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  • Goody goody Christmas: trials of an eager volunteer


Goody goody Christmas: trials of an eager volunteer

Desperate to spread her Christmas cheer, Uta Friedrich tries to give her time to a noble cause. But most of Berlin's charities prefer her cash.

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So you’re all alone in Berlin this Christmas while your friends are home getting high on stuffed goose and liquor with their families. How can you stave off holiday despair? Help the less fortunate! That’s the true meaning of Christmas after all, right?

The Red Cross (DRK) might seem like a good place to start. After four unsuccessful attempts, we got through to a woman who went from slightly unfriendly to frankly hostile when we clarified that we wanted to donate time and not money, that we only wanted to help and didn’t need help ourselves. We courageously insisted: free motivated helper, anyone? The stupefying answer came as a question: “Are you a German national?” “Urgh… no. Why?” “We cannot help,” she answered, “thanks and goodbye.”

It turns out that our dreams of teaching English Christmas carols to doe-eyed street urchins were all for naught; the orphanages don’t need help either. Hospitals need people with ‘actual’ qualifications – something other than your perfect grasp of Facebook, entry-level videoart skills and prodigious capacity for journal writing – and if you ask the churches, all you’ll find out is that they will probably do something somewhere sometime, but any further elucidation is impossible.

What about animals? Even if you’re well-versed in Hundedeutsch, you have no chance, since Berlin’s biggest animal shelter is closed for the holidays. Apparently all the dogs get for Christmas is urine-soaked solitary confinement and possible malnutrition.

What about Caritas, the huge Catholic charity? In Berlin, they help the homeless, asylum-seekers, downtrodden youth, the old, etc etc. We called and called. They picked up and put us through to a non-existent extension. So, we emailed. A true Christmas miracle: they called back! “You don’t have to worry about your language skills to tend to the old-aged,” the nice English-speaking lady explained. “For them it’s all the same.” (!)

So what about the poor? Obviously we weren’t the first to try to help out at Suppenküchen. They’re overcrowded with volunteers. But if you’re hell-bent on ladeling out grub for the huddled masses, food-for-the-poor charity Berliner Tafel does need help handing out groceries on Christmas Eve. It’s a popular gig though, so be sure to sign up before December 17 – they even have an English website.

Don’t give up! Here are a few DIY tips for selfless action:

1. Go door to door in your Kiez singing Falco songs. “Rock me Amadeus” will be a relief after hearing “Jingle Bells” a thousand times at the mall.

2. Bake some gingerbread and put a smile of the faces of the poor BVG drivers who don’t get a Christmas break.

3. Offer a free shoulder rub to a burned-out Santa at the Weihnachtsmarkt. Just don’t give him the wrong idea – we don’t want the kid in his lap getting an extra Christmas ‘surprise’.

Of course, you should be volunteering all year round, not just to cure your Christmas blues. You can help children on a regular basis at Caritas, for instance. Even if it’s only once a month – whatever you give, you will get it back thousand-fold. So think of it as a selfish endeavor. There, doesn’t that feel better?

CARITAS | Tel 030 8578 4120. For more information email [email protected]

BERLINER TAFEL | Beusselstraße 44, Moabit, Tel 030 7827 414, www.berlinertafel.de.

For other ways to help out in Berlin, visit: www.freiwillig.info