Online Newsletter Nr. 196
Philippine Community
"In the beginning was the Word..."
Portrait sketch by Vincent Valiente


    Fr. Jun de Ocampo, SVD
    Chaplain, Philippine Community Berlin
    December 31, 2016

At the Threshold of World History:
1986 was the year that marked the foundation of the Philippine Community in Berlin. It was also the same year that saw the victory of the Filipino people against a 20-year running dictatorial and repressive regime in the Philippines, popularly known as the “EDSA People’s Power Revolution”. The economic plight in the Philippines led many Filipinos to go abroad to richer countries. Germany became one of the favorite destinations, where incoming Filipinos were given a rather favorable treatment and very promising incentives. The early Filipinos who came to Berlin found themselves in a uniquely different situation.

Although they felt very welcome and secure, they had a direct experience of what it means to live in a city divided by the walls of the Cold War. But even in the midst of these circumstances, Filipinos in Berlin, thanks to the initiative of certain Filipinas, gathered together that would eventually lead to the formation of the present Philippine Community Berlin. In the year 1989, three years after its official foundation, the Wall of Berlin fell.

The Fall of the Wall in Berlin was often referred to as “Die Wende”, meaning the turning point. It was not only the turning point that led to the unification of Berlin, not only but also to the unification of West and East Germany. It also led to the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Such were the historical contexts in which the Filipinos in Berlin through these 30 years found themselves. They were right at the threshold of great events that impacted the world.

The First Filipino in Berlin
The history of Filipinos in Germany goes back to the 19th century when our national hero Dr. José Rizal lived in Germany for some time. We Filipinos in Berlin could be very proud to say that it is here in Berlin where he finished writing his famous novel Noli Me Tangere.

  “The youth is the hope of our future.“

Dr. José Rizal
National Hero of the Philippines and
the first Filipino Berliner
As a matter of fact the writing of this book was done in different parts of Europe. There, he began writing it in Madrid in 1884 and finished about one-half of it there. After completing his studies in the Central University Madrid, Rizal went to Paris, in 1885. There he continued writing the novel, finishing one half of the second half. He finished the last fourth of the novel in Germany. And it is here in Berlin that Rizal made the final revisions of the manuscript before printing. The year was 1886, which, interestingly, was exactly a centenary before the foundation of the Philippine Community Berlin.

1886 was a bleak winter for Dr. Jose Rizal because he had the book ready for printing, but he was flat broke. No money had arrived from his family in Calamba. He was hungry, sick and despondent in a foreign city. The diamond ring which his sister gave him was in the pawnshop. He was only able to have Noli Me Tangere printed when Rizal’s friend from Bulacan arrive to loan him the funds needed to publish the book. It is of greatest significance for us to know the circumstances surrounding this book. Having lived and studied in Europe during the late 19th century, Rizal must have been inspired by the revolutionary intellectual movement of Enlightenment across Europe. He wrote this novel that depicted the miseries of the Filipino people under the lash of Spanish tyrants.

The Filipinos who arrived earlier to Germany came in different waves. The first known wave were the nurses – “die Krankenschwestern vom Philippinen”. It was the late 1960’s. Those were the times incidentally when hospitals in Germany experienced an acute need for nurses and medical personnel. The first Filipino nurses were forthwith highly appreciated in their services. There is this distinctive Filipino amor which made the Germans highly value the Filipino nurses. A news clipping told of a German official who visited the hospitals; he was so impressed that he stated, “Wenn ich mal krank werde, dann möchte ich’s hier sein.” When I get sick, I would like to be treated here.

That’s how the Filipinos have become very appealing to the Germans that they wanted Filipinas to come to Germany not only as nurses, but also to become their wives. I believe that this was what constituted the next wave of Filipinos to Germany – Filipinas getting married to Germans.

Random interviews with members of the Philippine Community say it was around the early 1970’s when Filipinos arrived in Berlin. They arived as nurses and medical workers, as students on exchange study program, and for various other purposes, such as to attend conferences.

Editorial cartoon by Vincent Valiente

Building Bridges and Breaking Walls:
The Filipinos who came to Berlin arrived when the Wall that divided Berlin between East and West was for years strictly enforced. Paradoxically, even before the Wall was broken, the Filipinos were building bridges. If walls meant to divide and bridges connect, then that was exactly what some started to do – building bridges that connect.

There was this longing to be together with kababayans and have common activities like what they used to do back home, such as Block Rosary, Santacruzan, and celebrating Holy Mass among themselves. They needed to connect with the right people.

The first phase of this bridge building was a series of connections started by two lay Filipinas (Ms. Irene Lanuevo and Ms. Eva Pickert) to a Filipino priest in Rome (Fr. Victor Lanuevo) to a German priest (Fr. Bernhard van Nahmen) to a Filipina cloistered nun (Sis. Felicissima SSpS,AP) to another German priest (Fr. Bernhard Lammerding, SVD), who was then the parish priest of Heilig Geist Parish in Bayernallee. This is the bridge that paved the path to the place everybody calls “Bayernallee”. It is here where the Philippine Community Berlin found a home away from home. I would like to call this the “Bridge Bayernallee”.

Fr. Lammerding, it was said, was very welcoming and accommodating, not only to these two Filipinas, Irene and Eva, but eventually to all Filipinos who come to Bayernallee. He afforded time even on Sundays to celebrate Mass with them regularly. He allowed them to use a room among the parish facilities where they could gather after the Mass and other events and to share time and food together.

