European Elections Special

“Living in Berlin will never be perfect”

Italians love pasta but working is not their favorite activity. True? Alessandro Cassigoli and Tania Masi made a movie about Italians in Berlin. To Julia Korbik they talked about why “La Deutsche Vita” doesn’t even try to avoid clichés.

The European: Signore Cassigoli, Signora Masi: Your documentary “La Deutsche Vita” starts quite gloomily with the mention of the typical “winter depression” Italians in Berlin are suffering from. Did it already get you this year?
Cassigoli: No, this winter was the greatest ever! But in general: Yes, the winter depression always gets me. We actually started our film project from there. We decided to always film in winter, because we like the contrast between the winter and the Italians going around and dealing with their troubles. The film opens with the title “La Deutsche Vita” and then you have this enormous grey sky.

Masi: In summer it’s easy to like Berlin – you have fun, everything’s pleasurable. But the winter really is the natural selection of people who can take it and who can’t. We chose to live in the city and therefore we really like it here. But for me one of the most difficult things to accept is the grey sky. This winter has been the most special one of my life in Berlin – and I’ve been here since 1998!

The European: In the movie you’re stating that the winter depression is the moment where you realize that you’re a migrant. What does that mean?
Cassigoli: I would call it the „seven year crisis“, because I’ve been living in Berlin for seven years now. At the beginning I thought: Maybe I’ll move back to Italy, maybe to another city. In the 7th year there suddenly is this moment where you realise: I’m not just moving around, I’ll probably live here. And then the confrontation starts.

The European: Where did the idea to make a movie about Italians living in Berlin come from?
Masi: Alessandro and I went to the same high school in Florence. And by chance we met again years later in Berlin. We were both making movies and we started to talk about all the Italians arriving here. We realised that there was some kind of movement going on and we wanted to take a picture of this moment. It’s interesting: 20 years ago the people who came to Berlin wanted to work in the industry, the gastronomy, in factories. The people who come here now actually have a PhD, an MA degree. They don’t just come for work, they come to improve the quality of their lives.

Cassigoli: We wanted to filter these things through our eyes by doing something strongly personal – and not an inquiry or an investigation from a sociological point of view.

“We’re always thinking about moving back”

The European: 20.000 Italians are officially living in Berlin, plus 10.000 more – what makes them the third biggest community here. The movie mentions a real “Berlin mania” in Italy. What’s so special about Berlin?
Cassigoli: It started about five years ago. I think because Berlin was something new. Everybody knows about Paris, about London. But Berlin was changing really fast. And in Italy all that was heard from Berlin were success stories. Of course there are also other stories – nothing is simply black and white.

The European: Even so, once you’re living in Germany, it sticks to you. You can’t let the country behind you. At least that’s what you’re saying in the movie.
Cassigoli: For me the normal life here is so much easier than in Italy.

Masi: You don’t have to think about certain things. In Italy you waste a lot of time thinking and planning. For example when to get a bus: You never know when the bus will be there. You have to leave earlier to get the bus. Here you can do a money transfer via Internet, in Italy most of the time you have to go to the bank personally. These things that take away quality time from your life are easier here. One click on bvg.de and you know when the next train is going to arrive.

The European: Despite the good life quality in Germany: Did you ever consider going back to Italy?
Masi: Of course! My friends are there, my family… We’re always thinking about moving back, but then we look at the flat prices and the taxes you have to pay. It’s a lot of taxes: as a freelancer I would have to work from January to July for free, to pay the taxes – that is to say, I would work for the State. And then from July to December I work for myself. So half of the year you’re working for the State alone. It’s way more intelligent to stay here in Berlin. But of course there’s also the emotional part which just wants us to be close to our families.

Cassigoli: We met so many older Italians who have been living here for 40 years. They told us that now they’re probably going back to Italy. There was this barber who, after 40 years in Germany, still thought about moving back. It shows that living in Berlin will never be perfect.

