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15 great causes to redeem yourself this new year

Not living your best life? Feeling guilty about it? Well, we've charted the path to redemption! Here's 15 great causes to get involved in and clear your conscience for 2020.

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Photo by A. Krüger. Bikeygees teaches refugee women and girls how to cycle.

You’ve been slacking, overindulging and generally not living your best life. We get it, but stop feeling sorry for yourself. Roll up your sleeves, pick one of these causes and start the new year redeeming your sins!

Help a refugee!

They might not be getting as much press, but Berlin’s refugees, whether they arrived in 2015 or last week, are still around and could use some support. Neukölln’s Refugio Café (Lenaustraße 3-4) hosts an Open Sprachcafé at 6pm every Tuesday for refugees eager to practise their English (or German on Wednesdays). Your job is to converse with them in the language, perhaps explaining bizarre grammatical rules and swear words as you go. Just one caveat: despite the name, there is neither Kaffee nor Kuchen to be had since the café proper closes before the meet­ings begin.

If you’re shy about talking to new people, how about riding your way to redemp­tion? Try the Bikeygees project, which teaches refugee women and girls how to cycle. Every third Sunday of the month at 2pm, volunteers and learners assemble at Schöneberg’s Jugendverkehrsschule (Was­sertorplatz 1) for two hours of theory and practice, with course materials available in Arabic, Persian, German and more. And thanks to regular bike donations (have a spare?), around a quarter of the cycling school’s 855 graduates have been able to keep their two wheels afterwards.

Have more space than time on your hands? Check out Zusammenleben Willkom­men, an initiative that lets you offer your spare room to refugees. Set up in 2014 to address the acute shortage of refugee housing, the organisation is still in need of hospitable Berliners. Once you’ve filled out the online form, the organisation puts you in touch with a “buddy” – a mediator between you and your potential flatmate – and the three of you can meet up at your digs. In most cases, your roomie can move straight in, while if you really need some help and are game for the bureaucracy, you can apply for €375 a month in rental assistance from the Sozialamt. But you aren’t doing it for the money, are you?

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Photo by Kehrenbürger/BSR. Litter-collecting project Kehrenbürger’s meetups rid the city of rubbish.

Declutter, inside and out!

Another key source of guilt is the rampant consumerism around us. But while it might seem like an impossible sin to cure on a global-scale, it’s often best to start with yourself. Think multiple pairs of scissors and the masses of clothes languishing in your wardrobe. This overconsumption calls for a professional, and at hand is author Marie Kondo with her KonMari method, which offers a holistic approach to tidying up. Your job: look at everything you own and ask, “Does this item spark joy?” Helping you along the way is 35-year-old KonMari practitioner Corinna Rose, one of only six certified consultants in Berlin. She also runs workshops where you can put decluttering theory into practice and learn Kondo’s famous clothes-folding methods.

But what to do with all that joyless clutter? If you’re planning to sell it for a profit, you should think again. Giving it all away is a sure-fire way to a clear con­science, and there’s no better place than the 170,000-strong community in the Free Your Stuff Berlin Facebook group. Giving is simple: just post a photo of your item on the feed and you’ll get some interest in no time. From old bikes to video games and sofas, one Berliner’s trash is another Berliner’s treasure!

Once you’ve got your own house in order, the next stage of soul-cleansing starts on the streets, and the Kehrenbürger litter-collecting project from the BSR is your go-to partner. They support meetups to rid the city of rubbish – so assemble your friends, register your ‘event’ on­line two weeks ahead of the date and you’re good to go. The BSR then delivers cleaning tools (and snazzy orange vests) directly to your willing team. If you can’t find anyone to join you, simply tag along with another group. One of them is Oceancare Retreat, which gathers at 10am on the first Saturday of every month (Schleusenufer 4) for an invigo­rating litter-picking jog.

Support the homeless!

If your flat hunt is making you feel hopeless, perhaps it’s time to check your privilege: there are between 4000 and 10,000 home­less people living on the streets of Berlin. Redeem yourself this winter by helping these rough sleepers. Through mid-April, social cooperative Karuna runs a “night café” in the Evangelical Church’s Kreuz­berg community centre (Gitschiner Straße 15). Between 10pm and 6am they provide shelter for around 30 people. Your job as a volunteer is to help their two staff members ladle out soup, pour hot drinks and show the homeless guests to the makeshift dormitory upstairs. And it isn’t just about dinner; the café is a chance for people to come together, play games and talk, with films regularly screened after the meal. To join in, just turn up for a 10-minute introduction – no long-term commitment is required.