The second phase of Bridge Bayernallee connecting from Irene and Eva was bridging to many other more Filipinas to come to Bayernallee. When Filipino visitors to Berlin arrive, Mrs. Lourdes “Lulu“ and her German husband Gerhard Müller would bring them to Bayernallee to meet their kababayans. And so the Filipino Community grew not only in numbers but also expanded its activities from religious to become the Filipino center for social and cultural events.

Bridge Bayernallee
Bridge Bayernallee like all bridge buildings was not a work and success of one or a few people only. It was a collaboration of many who were willing to sacrifice their time and efforts together for a cause greater than theirs, the result of which benefited many others who will outlive the builders themselves. This Zusammenarbeit of different people led to a signature campaign requesting for a Filipino Chaplain from the Philippines. With the cooperation of the Steyler Missionare to send Fr. Generoso Bacareza, SVD eventually led to the foundation of the Philippine Community Berlin in Bayernallee in the year 1986. And the rest is history. . . .

From its past historical setting, the Philippine Community Berlin acquired its distinctive characteristics. For as our national hero Jose Rizal would say, “Ang taong di marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay di makakaabot sa paruroonan.” (Anyone who doesn't know how to look back to one's roots will not reach one's destination.)

The main force that drove Filipino migration was to leave the country’s poverty to seek for a better future. Not everyone of us might have Rizal’s capacity to accomplish great heroic acts to fight oppression like writing a book, but there is a little hero within each Filipino when one sends some money or goodies back home. Because of these remittances the Philippine Government calls Filipino migrants, the “modern-day heroes”. Philippine National Bank states that the year 2015 saw the highest remittance so far from Overseas Filipinos to 689M US$.

Also Bridge Bayernallee through the years has generously contributed collectively to this, especially in times of catastrophes. Parallel to the history of the Wall of Berlin, there were also struggles within the community over divisive forces that threatened to break the unity of the whole community, or the unity of certain groups. It had also its own experience of Cold War when particular members or even friends do not talk and relate with each other anymore for a long period of time due to differences, misunderstandings and unmet expectations.

Every effort by individuals or groups to help reconcile or at least lead members to mutual tolerance and forbearance was a way to break the walls.
Since thirty years, Bridge Bayernalle remains to be the major Treffpunkt of Filipinos in Berlin. The Fall of the Wall can be shown by the fact that even if they could not see eye to eye, they would still pray, sing, and worship the same God together.

Each time all the members of the Pastoral Team meet together to discuss and decide as one team, they work collectively in the service and for the good of the community. As such, the team can overcome the unreasonable demands of some individuals which may cause misunderstanding.

Is That All There Is, After Thirty Years?
The 30 years could be like this old song by Peggy Lee, entitled, “Is That All There Is?” As a little girl her house was on fire, and as she watches her house go down in flames she asks, “Is That All There Is?” She always wanted to go to the circus and when she had her chance, it was not all that she imagined and said to herself, “Is That All There Is to a Circus?” And when she falls in love, gets married and had children, and again, in a sense of disillusionment asks, “Is That All There Is to Life?”

Thirty years after, most of those who started the Philippine Community in Bayernallee are still active in many community events till today.

Unfortunately, three of the first Filipino Chaplains passed away already, Fr. Gene Bacareza, Fr. Erasio Flores and Fr. Adonis Narcelles. These beloved priests zealously served and passed over their legacy, from which the community members and the successor priests are benefitting from. Like Peggy Lee, the members of the community fell in love, got married and had children, and grandchildren. In my opinion, many Filipinos in Berlin experience life much more than what many Filipinos could have imagined had they simply stayed and lived in the Philippines. I strongly believe, that many Filipinos in Germany were able to achieve what most Pinoys are dreaming of - to go abroad, to find a better life, and "to help my family back home". With most of the original members, now aged between 60 and 70 years old (of course, some are actually much older than they look), we ask the same question, "Is that all there is?“

Die Wende - The Turning Point
An Afro-Amercan mystic theologian, Howard Thurman once wrote: “The hard thing when you get old is to keep your horizons open. The first part of your life everything is in front of you, all your potentials and promises. But over the years, you make decisions, you carve yourself into a given shape. Then the challenge is to discover the green growing edge.“

At the point of aging, there is more counting down the years left than counting up opportunities and possibilities ahead. At the end of the day, all one can say is "we have done our best, beyond which we can't do anything more." But then there is that gnawing question within, “Is that all there is?” The best option to take is to pass the torch on to the next generation, and in doing so, find the green growing edge.

The Philippine Community Berlin started through the process of “building bridges” – people connecting with each other that led to Bayernallee. It is through this same process that the community grew in number and progressed all these 30 years. It is also by building bridges that this community will move on beyond itself.

This is the great turning point of the Philippine Community Berlin as it reaches its 30th year: to bridge over the Christian faith and our Catholic traditions. This became the reason for its existence until the next generation. The Filipino young generation here in Berlin is the green growing edge – the hope and the future. Jose Rizal was right when he said, “The youth is the hope of the Fatherland.” Similarly the youth is the hope of the Philippine Community Berlin.

From the Church‘s perspective, St. Pope John Paul II looks at all Filipino Migrants with a loftier purpose why Filipinos left their fatherland. They left the Philippines not only out of their economic plight to enrich themselves and their country, but also as Christians and members of the Church. Out of the richness of their faith, they enrich the local churches here in Germany. In his address to the Filipinos on May 1987 he told them, “You are called to be the renewed and youthful witnesses of that same faith that you received from Europe.”

Philippine Community Berlin, bridge on.

Photo by Ces Seidel