Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican in Germany? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of Jamaicans.com. Today in “Jamaicans to the World”, welcome Steffani Seven and Kirk Henry, Jamaicans who are living in Germany. Welcome, guys. How are you?
Steffani: I’m good, thank you. Thanks for having us.
Xavier: So, I’m going to start out with this question, Steffani.
Xavier: Where in Jamaica are you from?
Steffani: I’m from Portmore, St. Catherine. Portmore fi sure. You haven’t heard that yet. Yeah.
Xavier: So guess what? I’m from Portmore
Kirk: And guess what? I’m from Portmore
Steffani: What! Are you kidding me?
Xavier: I kid you not.
Steffani: What part of Portmore?
Xavier: So I’m from Edgewater and later, I moved to Independent City.
Steffani: Wow. I’m from Braeton Phase one, exact address is 85 Dolphin Avenue, Braeton, St. Catherine.
Xavier: So Kirk, you want to tell her where you’re from in Portmore?
Kirk: [Inaudible 1:19]
Xavier: So we have Portmore representing.
Steffani: Wow. That’s cool.
Xavier: Kirk, which school are you representing?
Kirk: Well, JC the college. So I went to Bridgeport primary, did the exam, the common entrance exam, and then went to Jamaica College, basically, because my big [inaudible 1:46] was there too.
Xavier: Well, we both know Bridgeport. So folks, let me just add this in there, Kirk is my cousin and so you may see that dynamic as we walk through this story today. Let me ask you all these questions starting with Steffani, how did you end up in Germany? Tell us your story of how you ended up in Germany.
Steffani: Okay. So it started in my mind. Everything starts in your mind, right. In 2010, the Disney Scouting team for the Lion King musical, they came to do auditions in Jamaica but years before that, over 10 years before that, I thought, oh, they would come back to Jamaica, I would love to do that. Once in a while, I mean, separate and apart of that I would watch reggae shows happening in Europe and once I saw, I forgot what the name of the reggae show was and I thought, oh, I would love to go to Germany. Just a thought, but then I left it. I just left it alone. So when I did the audition, which I almost missed the audition, because I didn’t know about it but by the way, a friend told me about it. Roberta Daley, I won’t forget her and another friend who helped me with the whole process, Benton Morris, thank you. If you ever met to hear this, I really appreciate you.
So I did the audition in 2010 and I was successful. I was three out of hundreds who were there on the last level of the audition and they said, oh, you did great and we would love to have you and this could happen, you know, in a month’s time, maybe three months, seven months, even up to a year. So I thought, oh, wow. Well, I never heard from them and then after a year passed, I just forgot about the whole thing. Now, three years after out of the blue, like, I get this call. I almost didn’t even get the call. I have to tell you, I have to give you another episode of this, but the phone that I had, I had lost it. So my ex-husband now, my husband at the time, his number was the second number and his phone wasn’t working either. So it was this day they called, he was about to take the battery out. He kept switching batteries to I don’t know, he had some techniques to make this phone work. So he’s about to take the battery out, it doesn’t ring but a light comes up on the phone. That never happens before and he’s like oh, then anyway, he sees it’s a call and he answers and it was for me and they’re like, hey, Steffani, we’d love to have you here in Germany to be a part of our Lion King Musical and yeah, we’ve been trying to contact you.
Steffani: And is this email address the correct one and when she read it to me, Sonia is her name; it was incorrect. Somehow they had a wrong letter also, which I don’t know how.
Xavier: So everything that was to go wrong went practically wrong, but they got you on the phone.
Steffani: Pon di (on the) half dead phone, but that makes me remember that, you know, in Jamaica we seh (say), wah a fi yuh, a fi yuh (what is for you, is for you). Nothing cyah (can’t) stop it, a jus’ suh (it’s just so).
Steffani: And two months after that, two and a half months after that I was in Germany.
Xavier: Nice. Nice. So how long have you been there?
Steffani: Well, this is my eighth year and originally it was supposed to be 15 months, but I’m here.
Xavier: Kirk, we come to you. Tell us the story of how you got to Germany?
Kirk: Well, I’ve been coming here a lot as a tourist, I had friends here, and I had always had the intention of doing some kind of business and Germany presented an opportunity in that it was inexpensive. There was a development going on in the city of Berlin, which is where I live and there was a real movement to develop the city and to add, you know, businesses and especially something like what I was planning, which was a Jamaican spot, right now it’s Rosa Caleta, the restaurant that I own there when 2009. So yeah, I mean, I came here basically to do some business, but the timing of it was at that point, 2009. I was like, Berlin was really ready for something new and different and I came here and my friend, Troy, who I had known for years, we became business partners and opened up this restaurant.
Xavier: Yeah. You both are doing some amazing things there. I know Kirk, you have had the restaurant. How many years you’ve had the restaurant there?
Kirk: 12 years.
Xavier: Wow. We’re going to dive into that a little bit because I want to hear thoughts on food, but I know, Stephanie, you are doing some amazing things also. Not only were you in The Lion King, but you’re the author, and you’re about to publish a book. I know I’m putting you on the spot because you kind of give me a sneak preview, but mek di people dem see di book (make the people see the book) that you working on.
Steffani: I’m so proud of it. You know what? I promised myself in years that I would write little storybooks for my children because I’m always telling them stories when I’m putting them to bed, or they just love my stories. I would keep telling them, you know, you should paint little pictures of the stories, mommy tells you and you should write them, you know. Last year was it, just before the pandemic started, I decided I didn’t want to be in musical theater for so long. I did it already for like seven years. I mean, on and off, but it’s very time consuming. It takes a lot of energy. I would work six days a week and on the weekend. Double shows, double shows on Saturday, double shows on Sunday. You get a day off on a Monday, then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and that was the whole cycle and I just began to think I need to put more energy in myself, I need to invest in myself and as an artist which I’m not only a performing artist but I also trained as a visual artist. After high school, I went to the Edna Manley College of the visual and performing arts. Big up unu (big up your self) self Edna Manley peoples and that’s where I majored in goldsmithing, jewelry and of course, every person has to do a preliminary year of experimenting with the different aspects of art like painting or graphics and textiles and ceramics, so I decided jewelry designing.
