The German shaman

Looking to practice Brazilian religious rituals in Berlin? Candomblé devotee Joachim Fischer helps Berliners connect with the divine spirits from his Friedrichstraße apartment.

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“I wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t gone to Brazil.” Joachim Fischer is one of only two anointed candomblé priests in Berlin. Photo by German Palomeque

Looking to practice Brazilian religious rituals in Berlin? Candomblé devotee Joachim Fischer helps Berliners connect with the divine spirits from his Friedrichstraße apartment.

Never heard of candomblé? With more than two million followers worldwide, maybe you should have. A cross between West African voodoo and Catholicism that came about when African slaves brought to Brazil were forbidden to pray to their own gods, it centres around the worship of divine spirits called orixás who are honoured through offerings, dances and rituals. In Berlin, the religion is chiefly represented by Ilê Obá Sileké, a temple based out of Forum Brazil and presided over by Babalorixá (supreme spiritual leader) Murah Soares. But his group is refraining from public rituals until the end of May as part of an extended mourning period for Soares’ “spiritual mother” Mãe Beata de Yemonjá (think Brazil’s Mother Teresa). And so our introduction to candomblé came courtesy of an eccentric 56-year-old southern German who’s turned his Mitte flat into his own temple of sorts.

“I wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t gone to Brazil,” starts Joachim Fischer, surrounded by tarot cards, native wooden statutes and Jesus figurines. Some 20 years ago, diagnosed with skin cancer, Fischer visited a shaman, or pai de santo, in the jungle outside Rio de Janeiro. As he recalls, “I felt so much energy – I could see the orixás! I really was in another dimension.” After that, he claims, he was cured.

Fischer, who had worked as an industry management apprentice, a naval officer and even a gym owner in Barcelona prior to his Brazil trip, saw only one way forward: to become a Pai de Santo himself. “But I couldn’t stay and live in the jungle, I’m a European, it would be too much.” Instead he came to Berlin, where he found a priestess by the name of Mae Dalva who was, at the time, running a Neukölln terreiro (church) called Casa de Oxum. “She took me in like a son,” recalls Fischer. “She didn’t speak any German or English, so I translated for her during rituals and offerings.” After five years of “learning by doing” at Casa de Oxum (whose founder left Berlin in 2009) and earning the Pai de Santo title during a ceremony in Brazil, Fischer decided to offer his own services to Berliners in 2003. “I am very open-minded, which means that while I’m still devoted to the orixás, if someone comes to me for an aura cleaning and would prefer to pray to Buddha or Jesus, I can help them.” Fischer believes that in Germany, it’s necessary to tailor his practice to European audiences. “If you want to experience the 100 percent authentic Brazilian way, you should go to Brazil!”

Fischer’s mostly-German client base comes to him for card readings (he feels more clairvoyant using Carl Jung’s cards rather than the traditional tarot set) or €80 “shamanic journeys”, which are actually more influenced by Indian culture than candomblé. The client lies on the floor whilst Fischer helps them connect to the spirits and travel to another dimension. “A psychotherapist would speak; I don’t. Instead, I give people space and play my drums and rattles, which act as vehicles to transport you to another world.”

Clients also come to him to help battle illnesses such as depression or cancer, or even to support their new business ventures. Traditionally, this would entail the sacrifice of a chicken or a goat, which Fischer does in a “humane way, with the help of a professional butcher!” when he’s in Brazil. Here, German laws mean he can’t ask the local Fleischer for help with his animal offerings, so the spirits must contend themselves with a refreshing glass of wine or some exotic fruit.

Fischer says he used to cater to many Brazilians, but would now rather focus on his “vision quests” for Germans looking for a new path in life. For €1590 (including flights and accommodation) these eight-day enlightenment retreats are conducted on El Hierro in the Canaries, a tiny volcanic island that Fischer finds more conducive to his work than bustling Berlin. Participants complete workshops, rituals and initiations before being sent out into the mountains for a three-day solo retreat with no food or even a tent. “I allow them to have a sleeping bag. But it has to be hard. If you want to get a real expression from God or from nature, you have to suffer a bit. That’s life, you don’t get anything for nothing.”