Recently in the kitchen at Bernstein …
… Cooking and of course having fun and a good time together – this is our life in the agency’s kitchen, and we love it. Working together with a community called Über den Tellerrand (Outside the Box), we decided to take this idea one step further. So for a year now we’ve been cooking food together with people who’ve come to our country from all over the world. This has led to some fabulous relationships and also a cookery book with many delicious recipes and exciting stories. If you’re beginning to develop a taste for it, do please join us at the Bernstein Kitchen. Let’s have a great meal.

Amara, now 35, came to Germany from Ivory Coast in 2004. He works, among other things, as an interpreter at the Versöhnungskirche Shelter, run by the German Protestant Home Mission in Sebaldsbrück. His aim is to bring together different cultures on a culinary level.

Mojeeb fled from Afghanistan to Germany in January 2016, together with his parents and two siblings. The family eventually found a new home in Bremen. His favourite German food is black bread.

Tomás, who is Argentinian, landed in Frankfurt in August 2010, to find out more about his grandfather’s native country. At the time fruit was a non-starter for him. Instead, he preferred kebabs. Being a creative all-rounder, he now works for Bernstein and is looking forward to the birth of his second child.

Safwan came to Bremen with his brother in November 2014. He met his girlfriend Dagmara while he was staying at the hostel in Überseestadt. Safwan now works for the German Protestant Home Mission, and he takes great pleasure in food.

Amara Comara came to Germany from Ivory Coast in 2004 and has since spent most of his time in Bremen. His parents and sisters still live in Ivory Coast, while his brother now lives in Hanover. Amara is often in touch with his family and visits them regularly. The 35-year-old has been working for the Inner Mission in Sebaldsbrück at the emergency shelter run by the church there. He works there as a translator and takes care of any issues so that the residents can find their way in German society more easily.

What were your early days like in Germany?

Thankfully, I came to Germany in the summer when it wasn’t so cold. At first, I felt very alone, and the foreign language and culture were the toughest obstacles for me to overcome.

What do you particularly like about Germany?

Everything’s so green here with so many trees, plants and lawns. Then there’s the feeling of safety that you can just walk around here without having to feel scared. I also like the healthcare system: you pay your contributions, you can go to the doctor when you’re ill and you receive good treatment wherever you go.

What is your favourite food in Germany?

I don’t really have a favourite. I’ve already tried lots of things: gratins, potatoes and potato salad, bratwurst, red cabbage and kale. I liked everything, but I haven’t found my favourite yet.

What traditions do you have in your home country in terms of food?

Food is very important to us. If there’s something to celebrate, then we really make the most of it to cook lots of different foods in large quantities. For example, plantains with grilled fish. There’s fruit and vegetables in almost every dish. I really like avocados and coconuts.

What is your biggest wish for the future?

I wish for a more balanced world – both in terms of politics and in other areas. Everyone should be able to live in peace and have enough to eat.

What are you proud of?

My family. My parents and my sisters.

What do you aim for in life?

I like what I do, but I would like to be able to organise projects later and bring raw materials from Africa to Germany for them to be processed here. By doing that, I might be able to bring the different cultures closer together. Cocoa and coffee are already popular exports to Germany, but there are also other, less well-known products.

Cook the rice according to the instructions on the packet, along with some curry powder. Peel and finely chop the onions. Peel and finely dice the carrots. Wash the fish in cold water, dry it with paper towels and cut into 2 cm pieces. Simmer the onions, garlic and carrots with tomato puree and a little oil for 20 minutes until the carrots are soft, then add the peanut butter (diluted first with 500 ml water).

Fry the fish pieces in a little oil in another frying pan. Season the sauce and fish well with salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper.

Serves 4:
  • 250 ml peanut butter (possibly
    with a high peanut content)
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 medium-sized onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 250 g pollack fillet
  • 500 ml water
  • 400 g rice
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • Curry powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Freshly ground salt and pepper

Knead together the flour, fresh yeast, salt, lukewarm water and rapeseed oil to make a dough. Cover the dough and allow to rise for 60 minutes at room temperature.

Peel the potatoes and boil in salted water. Then drain the potatoes and mash them. Slice the spring onions and stir them into the mashed potatoes. Add 2 tsp pepper and 1/2 tsp turmeric to the potato mixture.