Xavier: Okay, and I can see an artwork behind you, that’s yours?
Steffani: Yes. Actually, it’s a part of this project I have started and the name of the project is “Keep on moving.” That’s the name of the…
Xavier: The book.
Steffani: The books. It’s a combination of all the aspects of arts that I’m good. I’m good at Visual Arts, I’m good at Performing Arts.
Steffani: I’m joining everything, my dance, I also trained… I went back to the Edna Manley College again after I left to train in dance theater and production, so it’s the whole thing. I did acting and music and I just really loved that school.
Steffani: That’s like a place I would go and just sit under that big shady tree and just sit and I’ll be fine.
Xavier: So Kirk, you all took a risk there in terms of… And well, Stephanie, I know we’re going to be hearing more about the book. I mean, we’ve talked about, you know, when the launch and so on. So folks, watch out, watch out for this because it’s coming.
Steffani: It’s not just the book, it’s the whole combinations. So I’m getting my videos of my songs, I write songs.
Steffani: And I produce my own songs. So it’s my songs, my books, my [inaudible 10:45], everything.
Xavier: And folks, let me tell you, she has a beautiful voice. A few minutes ago, one of my daughters was celebrating her birthday and she sang her happy birthday. So, beautiful, beautiful voice.
Steffani: Thank you.
Xavier: So Kirk, I want to jump over to you and talk a little bit about that risk y’all took, you know, opening a Jamaican fusion restaurant there in Berlin. I mean, what was it like? In a synopsis, you know, some of the hoops you probably had to jump through as a foreigner, an expat coming there to Germany and then, you know, were you worried that, hey, the food is a little spicy, or the food is a little different? Are people going to enjoy the food? I know I said a lot there but give us a little synopsis of it.
Kirk: Opening the restaurant itself wasn’t as hard as I had imagined or even been told. People told me then that, you know, dealing with the authorities here, everything is very strict, first of all, and you have to comply with the, you know, certain, just in terms of if there’s one, giving an example, the place I found, the space I found, the doorway was literally one centimeter short of the required regulation to have a wheelchair and basically, it was a big problem. I thought one centimeter, but it was a big problem. However, the lady at the office was really super kind, which was unexpected, we would have known that German [inaudible 12:38]…
Xavier: You give har (her) some jerk chicken?
Kirk: [Inaudible 12:42] Oh, actually, she just took a liking to me or my situation, which was that you know, just for this one thing, it could jeopardize opening the place and giving me the license to open. She said to me, actually, she didn’t say; she wrote it on a paper and she said, this is what you need to do and actually this was in my very bad German and basically I had to make it work and I made it work. It was actually amazing how it all came together because it was a challenge and my friends told me… Well, actually, it just speaks to you and how you manage things because basically, it could have been, like, impossible.
Steffani: Yeah. I know this in Germany, they’re very, like, strict, there is no leeway. You know, Jamaica we can go back door, you know, and we’re more flexible. None a dat nuh (of that don’t) happen here.
Xavier: There is the term and I’m not trying to be stereotypical. Forgive me, my German friends, but there is the German machine and I think I mentioned this when we were discussing before we started the recording that, you know, my first experience with Germany I almost got deported and because again, you know, I didn’t realize I had a one-entry visa on my Jamaican passport, but that’s another story for itself. It all worked out. I did get to stay, and it’s all fun and good.
Steffani: You know what? I didn’t get to tell you about my first experience coming to Germany. Though, you know, it’s a long flight; I get to the Dusseldorf Airport. So now, I was late and I was supposed to connect from Dusseldorf to Hamburg, so everybody now has to get a new ticket. So I had my pulley and a little bag on top, and then it couldn’t fit into the space where I had to get a ticket. So I left it to the corner, and I just could remember my mom saying, doh leave yuh bag enuh (don’t leave your bag) and doh keep all a yuh money in one place (don’t keep all of your money in one place).
Xavier: [Inaudible 14:51]
Steffani: I kid you not. Many people might not believe this story, cah me nuh tink even inna Jamaica this would never happen (because I don’t think even in Jamaica this would never happen). So my bag is there, not even far from me and I was on a slant because, you know, I’m they’re looking, writing, waiting. So by the time the next time me guh so (the next time I went like this), me only hear some footsteps a go [hitting the desk] (I only heard some footsteps like this) and then the police start chasing this guy. This was happening so fast me frighten (I was frightened), I just started to cry. I’m telling you. They were gone with my bag. I had money in it, right, but what was most precious to me in that bag was I had a little iPod where I would listen to music, but I had all the photos of my children in it and that was all I had of them with me and I was like, no my kids.
I didn’t care about anything else, and guess what? I’m now asking them if the police inside could help me and they’re like, oh, sorry. This is another German thing. Sorry, you have to go to the police station outside. I’m like, but this police here, and I’m like, but didn’t you see who took it? And they’re like, oh, we’re not allowed to use the camera to prove anything at the moment and I’m like.
Xavier: So why have cameras?
Steffani: But anyway, they use it when they need to. I had to go out, the police station wasn’t far away and there was this lovely German couple and they were so sorry for me there, like, here, here’s some food and they give me $20 euro. I was just there crying because I just wanted my mommy and my daddy. I’m like, what a welcome to Germany?
Xavier: Oh my gosh. Oh my God.
Steffani: But they found my bag and I got back my iPod and I still have my kids’ pictures when they were smaller.
Xavier: So, this kind of leads me to one of the questions I have on here, and you kind of talked a little bit about it, Steffani. Kirk, if you can jump in here, you know, what are the people like? What are the Germans you have encountered? Like, in you’ve been there 12 years and Steffani, I’ll come to you after, you know, you’ve been here eight years, what are the Germans been like?
