News Archives

Church helps, comforts, kids in poor Berlin neighborhood

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only video still

The Meetingpoint program provides care for children in the poor neighborhood surrounding the Evangelisch-methodistiche Kirche, Salemgemeinde, in Berlin.
Dec. 11, 2006

A UMNS Feature
By Lilla Marigza*

On a playground in Berlin, about 20 children jump rope and take turns on the swings. The youngsters of varying ages are a noticeably close-knit group, and volunteers explain that the kids spend more time with one another than with their own families at home.

"People realized there were many children living the whole day just on the playground. Their parents make them leave the house in the morning and don't let them in again until early evening," says Ann Christin Puchta, who runs an outreach called Meetingpoint sponsored by the United Methodist church across the street.

The Kindertreff Delbrücke program was founded in 2001 by the Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche, Salemgemeinde, to reach out to kids in the poor neighborhoods surrounding the church on Delbrücke Street in the Berlin-Neukölln area. "Kindertreff" translated means "meetingpoint." The congregation noticed the children and brought jump ropes, toys and cookies to the playground.

The daily program now offers craft activities, nutritious snacks and homework help to children from poor families who don't get much support at home.

"There are many families where the parents don't care for the children and the children rise up feeling that they are not wanted, that nobody cares for them. There are some families that say to their teenage children, 'I hope you can be 18 so I can throw you out of the house,'" Puchta says.

What the children often want most is for someone to hold them and talk to them, she says. "Many of the children have a deep lack of love, interest, comfort ... and we try (to see) that they get it here."

Some here are German Christians, but a large number are the children of Turkish Muslim immigrants. Their families live in this neighborhood, where unemployment is almost 30 percent.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner
"At Kindertreff Delbrücke, the UMC-congregation in Berlin -- Neukölln invites children of all nations, many of them of Muslim families, to experience God's love and to make steps to integration in the German society," says Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, who leads the church in Germany.

"More than 100 children are involved in the program," she continues. "The Methodists are bridge-builders in Berlin-Neukölln, where the gaps between cultures and faith groups are significant. I am very thankful for the ministry in the Salemchurch"

Problems at home

Government benefits provide food assistance, but sometimes the children go hungry. Volunteers cut up apples and vegetables so the kids will have something to eat during the day when they are shut out of their homes.

At home, the children are often exposed to abuse. Puchta explains that the children sometimes have a hard time adjusting to the rules at Meetingpoint. "They are used to violence in their life. They learn that if you have a problem, you beat each other up and that's OK. ... We have a rule here: no violence -- no beating, biting, no pushing. And it's hard for them to learn this, but they learn and they like it."

Working with kids hardened by a tough life at home and on the streets is not easy. The volunteer staff has to set boundaries -- and sometimes must ask children to leave the program -- but it is always done out of love.

"For the first time in their lives, they are wanted, they always get another chance," Puchta says. "They may get thrown out, but they will get another chance. That's really new for them. "

One of the Meetingpoint "regulars" is a 1-year-old girl. The parents send the baby out with her two sisters during the day. Neither sister is old enough to care for the baby all the time, so the job falls to a 10-year-old girl from the neighborhood who enjoys playing mama to the toddler. Meetingpoint coordinators say this is what the program is about, fostering caring relationships between people of different cultures.

Building trust, understanding

Immigrants are a growing and not always welcome population in Germany. A common stereotype, which links the religion of Islam to terrorism, has led to distrust between predominantly Muslim immigrants and native Germans. Meetingpoint is an opportunity to nurture understanding among these youngsters and their families.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only video still

At this neighborhood playground in Berlin, unattended children are cared for by members of the nearby Evangelisch-methodistiche Kirche.
Volunteers created a game where the children read verses out loud and then guess whether they came from the Quran or the Bible. Children realize some verses could have come from either book, and the similarities surprise them.

In another activity, children see artifacts that might be found in either a church or a mosque. The kids have made drawings of stained-glass church windows and mosaics such as one might see in a mosque.

Holidays are a further opportunity for education. "The Muslim children for the first time really understood why we are celebrating Christmas, not that we do it but why we do it," Puchta says. "And for the Christian children it was interesting to learn something about Ramadan, for example."

Recently, women in the neighborhood prepared traditional Turkish dishes. Others cooked German meals to share. Simple activities like these are building bridges of understanding between cultures.

The relationships have been a learning experience for the children and for church members. "What we have learned is that a lot of the immigrants who have come here have a very hard life. ... We learn about this through the children," explains Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche pastor Holger Sieweck. "When we get to know the persons and their problems in their lives, we can't help helping them as a church."

A changing society

Like many urban churches, the 100-year-old Berlin congregation has seen its mission change with the neighborhood. Longtime church members have moved away, and many of the city's new residents are immigrants. Society as a whole is changing as birth rates drop among native Germans. By 2020, it is estimated that 80 percent of kids who are grade-school age in Berlin will be the children of immigrants, mostly Muslim.

Dwindling attendance has meant less financial support for the church, but Siewick says the congregation must continue to reach out to the community to grow and to serve people regardless of their religious affiliations. "It is our mission as a church to help these people, even if it is hard for the church to do this work."

Meetingpoint receives some funding from a partnership with churches in the United States, but there is not enough money for a full-time staff. The program relies on volunteers from the church congregation. Even Puchta, who is the full-time director of the program, is paid for only 14 hours a week.

Puchta says her mother worries and often asks her why she stays, when she could easily pursue a better job. "I can't leave the children alone," she explains. "For some of these children, we are their only chance at a better life."

She takes odd jobs to pay her bills and says helping the children at Meetingpoint is more important than having a comfortable life for herself. These children of many different cultures from broken homes have become like a family, and Puchta wants to keep them together.

"I'll struggle for as long as possible (so) that I can stay here to work with them and help them ... and love them."

*Marigza is a freelance producer in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or

Related Articles

Refugees, immigrants bring new life to churches

Two churchwide ethnic caucuses call for immigration reform

Bishop calls for immigration reform

Additional Immigration Articles


Germany Episcopal Area

United Methodist Church, Berlin

UMCOR Immigration and Refugees


Country Profile: Germany