But what about those who don’t make it to a shelter? On hand is Rise Founda­tion’s mainly expat volunteer crowd, which meets twice a month at kitchen event space Daheim Manufaktur (Dieffenbachstraße 68) to prepare and distribute food and winter supplies across the city. Here, the social aspect of volunteering is important. “Many homeless people are happy just to be seen and spoken to,” says Rise president Piyush Sardana. Check them out on Instagram – @risefoundationberlin – and register on Facebook to join.

A more established presence on the city’s streets is the Berliner Obdachlosenhilfe, which travels across the city with a van packed full with food and clothes. Every Wednesday and Saturday they set up their beer benches at Leopoldplatz, Alex and Kottbusser Tor, while on Sundays they head to Hansaplatz. As a volunteer, you’re free to join at any point, with preparation and cooking kicking off at their Wedding base (Lynarstraße 38) at 2pm – 3:30pm on Sundays – before the evening round leaves at 6pm. If time isn’t on your side, you can still help the homeless by ringing the Kältebus phone number (0178 523 5838) if you see people having a rough time on the streets. Good karma calls for it.

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Photo by Araí Moleri. Berliner Obdachlosenhilfe travels the city with a van packed full of food and clothes.

Be a friend!

Before spending January lamenting your own solitude, spare a thought for the people living in Berlin’s 280 homes for the elderly. Besides suffering from dementia and arthritis, many also face acute loneliness. “The age range is 80 to 90 plus, and often these people’s relatives live in other parts of the country and their spouses have passed away,” explains Klaus Schüler, volunteering coordinator at Unionhilfswerk, which runs 25 nursing homes in Berlin. They offer you the chance to be a companion to the residents, hearing their war stories (German skills permitting), playing board games and head­ing out for walks. To get involved, call them up (they speak English) and book an appointment for a briefing on how to talk to people with dementia, followed by a bit of paperwork for a police check. While you can start with a one-off session at a home near you, to make a big difference you are encouraged to visit regularly.

Another more physically active way to socialise is by joining Verein für Jugendhilfe’s sporting afternoons with special needs kids in Neukölln. There’s table tennis, Nordic walking, boccia and football, all done in mixed teams and supervised by a coordina­tor. If you’re looking for a serious challenge, you might want to join the VfJ Kickers (Wednesdays at the sports field on Bergi­usstraße 22, 4:30-6pm), who took home the gold at Germany’s 2018 Special Olympics. All dates are online and your time is greatly appreciated.

Not much of a people person? Don’t forget our four-legged friends in need of compan­ionship. Tierheim Berlin, in far-off Ahrens­felde (Hausvaterweg 39, at the end of S-Bahn line 7), is Europe’s largest animal shelter and a hotbed of fur, fluff and all-round cuteness (and a masterpiece of Brutalist architecture, too). The shelter welcomes dog walkers and bird watchers, but what it really needs right now is people to man its café and lead tours. After sending in a form, volunteers are asked to commit to weekly visits, though you can sign up for one-off help at fundraising events. But don’t forget: to pet or clean the cages of domesticated animals, you’ll need a tetanus vaccination. You weren’t expecting a cat café, were you?

Use your skills!

Play an instrument and have some time to teach? The Open Music School (Lenaustraße 3) is giving you the opportunity to share your skills and get on the road to redemption. Classes run Monday to Wednesday in the evenings and include guitar, drums, piano and bass, as well as music production and singing. Time to put your musical ego aside and get ready to play “Chopsticks”.

If you know how to seat, frame and chain worn-out bikes, head downstairs where you’ll find gritty workshop Rückenwind. Founded in 2015, this is a bike repair shop with a difference: its target group isn’t Berlin’s Ren­nrad hipsters, but refugees. Grab a spanner and join their 40-strong team of dedicated volunteers. Their Monday afternoon work­shops (4-8pm) are your perfect chance to apply some elbow grease and do your bit to help refugees get around on two wheels.

Or perhaps you’re something of a profes­sional in your career? Try your hand at teach­ing with After School Hustle, which since 2017 has been offering free skill-building workshops for teenagers trying to figure their lives out. Whether it’s journalism, architec­ture, filmmaking or costume design, this is your chance to use your creative expertise and give a five-hour weekend workshop to a class of kids. With on-hand translators and specialist equipment available, you’ll have everything you need. So get yourself signed up online and see if your self-esteem can withstand a room full of teens.