Andreas' personal revolution is not about himself: If you are in need, you are welcome.
Meet Andreas Tölke — lifestyle journalist. Picture glamour, picture glitz. Posh hotels, Michelin-stared restaurants. He travels the world, spends time with Sarah Jessica Parker, Frank Gehry, and Yoko One. 30 years of being close to lives lived in luxury, with a comfortable Berlin-based existence to match. He really cannot complain. But it’s the winter of 2015, and refugees have started to arrive in Germany in unprecedented numbers. In Berlin alone, it is 1,300 people every day. The political response is uncertain at first. Many end up homeless, sleeping rough in the city’s parks.
He observes the situation: How can this happen in a country as well-off as this one? Then Andreas makes a phone call, and when he hangs up, his life has changed forever. Meet Andreas Tölke — refugee “angel”. When he first opens his flat — on the night of that phone call — five refugees stay with him. He gives them towels and nice bathing products (freebie remnants of his journalist days) and makes them feel at home. Conversations begin. And Andreas thinks to himself: why don’t we just continue? Some stay for a few nights, others for weeks. At one point, 16 people slept across his apartment.
Half a year later, Andreas has hosted 400 refugees from all kinds of countries, and all kinds of cultures. He does not discriminate: If you are in need, you are welcome. Encouraged by what can be done, the journalist goes on to co-found an organization that will continue this inspired civic response on a larger scale. Be an Angel offers holistic care: supports the job search, helps with forms, accompanies to hearings, and deals with courts. Simply listen.
Andreas has a knack for bringing people together. They might have backgrounds in marketing, culture, or journalism, but they all share the wish to help with more than words, or even money: The secret to Be An Angel is that everyone gets stuck in. Combine that with an ever-growing professionalism (by now, the organization has an office, staff, an intern; 16 volunteers work permanently; there is a branch in Greece) and you have the recipe for success. Soon, an idea starts to emerge that is beautiful in its simplicity: a restaurant — run by refugees. “Kreuzberger Himmel” (Kreuzberg’s Heaven) opens in 2018. It now operates with 110 seats and, among its staff, four nations, six languages, and three religions.
“We open the door,” the philosophy runs. “But you have to go through it yourself.” And it’s working. Next to the life stories of current staff, the restaurant’s website tells of those that have moved on — working on a career in hospitality, attending school, moving through life in a different country with a new confidence.
By now, “Be an Angel” has guided more than 2,500 through the jungle of German bureaucracy; has organized places in nearly 70 flats across the country; has secured jobs in the IT sector for 45. Closed, temporarily, by the pandemic, “Kreuzberger Himmel” started cooking meals for those without a permanent home: 26,000 of them in February 2021 alone.
The German president may have presented Andreas with an Order of Merit, but the former journalist does not put himself in the limelight, the focus of attention, or the center of the picture. His personal revolution is not about himself, but about those in need. His idealism comes as a clear-headed realism, combined with a selfless, hard-to-tame drive.
The moment it is clear war has broken out, Andreas packs his bags. Hours later, he is on the ground in Moldavia, working with a team to evacuate fleeing Ukrainians who are stranded there. Within weeks, it’s more than 1,000. On buses, they make their way to a place where — they have every reason to hope — a few more “angels” await.
If you want to donate to Andreas initiative click here.
Written by Daniel Kramb