Kirk: Well, I live in Berlin, first of all, and it’s quite an exception in terms of German culture because it’s very open and open-minded, very easy to arrive here and start living. Back in those days, the language was a bit of a problem, because there were less people speaking English and of course, I started a German class, which is a difficult language. So it was a little hard even though I spoke all these other languages, it still was a little hard to get to a level of proficiency with German. So in the meantime, people were open in this city and made efforts, you know, with language and everything, which, at the time I went to college, I actually did grad school in France, it didn’t happen like that. If that didn’t speak French, dog would a nyam me supper (dog would have eaten my supper). [Inaudible 18:12] I had more fortune with being able to communicate at least, and the thing about…
Xavier: Here’s where I’m going, you know, in terms of temperament, and again, I don’t want to be stereotypical, but, you know, are the people warm? Are the people, you know, Jamaican people, you know how we are. We’ll mek fren’ (make friends) really quickly if we like you, if we spirit tek yuh (take you).
Steffani: It’s completely different here.
Xavier: If we spirit tek yuh (take you), you know, hey, yeah, come, yeah, we good (we’re good), right. I know for some people, and again, I don’t want to stereotype. I heard you know, from a few folks I’ve spoken to who are in Europe, they typically say, you know, it takes a while for them to warm up and then when they do this, you know you’re in. So they’ll say, you know, they take you this place, and you know you’re in or they say this, and then you know you’re in so, you know, yeah. What are they? Is there warmth? Does it takes a little while? What is it? You know, talk to me about that.
Kirk: Well, in terms of temperament? Well, what I want to say is that, you know, like in all of Northern Europe and all of these countries, it does take a while. Even when you go to ATM, one has a different reception to foreigners and to people. Even if you come from Munich, it’s a different reception, you know, but at the same time, you’re right, people warm up. However, the thing about the Germans that I didn’t talk about is that the reputation of being very straightforward, very direct, and actually almost with blinders on. They have a plan. They’re very good planners and this is it; the plan is the plan, if you deviate from the plan, or if anything else causes the plan to go awry, dog nyam yuh supper (dog eat your supper)
Xavier: Steffani, what do you have to say about the people and your encounter there?
Steffani: I’ve had many positive encounters, because I believe that the energy you put forward, you will get it back and it might not be all the time but yeah, people warm up. So if it’s someone you have to work with, like a colleague or so, maybe at the first encounter, they may be a bit closed off but with our Jamaican spirit, and you just keep going and you’re happy, we have a whole heap of sunshine, and you’re bubbly, they want that too and sometimes they’re just a bit shy, but if you look on it on the outside, it look cold fi true (for true).
Xavier: Let me ask you this. So I’m going to go down a route here kind of a little off the script, but I’ve been doing this lately. I’m asking you, Steffani, this one because you’re a woman, Jamaican woman, you’re in entertainment space there so people are seeing you, you’re upfront, you know. Have you been awkwardly or has any of these men tried to pick you up?
Steffani: Well, yes, but they’re not like Jamaicans. The Germans here are not so blatant like the Jamaican men. Jamaican men will be like, yow, sexy girl, me love how yuh shape enuh. Me wah fi do dis an’ dat an’ wid yuh (hey, sexy girl, I love how you shape. I want to do this and that and that with you). No, they’re more cautious. They want to do nice things for you, they will invite you to do something that has to do with work and then when you realize, oh, this person doesn’t kind of interest you. So they won’t come straightforward. I’ve never had that experience, you know, it’s a bit calmer on that side.
Xavier: All right. So ladies, some advice there, you know, it’s not going to be direct. It’s not going to be like, bwoy, me love yuh like cook food (boy, I love you like cook food).
Steffani: You know what? I think a lot of people either from Jamaica or the Caribbean, and I have other friends who are from the Caribbean, you know, or people from other cultures who are used to this very peppery kind of exchange, they probably will miss that because you probably think nobody interested in you, if you want somebody to be interested in you. I hear a lot of girlfriends say, nobody here, and it’s not that they’re not attractive. It’s just that the German men just don’t, from my experience, which I don’t think I have a lot of experience with that. I have most of my life here has been in the theater, like years.
Xavier: Well, I just figured, you know, you’re kind of up front so you know, you may have, you know, people tend to see that person on the stage and so, but you also mentioned something, and Kirk, I’ll come to you in a minute. You also mentioned earlier kids, in terms of the incident at the airport, and your kids and so on. So are your kids there with you in Germany?
Steffani: Yes. My children are here.
Xavier: And how are they adjusting?
Steffani: In the third month of them being here, they were speaking German. It still taking me a long time to get the language fluently. So they speak better German than I do. They are helping me, they’re teaching me. They love it here. They do love Germany. I make sure every year that they still go home, you know, they get that groundedness to also see their father and to see other family members and you know, still connect to our roots. That’s so important.
Steffani: On the other hand, they have experienced situations in school and on the street, where people have made racist comments. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens, but you know seh (that) as a Jamaican Mother, as calm as I am, and as loving as I am, the dragon come out. I had to go to the school and I demanded that this stops and they had to create a project around and teach children how not to say this, because I was insistent. I wasn’t going to be paying money to send my kids to school, in this international school, and then they don’t want to go to school because they’re scared of what the children teasing them about their hair and they were younger at that time. Now they’re very confident about the color of their skin, their hair texture and really put energy into them to accept themselves and they have to actually see me as a mother do that and they’re now starting in themselves.
Xavier: Good. You have had any experience in terms of, you know, racism and so on?
Kirk: I mean, you have prejudice everywhere.
Kirk: Like in Berlin, like I said before, people are more accepting of the other and what you will find is that, of course, there’s a stereotype. The first encounter, or the immediate view is one thing, but once there’s some sort of exchange conversation, once they take the time to look at, you know, how you’re dressed and who you are, then things might change anyway.
Kirk: And then has a live and let live culture in this city that doesn’t even exist in the rest of Germany, and actually in fewer places in the world, as a matter of fact.
Kirk: But you do encounter that thing, even it’s whatever kind of right prejudice, you know, racism, or, you know, whatever it is, but at the same time, the acceptance quotient is actually quite great. Yeah.
Xavier: I see.
Steffani: Yeah. I have to agree. When I visit Berlin, I love to visit Berlin. I would never live there because it’s a bit fast for me. I like that Hamburg is very quiet and I need that. I love the serenity that Hamburg gives, you know, and the nature and the water and the forest. I love that. In Berlin, when I need that buzz, it’s kind of like a drink of espresso and then you’re good again. I know I have a friend living in Berlin. So it’s nice to visit them.
