Berlin-Hermsdorf – Deutschland,  July 2023

 "I've always been aware of my family's history, but I've noticed it more recently and when I heard about the theme of the interview, families with migration histories in Germany, I felt concerned.” 

I met Nina, 26, and Annette, 93, at the latter's home in Berlin-Hermsdorf, about thirty minutes from the Brandenburg Gate. The Kaffee und Kuchen-table, which can be compared to the Tee-time, is laid out: a blue plastic-coated tablecloth with little white flowers, a coffee set with 5 plates, a cup and a saucer, also with flowers. In the middle, a chocolate cake with icing and chocolate chips - it's gluten-free. If you like talking about traditions and cultures, you've come to the right place. 

I've already met Nina at sports training sessions and parties. I don't know her very well, let alone her family, but I was made to feel very welcome. We ate cakes and drank coffee with Nina, her mother and her two grandparents. “To understand the family history, you have to go back a few centuries," Nina's mother tells me, to the 18th centuryAfter Catherine II of Russia came to power around 1792, her aim was to attract foreign farmers, including Germans, to the Russian Empire. "There was freedom of religion, exemption from military service and available land. Protestant and Catholic villages sprang up, depending on which part of Germany people had settled in, " explains Nina's grandmother Annette. The grandfather says a little louder:"On 14 March 1944, that's when we had to flee!" A few minutes later, Nina's mother and grandfather leave for the garden and Annette continues her story.

"When I was 26 (Nina's age today), I learnt the trade of dressmaking. I was very lucky to be able to do it. We'd been in Siberia, in Novosibirsk, for almost ten years. When my mother and I came here, I did housework, cleaned people's houses and did the washing. We weren't free at the time, we didn't have our passports or our papers and we had to report to the Commandant every month. For 25 years, we were not allowed to return home. We had to sign the agreement. I got married when I was 26. My husband came from a village not far from where we also came from, but we met in Siberia. We got married on 1 January 1955, which was the only day off we had. We didn't have any holidays."

Annette was born in 1930 in what is now Ukraine, then under the rule of the USSR. She grew up in a village called Helenental, which is now in the Odessa region. Annette and her family left their region in 1944 when the fighting on the Eastern Front intensified between the Wehrmacht and the Soviet Union. They walked as far as Budapest. Annette was 13 years old at the time. "Then we were deported to Poland by train. There we worked in the camp for nine months. In Poland, we only had to work, if you were lucky there was enough to eat. There was never any money. After that, we thought we were going home." She and her mother were nevertheless deported to the Urals by the Red Army. The Russians had expropriated them again and put them on the train. Annette says: " In 1947, when I was 17, I wanted to join my father and I rushed my mother through countless mud and fences to get to Novosibirsk. I was not afraid and I was young." 

When I hear Siberia, I quickly think of the northernmost part of Russia, but this town is in the south of Russia and Siberia, near the Kazakh border. "Her father was in the Wehrmacht, he was a prisoner of war,"Nina says. "They didn't ask whether you wanted to join the army or not," Annette adds as if to protect her long-dead father. "When we arrived in Siberia, my father had no place for us. There were four other men living with him in captivity. In the beginning, it was terrible."

Nina and Annette are sitting side by side, opposite me. Nina is wearing a white T-shirt and a simple gold necklace. Her long hair falls below her shoulders. Annette has short grey-white hair and a floral shirt. They look at each other more often during the conversation. Nina sometimes repeats questions or adds information to the stories her grandmother is telling.

Nina is 26 and lives in Berlin-Kreuzberg She starts a new job in August."I will be a manager in the online shop of a sustainable company from Scandinavia that sells food that would otherwise be thrown away. I'm looking forward to learning something new and have generally wanted to join a sustainable company for a while. This isn't the first time I've heard the stories from my grandma, but whenever I do, I think about how lucky I am. It's basically a privilege that we can learn what we want, work what we want, have freedom." Nina adds, hugging her grandma. 

"Is there anything that has particularly shaped you politically, socially or personally? "I ask as we hear confused conversations from the garden outside. ""The war of aggression in Ukraine has of course shaken us all, especially with our history. But in my generation right now there are so many things that make you politically aware. Just recently the war, before that three years of Corona. Overall, there was a feeling for a while that people were becoming more united. And now everything is becoming more patriotic, more nationalistic and more extreme - everyone is becoming selfish and trying to protect themselves - it just makes you afraid," Nina answers. Both women took Ukrainian refugees in at the beginning of the Russian war of aggression. Nina was with a 19-year-old student from Kyiv who had already fled Kharkiv when she was 14. They spoke to each other in English. A father and a mother with their adult daughter stayed with their grandparents and parents. They talked to each other in Russian. "Yes, I studied Russian for two years at school," says Annette, to explain her knowledge. The most formative moment for Annette was: "In 1972, the whole family came to Germany as returnees. We were officially recognised at that time. In 2022 it was 50 years ago, a celebration was planned, which unfortunately had to be cancelled." Annette says officially, as she was previously German with Russian citizenship. Today we speak of “Russlanddeutsche”. 

The coffee pot is almost empty. There are two slices of cake left. I think we've been talking for a while. But I've got one more question! "What do you associate with power?"I ask out loud. "With age, you lose power over everything anyway. You become dependent," antwortet Annette. replies Annette. Nina can't help but think of a situation that many people living in Berlin or the big cities are familiar with: "It's actually quite banal! I think of my tenancy and the fact that I had to leave the flat as a subtenant because my former flatmate was the main tenant and it became clear that it was better not to live together. But I think, for example, of the power struggles between the big rich states and the poorer states."says Nina, adding " and the ping-pong that the rich countries are playing, passing the buck, for example, on the climate crisis."