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Cooking together means learning from each other

The association „Über den Tellerrand“ shows how integration can succeed through common interests.
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by Kristin Frauenhoffer

Anyone who comes to a foreign country as a refugee has given up a lot: life at home, family, work, security. You are dependent on the help of the people in the respective host country. But this common image we have of refugees is often very one-sided. Because all these people carry a valuable treasure within them: their memories, their knowledge and their unique personalities.
If we succeed in looking behind the neediness of these people and instead discover what we can learn from them, then nothing will prevent us from a meeting at eye level. This is the self-image of the association „Über den Tellerrand“ (approximate english translation: Beyond the horizon), which creates spaces where people from different cultures can meet and exchange ideas.

„Über den Tellerrand“ started with a cookbook

The original idea for the association was born in 2013 at the Funpreneur Competition of the University of Berlin. This start-up competition gives students the opportunity to test their own business ideas. Four students came up with the idea of creating a cookbook filled with original recipes from native countries of refugees in Germany. To do so, they contacted refugee accommodations in Berlin and together with the residents cooked dishes from their homeland. It was very well received and many warm-hearted people were very happy to share their knowledge.

First comes the common interest: the conversation develops along the way

Kochen mit „Food Fellows“ – Um die Küche mit Migrationshintergrund kennenzulernen kocht der Ägypter Ahmed mit deutschen Gästen in Berlin-Schöneberg. (Foto: Über den Tellerrand e.V.)

They started noticing that this exchange at eye level did everyone good. Asylum seekers were no longer just „victims“ and the students were no longer „saviours“. On the contrary: The four young people learned a lot, not only about food, but also about the life, the past and the reasons for escape of their cooking partners. They found that getting to know each other in the context of common interests is particularly intensive, because it is easier to open up if the conversation develops more in passing. And if you have found common ground before. That reduces prejudices on the one hand and creates a feeling of closeness on the other.

This proximity then favours the development of lasting friendships. „I have often noticed that people at „Über den Tellerrand“ have gotten to know each other and are now friends. I am glad that we can make this possible“, says 25-year-old Yahda from Syria, for example. He has been involved with „Über den Tellerrand“ in Berlin for a year.

Other activities such as playing football, handicrafts or gardening have been added

Gemeinsames Musizieren stärkt das Wir-Gefühl. (Foto: Über den Tellerrand e.V.)

And so the idea of cooking together became the association „Über den Tellerrand“. Other activities have been added, for example playing football, handicrafts, gardening or making music. The headquarters of the association is the so-called „Kitchen Hub“ in Berlin Schöneberg. People with and without refugee experience meet here almost daily to learn from each other and to look „beyond their own noses“ together.

Getting to know each other is casual, because the joint activities connect and sometimes bridge moments of silence. In addition, the shared experience creates a strengthening „we-feeling“. Very often, the participants discover that there is more that unites them than what separates them. „What I recently learned is that Germans say ‚artichoke‘ just like us Arabs. It is exactly the same word. Anyway, I think we have more things in common than differences“, affirms Yahda from Syria.

„Kitchen on the Run“ – the mobile kitchen that connects cultures

Der umgebaute Schiffscontainer von Kitchen on the Run bietet ein Kennenlernen in gemütlicher Atmosphäre. (Foto: Hans Sauer Stiftung)

Since 2016 there is also the project „Kitchen on the run“. Almost every year, a team of „Über den Tellerrand“ activists travels across Germany and Europe in a shipping container converted into a mobile kitchen. They organise international cooking evenings at different locations. At the events, which of course are all about food, people from different backgrounds get to know each other in a cosy atmosphere, exchange favourite recipes or tell their personal stories. In this way, a positive, open-minded togetherness should be encouraged. In that way a positive, open-minded feeling of community is encouraged.

At the same time, the „Über den Tellerrand“ team network is expanding to new locations. The newly created local communities are then incorporated into the association’s so-called „satellite network“. They act as independent groups, but are integrated into the Germany-wide network and are actively supported by the Berlin office. The next container tour is planned for 2021.

„Über den Tellerrand“ Café in Munich: Refugees here are not only employees

Today, the association’s network consists of 40 satellites, i.e. locations throughout Germany outside the headquarters in Berlin. The example of Munich shows how active the satellites are. Here, refugees and locals have opened a café which they run professionally together. This is located on the premises of the Volkshochschule München and thus attracts a wide audience: from people with a refugee background who attend integration and language courses to native Munich residents who take a pottery course. Or the other way round!

The concept of the café remains true to the basic idea of the association: The refugees here are not only employees, but also co-creators and hosts. They can contribute their own ideas, prepare dishes from their home country and at the same time get to know those of their new home country. Or the other way round. Because a look beyond the horizon is not only enriching from a culinary point of view – we can all learn something new.

To find out more about the association´s work, please go to


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