Xavier: Visit sometimes. Good, good.
Kirk: [Inaudible 26:59] I mean…
Steffani: I’ve never heard of it, and you know what? Every time I went, like the first time I was in Berlin I was like I need a Jamaican restaurant. I found one, but it wasn’t yours. I have nothing else to say.
Xavier: You have to visit…
Steffani: I’m coming, I’m coming to your restaurant.
Xavier: I visited Rosa Caleta and so I know I’m talking from a biased position but yeah the food, you know yeah, dem have dem ting (they have their thing). Dem ting a go good (their thing is going good). Yeah. Everything will sell off.
Steffani: I’m coming because I miss Jamaican food and of course when I miss it, there’s a street called Steindam in the half area. You know, it’s not the street that a lot of, you know, posh people would want to go but I love it. It really grounds me. When you go you’ll see fruits and vegetables line out in on the trays and I have my little pull bag and I buy yam. They have yam.
Xavier: Oh, yam. What type of yam?
Steffani: Not yellow yam. White yam.
Xavier: Probably white yam.
Steffani: Yes, but it’s delicious. I buy okras all the time, almost every week. Plantains.
Steffani: Yes. Mangoes. You get better mangoes there than in the supermarket. If you buy mango at the supermarket, yuh jus’ wah cry (you just want to cry). It look red and pretty and every time me a try even smell it, no smell, nut’n (nothing). But yeah, I can get some foods that remind me of home and that’s what I do to keep that balance of missing home.
Kirk: [Inaudible 28:40]
Xavier: Let me ask you this. Well, go ahead because I was going to ask you, you run a restaurant so you’re always looking for Jamaican food. You have to, you know, the ingredients and all of that stuff, how you manage in Berlin?
Kirk: Well, twofold. I do find some things, you have your sources. A lot of Asian shops and you have African shops that run by African folks for that community and there’s a crossover, but I also import some stuff. I import from the UK. I import from Jamaica, because in order to get pimento for example, Jamaican pimento, where are you going to get it? Nowhere around here. They have some pimento but the flavors are very different to what we know. Something like Betapac curry, that has to come from England or Jamaica and this we have to use that to make a good curry goat or a good curry chicken Jamaican style. So there’s importation, it’s a combination of things and I really find the right sources. Holland, for example, peppers, because we have our fire sauce, the homemade sauce that we have in the restaurant is very popular. You have to bring the pepper from Holland. So we’re not necessarily getting Scotch bonnet, but you get you know, Madame Cheney, you get different strains of pepper that have flavor and the heat factor. So you have to import, you have to combine the whole thing. Even like Ackee which we use, that’s an importation setup, you know.
Xavier: Well, my mouth watering just staring at all of the stuff you have there. I’m going to stay on food for a minute here. You know, we talk about Jamaican food, but let’s talk a little bit about German food. Is there something that you enjoy? And if you said Xavier, you know, you’re coming back. I’ve been there a couple of times, but you’re coming to Germany or one of our viewers coming to Germany, try this German food, what would it be? And I’m going to start with you Steffani.
Steffani: [Sigh] let me start out like that. To be honest, I don’t even know how to categorize German food. I have never been into a German restaurant and most of the people here don’t even recommend it. Now, the closest thing to a German dish I had, which this is a funny story, right. There’s something called Sauerkraut. That’s like a fermented cabbage. When I was pregnant with my last child, I had tasted Sauerkraut before but I never really liked it, but I just had this craving. I just needed Sauerkraut and some salt pork, just this taste I had in my mouth and I just wanted to have it.
Xavier: So stick a pin there, is this last child born in Germany?
Xavier: But that’s why you had the taste.
Steffani: His grandmother is German.
Steffani: So coming to her now…
Xavier: So continue, I’m so sorry I interrupted.
Steffani: No, no, no. It’s okay. So I asked my husband, he asked his mom, like Steffani is feeling for this and she’s like, what? How does she even know about this? Have she ever had it before? No, I had no experience on it but I just had to have it and she had to explain where he could go and get the Kassler and how to prepare it and three days straight I had that Sauerkraut and Kassler. It was so good. Strange, it must be the baby.
Xavier: So-wah-kowt and Kasa…
Steffani: No, Sau-uh-krowt.
Xavier: Klowt. So Kirk, what would you recommend are saying would be something a German food?
Kirk: Two things, you know, I’m a Trenton man. So guess what? I came to Germany, which is the land of pork and everything…
Xavier: Okay. I’m glad you explained that because some people don’t know what Trenton is. Trenton is pork.
Kirk: I mean, Germany really is the land of pork. I mean, you know, in Berlin, you have a lot of vegan, vegetarian, non-meat eaters, but as a culture, pork is a very big ingredient here. They have a thing called Schweinshaxe. It’s pork knuckle basically, and one of the things coming here, you know, as a Jamaican you’re so accustomed to… and I love my food well seasoned and it doesn’t have to be crazy spicy, as in spicy hot, but I want seasoning and outer package with just salt is not cutting it. However, they have a technique with this Schweinshaxe, I mean, there’s certain things that they do that technique wise and I mean, as somebody in the food business, I’ve paid attention. I see what’s happening and they’ve mastered the culinary technique with this pork knuckle. I’m not sure how it’s prepared, but it’s slow cook, and it’s nice and it’s really one of my favorite dishes here. When I go out here to any German place, instead of Schnitzel, I looked at that, and then of course, Apple strudel. Apple strudel which is… I’m not sure, I think we used to have that in Jamaica too yuh nuh (you know), sugar and spice, and all these places used have this Apple strudel, which is basically a apple cake with some cream on top. Those are my things that really, really, really are staple.
Steffani: Here in Hamburg, they have many restaurants but not necessarily Germany. You have the Turkish, you have the Ghanian restaurant. I know of one, really nice fish, oh gosh, that’s yummy and, of course, the Chinese, the Asians, the Indians. So I love…
Xavier: There’s a diversity of food.
Steffani: I was about to also include that later on but since you mention it, we need a Jamaican restaurant in Hamburg.
Xavier: Kirk seh call me. He’ll work on it, he’ll work on that.
