Life In Berlin: Exploring Identity, Language, And Race With Polyglot

May 8, 2015


Amelia and Amanda are sisters. Amelia Umuhire is a filmmaker and the director of Polyglot. Amanda Mukasonga a.k.a. Babiche Papaya is a rapper, poet, and actress. They are fluent in German, English, French, and Kinyarwanda - Rwanda's principal language. They are polyglots.

In Amelia's words: "Every language has its own sphere. Those worlds, they just add up to each other, they don't take away the spaces."

For Amanda, language is the foundation of her art. As a poet, she always plays with words:

"For example if I see auszuhalten, aus-zu-halten, halten, having something, gripping in your hand, than halten as in stopping something."

Amelia and Amanda were born in Rwanda. They grew up in a small town in West Germany and moved to Berlin two years ago. This April they started the web series Polyglot. it explores the day to day lives of young people in Berlin. People who grew up with more than one culture, who speak several languages. Amelia says:

"There is this one image of Germany, like you have white people speaking German, if you look at the TV landscape for example. Black people only appear as nurses, or cooks. You don't get to know people, this big part of Germany and Berlin, because they are kind of marginalized in media."

Her web series Polyglot is fictional, but doesn't seem scripted. It comes across as true to life. In the first episode Amanda a.k.a. Babiche Papaya searches for an apartment in Berlin. It's titled "The Bewerbungsgespräch" - The Interview.

"It's like a thousand meetings of people in flats, where you want to live, or you don't want to live. Where you bend yourself in the talks, or where you really are yourself and feel at home and you don't get the flat. It's really a big part of Berlin, this whole casting part."

Amanda plays pretty much herself, launching into a poem during the interview.

"If I were in a TV show, normally as me a black woman, I wouldn't get to be this real, as this 3D, as deep as a character, you know."

Filmmaker Amelia Umuhire will introduce different polyglots as the series continues. And she keeps a close eye on the quality of her production:

"I think it's really important that it also looks good, that it's not an excuse, because what I didn't want with Polyglot is it to be like this affirmative action thing. That you look at it and you feel good, because you look at characters, you usually don't see, you know."

The characters in Polyglot are multi-layered, not only because of the languages they speak, also by their heritage. Identity plays a role, but it's not a point of conflict. This is important to the creators of Polyglot.