Avoiding paprika, Florians and tee trinken is impossible in Berlin – now they're on Instagram too. 
Photo: Berlin Ausländer Memes/Instagram

BerlinWhat do Anmeldung, döner kebabs and the eternal battle to master German grammar have in common? They’ve all brought people together during lockdown as the butt of jokes posted on Berlin Ausländer Memes – an Instagram page enthralling its fast-growing following of almost 79,000 with its witty and painfully accurate posts about the minutiae of life for foreigners in Berlin.

The page’s curators, 33-year-old Danni Diana from South Africa and 35-year-old Austrian Michael Aniser, take aim at anything and everything, from struggles at the Ausländerbehörde to Berlin’s surprising prevalence of cash-only establishments. They bonded over their shared interests in internet culture and in February, they stumbled upon an idea tapping into unchartered meme territory.

Danni recalls: “There was this viral Nancy Pelosi image of her tearing up Donald Trump's speech. I was like, ‘Oh, that's me whenever I get any kind of communication from TK [Technische Krankenkasse].’ I shared it with Michael and we thought: wow, nobody's really making any content around this, and it’s fertile territory for humour and for community building.”

That became the page’s first post – and eight months on its following is growing by around 10,000 a month.

The memes cover a range of relatable topics for foreigners living here, from the struggle of finding a habitable, affordable flat (with Anmeldung) to Germany’s obsession with all things paprika. But the duo say half their followers are actually Germans, who get to see an alternative view of their country through the page’s outsider perspective.

Danni says the recurring “Tee trinken” meme - which draws on the experience of feeling dismissed after being prescribed herbal tea by a doctor, even for a more serious ailment - is a good example of this.

“There's a lot of salty Germans who don't like the things we point out, but I think they read these memes in different ways because they lack the subjective experience to understand what they’re really about,” she says.

“For every German who is like that, I think there are 10 more who are like, ‘that's so true about us’, and really enjoy seeing these facets of their own culture being pointed out in that way.”

Memers Danni and Michael are staying safe from corona - but no-one in Berlin is safe from their wit.
Photo: Berlin Ausländer Memes

The pair’s own experiences as Berlin Ausländer have influenced the page’s content, which also includes memes submitted by followers. Even though as a native German speaker he considers himself a “half Ausländer”, Michael says he still found German bureaucracy “very complicated” when he first moved here.

Helping friends with their paperwork gave him insight into that process for non-native speakers: “I’ve had a lot of interactions with people like DJs and producers who move here,” he recalls. “I would go with them to the Ausländeramt or the job centre – now I can bring my knowledge to this project of how shitty those places usually are for people who are not from Germany.”

Coming from South Africa, Danni is passionate about Germany’s one-track official approach to language too. “There are communities who've been here for decades and their languages aren't recognised as official languages,” she explains. “Quite often when we speak about these issues the assumption is: ‘so you want everything in English? That’s so Anglocentric. And you expect the Amt people to learn every single language?’ Of course not, but that’s equally as unreasonable as expecting somebody to be fluent in three months just so they can get a flat and get health insurance and survive.”

It might sound serious for a page that started out joking about paperwork and Lieferando, but Danni and Michael have a vision for the page’s purpose. “We really see this as a community building project,” Danni says. “It’s successful if people are more tolerant to each other, more friendly, go a little bit gentler on themselves about the challenges they're experiencing, and know that they're not alone.”

In recent months, the page has posted memes addressing global issues, such as Black Lives Matter, and local debates, such as the recent Liebig34 eviction. “Humour is a very good vessel to address those topics, and to educate people in a fun way,” Michael says.

Danni agrees, saying another aim for the page was to stimulate discussion and burst privileged expat bubbles: “Berlin really talks the talk on diversity and inclusion, but the reality on the ground for a lot of people is not like that.”

“With BLM, we really wanted to educate people about the pressing issues or struggles on our doorstep – it’s not just happening in America or London. What does racism look like here? What do people of colour experience here?”

The page’s political posts frequently attract comments (normally from users who don’t follow the page) telling them to “stick to the jokes”. But the pair aren’t deterred by this – they often pin negative comments which have provoked interesting debates to the top of a post’s comment section to serve as a “learning opportunity”.

“Some people misinterpret the spirit of our page as being anti-German or anti-Berlin and just complaining about things. But I think it's the critics that are the real optimists, because we believe that things can and should be better,” Danni says.

“The first part of that is getting people talking and aware, and getting people to be more creative and solution-focused, rather than just accepting that this is their lot.”

Find more Hauptstadt humour by following @berlinauslandermemes on Instagram.