Steffani: We need one. There used to be one years ago, I heard, but there’s none and I also thought, oh, maybe I need to start something but I don’t really want to do this kind of business really, but just to have, you know, because I like to have friends around. So what I do for the moment, I will cook and have friends and go outside in the garden and eat and stuff, but we need a restaurant. Kirk, that your call.
Xavier: All right, Kirk, we need yuh fi get pon di case deh, Kirk (we need you to get on the case, Kirk). So I’m going to ask about when people meet you and they hear that you are Jamaican, you know, give me an experience you have had, a reaction, you know, when they hear that you are Jamaican. I’m going to start with you, Kirk. We’ve all had that experience, maybe that one experience where we’ll always remember when we told someone abroad, we’re Jamaican, what happens?
Kirk: I didn’t know, you know. I thought of this question. To be really honest, I’ve been abroad suh long (so long) I can’t even think of one particular thing. Of course, you have the typical, you know, the smokes and the beach and the thing and I don’t even smoke, but as a Jamaican one of the things though that happens to me here is that you always try to do one last thing and end up being late and in Germany, that is a no, no. I’ve always tried to squeeze in something and if I’ve learned one thing is just leaving that one last thing you’re trying to squeeze in, and get there on time because even in Berlin time is not so strict like in other places, but still, you know, you just can’t be just late and in our business to, you know, when a German books the restaurant, for example, you know, they’re booking out the place or even just a regular reservation, the reservation is at 7 pm, at quarter to seven, you know, they’re there and you have get that down, because, you know, especially when we’re full on all that, you know, it creates complications.
Xavier: I see.
Kirk: That you have to know living here.
Xavier: Steffani, I’m going to let you answer that, but before you say that, when I came to Germany, my first time in Germany I remember the experience of going to a restaurant there and I sat in the restaurant, I ate and I was waiting for the bill and I’m just there waiting and, you know, typically you know everywhere else they see finish eat, the bill comes right away and I’m sitting there waiting, waiting, waiting for the bill, you know, nothing come and I literally had to get up and tell them, okay, I’m, you know, I’m ready to go maybe half an hour later. I was working for a consulting company and I told the German consultant, he said, listen, you know, in some cultures, western cultures, I think he was saying that y’all will push three things in for the night: dinner, movie, dancing and he said to me, here in Germany, you know, the one thing you do is the event. Dinner is the evening’s event, that’s it and he said, you know, you don’t need anything else. So they’re not going to rush you, it’s an insult for them to rush me and out of the restaurant and I found that very interesting. It’s something that I always, you know, remember from visiting Germany and it was Berlin. So you made a point of trying to squeeze as many things in and I remember him saying, we Germans don’t try and squeeze, we enjoy the moment. That’s what he mentioned to me. So Steffani, you’re saying, you know when people meet and I’m sorry I went off on a story there but when you meet…
Steffani: No. It’s nice to hear yours [inaudible 38:08]. Yeah.
Xavier: So when folks learn that you are Jamaican, and again, you’ve been on the stage, you’re out there, I’m sure you have gotten some interesting reactions.
Steffani: Well, first of all, in my workspace, of course, you have to first introduce yourself, you know. By my second day in Germany, I was already at work. I slept the night when I got here, then the next day I was at work, we introduced ourselves but as time went on, for the new colleagues that I met that were performing or were rehearsing, some of them actually thought I was from here with a German parent and an African parent from some African country and yeah. To many I had to explain I am Jamaican and they were, oh, and then they would see my hair and like, oh and then they would go on to Bob Marley and Marijuana, and bad words that they have learned. They know it better than me.
Xavier: So, let me ask… I’m sorry, I’m going to jump in for a minute. Did anybody, you know, try to touch your hair? You mentioned your hair. Did anyone try and touch your hair?
Steffani: Actually, yes, but I didn’t take offense to it even though I know that is something they should not do because for me your hair is so personal, you know. Here in Germany, there’s culture over the years where coming back from slavery, you know, the black man is looked upon as an object. So that was the experience I had where like, oh, nice, and then that’s something that they wouldn’t expect to happen but not all the time I responded, you know, because I try to not have conflict when I don’t need to but…
Xavier: And I understand what you’re saying because, you know, you’re trying to because, you know, there’s a few people I talk to, and they’ll say to me, they don’t know what they don’t know.
Xavier: So it’s almost like, you know, folks who have been exposed to a certain thing and know that this is not right will know that it’s not right, but for someone who is curious…
Xavier: More curious. You may be offended by the curiosity, but it’s just curiosity versus them wanting to offend you.
Steffani: I don’t think they want to offend, but they’re not aware that this is not allowed and that’s because… Even there is…We have a zoo here in Hamburg and years ago. I think it’s a Hagenbeck zoo. I’m not sure if I have the name, right, but they once had black people there in cages as a part of the exhibition. So imagine from that coming to know as a black person, oh, they want to touch and it’s curiosity, because I remember when I was a little girl, and I first probably saw an Indian lady. I thought, wow, that’s different and I just wanted to touch it, you know. So from that perspective, I don’t fire back as long as it’s not done in an offensive way and some actually asked me. They’re really just curious and they’re like can I please touch your hair, and I’m like, sure. If I feel like it’s an energy that I want in my space, you know. For my children, my sons, they’re a bit feisty. On many occasions, I’m with them and they’re like oh, [intelligible 43:10] and they’re like. They don’t talk.
Xavier: They give that look that seh (said) no you not going there. So I want to move on to another topic, which is the language and we touched on this a little bit in regards to the language itself. How difficult was it? When did it click for you? I mean, was there, you know, year two, year three, I’m kind of there or, you know? I know Kirk, as I said. Kirk and I are cousins, so we go way back. He’s a language man and he was just mentioning this, you know, this was challenging. Kirk probably speaks about eight languages. I don’t know if I’m exaggerating, but he speaks quite a few languages. How many?
Kirk: Four. You know, English, French, Spanish and German.
Xavier: Four? Okay, can I just be the cousin that boasts and just always say eight? Just between you and I and the viewers, he speaks eight languages. Did you include patios? You included patois in the four, right?
Kirk: There’s patois and there are others.