Divide the dough into eight or nine pieces. Roll each piece of dough out into a circle about 20 to 25 cm across. Spoon a little of the filling onto half of the dough circle, fold together and press the edges together using a fork.

Heat plenty of oil in a large frying pan and fry the filled parcels individually. Turn the parcels several times while frying.

Serves 4:
  • 550 g flour
  • 1 cube fresh yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 250 ml water, lukewarm
  • 5 tbsp rapeseed oil

For the filling:
  • 9 potatoes
  • 10 spring onions
  • 2 tsp ground pepper
  • 600 ml rapeseed oil for frying
  • ½ tsp turmeric

Mojeeb’s father Majid is a pharmacist. He had a shop in Kabul and the family had their own house and car. But precisely because of these things, they feared hold-ups and kidnappings – which had already happened to too many of their friends and acquaintances. Majid Hashimi, his wife Zottra and their children Mojeeb, Zamzam (14) and Zahid (7) sold everything and fled Afghanistan for Germany in January 2016. The family got their own flat in Bremen in autumn 2016 and have started making a new home for themselves in Germany.

What was your first experience in Germany?

Just inside the border, I asked where the nearest station was. Although I couldn’t speak any German yet, I felt so much rejection in people’s reactions to me – they just didn’t want us here. The more German I learned, the more open people became.

What do you particularly like about Germany?

The fact that it is safe for my brother, my sister and I to go to school. My sister and I get the tram every morning from Tenever to Walle. We don’t mind the long journey – we’re just glad we don’t have to be afraid.

What is your favourite food in Germany?

For me, it’s dark rye bread, which I take with me in my lunch box to school every day. I also like chicken breast, potato salad and chips.

What traditions do you have in Afghanistan in terms of food?

At the end of the week, my uncles, aunts, cousins and friends would all get together at our house and we would cook simple dishes like bolani. The main thing was that we were all together. We are so happy that we now have our own flat and can invite my aunt and cousins over, who live in Hamburg. I really look forward to that!

What is your biggest wish for the future?

We really hope that we can stay in Germany. I just can’t imagine having to go back to Kabul and living in fear again. (Editorial supplement: His current residence permit is valid for the next three years.)

What are you proud of?

I am proud of my family and myself for having made it here and that we now all live together in Bremen.

What do you aim for in life?

I really want to work for the police later in life, just like my cousin in Hamburg. Working to help ensure people’s safety would be my way of giving something back to Germany.

Tomás de Vries arrived at Frankfurt Airport in August 2010. ‘Let’s see how long my money can last’ was his motto. He simply wanted to get to know the country that had been home to his grandfather, who fled to Argentina from East Frisia in 1935. Tomás didn’t speak any German, but the graphic designer submitted his portfolio as an application and ended up with a job at a Hamburg agency. He learned German out and about in his neighbourhood and met his wife Rieke when couch-surfing in Bremen. Today, Tomás works for Bernstein as a creative all-rounder, as he likes to call himself. He lives with his wife Rieke and daughter Malena in Bremen, and the couple is looking forward to the birth of their second child.

What were your early days like in Germany?

I was absolutely convinced that there wouldn’t be any fruit in Germany and I ceremoniously got my last banana out of my rucksack at Frankfurt Airport and ate it. Right after that, I was of course surprised at how many different types of fruit there were – some of them I didn’t even know!

What do you particularly like about Germany?

There’s a very strong sense of community. People don’t just think of themselves but also think for others. That’s reflected in German politics, too: the government is made up of a coalition, which is something that would be unthinkable in Argentina.

What is your favourite food in Germany?

Doner kebab.

What traditions do you have in your home country in terms of food?

We always eat a hot meal at night in Argentina, but just a salad or sandwich for lunch. I’m not keen on the light evening meal that people have in Germany. My wife and I cook together every night and take the time to talk and eat together – that’s very important to us.

What is your biggest wish for the future?

To continue to be happy in the future with my family. My parents, brothers and sisters still live in Buenos Aires – we visit each other from time to time – but of course it would be great if they could live here, too. My brother is planning on coming to Germany once he’s finished studying.

What are you proud of?

That’s a tough one. Maybe ‘proud’ isn’t the right word but I’m really happy that people here like me how I am. I often have the feeling that there is a give and take here – and I like that.