“A few clichés don’t hurt”

The European: The Italians in „La Deutsche Vita“ talk a lot about clichés and prejudices: How are the Italians, how are the Germans? At one point the “Italian double morality” is mentioned. How do we have to imagine this kind of morality?
Cassigoli: It’s about the connection with the church. Of course it’s a cliché – not all Italians are like that. Basically it means that you do the worst things ever and then you just have to confess them at church and everything’s fine. You’re “clean”.

Masi: Taking responsibility for your own actions is not really an Italian characteristic. In Germany you always have to take responsibility. I had to learn that myself too.

The European: Talking about clichés – is it really that simple: Italians are loud and passionate, whereas Germans are cool and never show their emotions? Here and there your movie also relies on these kind of clichés.
Masi: Well, we didn’t try to avoid anything. We just tried to take the things the people were giving to us.

Cassigoli: In the end, the film is a comedy, it’s supposed to be funny. In this context, a few clichés don’t hurt.

The European: Would you say there is something typically Italian about you?
Masi: When I’m on the phone I always make sure I can move my other hand – now I have headphones so that I can move both of my hands. When I’m walking in the streets like this, speaking on the telephone and moving my hands, the people start laughing because they know right away: I’m Italian.

The European: Which clichés about Italians are you always confronted with?
Cassigoli: I don’t particularly like coffee. I don’t drink coffee and every German invites me for coffee, saying: I know a place where the Espresso is great! But I eat pasta every day. That’s the thing about clichés: Sometimes they’re true, sometimes not.

The European: You claim that the Germans do love the Italians, but they don’t respect them.
Cassigoli: Well, you could say that the Germans love Italy, they love Italian food. But then, when it’s about “the Italians”, a lot of people think: they don’t work, they’re in the Mafia. It’s a cliché with a certain grain of truth. Every Italian who arrives here is amazed by how the Germans work, how they organise things. But on a personal level, we would probably not say: we love the Germans.

Masi: One of the characters in our film says: “Germany is effort, work and _amore_”. It was our aim to not take us too seriously. We wanted to laugh about ourselves too.

“The problem in Italy is not one politician or one party – but the system”

The European: One important reason for many Italians to come to Germany is the tense economic situation in Italy. „At home, there is nothing do to but being unemployed“ the movie teaches us. Now Matteo Renzi has taken over Italy’s political leadership. Are things starting to look up?
Masi: Renzi actually comes from our hometown, Firenze (Florence). Now Florence is not called Firenze anymore, but Fi_renzi_. (laughs) I certainly enjoy the fact that things are moving, but after having lived in Italy for so many years you can tell that in the end nothing changes much. The problem in Italy is not one politician or one party. The problem really is the huge system which is stuck – it doesn’t move. It’s a caste system. The political class in Italy has so much power and so much money that it’s hard to change it. It’s just too far away from the citizens. One person won’t therefore be able to change much.

The European: You mentioned the caste system. The movie “La grande bellezza” recently won the European Film Award and even the Oscar. How realistic is the depiction of the Italian upper class?
Masi: You have to see that Rome is divided into two worlds. The world of the people who have a house on the rooftop and the world of the people who don’t. And the film portraits that parallel world which is completely out of reality. If you have a friend who invites you to one of the famous rooftop-parties, you enter a special society!

Cassigoli: In the film there is this one scene where the main character, elegantly dressed and nonchalant, crosses the river; he passes three other men who use really bad words while talking – suddenly the two worlds intersect. These two worlds really exist – this is Rome.

The European: One last question: When will the Italian Bruschetta establish itself as a fast food substitute to Döner and Co?
Cassigoli: Interesting question!

Masi: Bruschetta as a substitute to Currywurst? The guy selling Bruschetta at the market in “La Deutsche Vita”, Mauro, has become well-known at the Fusion Festival. He was selling Bruschetta there in the past years and he had so many customers! Which shows: Bruschetta can actually make you famous.

“La Deutsche Vita” will be in cinemas from March 6 – 19.

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