Xavier: Okay, it’s five. All right, officially five. All right, but my question is, what year did you kind of say, hey, I think I am there? And I want to start with you, Kirk. You know, what year did you say, you know what, I think I’m there. I think I’m comfortable in the language.
Kirk: It’s still happening, but I’m comfortable because one business-wise, you always have anything to do with functionaries here, as in any government office, anything, you’re only allowed to speak German. If you don’t speak German, bring a German with you or bring someone who speaks German with you, and in that sense, I had to learn real fast. I mean, that incident I spoke about earlier, the woman said, oh, for the tiles, and I mistook the word for flies because it’s fliesen. German, the word for tile is fliesen and I was like flies and something, and I really pulled up all of my language skills from anywhere and everywhere. Eventually, you know, I made it work, but like I said, you know, it takes time with German, because even though there are similarities to English and even to French, the structure of the language and the grammar are so foreign to all the other languages I speak. Yeah, it’s also about if you are immersed to the point where like, let’s say, you’re somewhere like Dresden or somewhere, you know, where there aren’t that many English speakers, the chance to learn faster. I think it took me like four years to get it even though I started German class the second week. So when I moved here, the second week living here, I was in a German course but actually, I think after four years is when I was, I think I was watching TV more and watching English shows with German subtitles or German shows with English subtitles and that sort of thing really helps. It pushes you much further than trying to just take pick something up out on the road.
Xavier: All right. Steffani, when did you feel comfortable? Eight years there, when did you start, say, well, I think I’m comfortable?
Steffani: You know what? I am not yet comfortable, to be honest.
Steffani: It’s not fluent. I understand mostly everything, but when I need to formulate my sentences. I know my grammar is not completely correct, but the people understand me, but I like to completely get it like the ins and out, the grammar, everything. So since I also came here, I’ve been doing tons of German courses while I was working and that drove me crazy, like, an intensive course for like months. Plus, that’s five hours for the day, right? I come home, cook, wash, shop for my children, and gone to work for hours in the night, then the cycle just went on. I just had to take a break, take a big break.
Xavier: All right.
Steffani: Like you said, Kirk, when you’re in an environment where you’re forced to speak it, it becomes easier. Now in the theater most of my colleagues or either from South Africa, who of course, they speak in their own languages to each other, but when they communicate with me, it’s in English. My colleagues from London, it’s English and my Caribbean friends, it’s English. So I had to actually force myself to ask the German colleagues, please don’t speak to me in English. You know, I figured out after three years and I’m like, I’m not progressing the way I want because the thing is, the German colleagues want to learn English and most people…
Xavier: I see.
Steffani: You understand?
Xavier: Yes, you have it going a couple of ways.
Steffani: Yes, so most of my time was really speaking English. I didn’t have time to go out meeting other people. So most of what I’ve learned is on my own, I’m still learning [intelligible 48:15][Speaking German].
Xavier: You know, it’s funny. What Kirk is saying and what you’re saying it’s interesting, because yes if you’re forced to, you will have to. I remember that visit when I went, again, working there 10 days. I’m around Germans, one person spoke English and literally, I remember when I was coming back, I’m at the airport. I had to make a stop in London and when they hand me back my passport, I said, danka. I’m like, you know, I was so used to saying danka, which is thank you while I was in Germany for that time; immersed in it, you know, it just became natural. But, you know, I get it. You know, Kirk is totally dealing with Germans, you’re dealing with a mix of people and so that presents its challenges within itself.
Steffani: It’s not an excuse. So I’m still pushing.
Xavier: We’ll give it to you. So, you know, I know Germany is a big country and you’re on different parts of Germany, but if there was an experience or a place that you would say if you visit, you know, Germany, or where you are, you know, you must go and visit this or you must go and experience this. What would that one thing be? And I’m going to start with you Steffani. What would that one thing be that you would seh (say) you have to visit or experience? And the experience could be there is a festival, you know, that is just an amazing festival. A visit could be, you know, the architecture here, or the sunrise or the sunset over this lake. I mean, I know for my kids when we visited there, we wanted to see a German castle and that is what we went and saw when we came to Berlin. So what would that experience be you’d recommend or place to visit?
Steffani: I’m going to be a bit biased. I would have to say you have to visit the theater that I worked at, you know, theater in the Halfen and they host The Lion King musical Der Konig der Loewen, and to be honest, even though I’ve worked there, and been on stage and sat in the audience, it is amazing. The costumes, the lights, the music, the dance, the dialogue, the live music. There’s an orchestra there you can see. It blows my mind every time and it’s still blowing my mind.
Xavier: All right.
Steffani: What’s lovely about it that when you come to visit, you have to take a little boat for three minutes across the water. So that experience is just really nice to get to see, you know, that part of Hamburg. It just feels like a whole experience, the boat ride and if you go on top when it’s a sunny day, you just feel like, oh what’s this? If you plan ahead of time, you’re able to have a backstage view where you get to see the costumes and the props up close, meet the performers, it’s amazing and sometimes even I think I met the most talented people on the planet since I’ve been here. Like, especially my South African colleagues, when they sing, oh my god. When they sing, it’s amazing.
Xavier: Nice. Kirk, what would that be?
Kirk: Well, you know, I thought about this and you talked about the castle, Xavier, when you visited. Actually, it is one of my favorite places in all of Germany to visit Neuschwanstein is in Ole in the very south, close to the Austrian border and actually, when I was in, actually living in Belgium, years ago, we went there and I was captivated. It is actually the castle that inspired Walt Disney’s castle, the Cinderella Castle at Disney World. So it actually looks like that, but you can visit. If you come to Berlin, I always recommend the boat tour. It’s, you know, I don’t do a lot of tourism because when people come I set up their plan and everything but I never, I don’t have much time to join in the tourism activities, but the boat tour is something that I love doing and I love showing the people. One thing, on the spray, which is a river that runs through the city. I love that tour because it gives you such a different perspective to the usual bus tours and whatnots and the way the river, it has certain canals and divisions and the boats go there. So you really get to see more than you would in let’s say a place like, like, let’s say in Paris. I mean, you see it in Berlin when you do that boat tour you get a lot of different perspectives.
