in that year alone.

In Berlin, camps, including at the former Tempelhof airport and in Kreuzberg, were set up while authorities searched for permanent housing.

Neil said: “It’s dead easy to sit back and say yeah that’s terrible but I just thought we should do something. Comedians in Berlin are a tight-knit group so I thought, why don’t we put something together?”

Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the project’s work with teenagers and young people.

Neil said: “It’s about giving them creative stuff to do. If you’ve been misplaced from your home, you’re in a foreign country and you’re 14 or 15 years old, that’s when the trouble can start. There’s always potential trouble at that age.”

As well as collecting clothes, Neil also wants to bring comedy into the camps. He said: “I’m speaking to the project about doing some workshops at the camp – we’ll get comedians up there and work with them. My friend who’s an artist is going to do art workshops too.”

Despite the linguistic differences Neil believes comedy is an international language and he hopes it can help bring some light relief to camps in Berlin.

In the last eight years the English language comedy scene has exploded in the capital. There are now multiple shows every night and the scene attracts big names, including Ardal O’Hanlon and Josie Long.

“There’s been a massive rise in shows,” said Neil, who is behind events including Cosmic Comedy. The twice-weekly show is popular with all nationalities, including Germans, and is number three on Trip Advisor, behind the Berlin Philharmonic and the cabaret show Friedrichstadt-Palast.

“It’s great, we’ve managed to build a really big open mic scene and now we’re working on showcases,” said Neil. “We have open mics to grow new talent and the showcases pull in bigger names and it really encourages people to up their game. Even German comedians are doing English language comedy now which shows how big an impact it’s having.”

Tonight’s fundraiser will be hosted by Californian-born stand up David Hailey (above) and will feature comedians including Tara McGorry and Toby Arsalan.

New York-born Bill Caccese, 35, who is founder of Mosaic, said he was looking forward to seeing what the comedians could bring to the project.

He said: “We always want people to come and work with us and do creative projects. We have language groups, we have arts classes and we have the young men’s project where we take men between the ages of around 15 and 30 to museums, plays and social events. We encourage them to interact so they can be integrated into life in Germany.”

Bill set up Mosaic after working in Syria as an archaeologist and witnessing the effects of war. The charity relies on people helping out and there is a pool of around 50 volunteers. Refugees who attend the project come from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iranians and Eritreans.

Naz Ali, 26, a Kurdish Iraqi who is studying international affairs at university in Berlin, volunteers with the project by helping refugees with administrative tasks.

She said: “Keeping the young men busy is probably one of the things that’s most important and sometimes gets missed. It has an effect on radicalisation too. Even though we’re not working specifically on anti-radicalisation, we are at least countering the buds or nipping them in the bud.”

Naz said non-governmental organisations like Mosaic, along with volunteers, were extremely important. “If you freeze all the organisations like Mosaic things would completely fall apart. We’re stopping it from going completely catastrophic in Berlin.”

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