What do you aim for in life?

I absolutely want to stay here in Germany. We will be having our second child soon, and I would like to be able to buy a house here for my family.

Put flour and lard in a bowl, knead together well and add one ladleful of stock at a time until it forms a stiff mixture. Then cut out circles of dough measuring about 15 cm for the empanadas.

Meat filling

Finely dice the peppers and onion, heat the lard in a frying pan. Fry the minced beef and stir in the peppers and onion. When the onions are starting to turn golden, season well with stock, salt, oregano, caraway and paprika. Leave to cool for 12 hours. Chop the hard-boiled eggs and add to the olives. Spoon a little filling onto each half of the empanada dough. Paint the edges with cold water and seal by folding the two halves together. Press the edge together with a fork. Brush the empanadas with egg yolk and bake at 250°C for approx. 20 minutes until golden brown.

Makes 20:
  • 750 g flour
  • 250 g lard
  • Vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp salt
For the filling:
  • 500 g beef mince
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 red onions
  • 1 tbsp lard
  • 1 tbsp paprika powder (noble sweet)
  • 1 tsp salt, oregano, caraway
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • ½ cup olives
  • 1 ladleful stock
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Slice the aubergines lengthways, place them on a baking tray with the cut surface facing up and bake them in a preheated oven for around 30 minutes until they are soft and dark brown. Meanwhile, puree together the garlic, basil and chillies. Use a spoon to remove the baked aubergine flesh from the skins and, using a mixer or a stick blender, mix with the garlic, basil and chillies; then spoon into a bowl. Finally, stir in the tahini, lemon juice and salt, garnish with mint and drizzle with olive oil.

Fried aubergines (side dish)

Slice aubergines into rounds around 0.5 cm thick. Beat egg white until foamy and mix with a little cornflour, salt, pepper and herbs. Heat oil in a frying pan, dip the aubergine slices in the egg white mixture first, then dip in the herb mixture and fry for a few minutes until they are golden brown. Drain the fried aubergines in a sieve or on kitchen paper.

Serves 4:
  • 4 aubergines
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 10 g basil
  • 2 green chillies
  • 60 g tahini
  • 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 sprig mint
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Safwan Karkutli came to Bremen with his brother in November 2014, where the temporary housing unit in Überseestadt had just opened its doors. That’s where Safwan met his girlfriend, Dagmara. Safwan did translations for the other residents from Arabic into English, while Dagmara then translated from English into German. In February 2015, Safwan moved into his own flat and today he works for the Inner Mission as a mentor and cultural adviser. Dagmara and Safwan now live together and their daughter, Natalie, was born in July 2016.

What was your first experience in Germany?

I met Dagmara on my second day in Bremen. She worked for the Inner Mission in the temporary housing unit. We liked each other straight away and found out that my birthday is on 8 December and hers is the next day. We arranged to meet up for a walk for our birthdays – and then we fell in love!

What do you particularly like about Germany?

Until 2011, we lived in safety in Syria – and then everything changed. I am so thankful that we can live in safety here in Germany, and that there are laws here that are respected. That also gives you freedom. As long as people don’t break the law, they are free to say and do what they please.

What is your favourite food in Germany?

We ate beef roulades, potatoes and red cabbage in a restaurant once, and I really liked that! But I don’t like bread rolls at all.

What traditions do you have in Syria in terms of food?

For me, food means joy. I like thinking about food and what I want to cook. I like almost all Syrian dishes – we like to use lots of oil and garlic. My favourite dishes are ones that include aubergines. Sometimes I can’t remember the recipe or the ingredients – then I call my mum in Damascus and ask her.

What is your biggest wish for the future?

I just hope that Dagmara, our daughter and I can continue to live a completely normal, peaceful life in safety.

What are you proud of?

I am proud of overcoming my nightmares and that I can almost sleep normally again. In the early days, I thought that I would never be able to forget the sound of bombs falling at night. But I managed it. It’s also thanks to Dagmara that I can think about completely normal things again. I am so happy that we have found each other.

What do you aim for in life?

I studied civil engineering in Damascus and then worked as an engineer. Today, I’m at the Inner Mission and I enjoy working there. But I do hope that I will one day be able to work as a civil engineer in Germany.