Xavier: I see. I see. So listen, guys, you have been more than, you know, just more forthcoming, open book and everything. I want to wind down but I do have some questions. A question that out of curiosity here that I have to ask because of who you guys are in Germany and the great things that you guys are doing there. I’m sure you have met celebrities and you know, I can’t think of a celebrity coming to Hamburg and saying I’ve seen Lion King in America, let me or somewhere else, let me see Lion King there. So you know and again, if you don’t want to you don’t have to because I know celebrity privacy some time or whatever but you know, talk to us. Have you met any celebrities in your line of work since you’re kind of out in the open there? I’m going to start with you, Steffani.
Steffani: To be honest, when my day starts in the theater, like first you sign in, you go into vocal warm up if you have a quick rehearsal to go over your script and all of this is like the day’s going like… Me personally yuh (you) see as soon as the show is done, I take a shower, and I’m gone home to see my children. So I never stay back.
Xavier: So you have missed… Okay. So you must have heard this celebrity come backstage.
Xavier: And you’re gone.
Steffani: To be honest, maybe you think I’m a bit boring, but it doesn’t excite me as much.
Steffani: And also, my years here I had to have babysitters. In the first years of my time here, maybe for two and a half years and again, especially in the night, when they have to probably when I get home, they have to probably catch the last bus or they have to go to work early in the morning. So to be honest, my first few years was focused on how I’m going to take care of myself, take care of my children as a single mother and see to that they’re fine, wake up in the morning to make them breakfast, see them a bit, take them to the train station, which after a while they didn’t even want me to follow them. They don’t even want me to hold their hands.
Xavier: That’s kids.
Steffani: Yes, because here the kids think… I was surprised they can take the train on their own already at five years old. I’m like, what?
Steffani: Yes. Five and six.
Xavier: Five year old getting on a train.
Steffani: Yes, that still shocked me but that was my life to be honest.
Xavier: All right.
Steffani: Maybe now I am a bit more relaxed. They’re grown up a bit. Now I feel like then, you know, as Jamaicans, when we go hard and we focus and we make life work but hat just did not interest. I’m going, I’m taking care but it’s not that I’m not interested in celebrities. I am.
Xavier: Well, it could be even a German celebrity being a guest. I’m sure you have met a couple of them.
Steffani: Yes, there was one time when our cast had to perform with one. I wasn’t there at that particular time.
Steffani: But, it come… To be honest.
Xavier: Well, I’m going to swing it over to Kirk, because I know I’ve seen pictures of different people that have come through that seh (say) I want some Jamaican food and so I’m stopping in the restaurant.
Kirk: At Rosa Caleta, yes, we have people who come but actually, it’s so funny. You talk about celebrity, you know, when I first moved here, at Rosa Caleta, we’ve had people or we’ve done food for people. So like, I don’t know, when Sean Paul comes, of course, they’re getting Rosa Caleta food and Busy Signal and all these people but what I wanted to talk about was when I first moved here. I was introduced to this lady and she had a modeling agency and she had an agency for models and actors and it was quite successful, but the crazy thing is that back in those days, 2009, a lot of the actresses and the models, they somehow… It was a time in the culture; I was a guy coming from where we used to work at Dolce and Gabbana. I was working for Dolce at Saks. So when I came here, I was dressed as one of these. They asked me to walk red carpets. So I was meeting mutual people, like lots.
Xavier: Oh wow, so you were a model? You’re modeling?
Kirk: No, I was accompanying them because whoever they were dating or whatever it was wasn’t quite the fit for the red carpet look.
Xavier: And I know Bolt has stopped in, right?
Kirk: Yeah, but celebrity, that’s a man around town. I mean, of course, he’s a celebrity but for us in our environment, he is such a cool guy and his parents and everything like that. So back in the day when they had the athletic championships here, we did a lot of stuff with them for Puma. Puma hired my restaurant to do catering and everything.
Steffani: Cool. Nice.
Kirk: By now Usain Bolt is just a cool guy around the corner and he is no longer a celebrity in our town.
Xavier: You see, I wish I could knock elbows with people like that sometimes and just say, hey, they’re cool guys. I got to come hang out with Kirk there, you know. So, you know, I’ve one more question before I end, you know, and it is in terms of the cost of living there. What would you say, it high, low, medium? What are your thoughts on the costs of living there? I’ll start with you first, Steffani.
Steffani: Well, I guess that would depend on your earnings, right? Kind of.
Xavier: That’s true. That is true.
Steffani: So I have to say I’m grateful that I have been able to manage over the years and another thing which is connected to that. Now that there’s a lockdown, the theaters are closed, somehow we are still able to manage because the government helps with certain things and I know in many countries, it’s not the same. So I’m extremely grateful, you know, and so I don’t have to feel this pressure. Of course, I don’t have this extra now, I’m going to go buy this and buy that but I can do okay, with a simple life once I can take care. I have a home, a roof over my head, we have clothes, we have food, and I don’t need to go nowhere. As you can see, I spend a lot of time on creating.
Steffani: And as much as I’m a performer and very bold, and like, now I’m treating this like a performance because my personality, I’m really an introvert as much as you would think I am not.
Xavier: Oh, really?
Steffani: Yes, of course, before coming on here, I’m practicing my phonetics. So, yeah, treating it like I’m born on stage.
Xavier: We have brought Steffani Seven to the world and, you know, hey, she’s brukking out on Jamaicans to the World (breaking out on Jamaicans to the World).
Steffani: Yes, but me in my normal every day, I am a very shy person and it’s just what it is. This is my career, and I treat it like that and maybe that’s also one reason too. Like, if I see a celebrity, I’m not the one who kind of, oh, can I get your autograph?
Xavier: Well, I was thinking the opposite. They’re coming to meet you after the performance.
Steffani: Well then, that happens.
Xavier: That’s another story. So Kirk, cost of living, what are your thoughts on the cost of living there?
Kirk: It has changed a lot. I mean, when I moved to Berlin in 2008, it was actually very, very cheap. Berlin, in particular, I mean, cheaper than Munich, and Hamburg, and all the Cologne and all these other big German cities and Berlin was the capital and was named, well, the capital was brought back to Berlin in 2000 and it was a city that was developing. That was one of the attractions for me that, you know, to come here and set up a business was going to be much cheaper than doing it in New York, which is where I was living, or in Paris, you know, even though I speak French, I thought maybe do something in Paris or in Brussels, but Berlin was cheap. It was easy to live in and that has changed a lot. The city has developed so much in the last 12 years. You have a lot of startups. So Berlin was always the town for artists because space was cheap, and you didn’t have to bus tables and be a waiter to pay your rent. You could actually just do your art and then suddenly you have all these web startups and big businesses were buying up all of this cheap space to put their offices and move from, you know, there space or it is start here because it was cheap to start. So now you have a huge startup industry here and so much that rents are now becoming, you know, if fortunately, you have an old contract, you’re doing pretty good in the city, but if you’re looking for a place to live now, it’s comparable to I would say, I mean, Florida not as expensive as New York but it’s gotten very expensive.
Steffani: It is expensive.
Xavier: Wow. All right. Last question before we end here. It’s a scenario, you get off the plane, you land in Jamaica, what is the first thing that you’re doing whether it be I going to get this to eat, I going jump in the water? What is the first thing you’re doing? I will say you land in the day. We’re not saying your land in the night. Let’s just say land in the day. What’s that first thing you’re doing? And we’ll start with you Steffani.
Steffani: Okay, first of all, you immediately feel the heat and then that, yes! You might not see me do this but inside myself, I’m like this is so good. Then there’s this man who sells coconut a little away from the airport, like five minutes. You exit the airport and you’re going down the street. He’s on the left-hand side, yes, I’m stopping and I’m drinking two. Two coconuts.
Steffani: Wait, wait, I have a whole list.
Xavier: Oh, there’s more.
Steffani: Yes. After the coconut man, Tastee’s Patty, and like if my big brother would sometimes come and pick us up, he takes us to KFC, which KFC in Jamaica is completely different from everywhere else that I’ve tasted it and I really miss that barbecue chicken. I loved it, and usually then, of course, a nice Jamaican meal is waiting for us. My mommy prepares some curry goat or something like that. So yeah.
Xavier: All right. So Kirk, what would it be for you?
Kirk: The coconut, and then you know what? The cane man on Windward Road and then Hellshire. This has to be, it has to be. My grandparents are often like why yuh affi guh beach now? (Why do you have to go to the beach now?) And I’m like, I just must, right now.
Steffani: You know what? That’s interesting because that’s where my parents live in that area, you pass the Hellshire beach. So that was actually my life, especially years before coming here. I would wake up in the mornings, I would go to the Fort Clarence beach because, by that time I made friends with the security guard and the people working so I don’t have to pay the whole fee because it’s early in the morning, I would go and write songs. I would run on the beach and do some voice training and then sing to the water, but somehow in my mind, I could see myself in the future performing to huge audiences and I thought if I can project my voice to the water, and then they applaud the splash, then there’s nothing I can’t do.
Xavier: Well, that is great. That is so good. So here’s how I typically end. I need you to teach me in German, the most informal way to say goodbye. Now, I’m not looking for the straight-up goodbye. I’m looking for, you know like how we have our slang you know, likkle more (little more). You know, catch up yuh pon the strong (see you later), likkle later (little later), you know? Yes, you know, something to that. What do you think of in German that, you know, and it’s probably the young, the kids who said it or somebody who’s hip or whatever? I’m not looking for the formal bye, bye. So you all thinking about it. I don’t know if Kirk, you want to say what you think it is or Steffani, what you think it is.
Steffani: Well… You go, sorry.
Kirk: I mean, I’m trying to think what the slang words would be. I don’t know, it’s eluding me just at this moment, but instead of saying ‘auf wiedersehen’, ‘Bis dan’ or yes, that’s what’s coming to my mind right now.
Xavier: Bis Dan?
Kirk: So, Bis, b-i-s, bis and dan, d-a-n.
Xavier: Bis Dan. Steffani?
Steffani: Just tschüss. Tschüss or spater
Xavier: I think I’ve heard tschüss before actually.
Steffani: Yes, I mean, it’s not so informal, but it’s not formal either. It’s just that basic, tschüss. You tell your friends tschüss or spatter. Spater, instead of this bis spater until later, it’s just spater.
Xavier: Spater? All right. So I appreciate you guys. Thank you. We spent quite a bit of time here and, you know before I say bye, which is tschüss and bis dan, right. Where can people find, you know, I know, Rosa Caleta, where can people find it, online, website? What’s the website for Rosa Caleta? And Steffani, if you can tell us if you have a website or something out here real quick, just tell us where people can find you and so on.
Xavier: Let’s start with you first, Kirk.
Kirk: So Rosa Caleta is in Kreuzberg in Germany, in Berlin, and it’s rosacaleta.com. So Caleta is C-A-L-E-T-A and it’s my grandmother’s name.
Steffani: Oh, beautiful.
Steffani: Okay, before I do that I just want to really thank my cousin for finding you, Xavier. I didn’t even know about Jamaica.com George Byfield…
Xavier: Jamaicans with an s.
Steffani: Jamaicans.com, yes. My cousin, I know him as Chris or George Byfield. I just want to big him up. Thank you so much. He’s always looking out for me.
Xavier: Well, I appreciate him with us making the link and where can people find the book if it’s not out yet? Where can people find you?
Steffani: Okay, so I’m not even so big on social media, but I’m trying. I’m keeping up, I have an Instagram page. This is my name. Haha, Steffani. Can you see it?
Xavier: Yes. So they can find you there?
Steffani: Just look up Steffani Seven. I’m on YouTube. I have some old videos, but I’m about to put the new project out in a few weeks. Just keep checking my Instagram. I’m also on Facebook. I’m not so… Instagram is safe.
Xavier: All right.
Steffani: Just keep on Instagram and I have a website.
Xavier: All right. So let me make sure I get it right because unuh was (you were) correcting me a while ago. Is it thruce?
Steffani: Think of the word juice, like juice that you drink.
Steffani: And instead of the ‘j’ you out ‘ch’.
Steffani: Without dipping it, just tschüss like goose.
Steffani: Yes, got it.
Xavier: Tschüss and bis dan, guys. Thank you.
Photos – Deposit Photos